Live Review: Queen – HMV Hammersmith Apollo

“Not the real thing without Freddie…”  
“Only the two of them left….”  
“Just not the same….”  
“Who are they fooling?…..”

These are all comments that I have read about Queen over the past few years and do you know what?  I agree with all of them apart from the last one, as I don’t think they are remotely trying to fool anyone. I am pretty sure that the remaining members of Queen, guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor, would be the first to admit they aren’t the band they used to be. They even make a point of calling themselves ‘Queen + ’ to make it perfectly clear that it isn’t Queen ‘as was’.

Queen have a dilemma though…. they have a desire to keep performing, an audience who want to see them and a back catalogue that EVERYONE knows – whether they want to or not. Find me someone who can’t hum a part of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, ‘Another One Bites The Dust’, or ‘We Are The Champions’. The problem comes with what to do about that man with a moustache who used to prowl around the front of the stage until he sadly died in 1991.  Freddie Mercury was one of the finest singers that we have ever seen, he was also a damn fine musician but more than anything else he was the most incredible front man.

Replacing him is impossible and Queen have never tried to do that, they instead recruit people to sing who they can relate to, who do the music justice and who are willing to take it on and step into those ridiculously big shoes.

On this outing they have chosen an unlikely contender on vocal duties in the form of Adam Lambert, runner-up in the 2009 series of American Idol.  As part of that show he sang ‘We Are The Champions’ with May and Taylor, who were obviously impressed with what they saw and snapped him up for this run of dates.

The big draw for the three nights the band were in attendance at the Hammersmith Apollo (who actually calls it the HMV Apollo, other than HMV?) was that it was such an intimate setting. Queen have been a stadium act for YEARS and the last time they played Hammersmith was in 1979, a gap of 33 years. The significance of the setting pulled in fans from far and wide, with banners and scarves from fan clubs across Europe.

Enough about the history though, what was the show itself like… in two words, bloody good.  The lighting was amazing, the sound spot on and the performances slick.  The set list included all the usual faves that you would expect from a show like this with a few rarer gems thrown in to delight the die hard fans.

Adam Lambert was suitably camp and over the top without parodying Freddie but providing the colourful frontman that you need with a band like Queen.  His vocals were amazing, his range is vast and though he doesn’t have the same rock growl that Freddie had he gave the songs his own flavour without spoiling them. He received extended applause following ‘These are the Days of our Lives’, packing an already emotional song with even more depth and well suited to his smooth, soulful voice.

He showed his personality as well, a request from Lambert to ‘see some ass’ during ‘Fat Bottomed Girls’ fell on deaf ears but he laughed it off and ironically split his tight leather trousers later on when climbing back onto the stage after visiting the crowd at one point.  It is these moments where you get to see if someone is just a voice or has a bit more about them and it was good to see him interacting with the crowd and laughing with the band.

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It wasn’t perfect though…. Roger Taylor has a great singing voice and is a fantastic drummer but should stay behind the drums.  He is not a front man and looked like your embarrassing uncle doing karaoke as he shuffled around the stage, hand in pocket at one point to sing ‘A Kind of Magic’ and ‘These Are The Days of our Lives’.

He looked more comfortable when he joined Adam to duet on ‘Under Pressure’ and ‘Radio Ga Ga’ – an appropriate song to sing seeing as his son was on percussion duties and the idea for the lyric stemmed from something a young Rufus Taylor once said. The Father and Son team had a ‘drum battle’ mid-set which provided an entertaining break, more than can be said for the interminably dull guitar solo that followed from Brian May.

The show tactfully dealt with Freddie, he couldn’t be ignored but at the same time you don’t want to make it a tribute concert.  Brian did a solo acoustic slot at the front of the stage and revealed that he had received a message from Freddie’s ‘dear old mum’ before the show giving her blessing to him doing a version of ‘Love of My Life’ which had a video of Freddie appear out of the darkness on the screens at the back of the stage to sing a verse.  

It sounds cheesy now but was a touching moment that made the hairs on the back of your neck stand up and received the loudest applause of the night. Freddie returned to the screen to join in with ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ at the end as well, another touching tribute to the great man.

So while it wasn’t the Queen of old, and I’m sure anyone who was lucky enough to see the band at the height of their powers would find it a poor relation, it was still something special. This is a band who are true rock royalty, if you will excuse the pun, and for me as a long time Queen fan who had never seen them before I left the venue with a smile on face, pleased that I had seen one of England’s finest in such an intimate setting.

The set list for the night is as follows:
Seven Seas of Rhye, Keep Yourself Alive, We Will Rock You, Fat Bottomed Girls, Under Pressure (Roger & Adam), I Want It All, Who Wants To Live Forever, A Kind of Magic (Roger), These are the Days of our Lives (Roger), Somebody to Love (acoustic ad-hoc couple of verses with Brian), Love of My Life (acoustic with Brian and Freddie), ’39 (acoustic with Brian), Dragon Attack, Drum Battle, Guitar Solo, I Want to Break Free, Another One Bites the Dust, Radio Ga Ga (Adam & Roger), Crazy Little Thing Called Love, The Show Must Go On, Bohemian Rhapsody (featuring Freddie).  Encores of Tie Your Mother Down (Brian), We Will Rock You, We Are The Champions and the obligatory, God Save the Queen.

Pics copyright Creeping Around There

Phil is all about the music but with a particular fondness for anything loud, shouty or with songs longer than 10 minutes. When not writing reviews he can be found in Oxford playing bass guitar, reading anything he can get his hands on or walking his little dog Poppy. He can also be found on Twitter @peejaybe or blogging at www.consistentlyaverage.co.uk

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