Queen are the reason why I am here tonight, not the gig, not the event, the spectacle, but the band that stole my heart many years ago. They’re ultimately the reason why I am a concert photographer today, Queen Live Killers, THE 1979 live album that opened up a world to me that I had to be in the middle of, the imagery, the live shots of Freddie Mercury, Brian May, John Deacon and Roger Taylor captured a moment in time forever.
Tonight will be my third time seeing them live, the last time in Belfast was with Paul Rodgers on vocals, a very special night indeed capturing Paul working his own brand of magic that night. The next time was at Marlay Park in Dublin when I caught Mr Lambert for the very first time in the flesh and I was simply blown away. Fast forward a few years, throw in a global pandemic and we’re finally on the other side of it, back at the SSE Arena with the Majestic Queen + Adam Lambert to a packed out house on the opening night of their Rhapsody Tour. One of two nights the guys are playing here in Belfast, So the perfect opportunity to find their feet once again post-pandemic with old friends.
The arena is rammed, you forget the intensity of 9,000 odd bodies packed into one room, the heat, the scent, the energy is palpable. Belfast is in fine form as Mexican waves flow around the arena as the crowd grows impatient. Finally, the lights drop and the gargantuan video screens protecting the stage lift and Brian May (Well what we think is Mr May) appears as a line figure, as it turns out Brian actually rises up from below the stage, front and centre while it is actually Adam up above as the two meet to greet the Belfast screaming Belfast crowd.
From that point on its just chaos, it’s hard to keep up with the number of tracks that ensue, Queen’s back catalogue is a behemoth in size, every album has two or three fan favourites and the time just seems to disappear as you get lost in the soundtrack of your youth. Adam Lambert is a revelation, a fitting addition to a legendary band with a legendary gap to fill. Lambert’s personality is as big as his voice and he commands the stage with ease. An array of sparkly outfits that must take up a truck alone and shoulder pads Joan Collins would be proud of, while Brian sticks to the black jeans and occasionally throws on a military jacket. But with a persona as big and flamboyant as Adam’s why compete, just let the music do the talking.
The real winner here is the sound quality, for a venue of this size the sound is impeccable. The PA is huge, like HUGE but in no way overwhelming so you get all the nuances you would want from a band like Queen, the vocal harmonies are sublime and Lambert’s voice is blended beautifully against the backdrop of the supporting vocalists, Brian’s guitar work cutting through like a knife and those Vox AC30’s calling my name.
One of the highlights for many and for myself personally is always Brian May taking centre stage and playing ‘Love Of My Life’ tonight was no different, a fan favourite the lights dimmed as Brian walks down the runway taking a seat and breaking into song as the Belfast support as best they can. The phones held aloft as they light up the SSE arena like a million stars in the Belfast night sky, Brian picks the tempo once again before Roger takes to the stage to sing ‘These Are The Days Of Our Lives’
A beautiful tribute was paid to the one, the only Mr Taylor Hawkins with ‘Under Pressure’ played with Brian, Roger and Adam up front and centre on the runway and Belfast erupted with adulation as they did, a timeless classic like so many Queen songs take on more meaning with the loss of Taylor, gone but never forgotten.
Without throwing in too many spoilers as this is only the first date of their UK and European tour, what are you in for in 2022 with Queen + Adam Lambert? Two hours and thirty minutes of one of the best catalogues of music in the industry, the most spectacular lighting show that in its own way pays homage to the Queen Live Killer’s colour palette. There are plenty of surprises thrown in to keep long time fans on their toes against a backdrop of some of the greatest rock songs performed the only way Queen know-how. Lambert’s vocals are stunning, after two years of hiatus there is always a chance that life back on the road and the readjustment can show up, but not tonight. For any Queen fan, this will be the closest thing to a religious experience, it is hard not to get caught up in the emotion of the moment and the release and relief of being able to enjoy and give into an evening of blissful entertainment after an incredibly tough for everyone in that stadium. But this is what living is all about, moments like these, memories that you will carry with you for a lifetime. I could see people of all ages, little kids with ear defenders with their mums, grannies in tow giving it their all. That is the beauty of a band like Queen and the indelible mark they have made in the history of music.
For me quite simply, Queen + Adam Lambert = My happy place.
Photography by Mark McGrogan
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