Queen + Paul Rodgers — the Bad Company singer who temporarily took Freddie Mercury’s place at the mic — played the Wachovia Spectrum in 2006, and the show was a straightforward, no-frills, nostalgic evening of rock classics played to a mostly gray-haired audience. When Queen guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor returned to Philadelphia in July 2014 with the “new guy,” American Idol alum Adam Lambert, it was show introducing a new voice to a somewhat wary but accepting audience that mixed old fans with new.
Sunday night at the Wells Fargo Center, celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Queen album News of the World, was something else entirely.
In a fully realized show with special effects, lasers, props, and cranes, the band blasted through two hours of hits (22, with snippets of others) and could have gone another two hours without exhausting their extensive catalogue. And they did so in front of a sold-out crowd that was as young as it was old, with new generations of fans coming with friends, parents, or grandparents, to see both the rock legends and Lambert, as well as to hear songs that are now part of our collective DNA.
Was it nostalgic? Sure. But this wasn’t some oldies tour, even though only two songs from the last 30 years were performed (Lambert’s new single and the 28-year-old “I Want It All” from The Miracle, a song known as much in the United States for selling Dr. Pepper and Verizon FIOS as from the album).
But Lambert gives the classics (“Killer Queen,” “Somebody to Love,” “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”) a new energy and has certainly been a B12 shot for May, now 70, and Taylor, 68, who still play with remarkable precision, conviction, enthusiasm, and, rare for a rock concert … gratitude.
Having toured with the band all over the world for six years — with extended breaks for his own solo career — Lambert is no longer the “new guy.” He’s got nothing left to prove to the hardcore fans — his vocal range on “Who Wants to Live Forever” is stunning — and on stage he’s now as comfortable in his own skin as he is in Queen’s.
The show got started with a piece of “We Will Rock You” followed by “Hammer to Fall,” a seizure-inducing “Stone Cold Crazy,” and “Another One Bites the Dust.” While May soloed at the end of “Fat Bottomed Girls,” Lambert changed into “the gayest pink suit” (his description, not mine) and footwear straight out of Kinky Boots, to reappear atop the head of News of the World robot Frank for a campier concert portion featuring “Killer Queen,” Lambert’s aforementioned new single (with title including an expletive homonym), “Don’t Stop Me Now,” and “Bicycle Race” — riding a flowery, pink bike. You weren’t getting that from Paul Rodgers. And, let’s face it, Queen needs camp as much as summer does.
Taylor was up next with “I’m in Love with My Car” a deeper cut off A Night at the Opera followed by Lambert gyrating through “Get Down, Make Love,” a deeper cut off News. Following the bombast of “I Want it All,” May went acoustic at the front of the stage, singing “Love of My Life” with the crowd and Freddie Mercury in an on-screen cameo.
Aside from a killer drum duel with Taylor and Tyler Warren, the rest of the show was a blitz of hits, including “Under Pressure,” “I Want to Break Free,” “Radio Gaga,” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” a fuller version of “We Will Rock You” and then a sing-along “We Are the Champions.”
Midway through the show, May talked about playing Philadelphia 40 years ago and how wonderful it was to be back. “Even more incredible,” he said, “is that you guys are here to see us.”
Not so incredible at all, actually.