St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center has had the privilege this summer of hosting two of England’s storied rock bands in sold-out shows — both of them Rock and Roll Hall of Famers whose popularity has been re-energized by recent Hollywood blockbusters, and both led by septuagenarians.
Jeff Lynne’s Electric Light Orchestra starship landed in late July, closing its concert with “Mr. Blue Sky,” the tune that attracted a new generation of fans through the title sequence of Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2. And Saturday night brought the juggernaut of Queen, taking a musical victory lap after the critical and box-office success of the Freddie Mercury biopic Bohemian Rhapsody.
But while the latter film justly celebrated Mercury as one of rock music’s greatest vocalists, this weekend’s show made it clear that Brian May is among its greatest guitarists — known for playing on the guitar that he built when he was 16. He’s also an astrophysicist, a Ph.D., an author, a nature conservationist and a recipient of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. Oh, and he sings and writes, too, having penned such Queen hits as “We Will Rock You,” “I Want It All,” “Fat Bottomed Girls,” “Who Wants to Live Forever” and “The Show Must Go On.” If all of that doesn’t make him the coolest 72-year-old on the planet, I don’t know what would.
He was in typically impressive form Saturday night, jaunting out along a runway with each solo and even taking flight against an interstellar backdrop for an extended instrumental interlude. But the best moment came when he parked at the end of the strip for an acoustic guitar-driven tribute to Mercury with “Love of My Life” from A Night at the Opera. May has such a pleasing voice that it would be ideal for him simply to sing the whole tune himself, but the vocals intertwined with the audience were lovely nonetheless and gave the crowd an opportunity to sing goodbye to Mercury, too, amid a galaxy of phone lights. Then May delved into the delightful “’39,” his folk ballad about an ill-fated space voyage, also from Opera, and the two-fer capped one of the evening’s finest segments.
Drummer Roger Taylor, the band’s other original member and another underrated singer, then joined May for another deep cut, “Doing All Right,” from the band’s debut 1973 self-titled album, with vocal reinforcement from Adam Lambert. The only thing missing was a streetlight for their nighttime serenade.
Another nugget from the Queen catalog came earlier in the show, with a soaring rendition of “In the Lap of the Gods … Revisited,” the album-ending track from the band’s 1974 breakout LP, Sheer Heart Attack. The only thing that could have improved it is if the band had preceded it with the Side 2-beginning version of the song, too. And Taylor got the spotlight with “I’m in Love With My Car,” his sex-charged song that became the running joke of Bohemian Rhapsody.
But this show wasn’t about non-hits. The casual fans who filled out the arena thanks to Bohemian Rhapsody came for the band’s radio staples. And that’s where the vocal pyrotechnics of Lambert really delivered. He’s no Mercury, but he has never claimed to be. Even eight years into his stint with Queen, he wisely points out during shows that Mercury was his idol and remains irreplaceable — that Lambert is fortunate to be celebrating Mercury’s legacy. From then on, the crowd are on his side, and they have good reason to be.
From “Bohemian Rhapsody” to “Who Wants to Live Forever” to “The Show Must Go On” to “Somebody to Love,” Lambert reminded everyone why he immediately was championed as the heir to Mercury when he appeared on American Idol so many years ago. The finest moment of the concert? Arguably, it was Taylor and Lambert’s incredible duet on “Under Pressure,” the hit collaboration between Queen and David Bowie.
Really, the only negatives of the evening were Lambert’s penchant for overly campy deliveries on tunes such as “Killer Queen” and “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” and the truncated arrangements of several tunes, including “Seven Seas of Rhye” and “Bicycle Race.”
But after more than two hours of jaw-dropping renditions of classic tunes by one of the greatest rock bands of all time — capped by an encore of “We Will Rock You”/”We Are the Champions” — these are merely quibbles. After nearly 50 years of trailblazing music, Queen are definitely more than doing all right.
“Now I’m Here”
“Seven Seas of Rhye”
“Keep Yourself Alive”
“Hammer to Fall”
“Don’t Stop Me Now”
“Somebody to Love”
“In the Lap of the Gods … Revisited”
“I’m in Love With My Car”
“Another One Bites the Dust”
“I Want It All”
“Love of My Life”
“Doing All Right”
“Crazy Little Thing Called Love”
“I Want to Break Free”
“Take My Breath Away”/”Who Wants to Live Forever,” extended guitar solo
“Tie Your Mother Down”
“The Show Must Go On”
“Fat Bottomed Girls”
“Radio Ga Ga”
“We Will Rock You”/”We Are the Champions”
Queen – official site