Queen + Adam Lambert
Sky Stadium, Wellington
Wednesday, February 5
I was there. At a Queen concert. Well, a “Queen + Adam Lambert” concert (which is a Queen concert these days). But would I do the fandango? What was I doing at a Queen concert? I have written – often – about not liking this band, and most certainly about hating Queen fans.
So there I am. All those years after bitching about Queen – often – trying my best to point out that I do love the News of the World album (but not much else), after signaling that I grew up on Queen’s hit compilations and that the Live Magic album was hugely important in my life as a kid and never ever – no way! – admitting (until now) that seeing Roger Taylor in the I Want To Break Free video made me feel as funny as when we had to climb the rope in gym class.
Queen is Wayne’s World. Queen is sports-stadium anthems. Queen is a motherfucking rock-scientist that never changed his guitar nor hairstyle absolutely killing it with symphonic, stinging lead lines. Queen is both pomp. And circumstance. And by circumstance (my eight year old son is a massive fan) I was there to drink in the pomposity-as-Kool-Aid.
And let’s get this out of the way right away, it was fucking brilliant really. Top notch. Huge show! Rather glorious. Mostly…
It at least had everything (everything!) a stadium show should have. I’m a sucker for a big stadium gig. I’ve been to many – including (as a reviewer) to a few I wouldn’t have ordinarily signed up for. And really the only dud was Bon Jovi. And even that had its moments. Just nowhere near enough for me.
But this? This was pretty special from the get-go. Obviously, Queen fans are lunatics. So there was a desperate, nerdy set of gig-pheromones swirling and texting each other in the group-chat as the atmosphere intensified – with Innuendo being pumped through the speakers like the perfect movie-trailer music ahead of opener-proper, Now I’m Here.
From there it’s the first song thrill-ride of the evening through Seven Seas of Rhye, Keep Yourself Alive and Hammer to Fall. Killer Queen…indeed.
Then Lambert, in very fine voice from the get-go and now nearly a decade into his run as the lead Karaoke-ist for worldwide Queen live listening sessions, decided to “address the pink elephant in the room”, which was to say that he absolutely is not Freddie, nor ever could be. He wouldn’t insult us by trying to be either, because he is just like us. (No, really). He is a fan of Queen. And he’s there to facilitate the dispersal of some of the band’s weapons-grade hits.
So, you know, he just won everyone over. Though I guess paying those ticket-prices meant it was mostly fans (already won-over) in attendance…
But it was a nice touch, especially ahead of Don’t Stop Me Now. He’d basically reminded the audience of his license to drive this big beast. Then had 30,000 punch-drunk goons riding shotgun.
First huge audience-singalong of the night. Played like a fiddle. And loving it…
Somebody To Love was another reminder of the big, big back-catalogue. Seems silly to suggest that anyone would forget just how many hits Queen has – but, you know, I’m a lapsed fan. Non-practicing.
In The Lap of the Gods…Revisited is the first deep cut of the night. And then that cringe moment where the drummer suggests they do one of his numbers.
Roger Taylor sings I’m In Love With My Car from behind the kit. Brian May spends most of the song assuring his laces are tied. And appears to lie back and not think of Brexit.
Bicycle Race and Fat Bottomed Girls arrive quickly enough to get over that first slight snag.
And then Another One Bites The Dust.
This version of Queen has a bass player they keep in a fetid, rotten cell underneath the stage. His name is NOT JOHN DEACON. And he is fed on resentment-tears and the general emotional abuse of being heard but not really seen. He bursts out from under the stage to grab a sliver of lime-flavoured light for Another One Bites The Dust. And then he is banished to the bass-cave. He will make a later appearance for a quick name-mention (He is NOT JOHN DEACON!) and then he’ll get another hit of the juice for Under Pressure. He spends his entire night under the pressure of being NOT JOHN DEACON!
I Want It All is requisite Stadium Rock-Anthem 101 fodder. And fine enough. Good panto call and response stuff.
And then Brian May plays an acoustic set that is just long enough to remind you how thrilled you are that he built his own electric guitar. Love Of My Love and ’39 and Doing All Right are all deeper cuts and part of the Queen story and a reminder that this perpetual victory lap is being sold as a tribute to Freddie – but they’re also shitty songs that are fucking boring.
Fortunately I pass my time by noticing there’s a sourpuss two seats down who either “hates” Queen more than I do. Or hates me more than I do. It’s a line-call but either way I’m impressed. Respect.
And with that we’re back to the band doing what it should with Crazy Little Thing Called Love and Under Pressure. Taylor sings the Bowie part and its effective and endearing. And if that sounds patronising it’s not meant to – he’s more than good enough. He also beats those drums like they (still) owe him money which is fiscally implausible I would have thought, however…
I Want To Break Free doesn’t get me fapping but it’s obviously a big one for fans.
Who Wants To Live Forever is amazing for the light show alone – and really this is everything you’d hope and expect from one of the last Dinosaur Rock Stadium Acts: a light show to rival Pink Floyd, amazing use of the video screens, the Big Show must go on…
May’s interminable guitar solo – Last Horizon interpolating Dvorak’s New World Symphony – has him appearing as if he’s standing on an asteroid that is hurtling through space. It’s an amazing and absurd spectacle. And a fucking boring guitar solo when compared with the magic he has been serving in each and every tune ahead of this snore-fest.
But hey, it’s arguably his show. And he is amazing. A class act. And if not one of the best guitarists in the world then he most certainly is the best poodle-haired astrophysicist that plays guitar. (Top three at least…)
You need those padding moments in a stadium-rock gig though. You’ve paid top dollar and there’s an obligation to run past two hours – I’ve seen Slash wank out The Godfather Theme on guitar and there’s almost always a stupid-long drum solo somewhere or Bono disingenuously ignoring his own carbon footprint and tax-dodging to humble-brag of the awareness he’s aware he’s raising. So Brian may as well spank his plank.
And you sorta know there’s more good stuff to come right?
And there is.
Fucking Radio Gaga absolutely pops! Bohemian Rhapsody is stupid-good in this environment. And how very Kiwi Rock Gig: Right at the end of May’s glorious solo and just as the absurdity of “I see a little silhouetto of a man” is about to, er, hit, I get the biggest whiff of weed – as if a big set of knives just went in under the Cake-tin. Everyone in their element.
We clap. And we stamp. And we hope for the encore we know is jolly well coming regardless. And then we get hologram Freddie doing his vocal gymnastics to tease the crowd in call and response. I’m laughing. I’m sure many are crying. Fairplay, fuckers.
We Will Rock You and We Are The Champions are the rightful tandem encores.
I might never listen to Queen again but I had a bloody good time. Even remembered to tell my face that. And my son loved it. And yes, I was seeing it through his eyes as much as I could, hoping to hear it with his ears. But you can’t deny your own history in these moments. I was a huge Queen fan from age 6 or 8 through most of my teenage years (it was only the evangelical fans in the wake of Freddie’s death that killed my buzz).
Tonight I felt close to whoever that kid used to be. And closer still to the kid sitting right next to me.