Unlikely pairing of Queen and Adam Lambert deliver some kind of magic

When Adam Lambert introduced himself to the world nine years ago by singing Bohemian Rhapsody at his American Idol audition, he wouldn’t have dared dream he’d be spending half of the next decade as the new frontman for iconic rock band Queen, but the unlikely pairing are continuing to deliver A Kind of Magic more than two decades after singer Freddie Mercury’s untimely departure.

Daniel Johnson, The Courier-Mail.- As a giant wraparound screen featuring the head of Frank — the giant robot that adorns the cover of Queen’s 1977 album News of the World — lifts to reveal the band, Lambert struts on to stage, leading the band through the refrain from We Will Rock You.

Apart from the fact his trademark shock of black hair is now grey, Brian May — dressed head to ankle in black with bright white trainers — commands the stage with a swagger that belies his age, and opening track Hammer to Fall gives the now 70-year-old guitarist and drummer Roger Taylor, 68, ample opportunity to prove their enduring chops.

The band rip into lesser-known singles Stone Cold Crazy and Tie Your Mother Down, which are accompanied by dazzling strobe lights and an impressive visual display on the backlit screen, and while there’s no denying Lambert’s vocal prowess, the show appears at risk of prioritising spectacle over substance. But as the familiar bassline of Another One Bites the Dust begins, the crowd’s enthusiasm steps up a notch, and as the singer struts the length of the catwalk that extends from the stage and confidently points at audience members while giving a spirited rendition of Fat Bottomed Girls, everyone seems happy to be swept up in the moment.

Mercury has certainly left some big shoes to fill, and Lambert is doing an admirable job of hitting all the right notes and commanding the stage without ever resorting to imitation, but after floating out from beneath the stage on a giant prop of Frank’s head while singing Killer Queen (who “gives great head”) he addresses the elephant in the room.

“Let’s be honest, I know what you guys are thinking though, c’mon,” he brazenly tells the crowd. “Some of you — some of you — might be thinking to yourselves, or your neighbour, ‘well he’s no Freddie’. No shit! Because guess what? There will only be one rock god named Freddie Mercury.”

Lambert makes us promise we’ll celebrate Mercury and Queen’s legacy together, and seems at his most confident as he defiantly launches into Don’t Stop Me Now. A pushbike (at the risk of quibbling, it’s a tricycle) adorned with a tray of roses materialises at the front of the catwalk before Bicycle Song, with Lambert tossing flowers to the audience as he pedals it back to the main part of the stage without missing a note. As the song draws to a close, it seamlessly transitions into I’m in Love With My Car, with Taylor taking over lead vocals and clearly relishing his moment in the strobe lights.

After making the complex noodling look seemingly effortless during I Want It All, May takes to the front of the catwalk with an acoustic guitar for a solo take on A Night at The Opera’s Love of My Life. “Thank you, Brisbane, I didn’t think I’d ever get the chance to be back here to do this again,” the guitarist tells the crowd, joking that it’s great to be back here now he’s 85. The crowd transforms into a sea of smartphone lights, with a deftly edited video of Mercury singing the final verse next to May on the giant screen behind the stage garnering a predictably rapturous response.

After Somebody to Love and Crazy Little Thing Called Love, which are performed at the front of the catwalk, Taylor engages in a drum battle with percussionist Tyler Warren on the kit at the rear of the stage, before taking over David Bowie’s vocals for an emotionally wrought duet with Lambert on Under Pressure.

From the disco ball that drops from the roof during I Want to Break Free to the laser-light show that accompanies Who Wants to Live Forever and astronomical audiovisual display playing behind May while he performs extended guitar solo Last Horizon, the spectacle and musicianship are faultless.

The multi-layered production of Bohemian Rhapsody was never going to be easy to replicate live, and the band have opted for a patchwork rendering of the studio version with live instrumentation, with parts of the original promotional video playing over the screens, and while the blend borders on becoming jarring at times, there’s no denying it’s a crowd-pleaser.

After they exit the stage, the crowd’s spontaneous outburst of We Will Rock You’s percussive claps reverberates through the arena and the band return for a two-song encore that also includes We Are the Champions, with Lambert fittingly dressed in golden robes and a crown, before confetti cannons bring the show to its conclusion.

Queen + Adam Lambert have accomplished the difficult task of appropriately honouring Queen and Mercury’s legacy while contemporising the iconic group’s embarrassingly rich back catalogue, and as the members of the audience rise in applause while the band takes a bow to the strains of God Save the Queen, the consensus seems clear — don’t stop them now, they’re having a ball.

The Queen + Adam Lambert tour continues in Adelaide and Melbourne later this week and wraps up in Perth on March 6.