by Doug MacGunnigle, WPRO
If one were to wager following Freddie Mercury’s death in 1991 that former members of Queen would be selling out 20,000 seat venues nearly 30 years later, the smart money surely would be on ‘no.’
However, with the help of the immensely talented Adam Lambert and a crack backing band, Brian May and Roger Taylor delivered a sonically and visually exciting show that would’ve made Mercury proud.
May and Taylor first dipped their toes back into the US market and touring in 2005, teaming up with Bad Company vocalist Paul Rodgers. While it was great to hear these classic songs live again, Rodgers, despite a phenomenal voice, wasn’t a perfect fit. By the time they joined up with singer Adam Lambert for their US tour in 2014 they were back firing on all cylinders, crafting a setlist that ranged from Queen’s early days up through the later material that Mercury never had the opportunity to perform live.
Jump started by the runaway success of 2018’s Oscar winning Mercury biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody,” this summer’s “Rhapsody” tour follows the same basic blueprint of the 2014 shows – but on steroids. Bigger staging, bigger effects, and more elaborate wardrobe.
The amped up production is money well spent. Dispensing with an opening act, the show begins with a taped orchestral overture of “Innuendo” before May is revealed in profile strumming the intro to 1974’s “Now I’m
Here,” followed by a rapid-fire run through of truncated versions of hits like “Keep Yourself Alive,” “Hammer to Fall,” and a perfectly campy “Killer Queen.”
At one point Lambert goes to great lengths to explain that he’s a major Mercury fan and he’s not there to “replace” him. This shouldn’t have to be explained – his attitude and stage presence is completely different to Mercury’s, and his fandom shines through as he pays homage to the original songs while adding his own vocal flourishes – he doesn’t try to sound like a Mercury impersonator and that’s a good thing.
The hits kept coming throughout the night – the audience was enraptured by top-shelf performances of “Don’t Stop Me Now,” the showstopping “Somebody to Love,” and drummer Roger Taylor’s lead vocal on “I’m in Love with My Car,” which was the butt of some jokes in the “Bohemian Rhapsody” movie, but live maintains its status as a lean, mean, rock song where Taylor can show off his still impressive vocal abilities, while pounding out his trademark drum fills.
Megahit “Another One Bites The Dust” followed, featuring the bass of Neil Fairclough, touring with Queen in place of retired original member John Deacon. The obscure chestnut “Machines (or Back to Humans)” from 1984’s “The Works” followed as a welcome change of place, with stunning visuals and the appearance of a mechanical robot Mercury accompanied by his taped vocals.
Following a stunning vocal from Lambert on “I Want it All,” a laid back section of the show served as a breather, featuring a solo acoustic May performing “Love of My Life” to an appreciative crowd who illuminated
the Xfinity Center with their 20,000 phone lights held aloft. It was an emotional highlight of the night, capped by a brief appearance from Mercury via the screens and “a little magic” to sing the last verse.
May followed with the bouncy “’39,” before being joined by Taylor and Lambert at the front of the stage for “Doing Alright,” a pre-Queen song recorded by the band on their first album. The three part harmonies by May,
Taylor, and Lambert were one of the highlights of a highlight-filled show.
The hits kept coming, with the band effortlessly tackling “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” Taylor and Lambert handling the David Bowie and Mercury parts respectively on “Under Pressure,” “I Want to Break Free” and “Who Wants to Live Forever.”
Astrophysicist May then was able to combine two of his favorite things – space and guitar – in his impressive solo. His playing remains simply remarkable. Thanks to some stunning visual effects and elaborate staging, he
was able to take his solo while riding an asteroid through the heavens.
The band was back for a quick runthrough of “Tie Your Mother Down” before showing off more vocal prowess and guitar greatness on “Fat Bottomed Girls.” A truncated “Radio Ga Ga” followed, with the crowd mimicking the video and famous “Live Aid” performance by clapping along, arms aloft, during the choruses.
This song provided the most proof as to how much the band’s popularity has rebounded in the States – when they first toured with Rodgers almost 15 years ago, the American crowds were slow to catch on to this. At Mansfield, the crowd knew it’s cue and ran with it.
Set closer “Bohemian Rhapsody” happily included the acapella intro for the first time, featuring Lambert effortlessly blending his voice with the classic recording from 1975. It’s really something to hear 20,000
folks singing every word along with the band – and May nailed his classic solo parts.
After a call-and-response session with a taped Mercury from a 1986 live performance, encores “We Will Rock You” and “We Are The Champions” sent the crowd home happy – many of them, including this reviewer, still a little in disbelief that the band could still be THIS good, so long after Mercury passed away.
Lambert’s remarkable voice and commanding stage presence paired perfectly with Queen’s rock and roll bombast. Thank God they’re still out there for those who wish to hear this music live.