When Freddie Mercury drew a phoenix watching over the iconic Queen band logo back in the early 1970s, he must have known something.
Because never in the era of rock music has a band had such a rebirth.
After Mercury’s death in 1991, months after the release of the underrated Innuendo, Queen’s surviving members were one massive Wembley Stadium tribute concert away from hanging it up. But then came Wayne’s World to recharge “Bohemian Rhapsody,” a world-touring We Will Rock You stage musical, a fortuitous meeting with the runner-up of the eighth season of American Idol, multiple world tours, and a biopic that grossed an astonishing $900 million worldwide, leading to its title track, “Bohemian Rhapsody,“ reaching its billionth viewing on YouTube.
So more than 30 years after they last toured with Mercury, guitarist Brian May, drummer Roger Taylor and the now-not-so “new guy,” Adam Lambert, were back in Philadelphia on Saturday night for a third time, with their biggest show yet.
On their first tour together, Lambert was like the talented shy kid trying to fit in – not so much with the band, but with the audience – singing his guts out to make sure Freddie’s fans would give him their blessing. The second tour, a more elaborate stage design and an acceptance of Lambert. On this third tour, there are times – especially during the three-song run of “Killer Queen,” “Don’t Stop Me Now” and “Somebody to Love” – when Lambert is every bit the frontman star. The legends seem to be there to support him.
But it truly is a mutual love-fest, with Lambert sincere in his affection for Queen’s history and music. May and Taylor in awe of their good fortune of finding lightning in a bottle … again.
The sold-out Wells Fargo Center crowd ate up every minute of it from the opening chords of “Now I’m Here” to May’s closing guitar licks on “God Save the Queen,” with special, Philly-sized roars for “Love of My Life,” “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” “Under Pressure,” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” of course, and a riff-laden version of “Fat Bottom Girls” with a pom pom shaking guest appearance by the Philadelphia Eagles cheerleaders.
Lambert remains a vocal freak of nature whose voice, charisma, camp and costumes (one outfit looked as if Lady Gaga mugged the Burger King), are perfect for the Queen catalog. There aren’t many performers who can pull off the Village People masculinity of “Bicycle Race,” with the vocal chops of “The Show Must Go On” and “Who Wants to Live Forever” with the rock and roll attitude of “I Want It All” and “Under Pressure.”
This is not, however, the case of a young buck helping two old rock stars enjoy another moment in the sun. May and Taylor aren’t resting on their 40-plus years of good will. May solos on nearly every song, harmonizes, sings lead on “Love of my Life” and “39” and plays and sounds as good as ever. Taylor still twirls his sticks and smacks his drums with a young rocker’s glee and ferocity and also sounds great when he takes to the microphone on “Under Pressure” and “I’m in Love with My Car.”
And the stage show is another step forward with animation, lasers, a rising crown, astrophysicist May atop an asteroid as the planets revolve around him, a disco ball and, as always, some Freddie.
The sound got a little muddy at times, particularly on the higher notes, but otherwise Queen’s second reign continued and judging from the appreciative crowd, which ranged from senior citizens to pre-teens, could go on quite a while longer.