Classic Rock Corner

Queen + Adam Lambert Bathe in Classic-Rock Glory With a Side of Camp

Photo by Eric Sauseda
Queen + Adam Lambert
Toyota Center
August 5, 2017

With apologies to the great Curtis Mayfield, let’s get one thing straight: Freddie’s dead.

Yeah, that’s what I said.

So for the Classic Rock Harumphers and Humbuggers who bemoan and carp that any performing entity called “Queen + Adam Lambert” is not “really” Queen and shouldn’t be allowed to besmirch the reputation of the “Original Classic” Queen, and that Adam Lambert from American Idol is no Freddie Mercury, there’s at least one guy who partially agrees with you: Adam Lambert.

“I know there are some hardcore fans out there who are saying that I’m not Freddie Mercury. “Well no shit, I’m not!”” Lambert told the crowd during a break in the music when he talked about the influence of the band’s irreplaceable vocalist, dead now more than a quarter-century.

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Photo by Eric Sauseda
This did not seem to be an issue at all for anybody in attendance, who nonetheless still got half of the original band (guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor), a charismatic, talented frontman in his own right, and a crack backing group both paying tribute to the band’s incredible catalogue and providing more than enough thrills of its own for more than two hours. And – as promised right out of the gate – they did rock us.

Things did get off to something of a wobbly start when Lambert – dressed as if he were inspired by George Michael from the “Faith” video for Halloween – brooded and strutted rather than engagingly perform the first few numbers.

But things picked up quickly with “Fat Bottomed Girls,” and Lambert’s showmanship matched the swagger. Not to mention his at least six costume changes throughout the show, a sartorial conveyor belt of leather, sparkles, T-shirts with hearts on them, silver and purple color combinations, and flashy jackets. Freddie would have certainly approved.

“Freddie was very much a fashionista, and I want to be one too. I’m up here in this gay-ass suit,” Lambert joked. The singer, who has been open about his homosexuality and sported his trademark heavy eye makeup and high hair, swung from butch to femme personas easily, posturing throughout the show with flamboyance and style, and it was perfect. And can Lambert ever hit those impossible high notes.

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Photo by Eric Sauseda
For the partial “Bicycle Race,” he rode a pink three-wheel bike across the stage runway, camping it up while throwing roses and singing into a mike. Overall, Lambert was far more compatible with the music and stage show than when May and Taylor toured some years back as “Queen + Paul Rodgers” with the Bad Company front man. That show mixed tunes from both bands, but felt like an arranged marriage between two entities that kinda-sorta liked each other.

In fact, the guitar-neck-shaped (or was that a penis?) stage runway that extended well into the middle of the floor brought the band closer to its audience both physically and in the show. It was utilized best when it was just Lambert, May and Taylor for a few numbers, playing in and around each other with a grace and a camaraderie.

The two original members of Queen took surprisingly strong vocal turns as well: Taylor with the powerful and electric, but unfortunately named “I’m In Love with My Car." And May – with just an acoustic guitar and a stool at the long end of the  runway – gently offered “Love of My Life” while letting a video Freddie Mercury finish the song.

It was actually an extremely touching moment that clearly moved the guitarist, despite how many times it’s been performed (Houston was the last stop of a 26-city North American tour). The passage of time was very visual – May’s explosion of follicles that looked like an old English Charles Dickens-era judge's wig, and Taylor’s hair and heavy beard were all gray.

But they played with an energy and stamina that belied their age, especially during their solo segments when it was just them and their instruments. The crowd clearly had deep goodwill for both, and May even talked to the audience and took a “stereophonic selfie” of the entire audience.

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Photo by Eric Sauseda
Other highlights included the rockabilly-rollicking crowd favorite “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” a powerful and urgent “Under Pressure” (which Taylor dedicated to David Bowie, who sang so memorably with Mercury on the original), and Lambert’s best vocal showcase of the evening in “Who Wants to Live Forever?” Did I mention you got to hear all of Brian May’s distinctive guitar solos from the record played impeccably by Brian May?
Though original bassist John Deacon, who no longer tours, was missed for his unique thumping on “Another One Bites the Dust."

