Noise Annoys: Queen reassert their reign with rocking live show in Belfast

Noise Annoys reviews its formative childhood favourites Queen as they kick off their world tour in Belfast...

Queen + Adam Lambert in action at the SSE Arena in Belfast last Friday. Picture by Hugh Russell
Queen + Adam Lambert in action at the SSE Arena in Belfast last Friday. Picture by Hugh Russell

QUEEN were the first 'proper' rock band I ever got into thanks to their soundtracks for sci-fi classics Flash Gordon and Highlander, the prominent use of One Vision in 1980s VHS favourite Iron Eagle, and *that* iconic Live Aid performance.

I mean, UWho?

The deal was then emphatically sealed by endless repeat plays of their stellar Greatest Hits, A Kind of Magic and Live Magic albums during a long hot summer holiday in west Cork with my cousins.

The latter live set was a particular favourite with us kids thanks to the added entertainment value of Freddie Mercury's famous crowd-rousing vocal exercise shtick and attendant faux-bitchy patter, his oh-so-naughty swearing delighting my sensitive nine-year-old ears.

The songs on those records and indeed the ones on Greatest Hits II (one of the first CDs I ever bought) are still deeply ingrained in my brain, so when the Adam Lambert-fronted version of the band first visited Belfast a few years ago, I made a point of going to see them.

Having deliberately avoided the Queen + Paul Rodgers years – wisely, by all accounts – I'll admit to being sceptical about whether or not Queen could actually ever work without the inimitable presence of you-know-who (no, not John Deacon, bless him).

Happily, in the end I discovered that Queen + Adam Lambert = good times. Lambert is a natural show-off with a great voice for belting out the band's evergreen anthems, and crucially he's also savvy enough to acknowledge that no-one can or will ever truly replace consummate frontman Freddie.

Obviously, Brian May still rips on the guitar, his signature tone and style instantly recognisable. Now a bafflingly spritely 74-years old, he seems to be ageing in reverse despite those fully silver curls.

And, while Roger Taylor's recent health problems mean the 72-year-old now plays live alongside a second drummer, he still hits pretty hard. To be honest, I'm not totally convinced he actually needs that security blanket.

When Queen + Adam Lambert returned to Belfast last week to kick off their Rhapsody tour with a pair of sold-out shows at the SSE Arena, I went along to the Friday night concert where they once again provided the crowd with a hugely enjoyable celebration of one of the greatest songbooks in rock history.

Given it was not just the opening night of the tour but also the band's first live show in three years thanks to Covid, their live chops were in remarkably good nick. At one point Brian May actually got visibly emotional, telling the crowd that "two years ago the world stopped, but now by some miracle we can do this again. It means so much – I love you guys."

A live orchestral snippet of Innuendo served as the band's intro before opening number Now I'm Here announced their arrival on an elaborate stage set modelled on an old fashioned theatre for proper A Night at The Opera vibes.

Adam was sporting a sparkly tux-based ensemble complete with massive platform boots, towering top hat and shades. He doesn't skip around like Freddie did, preferring to prowl the stage at a more leisurely pace while delivering a medley of rocking 1970s Queen favourites including Seven Seas of Rhye, Tear it Up and Keep Yourself Alive. These appetisers get the crowd warmed up for huge singalongs on Hammer To Fall and especially Somebody to Love, with its call-and-response outro.

It's at this point that Adam speaks of what a "privilege" it's been to spend the past decade performing with Queen legends Brian and Roger (cue applause) while celebrating the memory of Freddie. You know he says this stuff at every show, yet the sincerity is still palpable.

Don't Stop Me Now is maybe a little slower than it really should be, not that it prevents another huge singalong, while In The Lap of The Gods is the first proper 'deep cut' of the night.

Roger pleases petrolheads in the audience by leading the band through Bohemian Rhapsody b-side I'm In Love With My Car, before Bicycle Race has the 'play the radio hits' mob flooding back from the bar to witness Adam titting about on a Harley Davidson that's popped out of the floor.

The band segue nicely into Fat Bottomed Girls, which the crowd immediately cocks up by launching into the chorus too early. However, pros that they are, Queen manage to roll with it before getting back on track.

A vocals vs guitars duel between Adam and Brian is sandwiched between another pair of big bangers in Another One Bites The Dust and I Want It All, before Brian moves to the 'B-stage' at the end of the runway to perform an emotional Love of My Life, Freddie appearing via video screen to sing the final verse, and a stomping run through the folky '39.

Roger joins him to sing lead on These Are The Days of Our Lives, slipping behind a pop-up drum kit as Adam appears for the always great Crazy Little Thing Called Love and Under Pressure, the latter dedicated to the late Taylor Hawkins.

A Kind of Magic is up next, sung by Adam rather than Roger for the first time and complete with literal guitar fireworks, followed by I Want To Break Free, Who Wants To Live Forever and a spectacular set piece involving Brian soloing atop a giant meteorite – because why not?

After a brief pause, the band are back to blast through live favourite Tie Your Mother Down, which they follow up with the rather puzzling choice of The Show Must Go On (why not another rocker like One Vision or Breakthrough?) before rounding off the main set with the devastating double whammy of Radio Gaga and Bohemian Rhapsody.

When the inevitable encore arrives, suddenly I'm nine again as Freddie re-appears on the screens to lead the crowd through some of his trademark vocal exercises. After that, all that remains is to stomp and clap our way through We Will Rock You and sing our hearts out to We Are The Champions.

With Queen due to perform at tomorrow's Platinum Jubilee concert in London, on the basis of their Belfast show they should easily steal the show. Then again, we should expect nothing less from true rock royalty – long may their reign continue.

Bicep at Brixton Academy last year. Picture by Dan Medhurst
Bicep at Brixton Academy last year. Picture by Dan Medhurst

:: AVA Belfast 2022

AVA Belfast returns this weekend for its annual celebration of electronic music featuring an abundance of homegrown talents and touring stars performing at the festival's new home on the Titanic Slipway today and tomorrow.

This year's talent includes Bicep, Mura Masa, Jon Hopkins, Biig Piig, Floorplan, I Hate Models, VTSS, Tsha, Special Request, Gemma Dunleavy, Ross from Friends (live), Overmono (live), Logic1000, LSDXOXO, Calibre, Sherelle, Prospa (live), Sama' Abdulhadi, Soichi Terada (live), Giant Swan (live), Crazy P (DJ set) Bklava, Kessler, Jordan Nocturne, Cáit, Inside Moves, Plain Sailing, Rory Sweeney, EMBY, Reger, Marion Hawkes, Kwame Daniels, Nikki O, EVE, Twitch, Crilli, Nez, imnotyourmate, Blark, Crock, Dallas, Cartin, Cyence, Moodtrax, HY:LY, Matheson, Brién, Caoimhe, Midweek and Optmst.

The 2022 festival will be the first to offer camping tickets, with the official AVA camp site situated at Victoria Park in east Belfast. Tickets and full line-up info available from avafestival.com.