Bell Centre, Montreal, July 14, 2014
I have been a fan of Queen since the 1970s, the best part of 40 years. I’ve adored Freddie Mercury’s extraordinary vocals and Brian May’s electrifying guitar work in equal measures. After Freddie died, it seemed like Queen was probably defunct but Queen never really disappeared from view. John Deacon retired from music but Brian May and Roger Taylor kept their hand in with various individual projects. A West End show was developed from their music, We Will Rock You, backed by Brian and Roger and then a new front man, veteran rock vocalist Paul Rogers, spent a few years with them, even recording new material. It was good, but it wasn’t Freddie. Nobody could be, of course, but in my opinion, Queen needed someone who was a real showman, flamboyant and full of charisma in addition to being a great vocalist. It's what we expect from Queen, isn't it?
They’ve found that missing piece. Adam Lambert is a young man who came second in an American Idol competition but has built a pretty good pop career for himself since then. He has a lot of fans and a strong following. He’s got that flamboyance taken a few steps further with a lot of animal print, bling and glam added on. He certainly does have stage presence and he’s got a hefty set of lungs behind them pipes. He may not quite have Freddie’s vocal range but he’s not far off. I read one review that said his voice doesn’t have the richness of Freddie’s and that’s exactly the element I was trying to think of. His voice is really good, he’s got a great range and lots of power and his voice suits the material really well. Freddie’s vocals just had that little something extra that was uniquely Freddie.
Even at 31, with the fame he's acheived on the pop music front, he also doesn’t seem to have the arrogance and ego that Freddie had which made Freddie just that bit more “Freddie”, if you know what I mean. But in Adam, that arrogance wouldn’t work anyway. He has the camp that’s needed, but his style is his own, and when performing with Queen, he seems to respect the big boots he has to fill and wears those boots with heels or platforms, decorating them with studs, zips, glitter and wearing them with confidence and pride.
Enough of that. Queen and Adam Lambert played a handful of concerts two years ago and it went so well that they decided to do a summer tour this year with two dozen or so dates in North America. They may be adding on some in Asia later on. For the first time, I could afford to fly to one of North American cities and see Queen live, something I couldn’t do when Freddie was alive. My coworker, Kelly, who is a massive Adam Lambert fan and saw them in London in 2012, made plans with me to go to Montreal. Another long time friend of mine, Shirley, came along as well. When telling people about the concert, from my perspective, I was going to see Queen (and Adam Lambert) while Kelly was going to see Adam Lambert (and Queen). But I had seen video of Adam with Queen and felt he was very good, a fine replacement for my beloved Freddie so I was stoked.
The show started an hour late but once it started, nobody cared about that. The set list was a good mix from all eras of Queen music from the very beginning to the last release, Innuendo, and they started off with an older tune, Now I’m Here and crunched into Stone Cold Crazy. The stage set had a big video screen framed with a circle that had additional lights and “magic” and the video was used to feature the band members up close but also used special video effects like “noise and static” during Stone Cold Crazy to a neat effect. There was also a catwalk from the stage down into the crowd and our seats were very near the end of it so we got some excellent views when the action came down the walkway. When you look at the stage from above, the catwalk actually curves out from the base of the "O" and is lit on the sides, it actually forms the tail to make the Q!
The funk beat of Another One Bites the Dust punctuated with lasers was a visual wonder. The light and video show itself was fantastic throughout the concert. Adam strutted from that into Fat Bottom Girls, one of my favourites, and worked the crowd, strutting his stuff down the catwalk into the crowd. Brian aced the guitar solos in it, as always. Back to the older part of the catalogue next with Lap of the Gods and Seven Seas of Rye.
We’re in for some theatrics now. A plush settee is set up at the bottom of the catwalk. Adam, now in a jacket with long gold shiny fringes on the spiked shoulder sleeves and glitter on his platform boots and leather pants, sashayed down the catwalk and draped himself across the settee, bottle of champagne in one hand and a fan in the other for a cheeky and very camp rendition of Killer Queen which, let’s be fair, couldn’t be done any other way. Brian played his way down and joined him. Champagne may have been consumed and showered over the end of the stage. All in good fun!
The action mixed up older and newer back to back for Somebody To Love and a newer song, I Want It All which got the crowd jumping. A couple of times Adam played with the audience doing vocal athletics with repeated lyrics and urging the audience to repeat it, in a similar vein to Freddie's bee bop vocal gymnastics that he would do sometimes. And even though it was a similar type of element, Adam did his own twist on it. I still felt a little jarring, but that's just me. The crowd seemed to love it!
The mood went quiet and nostalgic with an acoustic set. Adam had a break here so the next few songs were just Brian, and then with Roger and the rest of the band. Brian sat on the end of the catwalk alone, with an acoustic guitar and explained how he would always do this song with Freddie standing at his side. He said he would have to sing it himself, now, and encouraged the audience to sing it with him. Brian was never a strong singer but his rendition of Love of My Life was tender and emotional, and when the video screen revealed Freddie playing the piano and singing a verse behind him, I don’t think there were many dry eyes in the house, Brian’s included. You can clearly see it affects him and it’s not an act for the audience. He misses Freddie as much as we all do.
More of the band comes down now the catwalk with a drum kit in towl. We’re pulled back in time with video from the year the song is about, ’39. We get to see the new bass player, Neil Fairclough, and we’re introduced to a second drummer, the son of Roger Taylor. His name is Rufus Tiger. Spike Edney is a long time session musicion who's been with the band since the 80s on keyboards when required and he had a little portable one for this number.