Some numbers did fall flat: a yawning “Hammer to Fall,” a rote and lifeless “I Want It All,” and a dragging “Get Down, Make Love” trying to be "dirty" with an extended (and unnecessary) middle section.

A particular note has to be given to the incredible special effects and how they really contributed to the visuals of the show. The Frank Kelly Freas-designed innocent-but-terrifying robot from the cover of News of the World (based on the cover of a ’50s sci-fi pulp) appeared in some clever animation, appearing to both break walls and actually lift May upwards while he ripped out a lengthy and acrobatic solo. Lambert also sang "Killer Queen" from atop a large prop of the robot's head that appeared from under the stage.

Planets and stars also made May (in real life also a Ph.D.-carrying astrophysicist!) appear as if he were playing in the cosmos, while other animation buoyed a few more songs. And there were more lasers than I’ve seen since the old Friday-night Pink Floyd light shows at Burke Baker Planetarium in the ’80s.

Of course, everyone greeted “Bohemian Rhapsody” with…well…a rhapsodic reception and Queen’s most bombastic anthem had the audience singing as loud as Lambert. And with the famous Queen music video for the tune being played/heard during the middle section, and Lambert and a returning video Freddie Mercury trading off lines in the last stanza, it was at once both a throwback and just a cool thing to hear. As was seeing May rip out the solo after being lifted up to the stage from underground, decked in a silver Rick Wakeman-style cape/robe.

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Photo by Eric Sauseda
A frenetic encore tied together “We Will Rock You,” “Tie Your Mother Down” and a soaring “We Are the Champions.” And while sports stadiums and high-school pep rallies might have hijacked usage of those bookend songs, they provided an undeniable thrill to hear within the confines of a stadium-rock show.

So yes, Freddie’s dead. But Queen + Adam Lambert is no glorified tribute act or unholy music matrimony. And if you still Harrumph and Humbug, I don't give — in the title of the Lone Adam Lambert/non-Queen song performed on the bill — "Two Fux."

Personal Bias: Heard a lot of Queen in the house growing up, as they were my mother’s favorite band, and knew deep tracks of News of the World (What? No "All Dead, All Dead" or "It's Late" on the set list?). At her funeral service, we proudly displayed her PVC Freddie Mercury action figure on top of the table with the guest registry.

The Crowd: Lots of thirty- to fiftysomething couples out for a good time. Some had been drinking the $11.50 Bud Lights.

Overheard In the Crowd: “This is old school, man! They’re the real deal! I graduated high school in 1980! I hope they play ‘Bohemian Rhapsody!’” – Scott Washburn, sitting behind me.

Random Notebook Dump: Not sure if there was a technical difficulty or issue backstage, but the show slated to start at 8 p.m. didn’t commence until just after 8:45, with several starts and stops of intro music. The crowd was getting restless, enough to boisterously applaud a quartet of smoke machines that spewed but heralded no band arrival.

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Grammy D Ruggiero would have been proud that Emma has carried on the tradition of her love for Queen.
Photo by Bob Ruggiero
We Will Rock You (snippet)
Hammer to Fall
Stone Cold Crazy
Another One Bites the Dust
Fat Bottomed Girls
Killer Queen
Two Fux (Adam Lambert song)
Don’t Stop Me Now
Bicycle Race (partial)
I’m in Love with My Car
Get Down, Make Love
I Want It All
Love of My Life
Somebody to Love
Crazy Little Thing Called Love
Drum Battle
Under Pressure
I Want to Break Free
Who Wants to Live Forever
Guitar solo
Radio Ga Ga
Bohemian Rhapsody

Will Will Rock You
Tie Your Mother Down
We Are the Champions
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Bob Ruggiero has been writing about music, books, visual arts and entertainment for the Houston Press since 1997, with an emphasis on classic rock. He used to have an incredible and luxurious mullet in college as well. He is the author of the band biography Slippin’ Out of Darkness: The Story of WAR.
Contact: Bob Ruggiero