Queen + Adam Lambert at the O2 gig review: Pomp and circumstance, just as it should be

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 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Thirty years ago, the surviving members of Queen bid farewell to frontman Freddie Mercury with an all-star tribute concert at Wembley Stadium. That should have been the band’s final encore, but they later pulled off one of the most sensational comebacks in pop history, enlisting new singer Adam Lambert and extending the spirit of that memorial into a never-ending greatest hits spectacular mounted on an increasingly grandiose scale.

On June 5, a day after opening the platinum jubilations at Buckingham Palace, these reconfigured rock veterans played the first in a phenomenal 10-night run of sold-out shows at the O2, a feat reminiscent of their stadium-filling 1980s peak.

With typical Queen understatement, this blockbuster show was a sense-swamping banquet featuring lasers, pyrotechnics, confetti cannons and massive screens, including a curved video wall that hovered above the band, creating the effect that the entire stage was crowned with a golden tiara. The set list was pretty much all-to-wall anthems too, from Killer Queen to Bohemian Rhapsody, Under Pressure to Radio Ga Ga. Vintage Britrock pageantry enhanced with high-tech Las Vegas production values.

The 40-year-old Lambert, who first rose to fame as a runner-up on the talent show American Idol, began performing live with 74-year-old Brian May and 72-year-old Roger Taylor a decade ago. In the process he has found a healthy balance between mimicking Mercury’s mannerisms and adding his own slick, melismatic, TV talent-show technique. Weighed down by a series of outlandish Mad Max-style outfits, the singer seemed a little more lumbering during this set than on previous tours. Inevitably, his operatic vocals also fell short of Mercury in finesse and prowess, most notably on an underpowered Crazy Little Thing Called Love.

Adam Lambert brought powerful vocal skills and glitterball glamour (Getty Images)
Adam Lambert brought powerful vocal skills and glitterball glamour (Getty Images)

Even so, Lambert still brought powerful, turbo-tonsilled skills and flamboyant glitterball glamour to the O2. Kudos to May and Taylor for finding a replacement frontman even more deliriously camp that Mercury, his queer sexuality very out and proud. Queen were always commendably prescient in recognising that the greatest rock showmen owe as much to Liberace as they do to Led Zeppelin.

As is now traditional, May and Taylor took intermittent solo turns on the microphone. Mercury himself also made several guest appearances on video, accompanying May on a wistful acoustic arrangement of Love of My Life, and even conducting the crowd through one of his signature call-and-response chants. The prospect of a ghostly rock icon interacting with a living audience from beyond the grave may seem bizarre, but no more so than those Abba holograms currently earning rave reviews in Stratford.

Modesty, subtlety and polite reserve are often hailed as core British values. But Queen have managed to remain much-loved national treasures by being the exact opposite, royally-approved purveyors of histrionic pomp and maximalist melodrama. Nonetheless, with so many musical crown jewels to choose from, this mammoth jubilee party was always going to be happy and glorious.

O2 , June 6, 8-9, 14-15,17-18, 20-21

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