As a huge crown lifts from the vast stage set and into the gods at the AO Arena, it couldn’t be a more regal opening for rock royalty Queen to make their epic return to live performance in Manchester. With Adam Lambert delivering utterly faultless vocals flanked by the timeless rock titans of Queen’s Brian May and Roger Taylor, we are given a masterclass in rock performance over an epic two-and-a-half-hour set on Monday night.
While Adam may be the young blood in this set up, guitar icon Brian and drummer Roger roll back the years in a vigorously energetic display that rockers half their age would struggle to compete with. This is rock histrionics at the highest, most flamboyant level, and the sold out crowd in Manchester cannot get enough of it.
Not that Queen are giving out half measures here. They arrive on stage just after 8pm and from then on in it is anthem after massive rock anthem for the next two and a half hours.
Here, finally, on their Rhapsody Tour two and a half years after it was first scheduled to take place, the night feels extra special for both the band and their fans. The enforced hiatus of lockdowns bringing a new verve and determination to make this as memorable as possible.
Brian says as much when he walks out to the central stage with his acoustic guitar during one particularly special part of the show. He says: “Beautiful people of Manchester I’m kind of pinching myself that we’re actually here.”
“I know 98.5 per cent of you bought your tickets like 2 1/2 years ago, yet totally through everything you held on to your tickets and I take my hat off to you,” he says to huge cheers from the sold out crowd. He adds: “It’s a very emotional moment for us.”
The feeling is clearly quite mutual. “We love you Brian” shout a succession of northern blokes who are clearly overcome by the occasion.
In Adam, the band’s singer for the past ten years now would you believe, we also have the perfect showman. From the moment he struts out, resplendent in dazzling black sequinned top hat and tails, arching his fabulous glittered eyebrows, he has the audience in the palm of his leather gloved hand.
No, he’s not Freddie Mercury and nor does he try to be. The American Idol makes it clear from the off that he is “A fan, just like all of you out there – I’m so lucky that I’ve been sharing the stage with these guys for ten years now.”
He adds: “I know it’s a tall order, but I get to come up here and pay tribute to the one and only incomparable rock god Freddie Mercury. So make me a promise that we can sing together and celebrate Freddie and celebrate Queen.”
It hits the perfect note – just as Adam does with faultless, merciless perfection across this show. His vocal range is truly astonishing as he tackles with ease the musical melodrama of Queen’s anthems – highlights include the spine-tingling Who Wants To Live Forever and of course the epic finale of Bohemian Rhapsody.
He is coquettish as he whips out a red fan to cool himself down atop the grand piano to perform a sizzling Killer Queen, licking the microphone to give extra seductive gusto after rasping: “insatiable an appetite”.
For Bicycle Race he emerges on what else? But a bling-encrusted Harley, with a leather biker suit complete with silver spikes to match. I mean it couldn’t be much more extra.
He takes on the vocal gymnastics required of Queen’s back catalogue as if it was easy as singing a nursery rhyme. It’s really quite astonishing – and showed to full dramatic effect as he sings a red spot-lit wail that fills every crevice of the arena, while axeman Brian plucks out his response before launching into I Want It All.
This show has everything you could possibly want from a rock epic – screaming guitar solos, massive bursts of steam, fireworks shooting out of May’s guitar head… It really is an extravaganza.
When Brian returns for one of his legendary guitar solos it’s atop a giant asteroid no less. He thrashes out the chords as planets and stars whirl around him by the wonder of technology – I mean what a visual OTT treat.
And it also has that beating rock heart of a band forged back in 1970. When Roger takes to the vocals for the epic I’m in Love with my Car we get that gnarled rock edge of a life lived in the fast lane – and he sounds amazing. It’s accompanied by extraordinary visuals on the epic stage set as we go faster and faster down some strange metropolis super highway.
Then out come 15,000 camera phones to light up Love of My Life that Brian sings with his acoustic guitar. As if the camera phones weren’t magical enough, Freddie then appears on the video big screens as if right next to Brian.
His voice fills the arena and he seems, for a moment, to be back with us. It’s a proper tearjerker.
As Freddie on screen gives applause to Brian and a cheeky wiggle of his bottom, Brian smiles and applauds in return. “You know he’s always with us,” he says as we all fight back a little tear.
Roger returns to stage to sing an emotional These are the Days of our Lives as a series of vintage videos of the full band are played. When Adam returns to join them it’s a beautifully poignant moment as Roger dedicates Under Pressure to Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins, building to a stunning, fitting crescendo.
The natural finale for this show is the rock opera of Bohemian Rhapsody, where we get to enjoy Brian thrusting out onto stage in a shoot of steam with metal body armour like a robot guitar warrior.
The encore is brought out by the imperious Freddie on the big screens at his 1980s Live Aid finest, to lead the crowds in his famous “Ay Oh”. Then back out comes Brian with the familiar strains of We Will Rock You.
Adam returns with his rightful golden crown and bejewelled tunic to end the night with the epic singalong of We Are the Champions as if the victor of some glorious musical boxing bout. He knows, like the rest of the 15,000 strong cheer crowd, that they’ve smashed it here.
For those returning for round two on Tuesday in Manchester, you’re in for a glorious, rocking, eye-popping feast.
Setlist – May 30, 2022
At the Monday night show, Queen arrived on stage just after 8.05pm, and the show concluded at 10.30pm
Now I’m Here
Tear It Up
Seven Seas of Rhye
Hammer To Fall
Somebody to Love
Don’t Stop Me Now
In the Lap of the Gods… Revisited
I’m in Love With My Car
Fat Bottomed Girls
Another One Bites the Dust
I Want it All
Love of My Life
These Are the Days of our Lives
Crazy Little Thing Called Love
A Kind of Magic
I Want to Break Free
You Take My Breath Away
Who Wants to Live Forever
Tie Your Mother Down
The Show Must Go On
Radio Ga Ga
We Will Rock You
We are the Champions
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