Thursday night, Aug. 22, may well go down in history as the date the most perfectly conceived and executed rock concert ever to play Atlanta occurred.
The “Rhapsody” concert by Queen and Adam Lambert levitated the sold-out audience at State Farm Arena. I’ve been waiting for over 40 years for a show to equal the Rolling Stones 1975 Tour of the Americas performance in Atlanta. Last night, I found it.
The most important person at the concert left this world 28 years ago: Freddie Mercury. He occasionally appeared on screens in the arena, but not often. But he is a rock god whose popularity has soared, not diminished, since his death. Of course you know about “Bohemian Rhapsody,” the Oscar-winning, billion dollar-grossing biopic of 2018; it told Mercury’s story and the rise of Queen. See it if you haven’t.
But even as Adam Lambert graciously acknowledged Freddie as “irreplaceable” and “a hero of mine,” he also mentioned that he (Adam) was lucky to share the stage with two other legends: Queen original guitarist Brian May and original drummer Roger Taylor. To say that these two can still play brilliantly and have magnetism of their own is putting it mildly. Every time the overhead screen focused on either of them, the crowd cheered.
For those who think that Mr. Lambert, an “American Idol” finalist in 2009, is unsuitable for Queen, think again. Mr. May and Mr. Taylor are no fools: They know that Mr. Lambert is a phenomenal vocalist, and he is. In addition, his lighthearted, impish spirit probably reminds them of their beloved friend Freddie.
The evening began with Mr. Lambert singing “Now I’m Here,” and we were off. The audience was ecstatic, emotional, and demonstrative from the beginning. Incidentally, the show’s start time on the ticket was 8:00 p.m. The show began at 8:30. For big arena shows, that’s like starting ten minutes early!
They played for just over two hours, so I’m mentioning a few highlights: “Killer Queen” was a delicious number, with Mr. Lambert perched on a piano, sassy and flamboyant as you please, with a fan—Freddie would have loved it. “Keep Yourself Alive,” “Hammer to Fall,” “Don’t Stop Me Now,” “Fat Bottomed Girls” and “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” were all flawless, full of the zing and pep that have always distinguished Queen.
Brian May sang “Love of My Life,” accompanying himself on guitar. He was sitting near the end of a runway; he first spoke to the audience, expressing his appreciation for their presence: “Please don’t think for a moment, Atlanta, that I take any of this (the vast throng, the cheers) for granted.” Then Freddie appeared overhead and sang a bit of the song with him. It was a truly touching moment.
“Who Wants to Live Forever” was also moving, making many of us recall the moment in the film when Freddie gets his AIDS diagnosis; the song was heard, softly, on the soundtrack.
I loved “Radio Ga Ga”! Remember in the Live Aid concert sequence when Freddie sings “All we hear is Radio Ga Ga” and the vast audience in the London stadium all clap twice, several times. Well, we did that at the Atlanta concert, too; and I got goose bumps.
You must remember that Freddie Mercury is a palpable presence at the concert. People are desperate to find a way to celebrate him, to honor his presence, talent, and legacy. I kid you not.
Near the end, when “Bohemian Rhapsody” is performed, there is near-religious fervor and joy. In fact “joy” is probably the best word that describes what the “Rhapsody” concert is about.
Finally, as an encore, there is “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions.” Everybody on their feet; near hysteria.
I must mention that all technical aspects of the show (sound, lights, lasers, screens) are state of the art.
Adam Lambert, his polish and glitter (such costumes!) and especially his multi-octave voice, electrifies. But as superb as he is, the biggest stars of the show are the Queen catalog, Brian May, and Roger Taylor. This is as it should be.