There are few acts that I would consider worthy of the caliber that the Hollywood Bowl holds. On June 26th the Bowl was lucky to host actual Legends of rock Brian May and Roger Taylor as Queen with current frontman Adam Lambert.
The mere fact that I had tickets to begin with was a miracle, as both shows at the Bowl quickly sold out. I inherited the tickets with eyes-wide from ticket holders who couldn’t make the show, and before I knew it I was in velvet and red lipstick, seated (but only just) at the Hollywood Bowl, waiting to hear classic tracks that had been an integral part of my childhood.
No opening act, no nonsense, the show began with a short chorus and the subsequent stomps and claps of “We Will Rock You”, the band crying out exactly what they intended to do to us. And did they ever!
We were introduced to the raw and operatic talent of Adam Lambert in the first full song of the evening, “Hammer to Fall”. It became immediately apparent that Lambert was not some novelty that the band had chosen to visually dazzle the audience and hope for the best. Lambert certainly did dazzle the crowd with multiple costume changes and sky-high heels, but his authenticity as an artist and performer was undeniable. After the machine gun riffs of the night’s second song, “Stone Cold Crazy”, Adam Lambert stopped to have a heart-to-heart with the audience. He said, “I know what you’re thinking”… then came nervous chuckles from the audience, “…I’m no Freddie Mercury.” Then, laughter. He went on to say how Freddie had always been an idol of his and he could never hope to achieve the magnitude that he had, but all the same, he was a fan just like the rest of us and he still couldn’t believe that he was singing for Queen every night. He dedicated the show to Freddie and the crowd cheered. It was a sweet and authentic moment from a wild and outrageous showman, and if his pep talk wasn’t enough to win the crowd over – his voice soon did the trick.
My favorite moment of the night occurred after several more jaunty Queen favorites: Just Brian May, with an acoustic guitar, a stool, and a spotlight, sitting down to perform “Love of My Life”. He asked if we could have a sing along, and if we were to sing, perhaps something magical could happen. The beauty of a sold out Hollywood Bowl, singing “Love of My Life” in hushed tones, as if to a sweetheart, was more beautiful than words could express.
And then: the magic.
During the last chorus, Brian, on the giant LCD screen behind him, was joined by Freddie. The video was taken from Queen’s live performance at Wembley and there they were: Brian, aged, at the Hollywood Bowl and Freddie, immortal, at Wembley, singing side by side. I don’t think I can speak for the entire audience but I know for a fact that my entire row began to cry from the moment that Mercury appeared all the way to the last chord, when both past Freddie and present Brian put their fists in the air. The moment: unforgettable. No future show will ever be able to touch it.
Brian May created another cosmic moment later on in the show with his solo. Rising above the stage on a lift, visual effects created the image of May rocking through Space. Dissonant atmospheric sounds and harsh lights coming from both the stage and the Hollywood Hills behind the Bowl had me believing that I was about to be abducted by aliens, but my God… what a way to go.
After the dancing of “Under Pressure” and singing with arms raised, as if in worship, of “Somebody to Love”, we were rewarded with the climax of the show: “Bohemian Rhapsody”. Lambert absolutely nailed every single note, but I quite enjoyed that his rendition was not a carbon copy of Mercury’s. He sang his heart out…his own way.
Finally, frosted with an impressive tiara, Lambert and Queen closed the show with the full “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions”. The entire experience was so surreal and bittersweet. As someone who was not ever alive to see Freddie Mercury with Queen, I won’t ever be able to experience the band in their truest capacity. However, the talents of Adam Lambert and the nostalgic words and reassurances of Brian May helped me to see past the disappointment to thoroughly enjoy a night of incredible live music.
You can catch Queen and Adam Lambert on their ongoing North American and European tour this year.