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Queen earns its bows, curtain calls at United Center

With Adam Lambert handling the vocals with aplomb, the rockers offer priceless mementoes of the band’s glory days.

Adam Lambert (left) sings alongside Queen guitarist Brian May at the band’s concert Friday at the United Center.
Santiago Covarrubias / For the Sun-Times

Every decade it seems British rock band Queen finds itself in the midst of a resurgence. In the mid-’80s the quartet was plucked from a dormant rut for a now legendary performance at Live Aid; in the ’90s it was a keen placement in the movie “Wayne’s World” that made the band a cultural icon again, and most recently the Oscar-winning 2018 biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody” has brought a wave of newfound attention, clearly evident in the band’s solder-than-sold-out tour across the States this summer, including a much-anticipated Friday night show at the United Center.

By far one of the greatest rock bands in the history of music, Queen demonstrated the genius of operatic rock opus “Bohemian Rhapsody” and two dozen other hits in a dazzling arena show that toed the line of nostalgia and renewed purpose. In addition to the music, much thought lay with late frontman Freddie Mercury during the show, he who has been a constant topic of consideration thanks to last year’s film that emphasized the gravity of his loss as one of the most enigmatic frontmen of our time.

Though Mercury died in 1991 of AIDS-related complications, Queen guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor have carried on since then, allying with “American Idol” talent Adam Lambert for the past eight years. With his sequined military coats, gold brocade suits and charmingly flamboyant stage presence Friday night, Lambert was a living homage to Mercury, without trying to overstep him.

“There’s no replacing Freddie f—-ing Mercury,” Lambert acknowledged quickly in the set, symbolically looking up towards the heavens. “It’s an honor to carry the torch for one of my greatest heroes. … I’m a fan like all of you guys, and I’m only here to celebrate Freddie and Queen with you tonight.”

And celebration it was. What could have turned into a eulogy instead became a living memorial for all that Queen was and continues to be as a cultural cornerstone. It’s easy to forget how many hit songs and zingers the band created, but all 27 songs in Friday’s set list were a reminder of Queen’s creative proclivity. Even the corniest of them all, “I’m In Love With My Car” was done with aplomb, featuring the heartfelt vocals of Taylor.

He, along with May — both in their 70s — were in fine form tonight, receiving several standing ovations. May particularly delivered scorching solo after solo like he was possessed by his younger self; one of the most memorable moments of the night came towards the end of the set as the guitarist, also notably an astrophysicist, stood tall in the stage rafters wailing on his instrument as planetary orbs circled around him like he was some kind of mystical cosmonaut.

A huge bounty of praise is also due to Lambert, who handled the vocal acrobatics and emotional pull of each number while steering the rest of the group into high harmonies. Lambert was playful, pulling a move from Rob Halford’s playbook by riding a bedecked motorbike onto the stage for “Bicycle Race,” and also heartfelt, pulling off one of the biggest tearjerker moments with the crescendo of “Who Wants To Live Forever.”

While the first half suffered a bit from Vegas show theatrics, including banal CGI effects and unnecessary rushing/medleying of some of the tracks, the show picked up steam quickly and offered several priceless mementos. One of the most touching was May’s solo acoustic rendition of “Love of My Life” accompanied by vintage video footage of Mercury so perfectly synced it was like seeing the duo miraculously reunited again. Mercury would “return” later to lead the crowd in his trademark chant of “Ay-Oh” during the encore.

As the lights went out before the final few songs, people in the stands started orchestrating a deafening foot stomp of “We Will Rock You” in unison. The band heeded the call, delivering a pulsating version of the song alongside a perfectly timed hat tip of “The Show Must Go On” to end the night. For Queen, the show not only goes on but does so stupendously.

SET LIST

“Now I’m Here”

“Seven Seas of Rhye”

“Keep Yourself Alive”

“Hammer to Fall”

“Killer Queen”

“Don’t Stop Me Now”

“Somebody to Love”

“In the Lap of the Gods … Revisited”

“I’m in Love With My Car”

“Bicycle Race”

“Another One Bites the Dust”

“I Want It All”

“Love of My Life”

“’39”

“Doing All Right”

“Crazy Little Thing Called Love”

“Under Pressure”

“I Want to Break Free”

“You Take My Breath Away”

“Who Wants To Live Forever”

“Tie Your Mother Down”

“Fat Bottomed Girls”

“Radio Gaga”

“Bohemian Rhapsody”

Encore:

“The Show Must Go On”

“We Will Rock You”

“We Are the Champions”