Arts & EntertainmentMusic

Queen + Adam Lambert are overcome by Freddie Mercury at the Forum

Adam LambertQueen (music group)
Adam Lambert sounded great singing lead with Queen at the Forum -- but is that enough?
Ghost of Freddie Mercury reminds Forum audience that Queen isn't really Queen without him

It is perhaps the greatest compliment to Freddie Mercury that so much about Queen’s current live show feels like old news.

The veteran British rock band -- or half of it, anyway -- appeared Thursday night at the Forum with Adam Lambert, the former “American Idol” contestant, more or less playing the role of Mercury, who died in 1991. Guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor have revived the Queen brand before, touring and recording an album with Paul Rodgers of Bad Company. (Queen’s original bassist, John Deacon, hasn’t taken part in any of the recent reunions.)

But the peacocking Lambert, an avowed Mercury devotee, shares much more of a spirit with the group’s famously theatrical frontman, and he seems to have inspired May and Taylor to boost the spectacle factor for their summer arena tour. Thursday’s concert, billed as a performance by Queen + Adam Lambert, had lasers, multiple stages and a video camera attached to May’s guitar that he used to show off his virtuosic technique; there was also, inevitably, Lambert’s array of splashy costumes, including a leopard-print suit and a pair of spiked leather sleeves.

Yet none of this pageantry was pushing any boundaries that Mercury didn’t push decades ago. Queen’s gigs in the 1970s are as responsible as any for the exaggerated state of the modern arena concert; they’re what led to multimedia blowouts by the likes of Muse and Lady Gaga, who’s said to have taken her stage name from Queen’s song “Radio Ga Ga.” As a result, so much of what seemed designed to wow the crowd at the Forum merely met a reasonable level of expectation. It was par for the course.

Given the potential for creating something new with Lambert, an artist who’s demonstrated a distinct point of view in his own work, the show was also a disappointment, at least for those seeking more than rote nostalgia.

You caught a glimpse of Lambert’s personality -- the sexy-goofy charisma that made him such a sensation on “Idol” -- in his limited stage banter, as when he dedicated “Fat Bottomed Girls” to a portion of the audience he described with a delightfully unprintable epithet. He was good too in “Killer Queen,” which he sang while reclining on a purple velvet settee, his eyelashes fluttering with lovable mischief.

As a singer, though, Lambert made no impression on familiar Queen songs like “Somebody to Love,” “Tie Your Mother Down” and “Another One Bites the Dust”; he wasn’t telling us anything about the music we didn’t already know.

Did he sound great scaling the Everest-size choruses of “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions,” which closed Thursday’s show? Sure. But you know who else sounds great doing that? Freddie Mercury on Queen’s 1977 album “News of the World,” which I called up on my iPhone on the drive home.

But maybe Lambert is not to be blamed here. Midway through the concert, the singer disappeared for a long, dreary sequence in which May and Taylor performed as old footage of Mercury played on an enormous video screen at the rear of the stage. Taylor’s rendition of “These Are the Days of Our Lives” was especially egregious -- an admission, it seemed, that Queen’s glory days have passed.

But then why launch this pale imitation in the first place? May and Taylor are presumably raking in money from “We Will Rock You,” the Queen jukebox musical that recently closed after a 12-year run in London’s West End (and will arrive this month at the Ahmanson Theatre on a U.S. tour).

That suggests the two are in it for more artistic reasons -- except that this production seemed determined not to alter the idea of Queen as it has existed since Mercury’s death.

The group’s rendition of its signature hit, “Bohemian Rhapsody,” said it all: There was Lambert, belting out the introductory portion of the complicated song, doing the job he’d apparently been hired to do. Then the stage went dark and once again our eyes were directed toward the screen, where Mercury took over for the operatic section -- a humiliating demotion for the younger man attempting to honor his idol’s legacy.

Queen is dead; long live -- no, wait, let’s keep it that way.

Twitter: @mikaelwood

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
Related Content
Adam LambertQueen (music group)
  • Babymetal shreds heavy-metal's seriousness at the Fonda
    Babymetal shreds heavy-metal's seriousness at the Fonda

    The most subversive, rage-inducing act in heavy metal played the Fonda on Sunday night. The group is fronted by three Japanese teenage girls in pigtails who make heart-shaped hand gestures onstage and sing about how much they love chocolate. 

  • Pop singer-songwriter Richard Marx stays in tune with the market
    Pop singer-songwriter Richard Marx stays in tune with the market

    Richard Marx only recently moved into his home in the Hollywood Hills, but the place already boasts a fully functioning bar. That's where the pop singer best known for such late-'80s ballads as "Right Here Waiting" and "Hold On to the Nights" pulled up a stool...

  • Jon Pardi joins country's party
    Jon Pardi joins country's party

    The 29-year-old singer-songwriter is delivering rip-roaring party songs, like other exemplars of 'bro country,' but his tunes are sly and even tender too. He's building an audience, club by club.

  • Motley Crue goes out with a bang at Hollywood Bowl
    Motley Crue goes out with a bang at Hollywood Bowl

    Explosions rocked the Hollywood Bowl early. Fireballs during Mötley Crüe's "Saints of Los Angeles," the opening song of the metal band's farewell tour, pushed heat into the cheap seats.

  • Lady Gaga looks for raves at Staples Center
    Lady Gaga looks for raves at Staples Center

    Lady Gaga needed to get Staples Center to start dancing on Monday night. "For all of you who don’t know about 'Artpop'," she said, alluding to her most recent album and its lumbering tour title, "ArtRave: The Artpop Ball," "grab a glowstick or get the …...

  • Chop & Quench brings Fela Kuti's 'The '69 L.A. Sessions' to life
    Chop & Quench brings Fela Kuti's 'The '69 L.A. Sessions' to life

    It was proclaimed more than once over the evening at California Plaza that history was being made in downtown Los Angeles on Friday night as part of the Grand Performances series. For the first time, a choice selection of the iconic Nigerian bandleader Fela Kuti's music, created during...