Adam Lambert finds the spirit, passion in Queen’s music

The former ‘American Idol’ rocker hits the Palace with the legendary British group on Thursday

Adam Graham, The Detroit News
Adam Lambert, left, and Queen’s Brian May perform at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles in June. Lambert says he’s settled into the pocket with Queen and now feels at home on stage and with the songs, which wasn’t always the case.

You can’t replace Freddie Mercury, which Adam Lambert knows better than anybody.

“I realized that right away,” says Lambert, on the phone from his home in Los Angeles prior to the launch of Queen + Adam Lambert’s summer tour, which hits The Palace of Auburn Hills on Thursday.

“That’s one of the things I like to communicate to the audience, because I understand where their heads might be,” says Lambert. “They’re sitting there going, ‘OK, who the (expletive) does this guy think he is?’ ”

He’s Adam Lambert, a 35-year-old vocal dynamo whose stint on “American Idol” in 2009 was one of the best in the show’s history. (He finished second on his season, behind Kris Allen.)

Lambert has released three solo albums, but he’s found his biggest success with his side gig, fronting the legendary rock band Queen through several worldwide tours. The group has been playing with Lambert in the driver’s seat for five years, and its current trek across America follows its last U.S. tour in 2014.

Lambert says he’s settled into the pocket with Queen and now feels at home on stage and with the songs, which wasn’t always the case.

“From the get-go, I was blown away by the honor and the weight of taking on this challenge,” says Lambert of singing the songs of Mercury, the iconic Queen frontman who died in 1991 from complications relating to AIDS. “In the beginning it scared the (expletive) out of me, to be honest. And I did my best getting on stage and not letting that show.”

Now he says he’s locked in with the band — guitarist Brian May, drummer Roger Taylor, percussionist Rufus Tiger Taylor and bassist Neil Fairclough — and can adapt with them live, on the fly. If something is working particularly well, “we can hold or an extend an ending, or we can vamp it out,” Lambert says, noting the band plays 100 percent live, not to a click track. “We’re at the point now where we can look at each other and we know what we’re going to do.”

Lambert grew up listening to Queen, and always considered Mercury a hero. That added to the responsibility of taking on one of music’s most distinct personalities and voices.

“The way I approached it is, I’m not going to get up there and do an impression, because that would be tacky and stupid,” says Lambert, who was born in Indiana and raised in San Diego. “I have some similarities with Freddie, but he was a different singer than I am. So I started asking, what was the intention of the song — what did he want the audience to feel, and what was the story of the song? As long as I’m honoring that, I feel like I’m in the right space.”

Finding the right space creatively has been a balance for Lambert, who is also a solo artist in his own right; last month he released “Two Fux,” the first single from his upcoming fourth album, which he says leans more in an alternative rock direction and this EDM-influenced last album, 2015’s “The Original High.”

“I feel like when I get to do my solo stuff it’s an exploration, it’s me on some sort of path, and I feel like my fans are along for the ride,” he says. “There’s this fine line between being an artist and an entertainer, and I try to toggle between the two. Luckily, with Queen, I’m getting to interpret one of the greatest artists, vocally, of all time. They’re different, but I feel like as long as I’m bringing my heart into both, that they’re both real to me.”

“Two Fux” is a playful midtempo waltz that doesn’t wander far from the Queen songbook; the group is performing it on the current tour. It’s no coincidence that after several years on the road performing with the group, the Queen influence has seeped over into Lambert’s own music.

“With Queen, it’s an all or nothing thing,” says Lambert. “If you don’t throw your entire spirit into a song, it’s not going to work. Queen’s music is overflowing with passion, so it has encouraged me to go all in on my own stuff.”

(313) 222-2284


Queen + Adam Lambert

7 p.m. Thursday

The Palace of Auburn Hills, 6 Championship Drive, Auburn Hills

Tickets $49.50-$175 or (248) 377-0100