Israeli fans of legendary classic rockers Queen have been waiting roughly 40 years to see the band live. That’s quite a long while to wait — longer, in fact, than the band’s current touring vocalist, Adam Lambert, has been alive. Naturally, that kind of anticipation can heighten pressure, but the band’s reaction at their epic Tel Aviv concert on Monday night (Sept. 12) can be best summed by some very familiar words: “Don’t stop me ’cause I’m having a good time!”
Founding members, guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor have carried on 25 years after the death of iconic singer Freddie Mercury with American Idol contestant Lambert, who took over as vocalist in 2011. Purring, kissing, and hissing through the air, Lambert’s on-stage demeanor was utterly Freddie-fied.
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Lambert entered wearing a skintight leather getup and Robocop sunglasses, combining the sleek looks and fluid moves of Lady Gaga and George Michael. From moment one, the vocalist stood at the fore alongside his much older bandmates, unafraid of the massive spotlight searing down on him. It looked much the way it does on the footage of the band’s classic era, Lambert doing a remarkable job of filling those large shoes. Since Lambert is the first openly gay man to hit the charts with a No 1 in the US, a new legacy feels fulfilled.
And Lambert presents something far closer to the iconic Queen experience that fans have been missing. His dramatic flair and theatrical performance style match the elegiac songs that have long been lodged in the public memory. A rapturous ferocity of immortal glam-rock and 80’s swagger.
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The crowd roared from song one — the group’s first real commercial hit, the galloping “Seven Seas of Rhye” — but things started to get really crazy when they got around to “Fat Bottom Girls,” with each and every word sung with equal passion by Lambert and the thousands in attendance. On the sublime “Don’t Stop Me Now”, the pop star seemed to revel in the moment, accentuating the word “ecstasy” in a deliciously sweet space, taking off his large sunglasses to stare down the crowd with a smirk. For beloved smash “Killer Queen”, he stood with a black burlesque fan on a silver throne, cooling himself off with exaggerated, seductive movements. Lambert swung one leg up over the chair in a balletic développé, rising to fan off May’s expansive mop of white hair.
Once Lambert finally took a break to acknowledge the massive crowd, he did so with a warm “Erev tov,” (good evening) smiling sweetly with a kick of charm at the adoring crowd. He also made sure to pay special tribute to the man who couldn’t be there on the swelteringly hot evening – his “Oy vey” and “Oy gavalt”’s coming between subtle sweat-swabbing. “I want us to remember Freddie and Queen together,” he beamed, sure to honor the departed frontman. “There will only be one Freddie Mercury, so in the spirit of Freddie let’s love each other!”
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While Mercury’s presence was certainly felt during that bit, he was a fixture of the evening as a whole, both in his own voice and those of the bandmates he spent decades with. Both May and Taylor sang songs wistfully dedicated to “Freddie,” clearly still feeling the death of their friend. May sat in the spotlight at the front of the stage with an acoustic guitar for a stirring rendition of “Love of My Life.” Mercury’s majestic voice was used sparingly throughout the night, a dramatic tool rather than a crutch, complementing the current arrangements with Lambert rather than upstaging him. Near the set’s conclusion, the group built a massive version of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Lambert essentially singing in tandem with Mercury, whose presence was projected onto massive video screens behind him.
But this show wasn’t some sappy memorial; Lambert, May, and Taylor were here to deliver an ecstatic good time as much as they were to pay tribute to their legacy. You might forget just how many hits Queen have in their arsenal, but then they can put “Another One Bites the Dust” and “I Want it All” back to back in the middle of their set without fear of losing momentum, with plenty of massive hooks left to come. Lambert’s dance moves seemed to come straight out of an ‘80s aerobics video: running across the stage, twinkling fingers stretched out front, thrusting his crotch toward outstretched hands. It was as if he’d infused a touch of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video into the already grand Queen formula. Even the briefest instrumental interludes were given some extra drama, with May dropping in a bit of “Hava Nagila” into an extended guitar solo.
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After a brief retreat, the band returned for an encore of “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions.” Lambert wore a crown as the confetti showered down, clearly owning the space that Freddie Mercury left behind. There was no pretending; this was no karaoke version. Lambert commanded the stage, had impeccable chemistry with May and Taylor, and pushed his voice through all the operatic highs and lows that might be expected of these songs. This was not Queen in the traditional sense, it was Queen and Adam Lambert, a combination of the best traits of both worlds. Delivering a planet-sized visual spectacle, using enough electricity to power an entire city — possibly why the screen turned black halfway through the evening. “Mazel tov,” the young singer smiled at the set’s end.
As the musicians left the stage and the masses exited the venue, the glorious strands of David Bowie’s “Heroes” played over the PA. Lifelong fans walked out giddily, kids smiled up at their parents, and a man with a long red cape and a checkered Freddie leotard gazed up at the sky. Many were already wearing their recently purchased Queen T-shirts, proud to present the moment they shared with one of classic rock’s timeless acts. The Tel Aviv fans had to wait a long time to get their moment with Queen, but the band certainly didn’t disappoint.