Review by Paul Monkhouse for MPM
Queen are arguably the most loved band on the planet right now. With a back catalogue that’s only equaled in popularity by The Beatles, seeing them live is a celebration not just of music, but of life itself.
Certainly, the good people of Belfast were ready to party, this opening night of the Rhapsody tour the perfect way to start the weekend.
With a set that cherry-picked all the songs you could ever hope for and more, this was like seeing the world’s greatest live jukebox, complete with a huge lighting rig, lasers and fireworks.
As the house lights dip and an orchestral version of the intro music to ‘Innuendo’ plays over the speakers, the huge wrap around monitor rises, the teasing opening guitar pattern of ‘Now I’m Here’ cranking out before an explosion of light and sound as the rest of the band kick in.
When the stage set is revealed, the giant video screens around and above it blazing with colour, we’re transported to a grand Victorian theatre, a lucky few in boxes either side having the band’s eye view of the arena. It’s a suitably regal touch for the spectacle that follows, the next two and a half hours of jaw dropping spectacle and euphoria.
Dressed in a sparkling black suit, top hat and sunglasses, Adam Lambert prowls and glides, leaning into Brian May and looking like he’s having the time of his life.
There’s something utterly infectious about his enjoyment and obvious affection for the music, the sold-out venue lost in the moment as the rest of the world fades away for the night.
It’s a heavy hitting start. Queen have always been a rock band though, the thumping ‘Tear It Up’, a barreling ‘Seven Seas of Rhye’ and the massive punch of ‘Keep Yourself Alive’ all played with a fearsome commitment.
This trio alone perfectly illustrate how they’ve balanced harder material with something of subtlety, grace and nuance, their attack crafted for maximum effect but with a firm grasp on structure and dynamics that lift them beyond the norm.
Of course, it’s not all heads down, foot to the floor stuff and the broad appeal of the band, shown by the range of ages and social mix present, is certainly universal. Everyone has their favourites, be it the glam mini-opera of ‘Killer Queen’ or the souped-up and muscular funk of ‘Another One Bites the Dust’, the addictive quality is testament to this.
The set ebbs and flows but never loses momentum, the visuals complimenting the soundtrack perfectly. From Lambert, now dressed as a biker whose influences are a blend of ‘Mad Max’ and ‘Barbarella’, sitting astride a glittering Harley Davidson for ‘Bicycle Race’ and the jaw dropping laser display during a shattering ‘Who Wants to Live Forever’, the whole is a treat for the senses, the production a thing of absolute wonder.
Offstage, the spectacle was at times just as impressive, the sight of ten thousand people with arms aloft as they clapped in synchronicity during ‘Radio Gaga’ still a sight that can’t help but make you grin from ear to ear.
Amongst the bombast there were certainly moments of quiet introspection and heartbreak, ‘In the Lap of the Gods’ sounding poignant and broken, along with an intensely moving ‘These Are the Days of Our Lives’ that featured a lead vocal by Taylor and a gorgeous solo by May as archive video footage of the band played behind them.
Without doubt though, the most affecting section of the night was during the tender ‘Love of My Life’, May sat on the satellite stage with just a microphone and his acoustic guitar. Playing as the arena lit up with the light from thousands of mobile phone torches, every note was loaded with emotion and when footage of Freddie Mercury appeared on the overhead screen to duet the vocal with the guitarist, the place erupted with a roar of love that would have been heard all over the city.
Just how the guitarist got through the rest of the song is a mystery but the reaction and the memories of his dear, fallen friend saw him wipe away a tear as he sat, very visibly overwhelmed by emotion at the end of it.
Whilst the irreplaceable Freddie understandably still looms large in their music, May and Taylor couldn’t have picked a finer person to front the band these days than Lambert. With enough charisma and star power to light up whole continents, its his confidence on stage and absolutely incredible voice that impresses the most.
This man was born to perform at stadiums and arenas and whether he’s flirting with longtime keys player Spike Edney, tongue firmly in cheek as he sprawls across the piano, struts around the stage or pours his all into ‘The Show Must Go On’, he shines. Despite this natural ability, there’s never a sense of arrogance here and his respect for Mercury, May and Taylor, along with John Deacon, is absolute, acknowledging that no-one was ever better than them and the privilege he feels being able to perform these songs.
Queen was always about the perfect mix of individuals, coming together to make their own musical magic, each with their own particular facets. Illustrating this, a magnetic ‘I’m In Love with My Car’ with Taylor on vocals and an extended guitar solo, featuring a passage based on Dvorak’s ‘New World Symphony,’ by May that sees him elevated above the audience, seemingly perched on a meteorite, gives the two their own turns firmly in the spotlight.
With the adrenaline-soaked rush of ‘Tie Your Mother Down’ and the fun and bouncy stripped back run through of ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love’, along with a dazzling ‘Under Pressure’ that’s touchingly dedicated to Taylor Hawkins, there’s something for everyone.
The set inevitably closed with ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, its opening piano notes once again sending shivers down the spines of everyone there, that feeling unrelenting to the very last note. The sound of ten thousand voices singing as one huge choir is still one to make the angels weep with joy and the frenzy when the band kick in hard and heavy at the end of the operatic section turns a sea of bodies to one writhing mass as they dance, jump and shake their bodies.
It was just down to an encore of the sledgehammer terrace chant of ‘We Will Rock You’ and a triumphant ‘We Are the Champions’ to finish the night, strangers with arms around each others shoulders and singing along as they suddenly became friends for life, all joined by the power, emotion and life affirming optimism of the shared experience. Genuine legends, Queen bring people together like no-other and their music will truly live forever. Still the very best.
Photography by Darren Mcveigh for MPM