Now, after '39, we also had Neil Fairclough on stage playing a short medley solo with the bass. I recognized the bass line from a number of Queen tunes such as Dragon Attack, Backchat and Brighton Rock. Shortly after that, I think before Under Pressure, or a bit before that, Roger Taylor also did a drum solo, part of which was in tandem with his son who seems to have inherited his father’s talent with the sticks though he is only 23.
We have one more slow song in this set, Days of our Lives, also from the Innuendo album. That music video was Freddie’s goodbye to his fans and the video screen played old video clips of Freddie and the band from the early days on through their history. Another lump in your throat moment. Roger was the lead singer here. They really make sure Freddie is not forgotten and it means so much for the fans to know his memory is respected.
It’s time to get back to Adam and he joins Roger on the end of the catwalk with a duo, Under Pressure, with Roger singing David Bowie’s part. It’s very clear that Roger and Brian think highly of Adam and his talent. Brian joins them and this time, the tune is one of Freddie’s from his solo album Mr. Bad Guy, released in the mid 80s. Love Kills was a disco tune back then, recorded for a rerelease of an old silent film, Metropolis. Radio Ga Ga also used that film for the music video. They’ve reworked Love Kills and slowed it down. It seems to have a lot more emotional impact this way. I think they mentioned they were releasing a new cd later in the year with mostly reworked old material including this tune but maybe some old previously unreleased songs as well. I look forward to seeing what’s going to be included.
Who Wants to Live Forever topped that off with Brian’s haunting guitar sounds filling the air. Brian then played a long 20 minute solo, titled "Last Horizon", that started off slow but by the end, the sound was showing very clearly that he has not lost any ounce of talent in those fingers. For me, Queen was even more about Brian’s guitar work than it was about Freddie’s vocals. Freddie’s vocals filled my heart but Brian’s playing stoked my soul. This solo left me breathless and landed Brian on his knees at the end.
After Brian’s solo, the energy didn’t so much as ramp up as it skyrocketed into another of my favourites, Tie Your Mother Down. Wow! When it’s a “Bucket List” band that you never thought you’d get to see perform, it’s all very overwhelming when you do and when you hear those favourites, you nearly burst with happy!
Radio Ga Ga is next with video from Metropolis. Don’t Stop Me Now, not one of my personal favourites is short and sweet and another of my lesser favourites, Crazy Little Thing Called Love, fully of rockabilly, has the crowd stomping. I must say, though it’s not one I ever loved, the guitar solos and Spike Edney’s thumping piano solos in it do rock the town! But as we know, The Show Must Go On and the show ended, after that tune, with the classic Bohemian Rhapsody and a costume change for Brian into a gold lame shirt with wide long bell sleeves, like he wore back in the old days. There was another appearance by Freddie at the end with Freddie and Adam trading lines in the last verse. Nothing really mattered, anyone could see. It was all about the two of them for a moment.
You know the show will have an encore and you wouldn’t have to take bets to know what the encore was going to be. Roger came back on stage first. The drums crashed. Bang, Bang, BANG! Lights and smoke go off. Bang, Bang, BANG! Again with the lights and smoke. Then more regularly. Yep. We Will Rock You got off to an aggressive start. Adam appeared on stage clad in gold with a crown and proceeded to power out the first lyrics as Brian came on stage. The video screen showed him clearly. Wearing a red Montreal Canadiens hockey jersey with “May” across the back (Number 19)!!! The crowd in Montreal's Bell Centre went nuts! What a GREAT touch that was.
The very end had all the band on stage, backed with a recording of the traditional "God Save the Queen" (as played by Brian, of course and have I mentioned that I'm going to have Queen's version of the Wedding March from the Flash Gordon soundtrack at my own wedding next year?)
We left the building, buzzing and satisfied. Shirley and I went back to the hotel for late night snacks and more Queen music while I uploaded my photos to my laptop to see what I got. Kelly met up with some of her Glamberts and floated on a high for a few hours after the show. I am quite pleased with my photo, though I had to drop a lot of shots that were blurry or overblown with light. I got some really good ones, especially of Brian. My friend who is the Adam fan got some wonderful shots of him so I will have to add them to my stash when she gets them sorted.
What an experience!!! I doubt I’ll ever see anything that will top this for me. Queen is my all time favourite band and I can die happy, now I’ve seen them!The Montreal Gazette review
is very good and I think I agree with most of it. I like them calling Brian’s guitar “muscular”. They captured the concert really well, I think. Two reviews of the Toronto shows from the Globe and Mail and the Sun were condescending and unflattering, I thought. I won’t link to them. Adam, for all his flamboyance, is his own man, and he’s not trying to imitate Freddie. I really feel that Queen needed a front man that had the same kind of theatrical presence that Freddie had. Paul Rogers has talent, there’s no arguing that, but he didn’t have the same kind of charisma that the band really needs and which Adam very ably provides. It’s a very good fit and if we can’t have Freddie, Adam is the next best thing.My photos on Flickr
(my copyright, please don’t nick without permission)Set list:
(and on Setlist.fm
Now I’m Here
Stone Cold Crazy
Another One Bites the Dust
Fat Bottom Girls
Lap of the Gods
Seven Seas of Rhye
Somebody to Love
I Want it All
Love of my Life
Days of our Lives
Who Wants to Live Forever
Brian's guitar solo
Tie Your Mother Down
Radio Ga Ga
Don't Stop Me Now
Crazy Little Thing Called Love
The Show Must Go On
We Will Rock You
We Are the Champions