A Yankee Prince in Queen’s Court – Queen + Adam Lambert
July 3, 2012
Tonight I felt the nervous virgin bride who barely glimpsed her groom and has relied on others’ descriptions of his beauty, charm and talents. Away from a good internet connection, my machine barely limped along during the livestream from Kiev so I had to wait. Let’s pretend we belong to a culture which forbids any contact between the betrothed couple other than those occasions where a chaperone is in attendance.
I cheated and heard the first few seconds of Bohemian Rhapsody – I heard a single, sweet note and I couldn’t wait, I flew to the altar for more!!! It was many hours and I took some time to prepare for the special un-chaperoned experience to satisfy my need to consume the entire Kiev concert experience. But we know once is not enough, so this bride went in for seconds, thirds, fourths….until someone knocked on the door and said “you have to leave now, someone else needs the room”.
What a glorious honeymoon in Europe we had! Love, love, love all ‘round, bright lights and boogie nights.
Courage my love
Freddie was undoubtedly the rock star performer for the age, perhaps of the 20th century. He set the rock performance bar so high that while many have tried, most have failed to even glimpse it. Working with brilliant musicians and song writers helped ensconce Freddie on the throne along with the rest of the Royal Court of Queen that included Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon.
Where angels fear to tread – Adam plunges in. For some, the choice of Adam to front Queen at all was sacrilegious to the divine memory of Freddie; others thought Adam couldn’t possibly do the music justice or considered it risky but were willing to give Adam a chance. Then there were the rest of us who embraced the thought of seeing Adam perform with Queen-again! Even Brian and Roger were criticized for even considering a “no-name American Idol loser pop singer” to sing some Queen songs with them along with some ridiculous ageist comments flung their way.
I am happy to say that I will share my recipe for fricassee of crow with those who doubted…. chill the Chablis. They came expecting perhaps a watered-down, Freddie wannabe with aging rockers, instead they got exuberant, joy-filled performances from everyone and virtually note-perfect singing. Happily more than a modest number of the harbingers of negativity have since changed their minds publicly about both.
Ultimately what Adam, Brian and Roger produced was a respectful, enthusiastic and loving tribute to the immortal Freddie while favouring us with some surprising new interpretations and a show that held the audience from start to finish.
Watching the Kiev concert unfold on the video, I lost all nervousness within a few minutes and embraced each moment with pride and affection. Adam walked out on stage in his Mad Max Biker leathers for a rock opening. It took a bit of time, but it seemed that the audience truly came to embrace him during I Want to Break Free at about the half way point, then they were his to the end. They really lost it with Somebody to Love.
Ultimately Queen + Adam brought Kiev and Moscow audiences to their knees. Not flawless but all heart, soul and joy. Performing as though they were momentarily transported to Brigadoon, that mythical place that lives but once every hundred years. I couldn’t wait for the next four shows to see if Brigadoon could last a little bit longer before disappearing into the highland mists.
By the time they reach London, the kinks are smooth, they’re all more relaxed and looser, Adam allows himself more body language, and the on-stage camaraderie is infectious. The whole audience is engaged in the celebratory mood and by Saturday, performers and audience alike are so high – can these be the last hours for Brigadoon?
A picture is worth a thousand words
Something happened when I saw this picture of Adam and Brian on stage, up close to each other with massive smiles of joy on their faces. While this looked very normal on Adam, I didn’t recall ever seeing Brian on stage like that before. Then as I watched the first two concerts I realized we had not seen Roger and Brian up front and centre stage that much either. It seemed odd. My first words when I saw the beginning of Kiev were “who put Viagra in the water?” the two guys were fun, frolicky and out front! Decades on and they look like they’re having more fun than they ever did. They seemed to draw more and more vigour as the concerts continued.
Oh do we know the effect of that powerful magnetic aura emanating from Adam Lambert. My arms rose unconsciously to hug him when we met – like a long lost relative, or someone I knew in another life.
