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Queen + Adam Lambert at BMO Stadium, Los Angeles

The last date of the tour was tight and magnificent
Queen + Adam Lambert, at peak glam in Los Angeles (Photo credit: Bojan Hohnjec)

After Freddie Mercury died in 1991, Queen were adrift for years. 

The seemingly odd pairing with a runner-up American Idol contestant, Adam Lambert, in 2011 to fill Freddie’s big glam shoes is now seen as a brilliant move. Together they’ve enjoyed a series of successful global tours, the most recent of which wrapped up with two sold-out nights in Los Angeles.

The suitably over-the-top show lasted more than two hours, and was built on a solid setlist that delivered almost every song expected. And the visual presentation matched the often-extravagant songs. 

Things truly kicked into gear by the third song, opening with the distinctive bass riff of “Another One Bites the Dust.” But the next number, “I’m In Love With My Car,” nearly caused proceedings to skid off the rails — rarely has such an inconsequential song reached such frequent rotation. Sharp-eyed fans noticed that the regal artwork evolving above the band later subtly included the classic lines of the Triumph TR4, about which drummer Roger Taylor wrote the song. 

Taylor later did a drum solo, a required vestige from most ‘70s bands. His solo was preceded by a clip of him as a younger man pounding away at timpani. OTT? Yes! But it all fit. He then tackled the impressive challenge of David Bowie’s vocals on “Under Pressure.” The song missed the depth of Mercury’s vocals, but full credit to Taylor and Lambert for giving it a go.

I think the band’s bringing in Lambert works so well because it is a function of our memories of Mercury, who was probably not actually as flamboyant as we now remember him. It takes a fully blossomed Lambert to fill the role we expect at the front of Queen.

And it is clearly working. Lambert’s various costume changes and preening fully complemented the arena-sized music. For instance, after Taylor’s ode to automobiles, Lambert assayed the acoustic motorbike theme of “Bicycle Race.” But the two-wheeler Lambert straddled was a silver plated, gas-guzzling hog.

Brian May evoked with aplomb the classic image of the skinny-legged guitarist. While Lambert mostly strutted, May swaggered. Lambert navigated the stairways to the risers and the lengthy runway on his massive heels with dexterity—I mean, props right there, right? May strode confidently across the stage, slashing at power chords and riffing blazing guitar runs.

Brian May: man of electricity (Photo credit: Sarah Rugg)

May tapped into his other life as an astrophysicist, riffing on Einstein’s theory of relativity and marveling at the plethora of lights in the audience, referencing them as stars. His turn in the spotlight comprised the delicate solo acoustic set of “39” and “Love of My Life.” Nearly every fan pulled out a mobile phone, and their digital lighters indeed had the venue looking like the nearby galaxy.

“A Kind of Magic” had the best integration of visuals, a majestic kaleidoscope of frames and architectural columns. The finger-snapping rockabilly stylings of “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” allowed Lambert to channel his inner (and outer) Elvis, which he has been doing for most of his career. “Killer Queen” had a drawing room charm, launched with Lambert preening with his makeup at a dressing room mirror. 

Any band successfully coming through the ‘70s and ‘80s invariably has a power ballad in its songbook, and Queen’s “Who Wants to Live Forever” is no exception. It fell flat for me, but so do most songs in that narrow and oxymoronic genre.

May was able to revisit his fascination with astronomy when hoisted toward the scaffolding, where he delivered some tasteful astral guitar harmonics and solo shredding. His head was among suspended planets, apparently an aspirational location for him. 

Inevitably “Bohemian Rhapsody” was the final song before the encore. It seemed the song’s complex vocal harmonies were supplemented by the original recording, but no matter… if it was, everyone was still happy.

The band delivered the expected encore of “We Will Rock You,” with just the right amount of guitar distortion. The evening was bookended perfectly by renditions of “Radio Ga Ga,” but the band sent the audience home with the song invariably heard in arenas around the world, “We Are the Champions.”

A fitting finale to an evening and a tour that brought the band to heights it likely did not imagine when Freddie died and their main voice was silenced. 

No word if May was in a hurry to find a place with far less lights to peer through a telescope to see that night’s annual Northern Taurids meteor shower. But it had to have been on his mind…