It was a pairing that didn’t need to happen. Queen’s legacy as adventurous classic rock heroes was long cemented by the time its remaining members met Adam Lambert — then an unknown light opera singer who used to perform on cruise ships — on “American Idol” a decade ago.
But as the glammed-up Lambert, wearing a leather vest with streaming silver tassels, stomped his high-heel boots into the catwalk amid a booming rendition of “I Want It All,” fans who packed the Tacoma Dome on Friday night were glad this match made in reality TV heaven is rolling strong.
For Queen + Adam Lambert — a bona fide touring act since 2014 — it was the second night of their new Rhapsody tour. The 23-date run follows a resurgent interest in the band’s catalog thanks to the blockbusting “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which became one of the highest grossing music biopics of all time en route to winning four Oscars this year. The soundtrack to the film centered on Queen’s late frontman, Freddie Mercury, brought the band’s music back to the top of the charts more than 25 years after Mercury’s death.
Comparing Lambert to Mercury is as pointless as it is inevitable, a reality Lambert’s never hidden from. After nailing a camptastic version of the prancing “Killer Queen” — for which Lambert sat, legs crossed on a riser, waving a giant hand fan and pretending to lick his microphone like a Popsicle (sure, we’ll go with Popsicle) — the former “Idol” runner-up addressed the inescapable comparisons head on.
“I know what some of you must be thinking. I’m not Freddie,” he said. “Yeah, I [expletive] know. There’s no way I could be Freddie because there’s only one Freddie Mercury.”
They’re big shoes to fill and aping Mercury’s persona too closely could feel like a Vegas act that should have never left the strip. Instead, Lambert walks the tightrope with the confidence and vocal skill required to interpret the songs in his own way, but with enough reverence to avoid taking ill-advised liberties. A soft-rocked “Under Pressure” was cool and nimble, while Lambert brought more of a pop vocalist’s polish to “Another One Bites the Dust,” in contrast with the original version’s dark-alley-disco edge.
Lambert and guitarist Brian May took turns in the spotlight, May swooping in with riveting guitar solos including a cosmic excerpt from Antonin Dvorak’s “Symphony No. 9” (commonly known as the “New World Symphony”). For the emotive interstellar dirge that could’ve soundtracked a way-too-intense smoke session in the back of a ’70s van, May stood atop an elevated platform among neon planetary orbs dangling from the ceiling, an asteroid splashed on the giant video board beneath him, making good on the band’s promise of a beefed-up production this go ’round.
Thirty years younger than Queen’s remaining members May and drummer Roger Taylor, Lambert injected a youthful energy into the show, commanding the stage and material with grace, sass and theatricality. For “Bicycle Race” and a crowd-pleasing “Fat Bottomed Girls” singalong, Lambert emerged on a motorcycle wearing a diamond-spiked leather jacket looking like the love child of Rob Halford and Elizabeth Taylor or an Oakland Raiders fan in a Pride parade.
Mercury’s spirit was felt throughout the night, the mustachioed powerhouse appearing on the big screen during May’s touching acoustic-guitar run through “Love of My Life” and leading his classic “ay-oh” call and response crowd work before the double-dosed encore of “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions” — anthems of all anthems. Lambert layered and traded his sterling vibrato and striking holds with Mercury’s piped-in vocals during the onset of a pre-encore “Bohemian Rhapsody,” later turning Mercury’s masterpiece over to one of May’s most electrifying solos.
It’s hard to imagine a more tasteful way for a band with nothing to prove to carry on decades after losing one of the most singular frontmen in rock history. But the Queen + Adam Lambert experience fits like a pair of the authoritative singer’s gold-laced gloves. Don’t stop ’em now.
Now I’m Here
Seven Seas of Rhye
Keep Yourself Alive
Hammer to Fall
Don’t Stop Me Now
In the Lap of the Gods… Revisited
Somebody to Love
The Show Must Go On
I’m in Love With My Car
Fat Bottomed Girls
Machines (Or Back to Humans)
Radio Ga Ga
Love of My Life
Doing All Right
Crazy Little Thing Called Love
I Want to Break Free
Who Wants to Live Forever
Antonin Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 (Brian May instrumental)
Tie Your Mother Down
Another One Bites the Dust
I Want It All
We Will Rock You
We Are the Champions
This review has been updated. A previous version misidentified an instrumental piece played by Brian May.