Adam Lambert was up to costume change number seven or eight in one of the more extravagantly staged indoor concerts to ever hit these shores when I jotted down in my note pad, "Why shouldn't Queen still be playing live?" The elastic-throated 21st Century front-man of one of the 20th Century's most wildly successful bands was towards the end of a two-hour, sold out Spark Arena gig that he was absolutely nailing and for some reason I still felt a little defensive. As if there were non-believers left to convert. Truth is, maybe all Queen fans are already worshipping at the altar of the collaboration that is these days billed as "Queen + Adam Lambert". I sure am.
Feeling like picking an argument with a Queen fan who may no longer even exist, Queen + Adam Lambert is such a victory both tonally and in substance that it probably surprises even the most diehard fans of both acts. This is, after all, a 48-year old band led by a 36-year old American Idol finalist who was born seven years after Bohemian Rhapsody first topped the charts. He's had his own hits and his own chart-topping albums and there's little doubt Lambert is a star in his own right. But capable of filling Freddie Mercury's white Adidas sneakers?
Yes. Crucially, because since first stepping into the role in 2012, Adam Lambert has never once tried to be Freddie Mercury. "There will only be one rock god named Freddie Mercury", he announced to cheers, and given he'd moments earlier also sought applause for, "the two rock & roll legends I'm sharing the stage with tonight", it was clear to any sceptic that this is a performer who understands perfectly his role.
That is, to honour the songs and the band who created them. "Band" being the key word because Mercury may've been Queen's MVP, but there are few more recognisable silhouettes in popular music history than that of the now silver-haired 70-year old guitarist Brian May. "Dr Brian May", as Lambert called him, is the PHD-holding astrophysicist behind such Queen classics as We Will Rock You, Fat Bottomed Girls and I Want It All.
Then there's original drummer Roger Taylor – he of the scarcely believable falsetto on Bohemian Rhapsody and he of the pen that gifted fans A Kind Of Magic and Radio Ga Ga. Queen were always a band. Even the notoriously reclusive and long-retired bassist John Deacon wrote smashes like Another One Bites The Dust and You're My Best Friend.
Amidst all the quite stunning special effects of giant robot heads and hands, of moving platforms, laser lights and shooting plumes of dry ice; amidst all the flamboyance of Lambert's costumes and May's hair, Queen + Adam Lambert is a live experience that reminds just what a truly great "band" Queen were. Freddie would've been proud.
Queen + Adam Lambert perform again tonight at Spark Arena, Auckland.
Tim Roxborogh hosts Newstalk ZB's The Two, Coast Soul on iHeartRadio and writes the RoxboroghReport.com.