Concert review: Queen + Adam Lambert deliver thrilling blast of nostalgia at the X

Friday night at Xcel Energy Center, Queen + Adam Lambert delivered a truly memorable “Somebody to Love,” complete with the audience singing along at the end. It was such a triumphant take on the gospel-inspired 1976 hit, it felt like the encore. Thing is, there was still an hour to go.

As they’ve proven in their previous two shows at the St. Paul hockey arena, Queen + Adam Lambert make for a terrific combination and that was once again the case Friday. Technically, it’s the second local stop on the group’s sprawling Rhapsody Tour, which kicked off back in July 2019, riding high on the success of the 2018 Queen biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody.” (The tour took a two-year break due to the pandemic.)

But it wasn’t the same show they played at the X in August 2019. The big hits remain — “Another One Bites the Dust,” “Killer Queen,” “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions” among them — but the group subbed out some of the lesser-known songs from 2019 and changed some of the pacing.

Not all the tweaks worked. “A Kind of Magic” and “Is This the World We Created” fell flat, as did a surprisingly low-energy run through “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” typically one of the most fun numbers in a Queen concert. Also, it would have been great to hear “Keep Yourself Alive” and “You’re My Best Friend.”

Still, when Queen + Adam Lambert work, they really work. Guitarist Brian May clearly enjoys playing and keeping Queen’s music alive, to the point he tried to tour with Paul Rodgers up front in the latter half of the ’00s. (It was a mess.)

Lambert feels like the perfect guy for the gig, which he’s had for more than a decade now. Crucially, he doesn’t try to imitate the late Freddie Mercury, but instead delivers a performance in the spirit of Mercury. As he proved during his breakout season on “American Idol” way back in 2009, Lambert knows how to work both a stage and a crowd. And his voice remains impressively large and strong. It’s unfortunate his solo career hasn’t really taken off beyond a small cult audience, but I’m sure May is happy to have the guy around.

As usual, drummer Roger Taylor brought grumpy old man energy the stage, but he sounded terrific singing “Under Pressure” with Lambert. (Sadly, he also performed a lengthy solo as well as “I’m in Love with My Car,” one of the dumbest songs in the Queen catalog.) May also turned in an indulgent solo that earned more than a few yawns from the crowd.

Again, though, when Queen + Adam Lambert dial it in, they deliver. It helps that the songs were written to be played in arenas and stadiums and offer big, easy hooks with wide appeal. The success of the “Bohemian Rhapsody” movie brought in some noticeably younger fans in 2019 as well as Friday night.

The one-two punch of “The Show Must Go On” and “Bohemian Rhapsody” at the end of the main set was every bit as epic and thrilling as any other arena show this year. Queen + Adam Lambert will play a second show Saturday at the X.

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