Tag Archives: Palace at Auburn Hills

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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FOB and TATE and me and my daughters

22 May

My older daughter has now completed high school. It’s all over except for picking up the diploma, grazing the buffet at a dozen grad parties, and forcing us to take the “Congratulations Class of 2013!” sign off our lawn before she ships off to college in the fall.

FOB hiatus

I’m sure this chick was at the Fillmore … and anywhere else FOB is playing in the continental US …

She is celebrating by making good on a promise to her little sister and taking her to her first rock-and-roll concert, without parental accompaniment. As I write this they are downtown at the Fillmore seeing their favorite band of all time: the recently reunited Fall Out Boy. (I continue to struggle to understand the band’s appeal. The music just doesn’t catch my middle-aged ear. The lyrics are often overly arch or sneeringly obscure, and their typical song titles are just way too long: to wit, “Our Lawyers Made Us Change the Name of This Song So We Wouldn’t Get Sued.”)

I’m okay with the girls being on their own. I trust them and since I’ve taken the older one to half a dozen concerts at that venue, it’s familiar territory. I also drilled them on concert safety:

  • Stick together
  • Choose a place to meet in case you get separated
  • Don’t stand in direct proximity to a speaker
  • Standing close to the stage is less important than steering clear of the unstoppable sea of crazed fans that can crush you against the barricades
  • Don’t park in the skeevy lot I usually go to even though it’s half the price of the more well-lit ones
  • Before shelling out $35, check the label on the t-shirt to see if it will shrink

There’s a sense of coming full circle this evening. I took the older one to see Fall Out Boy at the Palace five years ago, which was her first rock concert, too. What’s more,  just a week ago the two of us were at the Majestic to see our favorite band, The Airborne Toxic Event.

TATE - 2013

The Airborne Toxic Event, brooding beautifully

TATE will always have a special place in my heart because my daughter and I discovered them together. We’ve seen them three times; we have their three albums plus their contributions to tribute discs for Bob Dylan and The Muppets. I’ve seen them enough to know the band members’ names and stage personalities. This time around they had more tattoos and a different set of covers for their encore (including a medley of “Ring of Fire,” “American Girl” and “Born in the USA” … can’t get more genuinely American than that).

It was only fitting that at last, I was able to nab a stage souvenir for my daughter. I grabbed the guitar pick that had bounced off a drunken fan and hit the floor. It’s a fitting memento of our concert-going history, one she can easily pack and take with her to her dorm in a few short weeks.

Now, the real work begins: turning my younger daughter into my next concert buddy.

See you on the flip side …

P.S. The girls came home safely, the younger one has her first tour t-shirt and they witnessed a drunken catfight — all and all, an awesome evening!

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