The weather gods smiled upon Queen + Adam Lambert on the final Australian show of their Rhapsody Tour at Metricon Stadium last night, granting them a clear evening in which to dazzle and delight the packed stadium of all-ages fans.
Enrobed in purple satin and glittering platforms, Adam Lambert was every inch a member of the royal household as he strutted onto the stage to front Queen, a band that have been instrumental in shaping the landscape of popular music for decades. The eight years that the current core trio of Lambert, legendary guitar virtuoso Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor have been performing together (original bass player John Deacon was never a fan of the limelight and has remained virtually retired from all public appearances since the passing of Freddie Mercury) were in evidence at every turn, the group a well-oiled machine, churning out a two and a half hour set that left out little to complain about and even included a couple of pleasant surprises.
Well aware of the inevitable comparisons to the late, great Mr Mercury, the band obviously decided to have Lambert address the “pink elephant” in the room – as he described it – fairly early on in the piece, as he humbled himself before the legendary duo on the stage, and referred to himself as a Queen mega fan, the same as everyone else in attendance, only lucky enough to have “the most expensive VIP seat in the house.” We think they might pay you for your efforts rather than the other way around, Adam, but we appreciated the sentiment nonetheless. And in acknowledging that not only would there only ever be one Freddie, but that also Lambert was not even attempting to fill those shoes but instead pay tribute to the legend, it enabled everyone to just relax and enjoy the spectacle for what it was.
Favourites were trotted out in quick succession. ‘Seven Seas of Rhye’, ‘Keep Yourself Alive’, ‘Killer Queen’, ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ and ‘Somebody To Love’ all took place in front of an ornate, royal red-and-gold (video projected) set, replete with balcony seats where uber-fans watched from the rear of the stage. If anyone went into the concert with doubts about Adam Lambert’s vocal chops (people who had never heard him sing before, in other words), they were most certainly dispelled by the end of that absurdly high note at the end of ‘Somebody to Love’, if not before. What a belter this guy is. May expressed on more than one occasion how grateful they were to have found such an extraordinary talent with whom to continue their legacy, calling him their “brother”.
‘Bicycle Race’ saw Lambert rise from under the stage on a large motorbike, decked out in glitter and spiked leathers, and with plenty of thrust in his.. err.. crown jewels. ‘Another One Bites The Dust’, and ‘I Want It All’ followed before the anthems took a downturn into the more intimate portion of the evening.
Brian May, one of the world’s greatest and most humble guitarists, by all accounts a brilliant and genial fellow, animal rights activist, a person of strong principles and an astrophysicist to boot, sat down with his acoustic guitar to have a little chit chat with the crowd as though we were having tea and digestives at his kitchen table on a Sunday afternoon. He talked a little about the tour, about how he felt lucky to have played with one of our greatest artists – kicking off a brief crowd singalong to ‘You’re The Voice’ by Johnny Farnham – before launching into a touching, solo rendition of a “lovely song written by my dear friend Freddie”, which was ‘Love Of My Life.’ He adored the phone lights that illuminated the stadium, asking everyone to pull them out.
His voice may have been getting a little rough around the edges after the months of heavy touring, but no one could have delivered the number with such feeling, such poignancy – we thought – until the final moments of the song when Freddie himself appeared onto the back screen, singing along to May’s playing. After wiping away a tear at the end of the number (along with the rest of us), May launched into ’39’, before Taylor and Lambert came back, doing a more stripped-back trio at the front of the stage: ‘Doing All Right’, ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love’, and following a drum solo that showed us that the 70 year-old Taylor still has some juice left in the box, ‘Under Pressure’, with Taylor taking on Bowie’s vocal part.
As though Queen didn’t have enough of a back catalogue to make up a set, they decided to throw in covers of ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ and even Led Zep’s ‘Whole Lotta Love’, even if just so May and Lambert could say “hold my beer” to Page and Plant, which they did a pretty good job of.
May’s epic guitar solo atop a digital asteroid, a nod to his astrophysicist roots, had me glancing at the time, not because I was bored (far from it – May just on his own somehow managed to deliver the majority of the evening’s highlights) but simply because I was acutely aware of the lack of time off the stage this 72 year old man had during the evening. By far the least of anyone else in the entire band. And yet he managed to deliver, note-perfectly, smile on dial, until the final bows. Is there a person on the planet who has a bad word to say about this guy?
‘Who Wants To Live Forever’ and ‘The Show Must Go On’ were two of the evening’s pleasant surprises, delivering drama and feels by the bucketload. Lambert really outperformed himself vocally on both, which is saying something, and in ‘The Show Must Go On’ he demonstrated less of his normal polished, carefully choreographed theatricality and more of the raw, genuine energy and ferocity demonstrated by Freddie, which lent it a particular intensity. The accompanying visuals were also particularly outstanding.
The show wrapped up with ‘Fat Bottomed Girls’, ‘Radio Ga-Ga’, and ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, which was interspersed with audio and visuals from the original recording. Rather than the band rushing out to kick off the encore, Freddie appeared on the screen for the final time, doing his ‘Ay-Oh’ crowd gee-up, which had the crowd singing and laughing, but if they were anything like me, with that bittersweet ache in the chest at the same time. It wasn’t hard to guess what would be coming next – as that unmistakeable stomp rang out, the strains of ‘We Will Rock You’ shook Metricon stadium. ‘We Are The Champions’, a shower of confetti, a wave of bows, a heartfelt thanks from the living legends on stage were next, and the Australian leg of the Queen + Adam Lambert Rhapsody Tour 2020 drew to a shimmering, spectacular, poignant and altogether royal close. Long Live Queen.
Words: Natalie O’Driscoll
Images: (C) Simone Gorman-Clark