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Concert Review: Queen Turns Up to 11 With Adam Lambert as Fan and Frontman

Five songs into a killer Queen show Wednesday night (July 26) at the Prudential Center in Newark, NJ, Adam Lambert stopped to ask a question. “Is this the real life? Or is it just fantasy?”

Lambert’s quip, referencing the opening lines of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” may have been tongue-in-cheek, but it’s also reality for the “American Idol” season eight runner-up, who had the good fortune of being chosen to front Queen alongside original members Dr. Brian May on guitar, and drummer Roger Taylor (Neil Fairclough plays bass; Spike Edney handles keyboards, and Tyler Warren rounds out the lineup on percussion).

It’s a big job, as Lambert went on to explain, namely because singer Freddie Mercury died tragically in 1991. “Let’s be honest, there is only one Freddie Mercury,” the 35-year-old said from the stage. “I’m a fan just like you guys. I’m just up here in a really expensive seat.”

And it’s a spot that Lambert has earned, as evidenced by the two-hour rock ‘n’ roll laser light spectacle that he led. The set list went heavy on hits, but also sprinkled in a few deep cuts and Lambert’s own original song, “Two Fux,” which was skillfully executed thanks to his otherworldly vocal range and a stage presence that drew the audience in with each line.

Lambert — careful not to mimic Mercury — brought his own artistry and interpretation to the music. Specifically, his emotive interpretation of “Who Wants to Live Forever” as well as handling Mercury’s vocals in a duet of “Under Pressure” with Taylor induced goosebumps. It was simply that magnificent.

Lambert’s interpretation of “Killer Queen” was another highlight. On the 2014 tour, Lambert performed the song while on sofa. This time, he emerged from below the stage seated on the head of “Frank,” the robot that adorns the cover of Queen’s 1977 album “News of the World” (celebrating its 40th anniversary this year). Lambert’s theatrical background came into play on this number as Lambert delivered it with a sparkle in his eyes and just a touch of vamping — the kind you’d expect in a small Broadway theater.

The robot was an important piece of the show, building momentum before the musicians took the stage as his giant hands broke through the set, lifting up the stage to reveal the band, with Lambert teasing the crowd with a snippet of “We Will Rock You” before crashing into “Hammer To Fall.” The payoff of “We are the Champions” (complete with Lambert wearing his deserved crown) would come later, but there was plenty to enjoy before then.

Adam Lambert

With his leather jacket, sunglasses, and well-heeled shoes (we counted five costume changes throughout the night), Lambert was every bit the rock star, tearing through classics like “Stone Cold Crazy,” owning the catwalk while strutting to “Another One Bites the Dust,” and riding a tricycle for “Bicycle Race.” By the time “Fat Bottomed Girls” came around, the group had the Prudential Center in a singalong frenzy. A stellar May guitar solo — one of many — took things to 11.

Lambert wasn’t the only one at the microphone. Taylor, who celebrated his 68th birthday on Wednesday night, mesmerized on the track “I’m in Love With My Car” (from “A Night at the Opera,” and the B-side to “Bohemian Rhapsody”). He later faced off with Warren on an epic drum battle and enjoyed a moment of surprise as Lambert led the crowd in singing “Happy Birthday.”

May, 70, scaled things back a bit seated with an acoustic guitar for a lovely version of “Love of My Life,” a beautiful moment that superimposed Mercury singing the last lines on the screen beside the guitarist. Said May: “I think a good song should never die.”

Truer words were never spoken.

Photos by Michael Roszkowski

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