Monday evening saw Shanghai singing itself hoarse as Queen raised the curtain on their very first show in Mainland China. It was two solid hours of greatest hits, tributes, nostalgia, one actual apotheosis and proof that, even in China, most everyone knows the lyrics to some of the best songs in the world. Adam Lambert was there too.
After a shaky opening on “Seven Seas of Rhye” (we imagine the sound technicians spent several cataclysmic seconds twisting and pulling things as the slightly out-of-synch vocals overpowered those glorious opening chords), rock legends Brian May and Roger Taylor, along with their controversial vocalist Adam Lambert, treated a full Mercedez-Benz arena to an no-holds barred setlist that included every spandex-clad groin-tingling classic you could wish for.
The groin-tingling was mostly reserved for the start.
- Seven Seas of Rhye
- Hammer to Fall
- Stone Cold Crazy
- Fat Bottomed Girls
- Don’t Stop Me Now
- Killer Queen
- Somebody to Love
- Love of My Life
- A Kind of Magic
- Drum Battle
- Under Pressure
- Crazy Little Thing Called Love
- I Want It All
- Who Wants to Live Forever
- The Show Must Go On
- Last Horizon (Brian May cover)
- Tie Your Mother Down
- I Want to Break Free
- Bohemian Rhapsody
- Radio Ga Ga
- We Will Rock You
- We Are the Champions
They hit every iconic Queen beat; the stadium-wide sing-a-longs, siiiicksolos, tributes to Freddie, a psychadelic light show (no pyrotechnics allowed, but some cool nonsensical references to Fritz Lang’s Metropolis) and nostalgic callbacks.
What? Who cares!
For long-time Queen fans and first-timers alike, it was probably everything they’d dreamed of. You know, bastard laws of mortality allowing.
Let’s get the boring, obvious stuff out of the way; Adam Lambert is a good singer. He belted the crap out of those high-notes and it was great to listen to. And he’s not Freddie. He’s been in a monolithic shadow from the get-go; his job title reads “Pale Reflection of Immortal God/Prince of the Universe.”
Didn’t seem like he’s trying that hard to be. Sure, he did the strutting, he did the posing, he did the costume-changes and the legs-akimbo, head-thrown-back-hit-the-high-note thing. He was definitely having fun with the license to be just… just so flamboyantly overt that it verged on comedy at times, but it didn’t feel like some gaudy imitation of Freddie; he’s just loving being that much of a queen. And judging by the number of neon glowing “ADAM” head-pieces in the audiences, Shanghai’s a fan.
Of course, it did get a little weird. The inexplicable part where he changed a lyric in “Don’t Stop Me Now” to “supersonic woman of you” (not wanting to disappoint the sizeable female fanbase he’s built with multiple past appearances?), there was also the complete lack of connection with the rest of the band; he’d sort of get close to Brian during a solo, but that fizzle of band camaraderie was painfully absent.
Oh, and the parts where he’d do that mad up-and-down-the-scale Cristina Aguilera American Idol thing, as if he wanted to cover up with sheer virtuosity his lack of Freddie’s full-bodied voice. Or the slightly cringe-worthy part where he yelled at the arena “Do you love Freddie as much as I do?”
We still yelled “yes,” though.
He seemed to understand that the evening was not about really about him. He left the stage several times throughout the evening, bowing deferentially to his bandmates and letting Brian, Roger, and even an archive-footage Freddie himself do their thing. That last one got a pretty big roar from the crowd.
“Hang on, I’d recognize those teeth anywhere.”
But throughout the night, we just couldn’t shake the feeling that he’ll never be more than a minor celestial body orbiting blazing fucking rockstars, and he knows it.
Pictured; Queen + wassisname
Speaking of blazing fucking rockstars, Roger Taylor put in a great vocal performance, singing “It’s A Kind of Magic,” followed by an epic and all-too-short drum-off with his son (and drummer for The Darkness since 2015), Rufus Tiger. Seems like banging a drum runs in the family.
On top of that, he performed a touching tribute to David Bowie, singing Bowie’s part to Lambert’s Freddie during a heartfelt rendition of “Under Pressure.” The nostalgia-meters were cranked up to eleven at that point, and if you didn’t feel a little something bubbling in your heart, we suspect you don’t have one.
Brian May continued to prove he’s the humblest lead guitarist in rock, all wide smiles, bowing, saluting, holding his hand to heart, and the the bit with a selfie-stick. He seemed glad to be performing in front of a crowd in China.
And then he stepped away from the band, onto a lonely spotlit stool on the thrust stage and began singing “Love of My Life,” a soft, acoustic tune that Freddie would traditionally conduct the audience in singing along to. May prefaced it as a kind of a moment of truth. He didn’t know if we’d know the words. Neither did we. There were a lot of foreigners in the audience, but not that many. But Shanghai did, and Shanghai sang along. That was, for lack of a better term, “a moment.” Brian said he hadn’t known if China’d been waiting for Queen, but Queen’d certainly been waiting for China. Seems like it had.
Then there was his actual apotheosis. Strapped to a platform that rose up to silhouette him against a projection of the cosmos like the otherworldly, enormously-haired deity he is, he launched into a long, ethereal version of “Last Horizon,” alone on the stage, reaffirming his status as a rock icon. We’d like to imagine that somewhere in the audience, a young fan stared wide-eyed and slack-jawed, before quietly whispering to themselves, “I knew it. I knew it all along.”
That bled seamlessly into the chest-pounding opening chords of “Tie Your Mother Down,” and we were back to rock-and-roll. From there, it was “I Want to Break Free,” the legendary “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and “Radio Gaga.”
Then Queen (and Adam) walked right off the stage. The crowd kept baying for more because of course they’re not going to end on Radio Gaga, but a few audience members, either in a big rush to miss out on the best part or genuinely not knowing what always comes next, started trickling towards the exits. The chanting from the crowd dragged on just a little longer than was comfortable with no sign of the band, until someone finally started the boom-boom-CRASH. In a few seconds, the crowd was stamping its feet, and, as if they were just waiting for us to get it, Queen strode back onto the stage like we knew they would, and the band was back, baby.
Adam was wearing a crown, the preening dandy.
“We Will Rock You” had everyone on their feet for the first time in the show, screaming the lyrics back at the legends on stage, and Adam. It was exhilarating. And then, of course, there was “We Are The Champions.” Talk about going out on a high note. You haven’t really lived until you’ve seen a balding forty-something laowai and a twenty-something Shanghainese girl with a glowing “ADAM” headband screaming “no time for losers cause we are the champions” together.
With that, and an enormous explosion of gold, the show was over. We filed out of to the quiet strains of “God Save the Queen” over the PA system, as well as David Bowie’s “We Could Be Heroes,” heading for the exits. In one last moment crowning moment of awesome, as we made our way down the stairs and out into a muggy Shanghai evening, someone started singing the last few lines of “We Are The Champions,” and the whole dispersing crowd joined in.
Good work Queen. Good work Shanghai. That’s how you do a feel-good rock concert.