'One of the best concerts this writer has ever experienced at the O2'
Andy Morris
21:00 18th January 2015

On Saturday night, 95 minutes after Stars In Their Eyes showed precisely how not to impersonate a well-loved performer, Adam Lambert takes to the stage to stand in for Freddie Mercury and act as frontman for Queen.

Lambert, resplendent in the kind of leathers that Judas Priest’s Rob Halford used to wear bombing round Birmingham, was clearly made for this moment. He may be sporting the finest Cuban heels to strut on the O2 stage since Bruno Mars came here in 2013 but Lambert has a vocal range, a stage presence and a sense of the theatrical that is second to none.

The key is that Lambert makes it clear very early on that this is not an impersonation of the still mourned Mercury. “I love him as much as you love him,” he tells the crowd. “My goal is to celebrate the amazing music of Queen and bring you back to why you liked them in the first place.”

This he succeeds wholly in doing, not least because the band he’s fronting is still so strong. Alighting on a stage the shape of a giant Q, both Roger Taylor (initially in shades) and his son Rufus sit behind full drum kits, with Brian May heading out front (grey mullet occasionally blowing in the breeze). As expected, the reclusive bassist John Deacon isn’t present but a shot of him on the giant screens brings loud applause.

The set list is flawless, as one might expect from a band who have crafted some of the finest rock songs of the 20th Century. What’s intriguing is the presence of Lambert seems to have give the tracks a fresh energy - ‘I Want It All’ is simply colossal, ‘One Vision’ extraordinary and Lambert’s exhortation to “all you fat ass bitches” somehow works during ‘Fat Bottom Girls’.

The only glaring omission comes in the form of ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ getting skipped over. But as Lambert says himself, ‘You know what the problem is with this band? Too many hits!”

Queen truly know how to put on a show. Ever track feels like a finale - with huge solos, near-operatic vocals and pomp set to 11. There is an intergenerational drum battle, a gold glitter drop, a mirror ball descends for ‘Who Wants To Live Forever’, lasers comb the the entire O2 at one point and and (bizarrely) footage of Metropolis during a performance of 'Radio Gaga' (it makes more sense given it was a soundtrack to Mercury’s ‘Love Kills’).

At one point May straps a GoPro onto his guitar, both so that everyone can check out his playing but also so that he can point it towards the audience and capture the O2’s reaction to him rattling through ‘Stone Cold Crazy’. The screens behind May during ‘Last Horizon’ will, depending on your persective, either recall the timeless search for man’s true knowledge of the cosmos or remind you of a Windows’ 97 screensaver.

The band seem genuinely moved and certainly see to enjoy themselves. Naturally their late bandmate never feels far away. When May plays a solo of ‘Love Of My Life’ he talks about how much he missed Mercury. “There was this man who used to sit behind me…” he says thoughtfully. “It makes me happy to sing his songs really”. Nothing is taken for granted. At times footage of Mercury accompanies the action, allowing him to contribute 24 years after leaving the stage. This is used most effectively on ‘Days Of Our Lives’ where Taylor takes the mic and performs a gutsy vocal, accompanied by vintage shots of the band mugging to the camera. This isn’t a mawkish tribute, this is a real, vibrant rock show.

What's interesting is Lambert at times seems even camper than Mercury ever was - not least when he seems to have borrowed part of his costume from Macho Man Randy Savage. It feels strange to say it but it thankfully it shows how far we’ve come that a man can lick a microphone, reclining on a chaise longe, raise one Cara Delevigne-esque eyebrow and pause during 'Killer Queen' after delivering ‘Guaranteed to blow your...’. The crowd clearly love it.

When Lambert chugs from a gold champagne bottle and spits it into the air, he addresses the drenched front row. “Did I get you wet lady? Rock'n'roll that's what I am supposed to do! It’s like the SeaWorld show up here.” The only criticism? Lambert’s English accent is as horrible as he says it is.

The evening as a whole is a spectacular celebration, one of the best concerts this writer has ever experienced at the O2. Lambert, a man who decided to enter American Idol while out of his mind on mushrooms at Burning Man has not only the theatricality and the sheer vocal chops but also the assured confidence to front a band like Queen. Sure, at times the outfits make it feel like ‘Tom Of Finland Sings the Hits Of Top Gear’ - but there is so much genuine passion, affection and skill involved that it’s impossible to dislike. They duck 'Bohemian Rhapsody' a bit - choosing to leave sections to the video - but it all so moving that one can’t complain.

It is intended as the highest compliment that this is second only to seeing Mercury in his prime.

Queen and Adam Lambert played
One Vision
Stone Cold Crazy
Another One Bites The Dust
Fat Bottomed Girls
Lap OF The Gods
Seven Seas Of Rhye
Killer Queen
Break Free
Somebody To Love
Love Of My Life
Days Of Our Lives
Bass Solo
Drum Battle
Under Pressure
Save Me
Who Wants To Live Forever
Guitar Solo
Tie Your Mother Down
I Want It Al
Radio Gaga
Crazy Little Thing Called Love
Bohemian Rhapsody
We Will Rock You
We Are The Champions

Photo: Thanira Rates