Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Queen + Adam Lambert concert review: Los Angeles

A version of my review originally appeared at

Queen + Adam Lambert
When: July 3
Where: The Forum, Inglewood

“I’m thrilled that the Forum is back. It’s been 30 years since we trod these boards,” enthused Queen guitarist Brian May, before starting an acoustic concert segment at the venue on Thursday night.

The band’s original lineup last played there in September 1982 during the “Hot Space” tour. Before that was a four-night 1980 stand, which Michael Jackson attended. The King of Pop went on to do some recording sessions with Queen lead singer Freddie Mercury.

Since both vocalists are now deceased, those songs are currently being finished by founding members May and drummer Roger Taylor, for an album of new and old (“Queen Forever”) material tentatively due next winter.

Also in the works is a film biopic starring Ben Whishaw (“Skyfall,” “Cloud Atlas”) as Mercury. More immediately, “We Will Rock You,” the long-running theatrical production based on the veteran London rock group’s music, opens at the Ahmanson Theatre on July 15.

Having previously toured and recorded with Paul Rodgers of Bad Company during the mid-2000s to mixed reviews, Queen has found the ultimate front man in Adam Lambert. The “American Idol” runner up initially performed with them on the series' 2009 season finale and then did half a dozen European dates.

May recently told Rolling Stone, “This [American tour] is the closest you’ll ever get to see Queen as it was in our golden days.”

Indeed. Lambert, 32, has a strikingly similar sense of panache as Mercury, plus a mightily impressive vocal range.

Each was on full display in Inglewood amid a spectacular show rife with classic rock bombast (i.e. requisite drum and guitar solos) that clocked in just over two hours.

Plenty of U.K. hits were represented within the 22-song set, but several selections were probably unknown to all but the faithful. Lambert first appeared on screens shrouded in silhouette and then emerged from the top stage tier, clad in black leather.

Accompanied by longtime keyboardist Spike Edney, bassist Neil Fairclough and Taylor’s young son Rufus on drums/percussion, Queen + Adam Lambert kicked everything off with brawny rocker “Now I’m Here.” It was the first of four tunes culled from 1974’s “Sheer Heart Attack.”

“Stone Cold Crazy” featured a strong careening guitar intro as the singer nailed those rapid fire lyrics and knelt down in awe of May’s muscular riffs. All the musicians harmonized well on stomper “Fat Bottomed Girls,” Lambert strutted his stuff with authority and a min-cam attached to May’s guitar neck provided a bird’s eye view of the legend’s masterful fretwork.

Following Lambert’s change into a glam-styled glittery shirt with fringe, spikes and platform shoes, “Lap of the Gods…Revisited” contained the night’s first sing along and was capped by billowing smoke plumes. He headed to a smaller B-stage located amid the venue’s floor section to camp it up during a sprightly “Seven Seas of Rhye,” while lounging on a regal couch. Lambert playfully sipped from a bottle of champagne amid the solid “Killer Queen” and May joined him there.

The front man easily proved his mettle for an ultra-dramatic “Somebody to Love,” as Taylor gave a thunderous heft to “I Want it All,” the tempo increased and May did another fast fingered display.

A montage tribute to Mercury came during a solo acoustic take on “Love of My Life,” where the axe man said “this is for Freddie. He’s not very far away” and paused after singing the line “I still love you.” It finished with a film clip of Mercury singing the song.

Prior to the folky space tale “’39,” also on the B-stage, May mentioned Einstein’s theory of relativity (he has a PhD in astrophysics) and was joined by the other musicians. Taylor was front and center to ably handle lead vocals on poignant ballad “These Are the Days of Our Lives.” Once Lambert returned, the drummer also impressed during their stunning duet “Under Pressure” and said, “It’s good to be back here; it feels like home. There’s no dancers. Just real singing.”

Lasers and a mirror ball provided ambience to the breathtaking highlight “Who Wants to Live Forever” (another subtle nod to Mercury’s absence). Later, “Tie Your Mother Down” was a full throttle attack with some call and response action. Lambert was a bit shaky on the slide guitar-enhanced “Radio Ga Ga” and a tempered, extended version of “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” but redeemed himself for the stunning high drama of “The Show Must Go On.”

Queen + Adam Lambert finished the main set with “Bohemian Rhapsody” as Lambert traded verses with Mercury via the classic 1975 music video (it got me wondering what this tune would be like with a pseudo-hologram a la Jackson at the Billboard Music Awards) and a caped May emerged looking like a sorcerer to finish with some ferocious licks.

Here's hoping the latest Queen paring sticks for awhile. 

Setlist: Queen at the Forum, Inglewood, Calif., July 3, 2014

Now I'm Here/Stone Cold 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/Under Pressure/Love Kills/Who Wants to Live Forever/Tie Your Mother Down/Radio Ga Ga/Crazy Little Thing Called Love/The Show Must Go On/Bohemian Rhapsody
Encore:  We Will Rock You/We Are the Champions

All photos by Kelly Swift

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