Adam Lambert, Prince of Wails
At last the moment so many of us have waited for is upon us: the eve of the world tour of Queen + Adam Lambert. Last night we were glued to the live stream from the iHeart Theater in Los Angeles, where our Idols test-drove an abbreviated version of their tour set.
What a heart-stopping thrill to watch Adam strut onto that stage, into the waving, open arms of the fans who had packed the theater. He got the crowd clapping and stomping with “We Will Rock You” and “Another One Bites the Dust,” even getting into some riffing and call and response (he could have gone crazier with this, but didn’t). Then the band swung into “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” where Adam could and did channel his inner Elvis.
Having thoroughly warmed up the crowd, Adam then introduce the next song, “Love Kills,” described by Lyndsey Parker as “Freddie Mercury’s first song recorded as a solo artist, and was featured on electronic music legend Giorgio Moroder’s soundtrack for the 1984 rerelease of Fritz Lang’s classic 1927 silent film, Metropolis.” The band had never performed it before, and Adam debuted its live incarnation as an operatic ballad. This was the Adam we fans love so much – the high-wire artist who dares to tackle the most sacred peaks, transforming a death-defying stunt into something transcendent, effortless, perfect.
It’s worth watching again, and again:
Since the purpose of previews like this is to gauge the audience response and fine-tune the on-stage chemistry, I hope y’all won’t lob too many rotten tomatoes at what I need to say next.
Perhaps it wasn’t the best programming decision to follow the sublime, time-stopping climax of “Love Kills” with a romping, ridiculous song like “Fat Bottomed Girls,” but this difficult segue precipitated a rare, cringe-worthy moment with that “fat-assed bitches” line. It felt so forced and tone-deaf with regard to the affection and desire straight men (and gay Freddie) genuinely feel for amply endowed women, which Adam then compounded with his “PC” joke. It felt as though the oxygen got sucked out of the room at that moment. I fervently hopes he expunges this nonsense from his tour patter and just gives a heartfelt shout out to the fans. (“This is for all you gorgeous, lusty ladies” will do quite nicely, thank you.)
From here on out, it felt as though Adam’s performance faltered and became…tentative. The body language, the glances between Roger and Adam, Brian and Adam, hinted at a fairly high state of anxiety. I became acutely aware that the show hadn’t quite jelled. The focus fell on getting the notes right rather than cutting loose. That’s understandable this early in the game, and I trust it will dissipate as the band and Adam find their groove. (Granted, as Roger said, this is all live, no click tracks, and that element of danger in a live performance is also one of its thrills.)
But even making allowances for that uncomfortable gaffe, what really hit me last night was how often Adam directed his attention towards Brian or Roger on the stage, rather than towards the audience. Granted, eye-contact is needed for tight, live ensemble playing. But there was something beyond that. It was as though Adam felt he didn’t have the right to engage the fans directly. As though Adam felt he didn’t have permission to flirt with the audience, an audience that is in perpetual mourning for Freddie Mercury; as though to do so would be to seduce these fans into betraying Freddie.
All of this came across to me as Adam hoping to win the approval of the fans by demonstrating his reverence for the surviving band members. I’m not sure he still needs to do this. In his words and deeds, he has already declared his intention to pay tribute rather than to imitate the inimitable.
What I would love to see him do now — now that he has fully earned the trust and support not only of Brian and Rodger, but also of hundreds of thousands of fans who snapped up tickets — is to seize onto these songs and own them just the way he did with the iconic songs he performed on American Idol. What was so extraordinary then was how he completely inhabited each song and used every inch of his being to channel the emotion directly into the limbic system of the listener. He resurrected the songs from the dead, our latter-day Orpheus, and that is what he can now do with Queen’s music. That would be the ultimate tribute, to make the most die-hard fan forget that Freddie is gone, and by bringing this music fully to life, resurrect Freddie’s spirit.
And in so doing, Adam will graduate from rock prince-in-waiting to becoming its once and future king.