As the Freddie Mercury/Queen film Bohemian Rhapsody continues to inspire debate in households (in ours, one says shockingly bad, one says great fun), buses, offices and wherever people have nothing better to do than opine on a cheesy biopic, did anyone think to ask if Adam Lambert has a view? If indeed Adam Lambert was asked to be in it?
Wind Back Wednesday remembers a night in 2014 when Lambert channelled Mercury far more successfully than he had a right to, and maybe gave Rami Malek a few pointers on the way.
You want it all? You want it now.
QUEEN AND ADAM LAMBERT
Allphones Arena, August 26
Two of the things we learnt watching (half of) Queen with (all and more of) Adam Lambert: it is possible to out-camp Freddie Mercury – who knew? – even without tiny shorts and a loose tank top; but you can’t cut off the marvellous Seven Seas Of Rhye even earlier than the original, while playing in full the oafish I Want It All, and expect to be forgiven.
Lambert, bringing Mercury by way of George Michael from the minute he stepped out in studded and glittered leather, in a sense was on a hiding to nothing.
As good as his voice is, as flamboyant as his stage persona is, as many outfits as he could change into (five, if you’re wondering), he was not going to really measure up against the legend as much as the reality of one of the best front men ever.
On the other hand, Lambert had little to lose as everyone expected him to not measure up and some probably expected him to mess up. Therefore, he could impress with a wide and expansive voice that only sometimes tipped over into excessively florid but never missed a (high, low or mid) note.
And he could entertain with a sense of the theatrical which was in the spirit, if never as natural (I blame the performance schools and talent shows), as Queen’s original. That said, I’m not sure Freddie M would have given a shout out to “all my fat assed bitches out there”.
Oddly enough though, while the potential for crass karaoke rock show, and the spectre of an INXS-with-whomever-was-available-this-week atmosphere, had loomed large in the lead up, Lambert was neither the centre of attention nor the point of the night. Instead it quickly became clear that Queen today is finally, undeniably Brian May's band.
He’d always been the musical fulcrum but when you’re in a band with a Freddie Mercury, who played, sang, wrote and dazzled, it’s hard to be seen quite as clearly. Now however, May’s guitar sounds were astonishingly good, his solos precise and his playing, whether choppy and tough in Stone Cold Crazy and Tie Your Mother Down, groove-aware on Dragon Attack or subtly prog in Love Of My Life, was fabulously on-point.
What’s more he could make a serious fashion faux pas (a ridiculous gold, fancy dress shop-style witch’s robe he put on for the guitar solo in Bohemian Rhapsody) and just about get away with it. Just about.
The other remaining original, drummer/vocalist Roger Taylor, didn’t show any signs of age, more than capable of matching his son Rufus, who mostly was on percussion but on occasion swapped with Dad on the kit. He sounded good too in his lead vocal on It's A Kind Of Magic, certainly better than May had in Love Of My Life and ’39.
(Something odd, in passing. While Mercury was referred to many times on stage, incorporated into the show on the screen and generally venerated in absentia, not one word was said about retired bassplayer John Deacon.)
Even as I enjoyed Under Pressure, with Taylor taking up the Bowie lines, and the cabaret rock of Killer Queen, I’m not sure what they were thinking with three separate instrumental sections where we had solo bass (technically impressive but inconsequential), a drum-off between the Taylors (energetic but clunky and dull) and a guitar exploration (which went from space junk to Mark Knopfler to several shades of tedium). Admittedly these were mostly mercifully short but they were also momentum killers.
But then I was one of the few who could have lived without Radio Gaga and I Want To Break Free and I still don’t understand why Seven Seas Of Rhye was cut off. Did I mention I wasn’t forgiving that?