Rock Concert Review: Queen + Adam Lambert at TD Garden — A Few Curveballs
By Adam Ellsworth
The show was proof that Queen + Adam Lambert are quite capable of mixing things up, even as they give everybody exactly what they’ve come to hear.
There are certain songs Queen + Adam Lambert have to play. “Bohemian Rhapsody” of course tops that list, with “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions” following close behind. “Another One Bites the Dust,” “Somebody to Love,” “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” and “Under Pressure” are a tier below, but still mandatory, and while they could maybe skip “Killer Queen,” “Don’t Stop Me Now,” “Bicycle Race,” and “Fat Bottomed Girls,” people would notice.
Unsurprisingly, all of these tunes found their way into Queen + Adam Lambert’s Sunday night show at TD Garden, the group’s first of two concerts at the arena. While these standards were expected, they were certainly not boring, and they were supplemented by enough curveballs from the rock icons and their hired guns to keep even obsessive fans on their toes.
Of the must-plays, “Somebody to Love” and “Under Pressure” were the highlights. Lambert’s voice is custom-made for “Somebody to Love’s” white gospel, and the tune allowed Brian May to let rip one of his many signature guitar solos. “Under Pressure,” originally a duet between late greats Freddie Mercury and David Bowie, has become a standout spot for drummer Roger Taylor to trade lines with the younger Lambert, in the process turning the song into a cross-generational plea for the old-fashioned idea that people treat each other with basic dignity and respect.
Typically, “Under Pressure” is the closest the remaining members of Queen get to a political statement in their music (they’re much more outspoken in their offstage lives), but there were some subtle hints Sunday night that May and Taylor might like to use their catalogue to speak to the current moment. “Is This the World We Created…?,” by far the biggest surprise in the tour’s set list, was originally a well-intended, if somewhat vague, song from 1984’s The Works about famine in Africa. In 2023, Queen + Adam Lambert have pretty clearly turned it into a song about climate change, with video screens showing a dying tree, and paper petals floating down from the rafters onto the crowd. The night even opened with a surprising mash-up of “Machines (or ‘Back to Humans’)” and “Radio Ga Ga,” which with the right pair of ears can be heard as a comment on the ever increasing role of AI in our lives and the danger it poses to humans. Just check the lyrics if this seems like a stretch: “Living in a new world/How you gonna last?/It’s a machine world.”
And then there was the rocking “Hammer to Fall” coming right out of “Machines”/“Radio Ga Ga,” a song its author Brian May has always insisted is not political, but about how death comes to us all. Perhaps, but that hammer always seemed like it had an implied sickle paired with it. Any countries in the news lately that have a history with that sort of thing?
All of this is conjecture, of course, and it might not even be correct. Maybe I’m taking down-the-middle fastballs and insisting that they curve. I’m on safer footing when I point out the unexpected new arrangement of “Tie Your Mother Down,” which now starts with an almost country groove before May finally uncorks his all-time greatest riff for the remainder of the song. This reimagining was far more successful than the bass-heavy revamp of “Stone Cold Crazy,” which turned the proto-thrash tune into a sludgy crawl. At least it was an attempt at something different.
Most of the above-mentioned songs were less known to a crowd that seemed more familiar with the hits. You can always tell the make-up of a Q + AL audience based on how strongly it joins in on “Love of My Life,” and Sunday night that singalong was a little weak. The assembled did much better with the main set closing “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and had the “stomp-stomp-clap” perfectly synchronized to implore the musicians back for an encore starting with “We Will Rock You.”
“We Are the Champions” would naturally follow, but not immediately. First, “Radio Ga Ga,” the song that started the night, returned for one last verse and chorus, sandwiched between the two jock jam classics.
A song between “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions” might not seem like a big deal, but it’s actually quite rare. To the best of my knowledge, Queen hasn’t done it since their last tour with Freddie back in ‘86, and it was startling when they tried it then too. Even the radio doesn’t separate the songs, always playing one after the other.
Anyway, most of the crowd probably didn’t notice or care. It was one last curveball though, something for the diehards to mull over. It was also proof that Queen + Adam Lambert are quite capable of mixing things up, even as they give everybody exactly what they’ve come to hear.
Adam Ellsworth is a writer, journalist, and amateur professional rock and roll historian. His writing on rock music has appeared on the websites YNE Magazine, KevChino.com, Online Music Reviews, and Metronome Review. His non-rock writing has appeared in the Worcester Telegram and Gazette, on Wakefield Patch, and elsewhere. Adam has an MS in journalism from Boston University and a BA in literature from American University. He grew up in Western Massachusetts, and currently lives with his wife in a suburb of Boston. You can follow Adam on Twitter @adamlz24.