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Concert review: Queen + Adam Lambert a thrilling combo

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ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. – It’s a shame that the Queen + Adam Lambert tour bypassed Atlanta on its quick, 24-date jaunt this summer.

And they had to name it the “Once in a Lifetime Tour” to add insult to injury, right?

But before Lambert and the iconic, melodic Queen wrap this outing Monday in Toronto and then head to Australia next month, they popped into Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City to show the Jersey Shore why this is the most special post-Freddie Mercury presentation yet.

That is thanks to Adam Lambert, the “American Idol” also-ran who, fans will recall, electrified the audience and (obviously) impressed guitarist Brian May when he performed with Queen on the “Idol” finale in 2009.

Lambert didn’t win that season (that would be Kris Allen). But which would you rather be – a footnote in a Wikipedia entry or the theatrically amusing, vocally astounding frontman of one of rock’s most respected bands?

Lambert proved he could straddle the boundary between reminding of Mercury’s flamboyance while remaining his own man as he strutted around the intimate stage in black leather, tinted shades and platform boots, looking like a glammed-up George Michael and sounding like a Broadway star.

The Queen catalog is so vast that May, drummer Roger Taylor (who was celebrating his 65th birthday on Saturday), his percussionist son Rufus Tiger Taylor, bassist Neil Fairclough and keyboardist Spike Edney could perform five-hour shows and still not cover the essentials.

But a generous sampling was available on this tour, from May crunching through epic riffs on “Another One Bites the Dust” and reeling off a head-spinning solo at the close of "Fat Bottomed Girls” to Taylor effortlessly unspooling drum fills on “Somebody to Love” and crooning the hauntingly melancholic “These are the Days of Our Lives.”

May usually looked amused at Lambert’s campy moves, such as lounging on a maroon couch while enunciating “Killer Queen” (though Lambert spitting champagne on the crowd like a porpoise seemed gross, unnecessary and out of character with the rest of the show).

And Lambert paid plenty of respect to his elders. If he wasn’t grinning and egging on May to keep blasting through a solo, he was praising Mercury and thanking the crowd for accepting “the new guy.”

May and Taylor apparently like this “new guy” so much, they’ve discussed making him a permanent member and recording new material.

That might not sit well with Queen purists, but know this: Lambert is the perfect man for a slot that can never - and should never – be duplicated.

While he brings plenty of Mercury’s pomp, Lambert also brings a shade of darkness that fits well with a band that is aging gracefully.

Both May and Taylor maintain ample vocal chops themselves. May offered a lovely “Love of My Life” (with Mercury on a giant oval video screen for authenticity), while Taylor provided enough sneer as he played against Lambert during an explosive “Under Pressure.” 

But, much like Mercury was such a riveting presence, it’s impossible not to be captivated by Lambert. Whether he was punctuating “Dust” with salacious pelvic thrusts or presenting his dramatic upper register on “Who Wants to Live Forever,” he enthralled and impressed.

Since this U.S. tour was so well-received, perhaps Queen and Lambert will reconsider an encore run later in the year. If so, let’s hope Atlanta makes the cut.

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