Ten years have passed since Adam Lambert received the only standing ovation from Simon Cowell during his entire run judging “American Idol.” Saturday night at the El Rey Theatre, Lambert got what amounted to one long SRO ovation, doing an underplay at the 700-capacity venue as one of just four gigs he did this month to promote his new “Velvet: Side A” EP. Lambert hasn’t really toured as a solo artist since 2016, and may not be at it again any time soon, with his duties with Queen + Adam Lambert’s highly lauded Rhapsody Tour resuming next month. No wonder the screams were so loud, with the chances to hear him ask “Whataya Want From Me” instead of “Who Wants to Live Forever” so rare anymore.
The size of the venue doesn’t matter, seemingly, to Lambert, who threw it down and brought it all to a crowd of under 1000 just as surely as he would playing to a mid-five-figure audience as Queen’s permanent fill-in frontman. The El Rey curtain opened to reveal a blinding, glittery waterfall of a backdrop and a glitzy band with six ladies, including Lambert’s “Idol” rival and friend, Allison Iraheta, on backup vocals, plus one lone gentleman on guitar. After first being seen with his back to the audience, Lambert whipped around in a shimmering green suit, matching waistcoat (over no shirt, naturally), silver corsage and enough blingy jewelry you could see it from the back of the room. He looked like an expertly decorated Christmas tree. And he sounded like a dream — no surprise to the faithful who continue to wonder, with good reason, why he still isn’t one of the biggest superstars in pop.
Besides his tremendous voice, his suggestive hip jerks and knee flexes between the “super-” and “-power” of “Superpower” were met with an avalanche of screams. That derived from his new EP “Velvet: Side A,” as does his latest single, “Overglow,” a soft-rock jam, which he delivered in his best falsetto, casting a cozy blanket over the crowd. And on “Closer to You,” Lambert turned himself inside out, leaving it all on the stage.
He delivered a killer Queen cover, “Another One Bites the Dust,” early on in the evening, getting it out of the way, later bringing the same bravado to the Pink-co-written song that was a highlight of his debut album, the top 10 hit “Whataya Want From Me,” along with his now-legendary take on Cher’s “Believe.”
Two other songs Lambert performed from his first album, the title track, “For Your Entertainment” (sounding far closer now to Stevie Wonder’s “Living for the City”) and “If I Had You,” got facelifts with versions that were far funkier and reggae-based than their pop originals. So much so that Lambert commented that he wasn’t smelling any weed but was still giving the crowd “all the dub.”
Lambert’s well-paced setlist, which balanced high-energy numbers with slower breathers, ended on a less upbeat note but still stunning note with his version of Charles Brown’s “Please Come Home for Christmas.” Even that closer’s holiday separation anxiety didn’t leave anyone feeling down as they exited the El Rey, positioning themselves in front of the venue’s show posters for commemorative selfies. Having just seen their hero slay up close, Glamberts may have felt like they’d already come home for the holidays.