The brilliant British band Queen hit the music scene in the 70’s in a flash of lightning, building a musical history and legacy with which almost all readers will be familiar. Led by the enigmatic Freddie Mercury on vocals and piano, there were Brian May (guitar), John Deacon (bass) and Roger Taylor (drums). They blazed a trail which particularly in their early years included sometimes very inventive and progressive variations on the stadium rock form. Specifically, their 1975 album A Night at the Opera set a new high water mark for lush production values – layering vocals to create the sound of a true rock opera, culminating in the masterwork “Bohemian Rhapsody.” I feel fortunate to have seen Queen in Los Angeles supporting the followup to that album, 1976’s A Day at the Races. Freddie was one of the most amazing singers and performers I had seen before or since – he had an ability to connect with the audience in a way that engaged your emotions, reaching triumphant heights during their most anthemic numbers.
After Freddie’s untimely passing late in 1991, it seemed the band would never tour again without him, even if George Michael nailed the vocals on “Somebody to Love” at festival. It seemed no one could or would try to appear in Freddie’s place, given his intensity of performance, connection with the audience, and overall persona truly impossible to duplicate. Brian and Roger did eventually tour again with Paul Rogers, the highly acclaimed vocalist from Bad Company, singing lead. These were great shows, though Paul’s more gritty, tough guy vocals and appearance could not summon Freddie’s presence. This year Queen set out again on tour employing American Idol winner and performer Adam Lambert up front. With anticipation and some trepidation we booked a chance to see them at the SAP Arena in San Jose on July 1, 2014.
Any fears that the show would not live up to expectations were extinguished quickly. From the first selection “Now I’m Here” to the encores “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions” Adam and the band delivered a performance that extended the band’s legacy. While not as “muscular” sounding and charismatic a vocalist as Freddie, Adam did him proud, delivering both pretty and powerful vocal performances over the two hour show. At two points in the set, Freddie even made an “appearance.” In a move that left no dry eye in the house, Brian came out front to play an acoustic version of “Love of My Life” – one of their most beautiful songs. With the audience singing along, Freddie appeared on the main screen to sing along with us, his performance taken from a film clip of the band from an original live show. This was done one more time, for the last verse of “Bohemian Rhapsody”, one of the tracks Adam interpreted so wonderfully, with he and Freddie trading off the last words. It was impossible in the moment not to mourn the absence of the man, but it seemed fitting as recognition and tribute to his legacy.
“Front man myopia” always threatened recognition for the other members of this band, but it must be recalled that Brian May has certainly been one of rocks most creative composers and guitar players with that multi-layered recording style and crisp pickup. Roger Taylor on drums as well stands as one of rocks better musicians – another drummer who has always understood the value of nicely tuned toms. Both are also vocally blessed – Brian sang “39” with Roger and backing band, and Roger sang “These Are the Days of our Lives” – screens awash with old film and photos of the band. It’s clear these two love their early work with Queen and are justifiably proud, and excited about being able to play the original works live again, so effectively. By nature, it’s a long trip down memory lane, yet a chance for many who never saw the band to catch a glimpse of the magic that was and is still is, Queen.