Riff Review: Queen + Adam Lambert Crown Toronto


As soccer fans began to clear out of Toronto’s downtown core following the World Cup championship match between Germany and queen-adam-lambert-show-4Argentina, an interesting mix of the classic rock contingent and pop idol worshippers descended upon the Air Canada Centre for night one of Queen + Adam Lambert (they return July 28).

With a stage that featured a circular lighting rig that surrounded the giant video screen found centre stage, a crooked catwalk zagged its way into the crowd. When the house lights went down, this giant Q soon lit up.

From the start, nothing about this artistic pairing felt odd. Queen’s Brian May and Roger Taylor immediately showcased their everlasting chops on “Now I’m Here,” and “Stone Cold Crazy,” as Adam Lambert emerged in a George Michael-esque outfit and proceeded to prove that his golden voice belongs in this setting.

While it’s easy to tell that May and Taylor ultimately lead the direction in which the show takes, Lambert is the one that takes it to a different level. Yes, I know such an observation can make old school Queen cronies want to reach for their A Night at the Opera LPs to smack me with, but this is a fact.

We all know May and Taylor can still play. From what I’ve observed of the two in the past, they wouldn’t be on the road if there was any possibility of musically tarnishing the legacy they built with Freddie Mercury and John Deacon, and have carefully maintained following Mercury’s death and Deacon’s retirement. But, you need a voice for these songs – a one in a million voice. Just so happens that voice belongs to an American Idol runner-up. Yeah, runner-up. Strange, right?

What added to Lambert’s stage cred on this night was his ability to strut his stuff in a way that would make Mercury proud, but not lead audience members to believe that he’s trying to make us forget about the man he’s had the daunting task of filling in for. Faced with such a task, Lambert’s found the ability to be equal parts controlling, humble, and jubilated in his position. There’s an ego there, but just enough of one to pull off the part, but not too much of one to make you think, ‘who the hell does this guy think he is?’

As for the set itself, the ACC audience made the band work for it a bit at the outset, seeming relatively passive for the first couple tracks. But, when “Another One Bites the Dust” and “Fat Bottomed Girls” soon emerged, the Sunday night crowd stopped acting like Sunday afternoon drivers and got into the action.

For “Killer Queen,” Lambert took the starring role, sliding his way down the catwalk to a prestigious couch in which he comfortably positioned himself on while seducing the first few rows. May would soon arrive for a quick seated-shred.

Unfortunately, the momentum that the band built in the first third of the show, was washed away a little bit in the middle. The May-led “Love of My Life” and “’39” seemed to miss a certain spark that the earlier part of the evening had. A lovely tribute to Mercury and the history of the band came in the form of Taylor providing the vocals to “These Are the Days of Our Lives.” However, in or around this point was the time for seemingly every band member to play an extended solo, which to me, isn’t as enjoyable for those in the crowd as it is for those playing them.

And while the performance of “Love Kills” was awe-inspiring and as beautiful a moment as you could’ve gotten from the night (especially queen-adam-lambert-show-1vocals wise), “Under Pressure” seemed to not get the bombast it so obviously deserves.

As it felt like the time for the band to rev it up again, May ventured off in a north-of-10-minute solo that was applauded graciously when complete, but made the arena feel a little flat as it was happening. We all know May can play, but again, solos of that nature are more enjoyable to the performer.

From there, however, it was back to business in a big, big way, as the onslaught of “Tie Your Mother Down,” “Radio Ga Ga,” “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” and “The Show Must Go On,” powerfully paved the way for an intriguing rendition of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which was opened and closed with the vocals of Lambert, with the mid-section provided through music video. May’s fret mastery at the opportune moments made the track feel complete.

After a quick breather, “We Will Rock You,” opened the encore with a golden-draped Lambert emerging from the backstage with crown on head – it was only a matter of time. While that song’s arena presence is undeniable, it was the evening’s finale of “We Are the Champions” that once again validated the selection of Lambert as possibly the last man to front a band that’s hinted that this tour could be it for them road wise.

And, if that is in fact the case, they’re literally going out on a high note.

As for Lambert, this should do nothing but solidify him as one of the best pure vocalists in the world. With Queen he’s not only found his way through the rock vocal gauntlet, he’s kicked it in the teeth and giggled.

-Adam Grant
-Photos by Jessie Sipione

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