Queen + Adam Lambert (+ Freddie Mercury) Is a Winning Formula

Queen + Adam Lambert
Queen + Adam Lambert Photo by Violeta Alvarez
Queen + Adam Lambert
Toyota Center
July 24, 2019

The Rhapsody Tour, the latest run of live Queen shows featuring Adam Lambert on vocals, was a half-dozen songs into its Houston stop when Lambert stated the obvious to a capacity crowd at Toyota Center.

"I’m going to say it, I’m going to address the pink elephant in the room – I’m not Freddie, because there’s no replacing the one and only rock god, Freddie Mercury!” Lambert noted, pausing graciously to allow Houston’s Queen fans to honor the band’s late and legendary front man.

Lambert said he and Queen have partnered for eight years now, performing everywhere for fans, new and old, including Toyota Center shows in 2014 and 2017. Lambert’s proclamation almost seems unnecessary at this stage in their union. But he and Queen’s original members, guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor, are navigating new waters on this journey. Their first tours together brought in a mix of Queen die-hards and “Glamberts,” followers of the American singer and American Idol runner-up. The Rhapsody Tour’s tickets are being snagged by Mercury fans, particularly new followers who learned his story via Bohemian Rhapsody, last year’s award-winning, blockbuster band biopic. The film has grossed more than a billion dollars worldwide. It sent Queen’s signature song, “Bohemian Rhapsody,” back to Billboard’s Hot 100 chart, more than 40 years since it first charted. Whole new generations of Queen fans emerged from darkened movie theaters, fascinated by Mercury’s story and the band’s unmistakable music.

click to enlarge Adam Lambert - PHOTO BY VIOLETA ALVAREZ
Adam Lambert
Photo by Violeta Alvarez

That music is Queen’s story, the one that will endure, and fans heard lots of it last night, from expected cuts from the greatest hits compilations, like “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” and “Radio Ga Ga” to less obvious gems such as “’39,” from A Night at the Opera. May plucked away at an acoustic guitar at the end of a catwalk which reached generously into the arena’s crowd for that one, which followed his rendition of “Love of My Life.” That song is highlighted in the film and it gave May a chance to discuss his old friend and band mate. It was a moment not unlike the one Paul McCartney offered fans at a Minute Maid show some years ago, where he performed “Something” in honor of George Harrison. May’s voice – which is still pristine all these decades later – reached out to Mercury and Mercury reached back, by way of his image in a video sequence.

Mercury appeared several times this way, during “Bohemian Rhapsody” and again for the audience call-and-response of “Ay-Oh,” which kicked off the encore. But his virtual image was hardly necessary. His spirit was in the room on practically every song, particularly during tunes like “I Want to Break Free” and “Who Wants to Live Forever.”

For his part, Lambert has learned to share the stage with that specter, quite admirably. I’ll admit I once wondered why Queen would ever perform live with anyone but Mercury, but Lambert’s grace in the face of such detraction has been winning. And, seeing him deliver his take on these songs live was fun and impressive. He camped it up for songs like “Killer Queen” (straddling the piano and batting his eyes with every flap of an over-sized fan) and “Bicycle Race.” He never tried to emulate Mercury, but just presented the songs in his own fashion with his own notable vocal skills. My wife, sitting next to me there in section 120, said it was probably her favorite classic rock concert ever because of Lambert’s infusion of youthful lifeblood into these old treasures. I agreed. Judging by the extended ovations, the thunderous applause and the long lines at the merch tables, so did a sold-out Toyota Center crowd.

click to enlarge Lambert sang strong and vamped for the crowd while May's distinguishable guitar work rocked the crowd - PHOTO BY VIOLETA ALVAREZ
Lambert sang strong and vamped for the crowd while May's distinguishable guitar work rocked the crowd
Photo by Violeta Alvarez

May and Taylor harmonized beautifully as ever last night and, of course, Queen purists were yet again enthralled by May’s mastery of the guitar. The stage show was obviously bonkers, but it was altogether otherworldy for May’s spotlight moment on the instrumental track “Last Horizon.” The riffs he fired off were jet fuel which propelled him into space. He stood atop a meteor and played among the planets like a proper deity. The show featured plenty of interactive moments. There was karaoke-styled crooning to “Don’t Stop Me Now,” disco dancing to “Another One Bites the Dust” and the familiar overhead hand claps to “Radio Ga Ga.” But May as the center of the universe was a moment for music fans to simply collect in awe.

Personal Bias: In the spring of 1983, I drove a carpool of fellow Marian Christian High School students to our humble campus daily. Practically every morning before Mrs. Gagne’s formative speech class or Mrs. Ball’s critical English studies, I tortured my carpool by playing Queen’s “Bicycle Race” on repeat. The song was already some years old by the time Kim, Karen, Tisha and Tish were piling into my dookie-brown Honda Civic, but for some reason I’d just discovered it that year and those resilient young women endured wash-rinse-repeat plays of the tune. One of them must have really loved it (or at least the fellow who loved it) because she married me. She said nothing to me when the band cranked it up last night (offered by a leather-clad Lambert hamming it up on a Harley), but just gave me side-eye and cracked the slightest hint of a smile.

The Crowd: Not a single naysayer in the house, they were devoted to this iteration of Queen, as evidenced by their interesting and abundant dance moves and game but questionable attempts to sing like the best rock vocalist in recorded history. I'd watch it all again with them.

Random Notebook Dump: A rare and glorious summertime cool front blew into Houston yesterday with Queen. If a respite from throttling humidity and brutal heat is not symbolism for the breath of fresh air that Lambert affords Queen in 2019, I don't know what is.

click to enlarge Houston hailed a guitar god last night at Toyota Center - PHOTO BY VIOLETA ALVAREZ
Houston hailed a guitar god last night at Toyota Center
Photo by Violeta Alvarez

Queen + Adam Lambert Set List

Now I’m Here

Seven Seas of Rhye

Keep Yourself Alive

Hammer to Fall

Killer Queen

Don’t Stop Me Now

In the Lap of the Gods

Somebody to Love

The Show Must Go On

I’m In Love with My Car

Bicycle Race

Another One Bites the Dust

Machines (Back to Human)

I Want It All

Love of My Life


Doing All Right

Crazy Little Thing Called Love

Under Pressure

I Want to Break Free

You Take My Breath Away

Who Wants to Live Forever

Last Horizon

Tie Your Mother Down

Fat Bottomed Girls

Radio Ga Ga

Bohemian Rhapsody


We Will Rock You

We Are the Champions

God Save the Queen
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Jesse’s been writing for the Houston Press since 2013. His work has appeared elsewhere, notably on the desk of the English teacher of his high school girlfriend, Tish. The teacher recognized Jesse’s writing and gave Tish a failing grade for the essay. Tish and Jesse celebrated their 33rd anniversary as a couple in October.