Adam Lambert, You Are a Champion Now
Writing a review of the Queen + Adam Lambert tour requires a balancing act, a miniature version of the vertiginous tightrope Adam himself must navigate every night he is out there in front of thousands of fans who idolize one of greatest frontmen in rock and roll history. How to confront the godlike ghost of Freddie Mercury, to measure up to his glorified memory without enraging those who worship in his temple?
As for me, on the one hand, it’s all about Adam, but on the other, it’s about something so much larger. It’s almost too much to take in, this massive, 135-minute show that barely skims the surface of the enormous Queen songbook, through which Adam de Lambert makes a pilgrim’s progress of multiple personas, each setting off thunderclaps of emotion in a Glambert’s breast. Overwhelming.
I thought it might help to sit (or stand, or to be completely honest, dance like a mad woman …) through three shows, gaining multiple perspectives while giving myself the luxury of repeated exposures, in the hope – fruitless as it proved – to acquire some immunity against the violent fevers, chills and cranial explosions that the experience induced.
The truth is, my poor Glambert soul was utterly defenseless against this virile fusion of one of the world’s greatest rock bands and the world’s greatest rock singer. So here I am, having just survived three shows:
- Madison. Square. Garden. On every Glambert’s bucket list for Adam. The sold-out arena, 20,000 strong, radiated wave upon thunderous wave of love as Q+A pushed themselves to an adrenalin-fueled high. The show was explosive, edgy, the boys were putting on the show of their lives. Nerves might possibly have gotten the upper hand, as Adam came in off key in Killer Queen..or perhaps it was the crappy acoustics. That was a small stumble. I kept pinching my cheeks all night. My purse is full of yellow confetti, so I really must have been there.
- Mohegan Sun. An “intimate” 10,000-seat arena. I had much better sound and view than what my MSG VIP seat by the catwalk had afforded me. By this point in the tour, Q + A were well seasoned, and without the adrenaline edge of MSG, they settled into a very fine groove. The Mohegan audience mustered even more energy than MSG, rocking out to every song, responding to Adam’s call with gusto, and just about breaking into full gospel choir mode by the end of “Someone to Love.” Adam was more relaxed too, offering some of the best patter of the tour, including a priceless joke about American Idol. A jam session fell apart with Adam ad libbing, hilariously. In the company of many of the original Glambertinas – I now call them “The Sistahood of the Traveling Glitter-encrusted Leather Pants” – this was the best of the three.
- Boston Garden. Perhaps a little tour fatigue was setting in. This show didn’t feel as tight as the others. There were small stumbles here and there. The audience was warm but a tad distracted, as though everyone had had one too many beers before the show – but not enough to break into the uninhibited dancing and revelry that the music was calling for. The special fun for me was going with two Queen fans who were thrilled to be able to hear the band live. They were utterly dazzled by Adam. They exclaimed that it was the greatest show they’d seen, and how lucky for us that a singer like Adam had come along to make it possible for Brian and Rodger to tour again. Amen.
So through all this, my brain was turning to mush. I uncharacteristically could not articulate to myself what I had witnessed. I knew I felt good, but I couldn’t say why, apart from feeling so happy for Adam, and happy about Adam.
But in the Boston post-concert bar chat with my two companions, as I gushed “Isn’t Adam adorable?” everything snapped into focus. Somehow, in the miasma of anxiety about how Adam would do and how critics would react, amid my growing irritation at the “He’s no Freddie Mercury” disclaimers, it hit me.
Through all the hoopla, Adam did what he has always done best: Be Himself. His loves-to-dress-up, flirt, strut, sing-like-there’s-no-tomorrow self, all delivered with an Elvis curl of those bow-like lips and a wink of those topaz blue eyes. That wide-eyed “Can you believe this guys?” look. And that humility and gratitude. It was all there, everything we’d always loved about him, and now the rest of the world was seeing it too.
I loved (almost) everything about the two-hour ten-minute show. It was thrilling to walk into the arena and see the huge violet drape emblazoned with Queen’s coat of arms, a nice theatrical nod to tradition. We hear the stately strains of “Procession” from the Queen II album and then the percussive intro to “Now I’m Here,” with tantalizing silhouettes of Adam (an allusion to the famous “silhouetto” from the Bohemian Rhapsody video), then the drape drops and is swept upward and out of sight like a giant magician’s cape, as the band emerges through a swirl of vapor.
