Russell Baillie writes about movies for the Herald

Concert review: Queen + Adam Lambert, Vector Arena


Even in their heyday, Queen was a band with a grand sense of the ridiculous.

No gesture was too extravagant, no genre was left unmolested.

They might have started out as an early 70s hard rock band. But they somehow became a pop perennial, like Abba or the BeeGees, with hits just as enduring too.

And when frontman Freddie Mercury passed away, Queen endured.

Sure, affection for those hits kept them there, as did the likes of stage musical We Will Rock You and a thousand Idol show covers of Somebody to Love.

So seeing what's left of Queen - original members guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor but not long-retired bass player John Deacon - bringing in American Idol's biggest breakout talent Adam Lambert as frontman was always going to take some getting used to.

Lambert proved he had plenty stage presence along with a winning personality and very busy costume department.

But vocally, it sounded as if his strengths are up top.

Still, his takes on many of the songs did - as they say in Idol land - make them his own. That's whether it was his Michael Jackson-like tilt at Another One Bites the Dust or his Elvis lip-curl on the rockabilly of Crazy Little Thing Called Love near the end.

And the more theatrical numbers and challenging melodies like Killer Queen, which had him propped upon a purple chaise longue at the end of the stage runway, proved his forte more than the straight rockers.

Yes, there were inevitable moments when Mercury held sway over proceedings with posthumous duets delivered via video screen footage.

But the show largely kept the belated eulogies in check.

Another question with a Queen live show was how do they pull off those old grand studio concoctions live?

Queen with Adam Lambert at Vector Arena. Photo / Dean Purcell

In the case of Bohemian Rhapsody they kind of cheated, surrendering the song's operatic middle section to the recorded version (and video), but then bursting back into life in what a generation or now two know as "the Wayne's World bit".

It was head-bangingly terrific.

Elsewhere, the once-epic Sevens Seas of Rhye became part of a medley and there were a few songs - like I Want to Break Free, among others - that felt merely ticked off the list.

But there were still plenty of other Big Queen Anthems that were just madly thrilling.

Among the great big loud ones, were those feminist anthems Fat Bottomed Girls and Tie Your Mother Down.

Among the quiet ones, was Brian May's sweet affecting singalong solo take on Love of My Life.

Though a few of the Queen old boys' other microphone excursions - especially Taylor's A Kind of Magic - took the show close to karaoke.

Queen with Adam Lambert at Vector Arena. Photo / Dean Purcell

And then there was May and his electric guitar. With his hair still looking like it last saw a barber in the Stuart Period, he delivered the guitar heroics which were once Queen's second great distinctive voice.

While witnessing Queen live show without Mercury might never quite feel like the genuine article, seeing May fire off another raygun solo over the heads of a very happy Vector crowd made this feel anything but a group becoming a cover band of itself.

More a reminder of who invented this stadium rock stuff in the first place.

Yes, Queen + Adam Lambert = the sum of their very good parts.

* Queen perform at Vector Arena again tonight.

Where: Vector Arena, Auckland
When: Wednesday, September 3


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