Queen + Adam Lambert: Reimagined arena-rock champions dazzle Xcel

Queen on July 14 at St. Paul's Xcel Energy Center

Queen on July 14 at St. Paul's Xcel Energy Center Steve Cohen

Queen’s music has a timeless quality and a global appeal. The indelible anthems of the London quartet are forever ingrained in popular culture, and have rocked stadiums filled with dedicated fans for decades.

But with the death of frontman Freddie Mercury in 1991, Queen’s material was in jeopardy of being unfairly relegated to the dustbin of history, becoming a relic of a bygone era that never made a connection with young music fans in the digital age.

But then along came Adam Lambert.

The flamboyant 2009 American Idol runner-up joined up with Queen guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor in 2011, eventually launching a highly successful Queen + Adam Lambert tour that has circled the world since 2014. They brought their highly entertaining spectacle of sight and sound to Minnesota for the very first time on Friday night in St. Paul, playing to a sold-out Xcel Energy Center crowd of more than 15,000 passionate Queen fans spanning multiple generations.

Over the course of the exhilarating two-hour performance, Lambert helped breathe new life -- and plenty of mischievous camp -- into songs that will always belong to Freddie, of course. But those impassioned arena-rock numbers are once again ringing out to the rafters in celebration of Mercury’s inspirational life, while at the same time giving fans a chance to pay their respects to the inimitable talents of May and Taylor. The rock veterans repeatedly showed that the music of Queen is keeping them young and spirited, despite Taylor joking, “I’m too old for this shit” while toweling off after a drum solo.

The performance -- a celebration of the 40th anniversary of Queen’s smash hit record, News of the World -- did take a few songs to find a spark, however. Tepid versions of “Stone Cold Crazy” and “Another One Bites the Dust” followed a set-starting tease of “We Will Rock You,” with Lambert’s vocals initially overwhelming May’s muted guitar riffs. But a rousing version of “Fat Bottomed Girls” ignited the performance, and the rest of the set struck a joyous balance between rekindling the spirit of the songs for the modern age while paying a reverential nod to the towering legacy of the band’s former frontman.

“I know what you’re thinking,” Lambert admitted early in the show. “He’s no Freddie Mercury. Who’s this guy? I know. Freddie is a god and there will be only one. I’m a fan just like you guys. I’m so blessed to be singing these songs and keeping them in a live space.”

Throughout the set, Lambert added his own distinctive vocal flourishes to the material and never tried to duplicate the range or mimic the cheeky charisma of Mercury. Lambert has worked hard to make these songs his own, and throughout the show he came across as more of an exuberant innovator rather than a mere imposter. He is kicking these songs into the 21st century with his pointy, platform-heeled boots. Lambert was repeatedly deferential to May and Taylor, allowing the two rock titans plenty of moments to shine on their own, as well as thanking them personally for the incredible opportunity they offered him -- a moment that was met by a thunderous ovation from the crowd.

Mercury would have flourished within the decidedly modern stage set, animations, and state-of-the-art accoutrements, and Lambert took full advantage of his surroundings. He mounted the head of the Frank Freas-designed robot from the News of the World cover during a perky “Killer Queen,” and rode a bike with a basket filled with flowers during “Bicycle Race.” He also changed outfits seven times during the show, going from a George Michael-like black leather getup to a bright pink suit that complemented his flame red hair, before donning a sparkling silver crown and matching glittery muscle shirt for the encore.

“Freddie was a fashionista," he quipped. "I’m doing my best to keep up.”

May justifiably took the spotlight himself on many occasions, affectionately thanking the crowd “for allowing us to be here and be heroes one more time.” He played a lovely solo acoustic version of “Love of My Life,” which he warmly introduced as “a Freddie song.” The large screen even featured a moving image of Mercury waving and walking away as May brought the song to a stirring close.

May, Taylor, and Lambert formed a tight trio at the end of the long guitar-neck shaped stage extension, rolling through a swaggering version of “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” and a buoyant take on “Under Pressure,” which Taylor dedicated to David Bowie. That tender moment exemplified that even though Mercury and Bowie have sadly left us, their music, style, and personality will certainly live on forever, and that we should honor our idols while we have the chance.

That explains the full house waiting to do just that on Friday for May and Taylor. So many of Queen’s songs stand as endearing testaments to love and the restorative power of finding someone to share your heart with. The performance in St. Paul provided a healing, optimistic musical balm that made us all forget the ills of the world for a brief moment and blissfully sing along to these euphoric anthems. 

After a soaring rendition of the ‘80s power ballad “Who Wants to Live Forever,” replete with rainbow-colored lasers carrying clouds of smoke to all corners of the arena, May was elevated high above the stage for an ostentatious guitar solo against a backdrop filled with spacey images of the universe. Basically everything you want from a stone-cold rock god and then some.

The main set ended with a triumphant run through of “Radio Ga Ga,” complete with a return from the robot to instruct the younger members of the crowd when to clap along. A blazing version of “Bohemian Rhapsody” followed, augmented by the music video during the operatic-middle section before May emerged out of a smoke cloud from the stage floor to tear into his famous guitar solo. He looked like a mystical, guitar-wielding wizard wearing a liquid silver cape -- because of course he was. It was rock ‘n’ roll to the millionth degree.

Most bands would kill to have either of Queen’s potent encore tracks in their musical arsenal. But Queen released them both on the same damn single in 1977. “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions” have been played ad nauseam at sports arenas ever since, but live they take on a decidedly more raucous, resilient edge. May’s guitar riffs were scorching, while Taylor’s thunderous drumbeats echoed off the walls. It was everything you look for in a rock show: the bombast, the attitude, the exultation, the release.

Even though the most significant member of Queen is no longer leading the way, their music still lives on in the hearts of their fans. And Brian May, Roger Taylor, and the effervescent Adam Lambert have made sure that Queen’s rapturous anthems still have the power to rock a crowd, while reminding us just how many gifts Freddie Mercury left behind to remember him by.

Click here to see photos of Queen at Xcel 


We Will Rock You (tease)
Hammer To Fall
Stone Cold Crazy
Another One Bites The Dust
Fat Bottomed Girls
Killer Queen
Two Fux (Adam Lambert song)
Don’t Stop Me Now
Bicycle Race
I’m In Love With My Car
Get Down, Make Love
I Want It All
Love Of My Life
Somebody To Love
Crazy Little Thing Called Love
Drum Solo
Under Pressure
I Want To Break Free
Who Wants To Live Forever
Guitar Solo
Radio Ga Ga
Bohemian Rhapsody
We Will Rock You
We Are the Champions
God Save the Queen