Well and truly rocked by Queen
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Most of us, as adults, have very different musical tastes than we did as children; it can be almost cringeworthy to look back at the music we used to love as kids.
But for me personally, there is one exception to this, one band I listened to from the age of about six, which still to this day rank up there in my top five artists off all time.
I'm talking about Queen, whose name may have originally been a tongue-in-cheek reference to monarchy (as well as a reference to another sort of queen!) but who truly deserve to be regarded as rock and roll royalty.
I have been lucky enough to see almost all of my favourite bands live at some stage over the years but as someone who has just entered his 30s, the last time Queen came to New Zealand I wasn't alive.
After the world lost the amazing Freddie Mercury to Aids in 1991, I grew up assuming I would never get to see Queen live.
When I heard Queen was coming to Auckland with someone called Adam Lambert (apparently he came runner-up in American Idol one year?), I had mixed feelings. I knew no-one could fill the shoes of Freddie, who was the greatest frontman of all time, and I wondered if this guy would ruin the show by trying to do just that.
However, I decided I would still love to see original Queen members Brian May (guitar) and Roger Taylor (drums) play live, and given the 30-plus years since their last visit, and the fact they are now pushing 70, I figured this might be the only opportunity I get.
I was careful not to have unrealistic expectations about this concert, as I didn't want to be disappointed, but as long as I got the chance to see May and Taylor bust out a few classics, I knew I would be satisfied.
The truth is, from the beginning of the performance I was more than satisfied; my expectations were not only met, but they were completely blown out of the sky!
AND SO IT BEGINS
As the lights shone through a huge curtain with the Queen logo, we could see figures moving around; next came the opening guitar riff to Now I'm here, and then the drums kicked in followed by a BIG voice. As the song reached the chorus, the curtain shot up into the air as if it were being sucked into a giant vacuum and there they were in front of me in all their glory.
Although Lambert had a great voice, my eyes were on a curly grey-haired man playing a red and black guitar - the legend, doctor Brian May.
They belted out the heavy and fast Stone Cold Crazy before we heard the classic simple bass line of Another One Bites the Dust.
Original Queen bassist John Deacon retired from music some years ago, but standing in his place on this tour was the very capable Neil Fairclough. Also joining them on stage was Spike Edney who has toured off and on with Queen since 1984, the keyboardist often being referred to as "the fifth member of queen".
Next to Taylor's drum kit was another a second set of drums and percussion instruments, and behind them was Roger Taylor's youngest son, Rufus Tiger Taylor.
Everyone on stage had a microphone. I have always loved the harmonies in Queen songs and I wasn't disappointed with Fat Bottomed Girls, which including backing vocals from the guys on stage as well as pretty much everyone at Vector.
In the Lap of the Gods and Seven Seas of Rhye were performed next before Adam Lambert, who clearly had a huge personality and an even larger voice, sang Killer Queen while laying on a couch with a fan in his hand at the front of the stage.
The classics Somebody to Love and I Want it All were next. Although Lambert was over the top and flamboyant, he somehow never managed to outshine the band.
SOMETHING ABOUT BRIAN MAY
There is just something about May; the soft-spoken doctor of astrophysics from London doesn't expect to be in the spotlight, but when he walked down to the small island of a stage surrounded by an ocean of audience members, he received a standing ovation from his fans, who ranged from teenagers to elderly women and from dirty old rockers to business executive types.
Lambert had left the stage by this time for the first of one of his many wardrobe changes of the evening. Was I worried the singer had left the stage? Of course not, all attention was now on May, who took a stool and chatted to the audience before singing a few lines of Crowded House's Don't Dream it's Over followed by an acoustic rendition of Love of my Life dedicated to Freddie Mercury.
The Taylors, Edney and Fairclough then joined May at the end of the catwalk on acoustic instruments for 39 before they all headed back to the main stage.
The younger Taylor sat down behind his father's drum kit while pops took a microphone to deliver A Kind of Magic. Fairclough had a few minutes to show off his ability with a bass solo, while some of the crew set up another full drum kit at the end of the catwalk. Roger Taylor took the throne while Rufus remained behind the kit on the main stage and the two battled each other on the skins.
