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Taken from Stuff.co.nz (Feb 08, 2020)

Queen in Auckland: Welcome to the incredible Brian May Variety Show!

by Adam Dudding

Adam Lambert, Roger Taylor and Brian May. Photo / Getty Images.
Adam Lambert, Roger Taylor and Brian May. Photo / Getty Images.

REVIEW: We could tell we were getting close to Mt Smart Stadium because of the increasing density of stalls along the road offering knock-off Queen merch to the stream of fans on foot.

Closer still, for those arriving in cars, every business along the strip had someone waving a handmade sign offering $15 parking for the evening. When Queen comes to town, it's not just the multimillionaires on stage who stand to profit.

Queen guitarist Brian May. PhotoCredit: RICKY WILSON/STUFF
Queen guitarist Brian May: his asteroid-themed solo guitar noodling is epic in its ambition and strangeness. PhotoCredit: RICKY WILSON/STUFF

Inside the stadium roughly a million people (maybe it was fewer - you try estimating crowd sizes) were politely joining queues to be stroked with a metal detector wand, scanned for a ticket and braceleted in bright colours. Either outdoor rock gigs have got a lot better organised since I last went, or Queen-tribute-band fans are an especially compliant bunch. It didn't feel like anyone was going to get injured in the moshpit tonight.

As the sun sank and the moon rose, a low synth hum emanated from the stage: even with nothing much switched on yet, you could tell it was going to get interesting: there were scores of those swivelly lights that look like ship's cannons and rows of gigantic video screens suspended from the four-storey-high ceiling.

The hum got louder as stragglers scuttled back from their last-minute queues for beer and chips and the loo.

Then it was overwhelmed by a loud recording of an orchestra tuning up - and then the largest of the video screens sprang up in the air to reveal, OMG! Brian May! Playing a big power-chord!

Adam Lambert. PhotoCredit: RICKY WILSON/STUFF
Adam Lambert can do all the high and low notes, but no one is confusing him with Freddie Mercury. PhotoCredit: RICKY WILSON/STUFF

He was standing there all rock-god-ish and silhouetted so brightly from behind that you could see right through the glowing corona of his amazing curly hair, and at the centre you could clearly make out the cranial outline of Britain's most famous rock god cum astrophysicist.

As the rest of the band joined him in the opening chugging beats of Now I'm Here, Auckland settled back to watch the Brian May Variety Show - a hard-rocking, riff-tastic, bass-heavy, thumping good bash through Queen's back catalogue that was by turns thrilling and tedious, touching and over-the-top and, every now and then, truly surprising.

Adam Lambert and Brian May. PhotoCredit: RICKY WILSON/STUFF
Adam Lambert and Brian May - key parts of a slick, multigenerational music machine. PhotoCredit: RICKY WILSON/STUFF

Of course the band on stage is actually called "Queen + Adam Lambert", because the late, great Freddie Mercury has been replaced by the virtuosic young singing-competition contestant. (The bassist, percussionist and keyboardist are ring-ins too, with only May and drummer Roger Taylor representing the original Queen line-up - though keyboardist Spike Edney has been performing with them since 1984.)

And no question, Lambert made an exceptionally good fist of filling Freddie's shoes: all the soaring highs, growling lows and winkingly energetic stage presence you could ask for.

It was only when May pulled out his 12-string and duetted with a beautifully integrated video clip of the real Freddie in concert that you remembered that Mercury used to operate at a whole other level of intensity and vocal power.

But tonight, May was the star. He's 72 and has the skinny legs and elastic bounce of a man half his age and he just owned the stage somehow.

Drummer Roger Taylor. PhotoCredit: RICKY WILSON/STUFF
Drummer Roger Taylor plays like a demon and isn't half bad as a David Bowie stand-in in 'Under Pressure'. PhotoCredit: RICKY WILSON/STUFF

He coaxed amazing sounds from his instrument, sang the odd solo (not especially well compared to Lambert, it must be said), chatted to the crowd and cracked a lovely range of rueful half-smiles, like he's not entirely sure whether to take all this stadium-rock nonsense seriously or not.

To be fair, Taylor, 70, was charismatic too, but it's harder to rule the roost when you're stuck behind the tom-toms. He played like a demon, with an intensity of focus and whiteness of beard that made him seem like a rhythmic Anthony Hopkins. He's also did a superb job of singing the David Bowie line in a supercharged version of Under Pressure.

Brian May steals the show. PhotoCredit: RICKY WILSON/STUFF

So for well over two hours, this slick intergenerational team of musos raced through the hits, from the ornate melodrama of Who Wants to Live Forever? or Bohemian Rhapsody to the thumping simplicity of Another One Bites the Dust or We Will Rock You; from the tedious bombast of I Want It All or We Are the Champions to - well, some extremely odd guitar noodling from Brian May that I can't actually name, but which was accompanied with a stageshow of such supreme weirdness I briefly wondered if I was having an aneurysm.

In short, May floated alone 10 metres above the stage, balancing on a giant asteroid while images of planets of the kind you see painted on the covers of scifi novels were projected on a barn-sized screen behind him.

All the while he spewed forth oceans of sonic nonsense from his guitar. It was an act of spectacular self-indulgence by the space-loving May but somehow it made perfect sense - a rock god's well-deserved ascent to heaven.

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