Queen and Adam Lambert's Tour Opener: 5 Things We Learned

Regal rock band and their new frontman make a grand U.S. debut at Chicago's United Center

Adam Lambert and Brian May perform
Neal Preston
Adam Lambert and Brian May perform at Chicago's United Center in Chicago, Illinois.
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Even when he was auditioning for American Idol, singing "Bohemian Rhapsody" for the judges with all his falsetto fireworks, it was readily apparent Adam Lambert had a major soft spot for Queen. That he would later perform with the band itself at the end of his season — and brilliantly so, at that — only solidified the increasingly obvious fact: This singer and all his octave-defying range and theatrical flair owed a clear debt of gratitude to the late Freddie Mercury.

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It was fitting and not altogether surprising, then, when Lambert quickly linked up with the legendary act, serving as their frontman at the 2011 MTV Video Music Awards and again during a brief European tour. Last night, kicking off a 24-date North American run at Chicago's United Center, the union of Lambert and Queen became official.

"It's so crazy that this came out of American Idol," Lambert admitted during a recent interview with Rolling Stone. Yet if the singer was any parts bewildered by his luck, he didn't show it on Thursday evening: The tour's opening show was a spectacle of the grandest order. Here are five things it taught us:

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Adam Lambert is no Freddie Mercury, but the man sure can sing.
This isn't the first time Queen have attempted to replace their iconic frontman: Everyone from Wyclef Jean to Robbie Williams to Bad Company's Paul Rodgers, who toured with the band for the better part of the Aughts, has stepped into the late singer's massive shoes. From his cheeky call-and-response during "Another One Bites the Dust" to his outsize take on "Killer Queen," spreading out on a purple lounger and fake-chugging champagne, Lambert proved as brilliant a fill-in as you're bound to find.

It's a shame he wasn't given more a cappella turns, however: "Somebody to Love" was goose bump-inducing thanks to Lambert's vocal acrobatics. And that's to say nothing of his vocal magic during "Bohemian Rhapsody" and "We Are the Champions."

adam lambert brian may
PHOTO: Neal Preston

Queen don't skimp on spectacle.
Queen put on a rock show, but one that often feels more like a Vegas spectacle. Dizzying, rainbow stage lights: check. Red-and-green laser lights draping the entire arena in a Christmas hue: surely. A floating drum riser from which Taylor smacked the skins during a thrashing encore rendition of "We Will Rock You"? Of course. A gold glitter shower to close out the evening? How could they not? These flourishes were always for the best.

Queen have a boatload of hits... and a boatload more.
Beyond the classics, Queen earned a huge response from tracks like the slinky soiree "Who Wants to Live Forever," the Broadway-esque "The Show Must Go On" and the swaying "In the Lap of the Gods." Their greatest undertaking? A reinterpretation of Mercury's "Love Kills," a 1984 solo track that the frontman made with Giorgio Moroder for a restored version of the 1927 silent film Metropolis. Here, the band slowed it down, performing as a trio at the front of the catwalk. Lambert's vocals hung just below the upper-deck risers: "Bless him," he said in a toast to Mercury. "But we do a version of this our way."

May and Taylor are supremely underrated talents.
Lambert made the headlines, but his vocals would have nowhere to sit if Brian May and Roger Taylor weren't such pros. Last night, the former channeled David Gilmour during a brilliant extended guitar intro to "Tie Your Mother Down" and unleashed far more thrash and distortion then many would have expected. The latter, meanwhile, kept his sticks on the pulse all evening, dropping smacking martial beats during "Another One Bites the Dust" and "Radio Ga Ga."

The wardrobe department came through bigtime.
Let's be honest: What's a Queen show without some spectacular outfits? By our count, Lambert wore eight different ones during the two hour gig. His bandmates? They stuck to more traditional attire — shirt and slacks — but don't worry: May did don a gold cape during "Bohemian Rhapsody." It was only fitting.