By the time Lambert finally re-emerged, it seemed like he had been off the stage longer than he was on it.
He headed down the catwalk to meet Roger Taylor, where the two of them performed the duet Under Pressure.
This has to be one of my favourite Queen songs, and although Taylor and Lambert couldn't hold a candle to Freddie Mercury and David Bowie, it was still a great sing-a-long.
Dragon Attack was performed next on the big stage followed by the ballad Who Wants to Live Forever. This song showcased Lambert's powerful lungs the most of the evening and I was truly impressed.
A disco ball dropped from the ceiling, which provided the perfect lighting effect on the catwalk. In fact, the lighting for the whole concert was impressive, with lasers that shone out from the stage to the audience, as well as strips that lit up the different pathways on the stage.
Lambert disappeared from the stage again while May performed his Last Horizon guitar solo. The singer then returned in yet another elaborate outfit for Tie Your Mother Down before taking some time to engage with audience and asking us to sing lines after him.
This was obviously a nod to Mercury, who used to do the same on stage, only with a Lambert spin this time round.
The next song was I Want to Break Free and it was around this time that I realised although there was no standing section at this concert, everyone, (and I mean everyone) who had floor seats had been standing the entire set, and they clearly weren't going to sit down until they got in their cars at the end of the night.
I envied them, as I was seated in the stands, and didn't want to enrage the people behind me if I stood up, but I indeed wanted to break free and groove out to the perfectly played guitar solos that I had been listening to for a quarter of a century.
Nevertheless, I was enjoying myself in my seat, clapping, singing, cheering and moving as much as my confinements would allow.
The whole arena took part in the iconic hand-clapping actions during the chorus of Radio Ga Ga as we reached the business end of the gig.
Lambert then asked the audience if we go crazy over love. It was obvious which song he was introducing but before he sang Crazy Little Thing Called Love, he told us how he goes NUTS for love, and then proceeded to tell us how much he loves nuts! Lambert, like Mercury is an openly homosexual man, so this comment provoked much laughter from the audience.
Before the band left the stage, the truly epic Bohemian Rhapsody had to be performed. Lambert only sang part of the song; of course the "Galileo" section (which is rarely attempted live) was the original voice recordings of Mercury, May, Taylor and Deacon playing through the speakers and images of the bands faces from the music video played on the screens.
Lambert then picked up the mic again for the heavy section of the song, but as it faded into its softer conclusion, Mercury himself appeared on the big screen and alternated lines with Lambert. It was all actually incredibly tasteful and Lambert had said earlier in the night that he was not there to replace Freddie and was truly grateful for the opportunity to sing with the legends that are Queen.
By encore time, everyone in the stands was on their feet, too, as the band returned to the stage it was obvious to me which two songs they would end the night on.
As the drums started with the familiar beat BOOM-BOOM-BAH, BOOM-BOOM-BAH, the band had already rocked us all but We Will Rock You made it official.
BREATHLESS AND BUZZING
May's solo on the red special was perfect, and he never seemed to look bored, even after playing the same songs for 40-plus years. I would be surprised if anyone in Vector Arena was not singing along with We Are the Champions as the show came to its end.
I left the arena breathless and buzzing after what I had just experienced. This was probably the best concert I've ever been to and I'm so glad I decided to go.
In hindsight, the best possible thing Queen could have done to both honour Freddie Mercury and to still be a band and perform the music they wrote with Mercury is this: Find a singer - a good one - make sure he has personality, (but not more than Mercury), take him on tour, use him for the songs you need him for and have May and Taylor sing the other songs. And this is exactly what they did.
The signs for the tour all said QUEEN (in huge letters) plus Adam Lambert (underneath in much smaller letters).
This reflected the performance - at least for me anyway. It was all about Queen, but yes, Lambert was there, too, and he did a great job.
To me, he is the biggest winner of any music reality TV show. Where are the others winners now? This guy is singing with Queen!
Long live the Queen.
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