Three summers following their North American debut in Chicago, Queen + Adam Lambert returned to the United Center Thursday night for an encore performance that boosted the energy and spectacle to stellar heights. The concert helped to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Queen’s best-selling “News of the World” LP. The childlike-but-deadly giant robot from the album’s cover interacted with the band and crowd via a dazzling multimedia display, animatronics and an articulated stage.

“These are legends, you guys,” said Lambert as he introduced guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor, describing his joy in honoring the late Freddie Mercury’s memory onstage alongside the pair. “Every night, I’m like, oh my God. Is this the real life, or is this just fantasy?,” he added, cribbing from “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

“There will only be, for all of time, one Freddie Mercury,” Lambert proclaimed, making plain that he wasn’t trying to replace the irreplaceable. Still, it was easy to imagine Mercury smiling upon Lambert. The pop chart-topper and “American Idol” veteran put all of his considerable talent into bravura performances of songs like the spine-tingling “Who Wants to Live Forever.”

Singer Adam Lambert (left) and guitarist Brian May of Queen perform in concert at the United Center on Thursday, July 13, 2017. | Santiago Covarrubias/For the Sun-Times

A bevy of hits filled the set, and the band was ferocious from the jump with “Hammer to Fall.” Lambert and May stood shoulder-to-shoulder for the song’s climax, exhibiting an easy chemistry that was evident throughout the evening. The crowd responded with fever pitch for the close vocal harmony and Taylor’s drum intro to “Fat Bottomed Girls.” An extended solo by May allowed Lambert to make his first of many glam-tastic wardrobe changes. “Freddy was a fashionista,” said Lambert, emerging in an embroidered purple suit and high-heeled boots. “I’ve got to keep up.”

The band also catered to hardcore fans during the two-hour set, playing deep cuts including the manic “Don’t Stop Me Now” and psychedelic “Get Down, Make Love.”

Before playing a solo acoustic “Love of My Life,” May described his appreciation for Chicago’s musical legacy. It might not have seemed exotic to locals, May suggested, but hearing a blues record from Chicago was a lightning bolt for a kid in Middlesex, England. “It was one of the bibles we grew up with,” he said.

May introduced longtime associate Spike Edney, highlighting his hometown ties here. Edney added elegance on piano, and was also prominently featured during Lambert’s own current single “Two F–.” The song’s stuttering synth-pop and Lambert’s falsetto flight served as both a lighthearted romp and a self-assured statement of inner strength, as May sparked a note-perfect solo followed by majestic power chords. It was a natural fusion between the artists’ pop and art-rock palettes.

Lambert rode a pink delivery bike festooned with carnations that he tossed into the crowd during “Bicycle Race.” The hall became a sea of raised hands for the double-claps marking the chorus of “Radio Ga Ga.” Stadium anthems “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions” were fitting showstoppers, with thunderous singing from the audience.

The night’s cheeky and exuberant performance was testament to Queen’s tremendous staying power, while suggesting that new music with Lambert could be worthwhile and fun.

Jeff Elbel is a local freelance writer.

SET LIST
We Will Rock You (teaser)
Hammer to Fall
Stone Cold Crazy
Another One Bites the Dust
Fat Bottomed Girls
Killer Queen
Two F– (Adam Lambert single)
Don’t Stop Me Now
Bicycle Race
I’m in Love With My Car
Get Down, Make Love
I Want It All
Love of My Life
Somebody to Love
Crazy Little Thing Called Love
Drum Battle
Under Pressure
I Want to Break Free
Who Wants to Live Forever
Guitar Solo
Radio Ga Ga
Bohemian Rhapsody

ENCORE:
We Will Rock You
We Are the Champions