Adam Lambert isn’t Freddie Mercury, but that’s more than OK for sold-out Tampa concert

Amalie Arena was on its feet and in awe.

click to enlarge PHOTO BY TRACY MAY
Photo by Tracy May

It’s 2019, and people are still throwing themselves at the chance to celebrate the life of Freddie Mercury and his band, Queen.

Nearly three-decades after his death, the love for Mercury and his former band seems to be as strong as ever. Bohemian Rhapsody — a 2018 biopic about Mercury and the band — pulled in almost a billion dollars and won four Oscars awards, while Queen itself still remains one of the most in-demand acts around, even without its beloved frontman. 

RELATED: Photos of Queen and Adam Lambert rocking Tampa’s Amalie Arena

Since 2009, the man attempting to fill those shoes (or in this case glittery, diamond-studded platform boots) has been Adam Lambert, the former American Idol contestant turned pop-rockstar. The exuberant lead singer originally collaborated with Queen’s surviving members Brian May and Roger Taylor on Season 8 of Idol (they performed “We Will Rock You” on the finale), and subsequently secured a periodic gig to help front the still-touring rock legends.

The result has been one of the most celebrated collab shows around, as the group has been booked on an endless leg of international tours since 2011. On Sunday night, before a sold-out Amalie Arena, “Queen + Adam Lambert” proved it is indeed one of the top touring rock acts in the world, even if it’s not fully capable of replacing Mercury on the mic.

The group arrived to the stage at 8:20 p.m. to a rousing ovation that seemed to last throughout the opener, 1974’s “Now I’m Here.” The group returned to the Sheer Heart Attack album several tracks later with “Killer Queen,” after which Lambert took the time to acknowledge the elephant in the room.

"I am so lucky that I’ve been given this chance to carry a torch for one of my all-time heroes,” said Lambert, rocking a gold-bedazzled jacket and cascading purple pocket handkerchief, while an image of Mercury gazed down from the big screen. “Let’s hear it for the irreplaceable, one and only Freddie Mercury!"

This incited a two-minute standing ovation from the crowd (“Right!?” Lambert exclaimed afterwards), and the rest of the show seemed to follow this theme of honoring Mercury, as well as the band. While Lambert unleashed everything in his arsenal — from his high-range on “Somebody to Love” to humping a motorcycle during “Bicycle Race” to coaxing smiles out of everyone in attendance (including Brian May) with his enigmatic charm — his addition always felt like just that, a “+” rather than a focal point. The focus was instead always on the catalog, as well as Queen’s surviving members in guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor. 

Taylor was the first to receive his spotlight, taking the stage solo to perform “I’m in Love With My Car,” a track he wrote for 1975’s masterpiece, A Night at the Opera. Later, he brought the drums out to the center of the room, trading vocals with Lambert on a duet of “Under Pressure.” 

Halfway through the set, May received the first of his own two solo cues, treating fans to an acoustic rendition of “Love of My Life.” This charmed moment was only to be outdone by May’s official guitar solo, a nearly 10-minute block that saw the legend perched atop an elevated platform, belting out a range of progressive-rock and metal riffs among an array of floating planets and stars,

The backend of the set returned to honoring the catalog that has landed Queen in holiest places of rock and roll lore and reminded those in attendance why this band can still sell out arenas without its original lead singer.

The initial set ended spectacularly with classics “The Show Must Go On,” “Fat Bottomed Girls,” “Radio Ga Ga,” and “Bohemian Rhapsody”, songs that had the entire room singing and clapping in unforgettable moments. Naturally, the group’s exit from the stage post-”Bohemian” was quickly met with chanting, clapping and stopping, as fans were already ready for a “We Will Rock You” encore (the band would do just that, before ending their night with “God Save the Queen.”)

Was this the Queen fans grew up with and loved? Of course not. People like Freddie Mercury don’t earn the ‘one-of-a-kind’ tag for nothing. But this 2019 Queen is the best way to celebrate the band all these years later and after all, the show must go on. 

Setlist

Now I'm Here
Seven Seas of Rhye
Keep Yourself Alive
Hammer to Fall
Killer Queen
Don't Stop Me Now
In the Lap of the Gods... Revisited
Somebody to Love
I'm in Love With My Car
Bicycle Race
Another One Bites the Dust
I Want It All
Love of My Life
'39
Doing All Right
Crazy Little Thing Called Love
Under Pressure
Dragon Attack
I Want to Break Free
You Take My Breath Away
Who Wants to Live Forever
[Guitar Solo]
Tie Your Mother Down
The Show Must Go On
Fat Bottomed Girls
Radio Ga Ga
Bohemian Rhapsody

Ay‐Oh
We Will Rock You
We Are the Champions
God Save the Queen
"Heroes" (David Bowie)

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About The Author

LJ Hilberath

Franz “LJ” Hilberath is a Clearwater-native who contributes to Creative Loafing's Music section. He previously served as an intern and is now a freelance contributor for all things music.LJ can be found in the field reviewing concerts and music festivals around the country, and also works interviews for both local...
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