BY JEFF ELBEL
One thing’s certain: Thursday night’s concert at United Center by Queen and Adam Lambert was the only show in Chicago to include both a physics lesson and a singer in a diamond-studded leopard skin suit. It was the perfect pairing of brainy and challenging rock music with outrageous and glamorous attitude.
Since the death of beloved Queen frontman Freddie Mercury in 1991, guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor have tended the eternal flame of the band’s legacy. During the 2000s, the pair partnered with Bad Company vocalist Paul Rodgers. Rodgers’ pipes were well-matched to full-tilt rockers like May’s “Tie Your Mother Down,” but perhaps lacked a measure of the flamboyant flair to fully inhabit the grand, romantic sweep of Mercury’s “Somebody to Love.”
As he struck a decadent pose atop a purple-and-gold chaise lounge during a very glam “Killer Queen,” it was clear that Lambert possessed the charisma to pay maximum tribute to Mercury’s larger-than-life persona. It helped that he had skill to match the theatricality. Rafter-raising showstoppers including “We are the Champions” and “The Show Must Go On” displayed Lambert’s pop sensibility and dizzying range while simultaneously showcasing May’s unparalleled rock soloing technique.
“We played to some of your mothers and fathers, I’m sure,” said May after crossing the catwalk with his acoustic guitar to the center of the room. Dr. May then gave a brief description of Einsteinian relativity while introducing “’39,” a tale of tragic love and time travel.
Taylor paid tribute to Mercury while singing “These are the Days of Our Lives.” The video screen flashed nostalgic images of Queen’s younger days. Next, Taylor performed a drum duet with his son. Taylor brought the house down with bombastic precision during “I Want It All.”
The players offered little evidence of opening-night jitters on their North American tour’s debut. The technical side exhibited a few minor bugs including microphone trouble during “Now I’m Here,” occasional synchronization glitches with the video, and a missed cue on the steam jets.
Although the band was somewhat loose during “Love Kills,” Lambert’s empathic delivery and soaring vocal flight were spine-tingling. The deep cut was taken from the score for Giorgio Moroder’s 1984 restoration of the film “Metropolis.” “Metropolis” footage also rolled during “Radio Ga Ga,” while the crowd mimicked the unified hand-clap motions of the MTV-era video.
The camaraderie and mutual love between Queen and Lambert was evident. May and Lambert frequently rubbed shoulders and struck heroic poses together. Taylor and Lambert high-fived after assuming the roles of David Bowie and Mercury for “Under Pressure.”
“You know, love makes me feel a little cray-cray, too,” said Lambert as the band launched “Crazy Little Thing Called Love.” Lambert channeled Mercury and Elvis Presley in equal measure.
By the time the band finally reached the show’s centerpiece with “Bohemian Rhapsody,” anticipation had built to fever pitch. The crowd roared as Mercury’s image sang the second verse via projection screen. Lambert threw May briefly off balance by bowing down to him, causing May to laugh and miss his last solo entrance. Rather than derail the moment, it seemed endearing and joyful.
The performance wasn’t flawless, but the spirit was right for Queen. It was both openly human and majestic.
Queen’s next move will be to release “Queen Forever” later this year, featuring outtakes from previous Freddie Mercury studio sessions. It is unknown whether May and Taylor will record with Lambert, as they did with Rodgers for 2008’s “The Cosmos Rocks.” The show at United Center suggested that it could be a powerful collaboration.
Now I’m Here
Stone Cold Crazy
Another One Bites the Dust
Fat Bottomed Girls
In the Lap of the Gods
Seven Seas of Rhye
Somebody to Love
I Want it All
Love of My Life
These are the Days of Our Lives
Drum duet (Roger Taylor and son)
Who Wants to Live Forever
Guitar solo (Brian May)
Tie Your Mother Down
Radio Ga Ga
Crazy Little Thing Called Love
The Show Must Go On
We Will Rock You
We are the Champions