And there he stands, at the rear of the stage. After firing off his opening salvo, he struts down the catwalk, and you don’t know whether to gasp at his skin-tight leather and studs, or giggle at his total channeling of George Michael, or admire his skill in descending that ramp on those heels without falling on his face. All while penetrating our ears with that siren call. Right off the bat, Adam has set off that roiling clash of sensations that we’ve come to know as an Adamgasm.
Then it’s “Stone Cold Crazy,” Adam spitting out the lyrics like a machine gun while playfully snarling and thrusting. Having slain any lingering doubts that he is up to the task, he’s ready to take on a pair of iconic songs, “Another One Bites the Dust” and “Fat Bottom Girls.” Adam has fun with his “fat-assed bitches” and works it with some deep pelvic thrusts that had a girl in front of me at Mohegan Sun burying her face in her hands.
Then it’s Brian’s turn to mesmerize us with some guitar fireworks until Adam re-appears in his next incarnation, gold leather fringes swirling down from those luscious arms as he towers atop crystal-encrusted platforms. Saints preserve us! (More face-burying by the girl in front of me.) He has shape-shifted from biker macho to the love child of Ru Paul and a geisha.
It’s breathtaking how effortlessly Adam embodies the masculine and feminine in his appearance and his singing. From hard-driving rocker to fabulously swishy. He slips into the honeyed croon of “In the Lap of the Gods,” and bats his gorgeous eyes from the Jumbotron. More Adamgasms.
There follows an abbreviated romp through “Seven Seas of Rhye” while stagehands move the now-notorious Purple Divan onto the rounded head of the catwalk. (We may as well say it; the catwalk looks like a penis.) Adam plonks himself down and almost steals the show from himself with a version of “Killer Queen” that, dare I say it, out-camps Freddie.
After this pure off-Off Broadway interlude, Adam spouts champagne (he must seek out Glamberts to target!) and engages in patter that, thank god, has improved 200 percent. He teases the audience (“Dahling, did I get you all wet? You like it!”), pokes fun at himself about “going all Oprah,” consoling himself by “drinking champagne and covering myself in rhinestones like any good gay.” He has learned to change it up and engage more directly and less forcedly with the audience. It’s as though he’s able to show more of the “real Adam” (the one we fantasize about having a three-hour martini lunch with).
The only part that still feels too scripted is his segue – “Maybe we just need somebody to love” – into the next song. And we soon forget that quibble because this song is made for Adam. He rides the melody and by the end takes it to church. I love how he totally owns “Somebody to Love,” and judging from the cataclysmic cheers, so do the Queen fans.
“Somebody to Love” would have been a great way to end the first part of the show, on a collective, spiritual, hand-clapping high. (I could have done without the heavy “I Want it All” that followed it.)
As Adam vanished for a well-deserved rest, Brian May took the center stage with a touching “Love of My Life,” accompanying himself on acoustic guitar. In his richly expressive plucking of the simple melody, he proved himself a true master. Dr. Bri then delivered a mini-lecture on Einstein’s theory of relativity and joined by the rest of the band, led a rousing hoe down with “’39.”
Next it was the turn of Roger Taylor, sporting some very cool deep crimson sneakers, to sing “These Are the Days of Our Lives,” as a montage of the band members in their youth flashed up on the Jumbotron. This nostalgic journey could have easily sunken into pure sentimentality, but did not thanks to the heart-stirring quality of Roger’s voice, husky with age but still beautiful, and the cheekiness of the beautiful young rock stars, frozen in time on film. Oh my heart.
Much as I love Adam, this middle interlude was every bit as wonderful. There’s nothing like seeing such a gifted ensemble making music together. It’s one thing to sweep up an audience with the pounding energy of electronically amplified sound and light. But when music can transfix thousands in an intimate conversation, this truly is magic. The Drum Duel between Roger and his son Rufus (a taller, spitting image of his dad), was a fun and almost a symbolic passing of the drum sticks to the next generation, except the Roger still has plenty left in him.
Then Adam lopes back onto stage, eliciting roars of approval (Yes! They love him!), to duet with Roger on “Under Pressure.” That is a crowd-pleaser, and I would have been even more pleased if the instrumentals hadn’t buried the vocals quite so much.
