There’s a rock n’ roll comeback on the Las Vegas Strip. This Saturday, Queen + Adam Lambert will kick off a series of 10 dates throughout September at the Park Theater. “We’ve never ever done this in our illustrious and long career,” says guitarist Brian May. “We’ve never done a residency. So this is kind of exciting for us.”
The performances, dubbed “The Crown Jewels,” promise a stadium-sized rock show in a relatively intimate setting with Lambert filling in on vocals nearly 27 years after the untimely passing of original Queen singer Freddie Mercury.
“It’s an honor for me. It’s a dream,” says Lambert. “Freddie Mercury is one of my heroes. The music this band has created is iconic. To step in and bring these songs to a live audience, it’s such a gift.”
Lambert and May are joined by Queen drummer Roger Taylor as the core of the current touring lineup. In grand style that would’ve made Mercury proud, the trio arrived in Las Vegas on board a private jet Tuesday, greeting the press with a news conference at the MGM Resorts aviation hangar.
The fanfare is well suited for the debut of a high-profile Las Vegas residency. But not long ago, the concept carried a stigma. Vegas was seen as a place where past-their-prime performers could collect an easy check while taking the stage before easy crowds.
But over time, the pull of the Strip would grow strong and in recent years, contemporary acts like Britney Spears, Pitbull and Jennifer Lopez were seen doing big business in Vegas. Old favorites like Donny & Marie, Wayne Newton and even Cher are still around — and Celine Dion is in a category of her own — but the Vegas landscape is now wide open.
“Everything’s evolutionary,” says Bill Hornbuckle, president of MGM Resorts International. “We all know the moniker that was put on the notion of residencies here and so far, we’ve been lucky trying to change that dynamic.”
The latest wave of headliners has shifted from dance-pop chart toppers to reliable rock bands. In addition to Queen + Adam Lambert, the Park Theater will host Aerosmith for a “Deuces are Wild” residency, beginning in the spring of 2019. Meanwhile, pop-punkers blink-182 have been drawing enthusiastic crowds at the Pearl Theater inside the Palms for their sporadic “Kings of the Weekend” residency.
“A few years ago, we came to see an old friend of ours, Elton (John),” says Taylor. “He and Rod Stewart were two of the earlier people of our age group that came to Vegas. And it appears it’s the cool thing to do these days.”
The appeal is simple. Instead of grinding away on the road, traveling from city to city, established acts can stay put in Vegas for a while — and let the audience do the traveling to see them while on vacation. “Everybody comes to you,” says May. “This is the whole of America we’re playing to in Vegas on holiday. So we’re fascinated to see how it works out.”
None of the band members admit to having an interest in gambling, so don’t expect to see them hanging out in the casinos during their downtime from the stage. May says he’ll be by the pool and is eager to explore the beauty of the desert scenery that surrounds Las Vegas, or as he says in more British terms, “the countryside.”
“We don’t gamble, except on our own talent,” adds May, only half-jokingly.
Lambert on the other hand, is happy to check out other shows on the Strip. “I’m going to try and see as many as I can,” he says. “I want to see the new version of Zumanity, I hear that’s amazing.”
“Absinthe, I’d like to see that,” adds Taylor.
While on stage, however, the band will enjoy a new modern, venue in the Park Theater. It opened in late 2016 as the first piece in the dramatic renovation of the Monte Carlo resort into the Park MGM. In its regular configuration, the Park Theater seats about 5,200 people, but the stage is long enough — and deep enough — to hold virtually any arena-level set-up. Throw in a specially-engineered L’Acoustics sound system and tech features that include elaborate lights, 50-foot-tall projection screens, 4K video and in-house recording, it’s hard to imagine why any act wouldn’t want to sign up.
“We’ve been very used to performing for 18 to 20,000 people in arenas all around the world,” says Lambert. “So to take our show… and shrink it into a 5,000 seat intimate venue, it’s going to be very exciting. We’re going to find an even deeper connection with the audiences than we ever had before.”
“I think Adam’s got a few tricks up his sleeve,” says Taylor.
“And boots,” replies the singer. “Lots of boots.”
By playing 10 dates in one city, there’s plenty of opportunity to mix up the setlist — perhaps with a deep cut or two — although May figured the band was “slightly heading in the other direction” with a hit-heavy set for the notoriously mainstream Vegas crowds.
“We have a lot of hits,” he says with a laugh. “We have too many hits, which is an ongoing problem.”
The Queen catalog runs deep. The band first hit the music scene in 1973 with “Keep Yourself Alive” and would release iconic singles like “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Another One Bites the Dust” and “Under Pressure” before their final studio album with Freddie Mercury and original bassist John Deacon, Innuendo, in 1991. With such an immediately identifiable collection of music, it’s no surprise that Queen’s appeal spans a wide variety of ages and demographics.
“Maybe the sports thing helped,” adds Taylor in a reference to arena favorites like “We Will Rock You” and “We Are The Champions.” “Maybe that helped bridge generations in some way.”
“The songs are timeless,” adds Lambert, who says Queen has a “uniting energy” that brings people together. “You look out at the audience and people are thrilled. They’re sobbing, they’re laughing, they’re hugging each other, they’re making friends with the person next to them. It’s a beautiful thing.
Lambert was a fan of Queen long before he joined May and Taylor as a touring act six years ago, although they first played together on American Idol when the singer was a contestant on the reality show competition in 2009. Another fan is Lady Gaga, who famously named herself after the 1984 Queen hit “Radio Ga Ga.” She starts her own residency at the Park Theater in December.
In the meantime, see for yourself why the band’s legacy has carried over through generations. Queen + Adam Lambert perform September 1, 2, 5, 7, 8, 14, 15, 19, 21 and 22 at 8 p.m. Tickets are available at ticketmaster.com and begin at $79.