November 8, 2023
Photos by Raymond Ahner
Though the material was classic Queen, it was a notably different iteration of the regal rockers that took command of the Chase Center for the first of two scheduled San Francisco performances on their Rhapsody Tour.
Originally hailing from London, England in 1970 with legendary vocalist Freddie Mercury (RIP) as the front man, the 2023 version of Queen rocked the Chase stage with Adam Lambert belting out the vocals.
Even the billing of the show spelled out the difference, as the marquee displayed that it would be Queen + Adam Lambert performing. Despite the change of singers (Lambert is actually the third different singer to front Queen after Paul Rodgers initially stepped in from 2004-2009), the crowd buzzed with anticipation ahead of what would be an epic two-plus hour performance of throw-back classic rock wrapped in a state of the art technological package.
A giant 3D style curved screen served as an electronic curtain cloaking the band. As it crackled to life with visuals of synchronized churning gears and robots marching in mechanical unison, the swell of synthesizers, percussion, and the sound of ‘Machines (Or ‘Back to Humans”)’ from Queen’s 1984 album The Works blasted from the PA…with Freddie Mercury’s unmistakable recorded voice washing over the sellout crowd which responded with a prolonged ovation.
As the screen elevated, flashes of lasers and lights illuminated the stage, revealing Queen (Brian May – guitars, Roger Taylor – drums), their touring band (Spike Edney – keys / rhythm guitar. Neil Fairclough – bass, and Tyler Warren – percussion), and the otherworldly apparition of singer Adam Lambert, whose costume resembled an armored, glittering Transformer character with spiky hair and eyeliner.
The audience went bananas, especially those lucky few who were part of the show, jumping and waving their arms as they occupied large window frames situated at the back of the stage.
Their frenzy hit its initial peak when Fairclough thumped out the familiar bass lead-in to Queen’s number one hit ‘Another One Bites the Dust’ (The Game – 1980). The crowd grooved along, dancing in the aisles as Lambert crooned Freddie’s lyrics.
While Lambert is very charismatic, his flamboyance is different from the flair that Freddie Mercury brought to a performance.
Lambert has more of a flash derived from his costumes and theatrical stage presentation, akin to Elton John and Liberace. Whereas Mercury’s shine was more driven by his very unique personality, magnetic stage persona, and showmanship….not to mention his talents when seated at the piano.
Lambert however is more than just a Freddie facsimile. Though he does not play an instrument, he comes with his own immense vocal talents and fans. As a matter of fact, if you closed your eyes you would be hard pressed to cite an intelligible difference in singing ability. Lambert does though have the benefit of studying the Freddie Mercury blueprint.
As Lambert disappeared offstage for one of his costume changes, fog machines erupted and Roger Taylor took over vocal duties on ‘I’m in Love with My Car.’ This allowed guitarist extraordinaire Brian May to take to the front of the stage like he was standing in a cloud, providing spicy leads to support Taylor who sounded perfect, simultaneously singing and swinging the beat behind his drum kit.
May also delivered a truly incendiary guitar solo, not only figuratively by burning up the fretboard, but literally as he shot fireworks from the neck of his guitar as he played.
When Lambert returned to the stage, the performance picked up speed as Queen’s greatest hits train rolled on. He ascended onto the stage on a bedazzled motorcycle ahead of the classic Queen hits ‘Bicycle Race’ and ‘Fat Bottomed Girls.’
As the set reached its midpoint, the band got stronger, and Lambert got bolder in his performance. At the end of ‘Somebody to Love,’ which featured a great call and response with the crowd, he hit and held a note for some twenty seconds before segueing into ‘Love of My Life,’ during which he invoked the mannerisms of Freddie Mercury, preening for the crowd at the end of a long catwalk which extended deep into the crowd.
An unexpected highlight of the show was the performance of ‘Under Pressure,’ which originally was a duet between Freddie and David Bowie. That vocal exchange was held up fabulously by Lambert and Roger Taylor (providing the Bowie bits). And ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love’ allowed the audience to get into the act, as the interactions between Lambert and fans turned Chase Center into a veritable hootenanny. I’m sure many in attendance lost their voices as the song came to a cascading close with the repeated refrain of the chorus to close it out.
The main set culminated with the ever present 1975 hit ‘Bohemian Rhapsody,’ which got a jolt of renewed popularity when it was introduced to a new generation by being featured in the 1992 hit comedy ‘Wayne’s World.’ It was stunning to hear the lush layers of vocals covered live by Lambert and Taylor backed by the harmonies of Fairclough, Warren, and Edney.
By the time the encore closed with the trio of ‘We Will Rock You,’ ‘Radio Ga Ga,’ and ‘We are the Champions,’ the crowd, though hoarse and spent, called out for more. At this point however a downpour of confetti fluttered from the rafters, and Queen and Adam Lambert moved to the front of the stage to take their curtain call, taking bows and basking in the afterglow of a stellar performance before sending the audience on its way.