By the end of I Want to Break Free in the final show, Adam is singing directly to Brian – face to face. My heart sprouts wings and flies and after the bows and hugs, the laughter and joy, I am so thrilled for both of them. In Brigadoon Meg says “I’m highly attracted to you. Why, when I look at you I feel wee tadpoles jumping in my spine.” Now I understand that silly image.
Has it taken a humble California kid, a boy next door who finds himself in this surreal situation to break down some emotional walls these two Brits might have carried around for a long time? That stiff-upper-lip, “never let them see how you feel” Brits shared these very poignant moments in front of a throng of adoring fans, as if the audience was not even there. Intimacy. It sets these concerts apart from so many others we see.
At times, Brian and Roger looked like boys who discovered an empty stage with the instruments left behind, picked them up and played with some abandon, the way someone who’s performed a thousand times before. We’re just peeking through the window.
Adam’s maturity as a performer is showing
Adam’s confidence in his own singing abilities and sexuality allow him to stand still and be extraordinary. Or, he can don a ridiculous couturier red fuzzy jacket with skinny leggings to do the mating dance of the Grand Fiery Dragon Bird and show that aspect of his personality – a bit campy, not quite kitschy.
When he dances around on that stage, he’s freed himself to call up the little boy whose face is upturned to the sunshine, barefoot in the grass, as he spins, shimmies or shakes to the music. Unselfconsciously. Is he shaking off adrenaline over-load?
Adam’s playfulness belies the incredible maturity he has developed as a singer and performer. Adam does not have us holding our breath as we leap from pinnacle to pinnacle across a mountain range of monumental music without a safety net. With his judicious use of crescendos to glory notes and minimal choreography, our trip allows us to appreciate so much more in the music and the lyrics. He takes us up, down, a twirl around, then we catch our breath for more! Grande Jeté and pirouettes, lifts and carries, fast, slow and in-between, he gets them all in with his voice and that visage that telegraphs every emotion he’s feeling.
Adam, how did you manage your adrenaline production which must have been firing out the tips of your fingers and toes?! It’s one thing to belt Somebody to Love or We will Rock You but during Who Wants to Live Forever not a hair stirs. Did you go backstage and jump on a trampoline between songs?
To my ear, Adam’s voice is a rainbow of colours in all hues and he moves them around skillfully to complement each other or cluster them for intensity. Shimmering northern lights set to music. Pulsating, waving, exploding. I think the pacing of the show was very good, despite tone-deaf and blind reviewers feeling “let down” with the drum and guitar solos. Any good staging contains a range of movement, light and even stillness. Besides we all want to see Roger drum and Brian strum his magic red guitar! Hearing them sing on stage, right out front was a treat. The audience experienced the performers’ barely contained exuberance on stage. We feel it just watching the videos. And young Rufus!
The Sound of Silence
Artists in any medium know the value of silence, white space on the paper, negative space in a sculpture, empty space in a painting, the silent pause in a film, the momentary stillness in the dance. Allowed to take a breath, we can appreciate what we just heard or viewed; savour the texture, light and colour. It’s the sip of wine before the next bite, the palate cleansing sorbet before the next course. We fill in the space ourselves and prepare for what’s to come.
We watched Adam master this on Idol, the “less is more” approach. While he gained a reputation for the insane runs and nailing the “glory notes” at the end of songs, he knew that he didn’t have to do that with every song. The first time I noticed was “Tracks of my Tears” which he stripped down, didn’t move an inch and let his facial expressions and voice do all the work. At the end, as he wound it down, he didn’t even sing the last note, the last word – a frustration to me forever! While he became known for the hip thrusts and belly dancer moves, Adam actually stood still much of the time on the show, letting his voice and face telegraph the meaning of the songs, dramatic entrances notwithstanding.
Who Wants to Live Forever is a perfect example of how well Adam knows his craft and himself, his personal style. By standing still much of the time, Adam uses only his expressive face and voice to tell the story and how it affects him. He’ll even turn away so we’re blind to his face and allows only his voice to do all the work for the music. Bravo Adam! By taking everything else away, we just listen.
