About half way through Queen and Adam Lambert’s Saturday night show at the Forum in Inglewood, guitarist Brian May took the stage solo to perform a few numbers. He began by acknowledging that day’s 50th anniversary of the first manned moon landing, as the video screen behind him streamed a real-time replay of the Apollo 11 mission.
“This is the day when three incredibly brave American boys first reached the nearest heavenly body in the sky,” said May, who is famously also an astrophysicist. “Remember that? Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins changed the course of history.” May went on to reference Albert Einstein’s time dilation paradox, before launching into the Queen tune “39.”
A retro act referencing a historic moment: We have arrived at peak pop culture nostalgia. But when it comes to capitalizing on reboot mania, Queen has done everything right. The band has managed to stay relevant over the years, thanks to its occasional moments in the zeitgeist — such as “Wayne’s World” in 1992 and Lambert’s Queen covers in 2009.
And then, of course, came 2018’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” the Queen biopic that earned Rami Malek an Oscar for his portrayal of late frontman Freddie Mercury. The success of that film sparked this year’s “The Rhapsody Tour,” once again tapping “American Idol” alum Lambert to fill the Mercury role. Indeed, the latest tour makes the most of what fans liked about the film: the hit music and an almost reverent take on Mercury’s life.
Lambert, of course, is quick to make sure fans know he’s not trying to be the legendary singer, who died in 1991. “I’m going to call the big pink elephant in the room,” Lambert told the crowd. “I am not Freddie Mercury. Because there will only be one Freddie Mercury. I’m just like you guys, I’m a big fan too. And there’s no replacing the one and only Freddie Mercury. All I’m here to do for you tonight is to celebrate Freddie and to carry a torch for Freddie. I hope I’m making him proud.”
Like any successful reboot, the new Queen still offers up something for the long-term fans, in May and drummer Roger Taylor, while also offering up Lambert, and a return to relevancy thanks to the film, for younger audiences.
May knows that it’s working, calling Lambert “the gift from God” at one point. Lambert returned the compliment: “Every time I go on stage with these guys I realize what an honor this is. And how lucky I feel.”
There was frequent use of Mercury imagery, including a touching moment when May sang Mercury’s “Love of My Life” until the end of the song, when a video featured Mercury singing the final verse as May smiled and looked on. Queen also continues to perform “Bohemian Rhapsody” live as a hybrid, sang mostly live but with the “mamma mia” section on tape from the song’s famous video.
The mostly older audience likely appreciated all the nods to the Queen they grew up with. But Lambert still made plenty of the show his own, interjecting his own swagger and personality in the mix — from licking a microphone to frequent, and outlandish, wardrobe changes.
The setlist offered the usual greatest hits package, with plenty of songs from the movie getting their due. There was no surprise to the ending: Queen and Lambert wrapped up the initial set with “Bohemian Rhapsody,” while “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions” served as the encore.
It wasn’t earth-shattering stuff, but reboots rarely are. What they’re supposed to do is give audiences something they’re either excited to see again, or curious to see for the first time. For my 9-year-old, newly obsessed with Queen thanks to “Bohemian Rhapsody,” it was a perfect first-ever concert for him. For the older concertgoers around us, it was a chance to hop in the time machine and recapture a bit of joy, all these years later.
Or as astrophysicist Brian May might note, another way to practice Einstein’s theory of special relativity.