I knew we were in for a memorable evening as we emerged from the parking garage behind Denver’s Paramount Theatre on Saturday night headed for the ticket line, when my teen daughter and two of her friends spotted a tour bus partly obscuring a tall figure with spiky black hair. We rushed across the street hoping for a pre-concert chat or at least a photo with Adam Lambert, who was in town headlining his Glam Nation Tour and drawing superfans like my daughter from all over the state.
What we found was a sweet man, willing to talk to all about his music, his performances and his fashion sense…
OK, it wasn’t the real Lambert. It was local fan and entertainer “Jiovanni” who recently appeared in the Denver’s downtown Pride celebration. But at least we weren’t the only ones initially fooled. Before the concert, the appropriately styled impersonator not only attracted onlookers to the buses, but he also had the entire balcony on its feet when he stood and waved to the crowd from his second-row spot at the front of the 1,280-seat, sold-out theater.
Of course, it’s all part of the spectacle that spins around Lambert — the rising star and former American Idol singer — who provides the gravitational center to the slightly askew but delightfully sparkling world known as “Planet Fierce.” The diverse crowd Lambert has drawn on this night ranges from 10-year-olds covered in sequins to grandparents texting updates to the grandkids ("Eat your heart out," texted one, "I'm here and you're not") and from drag queens and Rocky Horror-styled fans to party girls and boys dressed for clubbing.
Warming up the crowd as the lights go down is Lambert's "little sister" from Idol, the 18-year-old magenta-haired Allison Iraheta. And though I'm not from the demographic group targeted by much of the material on her debut album, I find her super-powered, smokey, rocker-girl alto to be under-appreciated on the record charts. But I'll let my daughter Hannah Tooley, (who is the target audience) take over this review a bit from here, to give a better sense of the concert's success: "Her voice has the power to fill up stadiums as she stomps around stage belting out 'Holiday,' one of the many amazing tracks from her album Just Like You. (In stores now… Just. By the way.) And before she finishes, she's got the crowd pumped up and screaming, leaving us all begging for more. AND DID I MENTION HOW TOTALLY AMAZING HER VOICE IS???
But despite its sugary goodness, it's all just an appetizer for the main course. After about 20 minutes of intermission, the crowd is chanting Adam’s name and singing along with Lambert's "For Your Entertainment" as it plays through the speakers.
Back to my daughter: "FINALLY. The lights dim. A shadow appears at the top of a staircase on stage… AND THE CROWD GOES WILD. Adam launches into "Voodoo." It's a trippy, low-key hallucination of a song (that somehow didn't make the album) and his perfectly executed choreography has a snake-charmer feel to it as he manipulates his accompanying dancers like they're puppets on a string."
"And ... he's dressed in a purple fur-trimmed jacket with waist-length fringe, sparkling skin-tight pants, and a tophat with feathers, fishnet and a rhinestone-covered scarlet letter 'A'. Oh yeah."
The opening number leads into "Down the Rabbit Hole," which continues the slightly hallucinogenic theme with lyrics like "Catnip and honey / Teatime all over town ... Disco rodeo / My kaleidoscope / Cleopatra knows / What's down the rabbit hole."
This is followed by a sitar-infused "Ring of Fire" cover, a favorite that audiences haven't seen since Lambert performed it on Idol. By the fourth song "Fever" (penned by Lady Gaga), the auditorium has transformed into a dance club scene with the audience glamnotized by their leader, who struts and glitters onstage amidst fog machines and rainbow lasers like a human disco ball. His precisely choreographed moves mix a combination of rock star hip thrusts and feminine fanning into a pleasantly confusing blend of sexy that's irresistible to his audience.
Here's a clip...
The dance numbers lead into "Sleepwalker," a hypnotic tune that slows the show to a more relaxed pace, but includes the singer's trademark vocal gymnastics. (It also includes one of a handful of all-important costume changes and a bit of his upbeat audience banter about relationships that starts to feel a little like a PG13-rated version of "Up With People" before the night is over.)
The quieter pace of "Sleepwalker" leads comfortably into slowed-down, stripped-down acoustic versions of "Whataya Want From Me," which has become familiar to radio listeners, and "Aftermath," a piece co-written by Lambert and some of his pre-Idol friends.
The evening's literal show-stopper, however, is the melodramatic "Soaked." When I first heard Lambert's album, the over-the-top operatic ballad by Muse seemed out of place. In concert, the effect is completely different - suddenly the show seems to have become "Adam Lambert: The Musical" and as its star the Glam God is afforded any indulgence he desires. Showing off his pure vocal abilities, he wows the crowd until he pauses at a high note midway through and the cheering continues for what seems like an endless (or 30-second) outburst before, um, soaked in the love, he continues.
My daughter describes it in fan-speak (paraphrasing a popular Adam fanfic): "His voice goes up and up and up and down and up and down and FREAKING SIDEWAYS."
Though he could have ended there, he keeps the madly applauding crowd on its feet with "Music Again" and "Strut," the latter which further showcases his also impressive dancing skills (in a striped leather tailcoat, glitter-trimmed tuxedo vest and pants) and a few suggestive moves with an updated version of a Fred Astaire cane. (Linked below is a slightly earlier performance.)
Then in another nod to the golden-age of glam that preceded him, Lambert pulls out "Sure Fire Winners," whose lyrics of empowerment and stomping pace seem likely modeled after Queen's "We Are the Champions." (For more on the Lambert's glam roots, go here.)
The set finale is a high-energy, pulsating version of Lambert's latest single "If I Had You" which he pauses near the end for introductions of his dancers and band members. Then he asks the audience to join him in finishing the song (though, of course, they've been singing along throughout the night).
Then just as the cheering, screaming and fangirl squealing threaten to take the top off the theater, Lambert returns for an encore built to please. First with an up-tempo but acoustic "Mad World" - more reminiscent of the Tears for Fears recording then the Idol performance that brought the budding star a standing ovation from the usually unappreciative Simon Cowell. And in the night's final number, Lambert takes Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love," which he performed on last summer's Idol tour in an amped-up, guitar-heavy rock star fashion that was similar to the original, but dials it back a few notches, turning it into a languid, lounging but (as always) essentially sexy anthem of love.
But here's how my daughter puts it: "There were so many highlights to the greatest night of my life. I am still blinded by pure awesome and all that glitters; I don’t even know what to say. But I know I’ll never forget it."
Update: For an in-depth account of what happened after the show (including sightings of Adam and his band), click here to read the breathless blog post from another of the girls in our entourage.