Concert Reviews

Queen + Adam Lambert at American Airlines Center, 7/10/14

Queen + Adam Lambert American Airlines Center, Dallas Thursday, July 10, 2014

English band Queen is like a solar system that lost its star. Late singer Freddie Mercury was an icon of showmanship, passion and theatricality, the ultimate performer and arguably the most talented vocalist in rock history.

When you've lost the greatest frontman in all of pop music, Adam Lambert, who took up that role last night in the band's appearance at American Airlines Center, wouldn't initially appear to be a fitting replacement. After all, he earned his fame (ironically after auditioning with "Bohemian Rhapsody") on American Idol. However, like Mercury, he is a countertenor, a young, good-looking gay man, androgynously glam like a Velvet Goldmine character and pleasantly controversial.

See also: The 10 Worst Queen Songs

The burning question is: is it disrespectful, even unethical, to the late star's memory to continue touring years later with a different singer? Some, like the Doors' drummer John Densmore, who legally prevented his band from using its own name while touring, would think so. In Queen's defense, it's been 20 years since Mercury passed, a death as shocking then as Kurt Cobain's. For this reason, it doesn't appear that Lambert has been brought in as a decoy, but rather as an honorable guest.

Widowed musicians like guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor, stars of a dimmer light, but stars nonetheless, are seemingly presumed to retire and occasionally appear at under-the-radar clubs playing something like Louis Armstrong covers, or else it's expected they go on to thriving solo careers. Watching Queen playing Queen songs seems not only a right acquired, but, judging by the nearly full arena last night, also a great bit of indulgence for the fans.

The atmosphere at American Airlines Center exceeded that of mere anticipation, and sweltered in a thick fog of desperate tension, anxious for the band to appear. The baroque and regal sound from behind the band's curtained crest announced their highnesses' imminent presence, where the humble May appeared as if he'd casually just walked out of karate class. In contrast, Lambert, was dressed like a member of the Village People, leather-clad and full of studs. Beginning with fluffy fast-paced songs, he became increasingly flirtatious and flamboyant as the show went on, ending up in a leopard-print suit with a sparkling crown for the finale.

Although Lambert brought great energy and stunning vocals to epic ballads such as "Somebody to Love" and "The Show Must Go On", his snugglier niche were the uptempo classics such as "Under Pressure." He seemed heavily influenced by, but never attempting to emulate, Mercury. Rather, he resembled an understudy relishing his moment rather than a permanent replacement, incredulous to be playing with his idols, respectful of his elders, while unapologetically asserting himself with great charm and humor.

As with May's guitar, Lambert's voice soared and purred. Trying to distance himself from the original vocal arrangements, his eclectic voice projections, though impressive, overly altered the familiar melodies. No matter how high and low his register flexed, his voice never quite matched Mercury's gorgeous tone -- not that anyone should have expected it to.

Consummate veterans as they are, the stadium rockers put on a striking production; laser lights flew across the room and a gigantic disco ball turned the arena into a massive club. In perfect tune with Queen's theatricality, a velvet-curtained moment occurred during "Killer Queen." Lambert sat on a plush divan and playfully rolled his eyes at May's soloing, first spitting out, then pouring, champagne onto the crowd. His suggestiveness never became vulgar, and his chemistry with the band was tangible, especially at moments when May's glance at him betrayed obvious pride.

There was an instance of divine simplicity as May brought an acoustic guitar to the end of the ramp on the stage and began singing "Love of My Life", his aging but steady voice aided by the impromptu choir made up by the audience. With impeccable timing, a giant Freddie Mercury completed the song hauntingly from the screen, and a wave of profound melancholy was seen in every lachrymose eye in the place.

Roger Taylor's drumming showed deliberate restraint. He took turns playing kit and auxiliary percussion with his son, Rufus, and stood and sang during "These Are the Days of Our Lives", while footage of Mercury and retired bass player John Deacon were shown. Lambert was absent whenever Mercury was projected, as if afraid of being outperformed by a ghost -- except for a brief duet for the finale in which Lambert and Mercury's projection sang individual lines back and forth. Although a tender homage, the deference to Mercury bordered on a sorrowful memorial service.

The real focus of the show, after Mercury's absence, was undoubtedly May. Emanating graciousness and wisdom, his fluid dexterity rivaled any young guitar player's. Each member had his moment alone on stage, but his near half-an-hour of soloing proved his mastery.

Considering that Queen produced a magnum opus such as "The Prophet Song" for every other forgettable track, it's regrettable that these were almost all absent from the setlist. Instead, there was an over-abundance of Queen's more filler-esque '80s hits, like "Radio Gaga", which seemed tailored to Lambert.

In the very obvious encore, there was more smoke onstage than in Willie Nelson's dressing room, and the group returned to play their two most overplayed hits, "We Will Rock You" and "We Are the Champions", delivered to an audience that seemed to devour them. All maudlin moments considered, from the high entertainment, fine musicianship and joyous sentimentality, regarding the question of whether Queen + (or -) Adam Lambert should even be touring in the first place, the answer is: Absolutely. The show must go on.

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Eva Raggio is the Dallas Observer's music and arts editor, a job she took after several years of writing about local culture and music for the paper. Eva supports the arts by rarely asking to be put on "the list" and always replies to emails, unless the word "pimp" makes up part of the artist's name.
Contact: Eva Raggio