Brian asks how we all like “the new boy,” the arena cheers wildly, the Glamberts are happy! The trio of Brian, Rodger and Adam then introduce the new-old song “Love Kills” – and I’m afraid I will get scorched for saying this, but I find the song a bit “meh”, although it showcases Adam’s voice very well. The song itself just doesn’t do much for me. But it does provide an excuse to promote the upcoming Queen album. (Who thinks Adam may be on it?)
And then comes the crowning moment of the show, “Who Wants to Live Forever.” Adam and Brian lock in a passionate duet, pouring grief and defiance into every phrase, voice and wailing guitar seizing and squeezing every heart in that vast space as the white lasers shatter into shards and rain down from that disco ball. Adam reaches his hand into a beam of light as he thunders “touch my world with your fingertips”…it is over-the-top theatrical, and yet it works. This, ladies and gentlemen, is how you do it.
How do you top that? You don’t try. Instead, Brian May delivers an amazing fifteen-minute electric guitar solo, a virtuosic exploration of the almost limitless universe of sounds he is able to produce from his fabled Red Special guitar. Looming on the Jumbotron looking like Johann Sebastian Bach on a bad hair day, his silver nimbus flowing against images of stars and galaxies, he is a Guitar God in the flesh. If there are Maygasms, they were erupting all over the arena.
And after that, it’s off to the races with a fast-charging series of hits: “Tie Your Mother Down,” “Radio Ga Ga” – another highlight for me, as the sweetness of the melody is made for Adam’s voice – “Crazy Little Things Called Love,” and “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
The one song that felt to me like a misfit was “The Show Must Go On.” It was dropped from the Boston show (apparently because the concert would have run past the curfew if this song had been kept in). I felt it was out of place and would have fit better into an earlier part of the show, or should be dropped. (Frankly, I worry about the number of power ballads in the show and the wear and tear on those precious vocal cords…)
And what about Bo Rhap? How inexpressibly sweet is it to close the circle, from that American Idol audition (and how cute was Adam running down the street with his golden pass to Hollywood?) to THIS. Bringing Freddie Mercury’s music back to life for hundreds of thousands of Queen fans around the world, and delivering my favorite moment in the entire show: Adam purring “Nothing really matters to me” as he tips his too-beautiful face towards us, eyes soft, a smile – the most seductive on the planet – flickering across his lips.
I would have happily drifted into the ether at this point, but this being an arena show, there must be a bombastic ending that brings everyone to their feet. So after a breather, it’s on to “We Will Rock You” and “We Are The Champions,” with Adam sporting his glittering crown, sparkle-festooned leopard suit and heavy-weight champ’s gold medallion across his, um, bare chest. It’s gilding the lily, but we’ll take it.
If there’s one thing I could say to Adam (not that he’s listening), it’s to shed that deferential attitude for good. Those haters who will never forgive you for not being Freddie? F*ck them. They also hate Brian and Rodger for having the audacity to still be playing the music they helped to create. They’d rather pack these rock giants off to an old folks’ home to spend their days slumped in an armchair listening over and over to old Queen LPs. You will never please the Cult of Freddie, so don’t even bother.
The ermine mantle rests squarely on your shoulders and you are ready to rule the stage with AUTHORITY. Do it for the millions of people who love the music, artistry and spectacle of Queen. You pay greatest homage to Freddie’s spirit by fully inhabiting that fantastic body of music, in all its anthemic, campy, defiant, operatic, ridiculous glory. Rock is your destiny, with Queen now and with the music you are capable of making in the future. Grab it and never let it go!
I left Mohegan Sun with an unexpectedly heavy heart. Two days of camaraderie, catching up on our lives, reminiscing about past shared experiences, laced with rich veins of unadulterated Glambertizing, culminating in two hours of overwhelming emotion watching our boy own the stage with what we jokingly referred to as his “new backing band,” that royalty of rock Queen – it’s all so hard to leave. I’m feeling that addict’s withdrawal, craving not just the adrenaline-fueled high of the concert, but the warm embrace and companionship of a group of wonderful women who have grown very dear to me.
I’ve thanked Adam before, and I will continue to thank him, for the many wonderful blessings he has brought into my life.