True story: I was watching "American Idol" one night during the season that Adam Lambert was competing. I said to my wife – Mrs. Brown will vouch for this – "that guy should sing with Queen."
The band was casting about for a new frontman after ending its five-year partnership with former Free/Bad Company/The Firm/The Law singer Paul Rodgers, and Lambert was enlivening another dreary season of Idol with his three-octave range, upper-register confidence and flamboyant stage presence.
The point being: This whole thing was kind of my idea.
So I'm delighted to report that the pairing of the 32-year-old singer with Queen drummer Roger Taylor and guitarist Dr. Brian May (original singer Freddie Mercury died in 1991, and bass player John Deacon has lost interest) is a near-complete success.
At Merriweather Post Pavilion on Sunday night, Lambert managed to be both respectful in his approach to the material – all of which dated from Mercury's tenure – and confident as he worked a catwalk that curved around from behind the drum riser and out through the first several rows.
(Also through a comprehensive regimen of costume changes. I took notes through the first several, but got lost somewhere between the gold-tasseled black tunic and the zebra-striped blouse.)
And while Lambert's voice is neither as full nor as rich as Mercury's – he wouldn't have been onstage if his predecessor had been available – it does cut with a contemporary R&B edge that had the effect of updating the band's sound.
About that sound: May (one of the great innovators of rock guitar) and Taylor (one of its most influential drummers), augmented by a bassist, a keyboard player and a second drummer, brought the familiar, unmistakable thunder. May conducted the ensemble from his homemade Red Special, alternating between his melodic, endlessly sustaining lead runs and end-of-the-world barre chords.
Still, bombast wants balance. The show worked when Lambert was strutting, posing and winking over the heaviest of metal. It flagged after he departed, leaving Queen Mach II to pursue its Jazz Odyssey, a succession of overlong instrumental solos.
An early highlight was "Killer Queen," which Lambert delivered, salaciously, stretched out on a purple velvet couch. Also "Another One Bites The Dust," which was made to be played loud. Arranging "Radio Ga Ga" around May's guitar, instead of the keyboards of the studio version, has improved it; the more experienced Queen fans among the audience joined in the ritual double-claps of the chorus.
In introducing "'39," May – a genuine astrophysicist (he is the author of both "A Survey Of Radial Velocities in the Zodiacal Dust Cloud" and "Fat-Bottomed Girls") – spoke of traveling through time. But the show, with its multiple generations (Lambert is young enough to be May's son; Taylor's actual son, Rufus Tiger, doubled him on drums), its laser lights, disco ball and early-MTV video effects, and its long familiar music, existed largely outside of time.
An emotional high-point came during May's "Love of My Life," which he sang solo on guitar. Before he began, May said Mercury used to stand at his side as he sang it. During the performance, his old friend returned, fading in on the video screen behind the stage to sing the final line.
From that point on, Mercury was seldom far from view. He appeared, with May, Taylor and Deacon, goofing around in the 40-year-old clips that were projected on the video screen during "These Are The Days Of Our Lives," and returned for "Bohemian Rhapsody," the inevitable finale, to trade passages with Lambert.
It was not quite a passing of the torch, but a poignant tribute, and a fine conclusion to a satisfying evening.
(Procession) Now I'm Here Stone Called Crazy Another One Bites the Dust Fat Bottomed Girls In the Lap of the Gods … Revisited Seven Seas of Rhye Killer Queen Somebody to Love I Want It All Love of My Life '39 These are the Days of Our Lives Bass Solo Drum Battle Under Pressure Love Kills Who Wants to Live Forever Guitar Solo Tie Your Mother Down Radio Ga Ga Crazy Little Thing Called Love Bohemian Rhapsody
We Will Rock You We are the Champions (God Save the Queen)