REVIEW: Even In Torrential Rain, Queen Deliver 'Superb' Showing At First Stop On Aussie Tour

14 February 2020 | 10:42 am | Steve Bell

"As they end on the eternal 'Bohemian Rhapsody', Lambert finally comes into his own, owning that most inimitable of performances and delivering a rendition good enough to send shivers down the spine."

Pic by Justin Ma

Pic by Justin Ma

More Queen feat. Adam Lambert More Queen feat. Adam Lambert

We can’t deny having some reservations about this show in the week leading up. None of them musical – the Queen canon of music is timeless and, in some respects, peerless – more just nagging doubts about whether Queen without Freddie Mercury is still Queen. I’ve seen AC/DC plenty of times and was able to suspend my disbelief just fine when Brian was singing Bon’s songs, but there’s something indefinable about Mercury’s essence and what he himself brought to many of these songs that makes them so special. 

Of course were the band to have wrapped things up upon Mercury’s sad passing back in 1991 then 40,000 Queenslanders wouldn’t have braved the elements and turned up en masse to celebrate these songs. And when we say brave the elements, we’re talking about an outdoor concert in an unrelenting sub-tropical deluge so fierce that even the most futuristic of ponchos becomes a mere fashion statement, with one’s body and soul drenched beyond belief from the get-go. The type of rain where you buy three beers but end up drinking twelve, and every time you think there might be some respite and look skywards the sheets of water somehow get thicker and even more insistent.

But all around us in front of the stage there’s nary an empty seat: no one’s relinquished their chance to witness this spectacle in order to stay dry and that’s some real devotion. A booming voice says over the loudspeaker as the lights dim just a little later than scheduled, “The show must go on...”

And go on it does. As is almost expected in this technological age the production is spectacular from the start, beginning with a regal theme befitting both the band’s name and baroque tendencies. It dwarfs the players as they enter the fray and ease into the night with the relatively sedate Now I’m Here, Adam Lambert – the former American Idol contestant these days facing the unenviable tasking of filling Mercury’s substantial shoes – dressed flamboyantly in a long purple metallic jacket and heels.

Guitarist Brian May seems to get more elegant with age and takes the opportunity for the night’s first shredding during Seven Seas Of Rhye, founding drummer Roger Taylor for some reason rocking sunglasses behind his huge kit as they power through Keep Yourself Alive and Hammer To Fall, the band happily flitting between eras as they pound through a scintillating take of the ageless Killer Queen.

At this juncture Lambert himself pauses to address the Mercury dilemma, calling himself a “fan” and admitting the hopelessness of trying to replace the irreplaceable. Indeed the spectre of the late singer is treated with great dignity all night, his visage appearing on the huge screens at times, his vitality still enough to light up proceedings all these years on.

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After that admission there’s no holding back, Don’t Stop Me Now augmented by an incredible roller-coaster-type backdrop that takes things to a whole new level, the song’s tumbling dynamic given a visual counterpoint that works wonderfully. Taylor pops up at the end of the catwalk among the crowd – beneath a hastily assembled and only partially successful structure to keep them dry – and offers the wonky I’m In Love With My Car, before Bicycle Race and Fat Bottomed Girls unite to prove ridiculously anthemic in the flesh, their strange arrangements almost demanding a singalong.

Another One Bites The Dust brings an element of twisted disco to proceedings, Lambert seeming to grow in confidence as the set progresses, snarling the lyrics of hedonism anthem I Want It All as if it were his birth-right to be here upon this stage, tonight, playing these songs. 

There’s a relative lull in proceedings as things are pulled back, May grabbing his acoustic guitar to offer the winsome Love Of My Life – joined by Freddie on the giant screen as they duet across the ages, the entire arena awash in the glow of thousands of mobile phone lights – and then the tranquil ’39, Lambert and Taylor clawing back the spotlight as they share vocals on Doing All Right.

And from here – as you’d expect – it's just a cavalcade of hits and (albeit strange) memories, classic Queen tracks like Crazy Little Thing Called Love and Under Pressure augmented by off-kilter covers in Led Zepplin’s Whole Lotta Love and The King’s Heartbreak Hotel. The yearning majesty of Somebody To Love segues into the inspiring I Want To Break Free. Who Wants To Live Forever pines, seemingly perfect in these most Highlander of conditions, while a huge animated backdrop of whirling constellations and space imagery – no doubt a nod to May’s background in astrophysics – ends in the guitarist playing a long and convoluted solo as he’s lowered down on top of an asteroid. It’s all happening even in the still-torrential rain, everybody lapping it up as if being completely sodden is the new normal.

Tie Your Mother Down and Radio Ga Ga both sound wonderful – coming as they do from opposite ends of the Queen spectrum – and as they end on the eternal Bohemian Rhapsody, Lambert finally comes into his own, owning that most inimitable of performances and delivering a rendition good enough to send shivers down the spine, the whole stadium going full Wayne’s World as they get to the breakdown, heads banging away everywhere in wonderful unison.

There’s a short break but the band return to complete what they started – to a man they’ve been incredibly stoic tonight given the conditions – and the night ends with a rousing mass version of We Are The Champions, perfectly befitting a stadium full of people who’ve deserved the epithet of ‘champion’ for tonight’s incredible display of endurance. 

As we head wearily into the downpour those nagging doubts of yore have been fully assuaged – these songs are amazing and deserve to still be celebrated, even if only half the original band is present. Lambert does a fine job, the production is superb, and – as Freddie himself was so prone to say (and sing) – the show must go on...