Less of his conscious self, more of the song – the notes, the emotions, the melody – it’s all there in these amazing songs – they just needed release by an skilled artist who understands this. Michelangelo explained that the figures already existed in the chunks of marble he sculpted – he just revealed them. Same with music and with Adam, it’s organic. If you have to force it – it’s too brittle and won’t work. He understands the power he has to draw the audience toward him on stage with just his voice
At the end of Who Wants to Live Forever, Adam just turns and walks away, Brian’s guitar moves in and Adam sings just a couple of fading notes sotto voce – just a whisper. Masterful! Our ears and eyes, our hearts follow him into the darkness as the light fades, a second’s silence and the applause raises the roof! I’m crying and can’t believe what I just saw and heard, more importantly I’m thrilled the audience followed him to the darkness and got it.
Brian and Roger we hardly knew ye!
Let’s hope the spectre of Brian and Roger stage-front singing their own songs is more than a Brigadoon moment. The atmosphere is casual, as if they’ve invited us into their jam session party, albeit somewhat embellished with spectacular lighting and pyrotechnics. As Brian said, they’ve come together as a band organically, not through words on paper or directions from a choreographer who has detailed out the movements. It’s all rather amorphous up there “Adam jumps into audience, rips trousers, and then has fun with it all” was not written down anywhere. “Adam and Brian hug” don’t think so. “Roger puts hand on Adam’s knee when they sit on steps” “Huge grins and hugs” nope. It’s all au naturelle, the audience knows it and it’s all so obvious on videos.
Don’t we love a show where anything might happen at any moment? That’s why we could attend so many GNT shows! Adam’s abilities and knowledge of music and singing are so deep that he can improvise a new version or style for a song we thought we knew and startle us all over again. I think we heard Whole Lotta Love done in at least four different genres from blues to tango. I think Brian and Roger are all-in for that approach to their own songs. It seems the new recruit has revitalized the veterans to take up their instruments and ride, but not into the sunset on their La-Z-Boys.
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
~ Dylan Thomas
Haven’t we come to know and love Brian May and Roger Taylor as we never have before? Brian and Roger saw in Adam, not someone to replace Freddie but a singer whose voice they wanted to hear sing their music, his own way. They were patient, kept the door open and picked their moment. If anyone deserves to have their own place in the spotlight so many years into their careers, it’s these two. They don’t need the work or the money but it’s obvious they love to perform live. The Princes of Serendip intervened and Adam appeared in front of them. APPLAUSE! BRAVO!
The Queen Songbook
The Queen repertoire written over the last decades of the 20th century, an era of decadence, excess, youth worship and the alpha male. Everything got bigger, brighter, louder, yet still harboring inhibitions and taboos. Freddie was the quintessential 20th Century performer – someone said “majestic”, the muscular “A” Type, an Alpha who feared being revealed.
Roger and Brian have now discovered the 21st century artist with whom to interpret and present their trove anew. One who knows and loves the music of that particular era and has incorporated and updated the various incarnations of contemporary music into a single album, Trespassing. This happens with all genres of performing arts; opera, ballet, classical, blues, jazz, country…..and it’s come to Queen’s formidable repertoire.
From ballad to rockabilly, operatic, metallic and anthemic – Adam can sing them all and effortlessly. He has the ability to smooth the edges of a rock song with a little pop sound, while adding an edginess to a pop song and make it his own.
Who knows the Songbook of Queen’s music better than the artists who wrote it and performed it for decades? Roger and Brian knew that their songs were a perfect fit with Adam’s abilities and talents. This tour gave them an opportunity to re-stage and re-arrange, perhaps update, to suit a new century. Prolific songwriter Smokey Robinson said he loves to hear new interpretations of his music.
Unlike the major arena shows for which Queen is best known, this time they had to prepare for the smaller venues as well, where you can’t hide behind lights and volume. These more intimate shows reveal everything – even torn trousers. This is where Adam’s candid, guileless and authentic style prevails, but we knew this already didn’t we?
Like the best showmen, they all left us wanting more.
Let’s hope Queen + Adam Lambert has not been one of those rare comets that streak toward us to be visible for only a brief time then dash away on their orbit in the heavens. Or Brigadoon.
special thank you to @GlamazonToronto for the wonderful photos!