First appeared at: https://www.ambientlightblog.com/queen-adam-lambert-wellington-nz-2020/
For the last five days I’ve been looking out my office windows, spying on the construction of a massive multi-story stage going up inside the Capital’s Sky Stadium – aka ‘The Cake Tin’. Any big show at the stadium is special due to the amount of effort required to build a specialist set and pull in the big numbers required. So these extravaganzas are still pretty rare and far between – at lest compared to high turnover venues like Auckland’s Spark Arena. The last time we saw something of this scale was Eminem last year, and before that probably Guns’n’Roses over two years ago. But this show was extra special, because it was the first of Queen’s ten Australasian dates and their first ever concert in Wellington.
Weather-wise the build up over the last few days must have been a rigger’s nightmare, with gale force northerlies, damp muggy nights and foggy mornings hampering flights and logistics. Anyone who’s been to a big concert in the stadium knows to pack a decent jacket, no matter what season, as the place can be a veritable wind tunnel and hurricane season any time of the year. I still remember David Bowie, soaked to the skin on The Reality Tour, soldiering on through a 2 ½ hour concert in virtual hurricane conditions. Axel Rose stomped through puddles on stage not that long ago, narrowly avoiding electrocution. It takes a very special sort of performer to weather these conditions. However, all came right on the night with a beautiful evening, fine weather, gentle south westerly’s dying out and a balmy warm night. Yup, folks you can’t beat Wellington on a Good Day!
As I rolled in, I heard repeatedly the mixed feelings of many punters. Yes, of course, it would have been fantastic to have the one and only Freddie Mercury up there on the stage. But he died in 1991. Had he lived, then you have to wonder if the same band would be enjoying their current success. After all, they’d faded before, only to come back after their massive performance in front of 72,000 at Wembley Stadium during Live Aid in 1985. Then there was the teaming up of Adam Lambert, after he won ‘Runner-Up’ on American Idol in 2009. And finally, a third revival on the back of the hugely successful bio-pic Bohemian Rhapsody. Once again the band (at least it’s two remaining members Brian May and Roger Taylor), are back enjoying yet another renaissance and a renewed appreciation for their music. And judging by the mixed ages I observed tonight it seems the baton has been passed and the legend remains strong. Fathers, sons, mothers, daughter were all here. Clearly it proves that the love for Queen’s music remains as strong as ever.
Topping the bill we see Adam Lambert out front, as he’s been doing for years now, supported by May and Taylor and another long-term collaborator, the exceptionally talented Spike Edney on keyboards, plus Neil Fairclough on bass, with the ridiculously talented Tyler Warren on percussion. When it comes to singers, to be honest I was a little concerned that anyone could actually pull it off. This is Freddie Mercury, after all! Lambert acknowledges this early into the set. “Let’s be clear and address the huge Pink Elephant in the room. I’m not replacing Freddie. I’m here like you, to celebrate him, can we do that?”
Lambert is totally comfortable in his skin as the new ‘front man’. It’s no mean feat being a replacement to one of the most revered rock singers of all time but it soon becomes obvious that Lambert can not only shine as brightly but also own every song as if he wrote them himself. For me, watching Lambert’s performance is like being at a great Broadway Musical. Every actor and singer will give the classics their own twist but it’s how they sell it that matters. And there was no doubt tonight. Lambert took this one all the way to the bank!
For those that caught their 2018 show at Auckland’s Spark Arena, this was possibly like a bit of a replay. But a Queen show will always surprise – like seeing Cats or Phantom of The Opera, you can see it many times but there’s always something new, even if the music is the same.
Tonight’s show starts with back-lit image of Brian May before bursting forth into a medley of Innuendo, Now I’m Here and Seven Seas Of Rhye before a blasting version of Hammer to Fall. Lambert can’t help himself, donning top hat and fan for a quick rendition of Killer Queen, draping himself dramatically over Edney’s piano. The hits come thick and fast with Don’t Stop Me Now and Somebody To Love. Lambert is still in awe of his heroes, acknowledging May and Taylor as “absolute legends!” During the song 15,000 phones spark providing the ‘lighter moment’. That happens several times during the gig. Every time is more magical that the last.
What blows me away is how phenomenally talented this band is. Like when Roger Taylor’s up and doing a really gnarly version of I’m In Love With My Car. This is such an underrated song but I’m so glad he did it, really showcasing a bit of an undervalued voice, in my opinion. For Bicycle Race Lambert rises up through the floor draped over a Harley Davidson. Of course he plays this up to the extreme and it totally works. This rolls into the best sing-a-long of the night, Fat Bottom Girls. The mood changes again with an extra funky version of Another One Bites The Dust, which gets the crowd grooving seriously. Lambert returns in yet another amazing costume and blasts out I Want It All in full metal jacket.
One of the best moments was when May comes to the front of the stage. “At last,” he says, “At 110 years, I finally get to come to Wellington!” The audience go mad! Playing for Love of My Life I am blown away by the intimacy, and delicacy he’s capable of. I know he was a great musician but I was not prepared for his vocals. Being three rows back from May I could see how engaged he was with his audience, yet he also felt the people in the stands with equal affection. As the spotlight widened the crowd collectively sighed. The moment was gone, but always remembered. Still front of stage, Roger returns for a short drum solo to begin a blistering rendition of Under Pressure, which he shares the stage with Lambert. Bowie and Mercury could never hit these high notes!
After a few introductions of the supporting band, including some obligatory solo flourishes, they move on to a personal favourite of mine, Dragon Attack, where May gets to really expand his guitar skills, complete with some delicious acid drop visuals. For I Want to Break Free there’s the necessary lashings of pink light and a huge diffracting mirror ball splaying colour across the stadium. The following laser show is utterly breath taking, a kaleidoscope of colour and almost indescribably beautiful.
A screen drops suddenly and May is raised on a platform, giving an awesome impression of him standing on a meteorite flying through space while he playing an elongated solo, proving that he is still one of the greatest living guitarists. This eventually morphs into a few bars of Tie Your Mother Down, then a real tear jerker, The Show Must Go On as the screen graphics include an elaborate tiara featuring a bust of Freddie, immortalised in gold.
Another favourite moment comes with Lambert delivering a flawless version of Radio Ga Ga, supported by some reclaimed visuals from the movie Metropolis. But the really big event comes with Bohemian Rhapsody. Lambert mixes his live vocals with the original vocal recording building to a climatic solo, as May emerges up from the floor dressed as a silver alien to play his blazing licks. It’s pure theatre and works perfectly. We’d expect nothing less.
The encore demands that Freddie should return, in video form at least, teasing the audience with the banter of “Ay-Oh”. This is followed by massive versions of We Will Rock You and the unstoppable completer We Are The Champions. I looked around and saw the many fans in wheel chairs and mobility scooters who’d overcame the odds to make this concert. The thing is, that song has became a beacon of hope for them and all of us. I was reminded of why music matters, because it speaks to us, soothes us. Queen and Lambert did this tonight. Sure Auckland has seen this before. But for Wellington, this was our moment. We own that privilege, we own that emotion. And it was euphoric!
Long Live Freddie & Adam. Long Live Queen.