A Challenge to the Whole Human Race: Queen + Adam Lambert at the Palace of Auburn Hills

14 Jul

Without any scientific proof to back me up, I will state that Queen’s music is the most famous in the world. I’ll wager you could go up to people in any country, stomp your feet twice and clap, do it again, and they’d respond by singing in perfect English, “We will, we will ROCK YOU!”

photo by James Kurepa

photo by my son and concert buddy James Kurepa

It was no surprise, then, that their Palace gig was sold out on July 12. There hasn’t been a Queen tour of this magnitude in years, and the casting of Adam Lambert as the featured vocalist – who had the chutzpah to audition for American Idol with “Bohemian Rhapsody” – was inspired and inevitable: who else in the world has the chops and the fearless feyness to be as outrageous as their catalog demands? (I still can’t fathom how Bad Company’s Paul Rodgers was their singer in concerts past; nothing about his style says “Queen” in the least.)

I was thrilled for the chance to hear Brian May. Listening to News of the World over and over again on my month-long bus trip around the country as a twelve-year-old Girl Scout, May became my first guitar hero. That album taught me that each great guitarist has his own musical signature. No one else plays like he does; for May, lack of imitation is the sincerest form of flattery because no one can match him.

Adam Lambert at the top of the show in the first of at least five costumes

Adam Lambert at the top of the show in the first of at least five costumes

This was the first time my son and I have gone to a concert together in more than ten years. It’s taken us this long to find an act we could both enjoy. He likes pop metal; I like the songs of my youth; we both like a well-done massive spectacle. And we were not disappointed, what with lasers, smoke machines, flamboyant costumes, a “guitar cam,” a disco ball and more – all framed by an enormous Q that spilled out onto the stage as a walkway into the audience.

Lambert is a trained pop vocalist who doesn’t have the growl and grit of a rocker, but Lordy, the man can sing – even when supine on a couch:

Still, the specter of Freddie Mercury was everywhere. May sang a duet with film clips of Mercury, and drummer Roger Taylor sang “These Are the Days of our Lives” with footage of the band in their prime thirty or more years ago. Lambert gave Mercury a shout out early on and alternated verses with him on “Bohemian Rhapsody.” It was as if they all had to ask permission from Mercury’s ghost to perform in his stead. Some critics have groused that this demonstrates that the band’s best, most innovative days are behind them. Perhaps that’s true.

But let’s face it: you can’t hear a Queen song without thinking of Freddie Mercury: who he was and why he died.

There’s an insightful Rolling Stone piece this month, “Queen’s Tragic Rhapsody” by Mikal Gilmore, that portrays Mercury “perceived homosexuality” as the reason for – and the near undoing of – the group’s success. In this age of Modern Family and out-and-proud pro ball players (and Adam Lambert, for goodness sake) the article is required reading. We should never forget how truly remarkable it is that a hard rock band fronted by a bisexual singer/songwriter became a staple of nearly everyone’s musical DNA … and how Mercury’s death from AIDS was a watershed moment in rock music coming to terms with both the disease and homophobia.

Mercury didn’t know he was going to be diagnosed as HIV-positive not long after he performed this version of “Who Wants to Live Forever?” in 1986 so the song is eerily prescient in retrospect:

No wonder that when they closed the show with “We Are the Champions,” I was crying. That song, which has been co-opted for every possible commercial purpose, represents something very specific to me about gay pride in the face of ignorance, prejudice and death. Gilmore acknowledges this, saying, “Some listeners have also heard ‘Champions’ as Mercury’s sly, subversive avowal of gay forbearance,” although he believes that’s no longer true since it’s become “the universal bully chants of victors at sporting events.”

But therein lies Freddie Mercury’s victory. He proved “an old queen” could be the biggest badass in the masculine world of rock and roll. The openly gay man who sings his songs more than twenty years after he died knows he owes him a great debt.

So do we all.

See you on the flip side, when Concertpalooza moves on to Meadow Brook Music Festival for Panic! At The Disco on July 27!

P.S. Love and Other B-Sides is now in paperback! If you’re old school about your reading material, now you can hold an actual copy of my first novel in your hands … or a virtual one on a Kindle, Nook, iPad or smart phone.

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9 Responses to “A Challenge to the Whole Human Race: Queen + Adam Lambert at the Palace of Auburn Hills”

  1. Hunter Kurepa-Peers July 14, 2014 at 11:27 pm #

    Except Freddie Mercury was openly bisexual, not gay…

    >

    • lpon45 July 15, 2014 at 7:46 am #

      True: “gay” is often used as a collective descriptor for all in the LGBTQ community, though …

    • Terry July 15, 2014 at 11:15 pm #

      Which only matters if you have a narrow view of sexuality as “either/or” which usually gets translated into confrontational “us and them” or “normal(straight) vs “abnormal”(other). More evolved theories of sexuality view it as a continuum or sliding scale of attraction to either gender. Adam Lambert, for example, when discussing equality issues or when asked if he’s attracted to women as well as men, has often said he doesn’t see sexual orientation in such an “either/or way” and refers to the “Kinsey scale” theory to try and explain where he stands.

      • lpon45 July 15, 2014 at 11:35 pm #

        Thanks for weighing in, Terry. I will guess this is a much different understanding of this issue than many folks were able or willing to have back in the 1970s when Mercury was ascending.

  2. Shannon July 16, 2014 at 12:05 am #

    Freddie was not “openly” out as either gay or bisexual. His close friends knew but he never came out to his parents who, as practicing Zoroastrians, were not accepting of homosexuality. Though he was quoted when asked not long before his death if he was gay that “I’m as gay as a daffodil, darling,” it was not public knowledge until after his death.

    • lpon45 July 16, 2014 at 8:44 pm #

      Thanks for adding to the conversation, Shannon!

  3. Beth Montalvo July 28, 2014 at 1:56 pm #

    Great article, LP! Queen’s music was a fun and memorable part of my teen years and beyond. I cherish my vinyl recordings of their music and sing along at the top of my lungs when one of their hits plays on the car radio.

    • lpon45 July 28, 2014 at 9:52 pm #

      Thanks, Beth! My college roommate and I traded albums: she got my Queen’s Greatest Hits and I got her copy of Let It Bleed. I’m still not sure who was the winner …

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Love is not a choice: Panic! At The Disco at Meadow Brook Music Festival | LP on 45 - July 30, 2014

    […] Rhapsody.” (Here I was, singing along to that song just two weeks after hearing Queen and Adam Lambert perform it at the Palace … déjà vu all over again.) What’s more, their fans enjoy […]

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