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The chronicles of two Portlanders in Singapore

There wasn’t a roar of engines, per se.  Rather it was more of a buzz, the high pitch of machinery at peak performance; amplified, echoing through the steel canyons and off the water of the river.  There was the mass vibration of air as each car tore through the humidity of the evening, the sound of tires on pavement.  Then there was the growl of the engine, the sound of combustion and a passing car so fast as to be nearly unbelievable.  I looked at the pavement, noting the lane markers, the directional arrows counter to the path of the car that had just blown past any posted speed limit.  I had to remind myself that this wasn’t the intersection of Connaught and Fullerton, but rather Turn 11 on the Marina Bay Street Circuit.

It was Saturday night.  The sun was settling low above the imposing needle dome of the National Gallery, along side the downtown high rises and office buildings, down on to the low rise row buildings of Boat Quay.  A breeze had been kicked up, making the night pleasant.  The world’s best F1 drivers were tearing rubber on pavement in their practice runs leading up to the penultimate event of the evening, the time trials — the qualifying runs that would determine the starting positions of the race the following night.  The main event would happen nearly immediately after.  Brian May and Roger Taylor, better known for the band they started with Freddie Mercury some fourty-plus years ago — Queen — took the stage with Adam Lambert fronting the band in place of the long-departed Mercury.  “Queen + Adam Lambert” was a hotly anticipated event, with thousands of fans no doubt drawn to the nostalgia of one of the best arena bands of all time, fronted by someone who could never replace the beloved Freddie but, as I’ve read1and said many times, might be as good as we’re ever going to get twenty-five years after Mercury’s death.

This was our anniversary treat.  Another step on the Farewell Tour, the uniquely Singaporean night street race where the downtown buildings host rooftop parties at prices per head that would I’m sure leave me speechless.  The race is one of Singapore’s big nights, hosting world-renowned acts and I’m sure a slew of huge names who fly over to join the party.  There would be no rooftop for us, though, even if it were something we could afford.  Not after walking around along the Padang, a rare breeze keeping a lid on the humidity and carnival-style hawkers —local restaurants not at all what I think of as a hawker after a year and a half here — offering bite-size portions of their fare and overpriced beer, even by Singaporean standards.  I’m happy to have not missed it.  A night out on the green lawn of the Padang, walking along closed downtown streets with the angry buzzing of Formula 1 cars from beyond the barriers.

What’s not to love?

There were a few good vantage points, especially in the above named Turn 11 along Connaught Road, just after what used to be called the “Singapore Sling,” chicane on Turn 10 that’s since been removed because well, would you want to drive a hundred miles per hour through a series of turns dubbed after a local drink that’s notorious for knocking you on your ass?  Maybe so.  The turn at our original vantage point as we crossed the river near the Fullerton was a perfect view of the cars as they made their right hand turn and for a few heartbeats, accelerated directly at us before veering to the left, crossing the river and making the tight left on Nicolls Highway for a straight-away back towards pit lane.  We too wandered over there, standing on the opposite span of the highway, watching the spoilers of cars zip past us at remarkable speed; the stands there were packed full so we had to peer over the barriers to catch a glimpse of the blur of color and sound that was each passing car.

In between events, stage acts came on, including Bastille, who we watched perform a set while sitting on the Padang lawn, drinking beer.  I don’t know much of their music other than “Pompeii” but for the most part, they are a chill indie-rock British band, which was perfectly suited for the sunset on the green.  They of course finished their set with their largest hit, which got the crowd fired up, perfectly in time for the commencement of the qualifying runs, which we watched in part on the television screens before scouting out a good location to watch the headliners.

Queen is a band that I’m sure anyone reading these words is well familiar with.  When thinking about what songs they would play in their two-hour set, it was more of a question of what they wouldn’t play, such is the legion of hits they’ve had.  But the biggest question on my mind was more about their guest front-man, Adam Lambert.

I’m familiar with him only from his time on American Idol, which is a show I’ve paid little attention to.  However, Bev was a big fan of the show during it’s run, so when it was on, I usually kept nominally abreast of the goings on through each season.  I do remember him from his time on the show but I don’t know that I would be able to tell you more than he was a runner-up2I think? and fabulously, flamingly, gay.  Now, I vaguely remember some inane controversy about his stage personae, but I don’t really pay attention to pop culture, so all I really knew was that he’s a good singer and like, super gay.

In that sense, I had some reservations about his role.  Had he simply tried to replicate and replace Freddie Mercury, I’m sure I would have hated the show.  But to his credit, he didn’t try to be Freddie, he just was apparently Adam Lambert — fabulously preening on stage and, pardon the pun, queening it up.  But he was perfect, and I was left impressed.  He has the gravitas to headline a big arena-rock show, owns his personality and walked the line between showmanship and self-awareness, unapologetic and I’m sure shocking several Singaporeans in the process.  There was no question if he could do Queen’s songs justice.  He has a much higher voice than Freddie had, but it worked well, again, serving to be Adam Lambert fronting Queen and not trying to be someone else.

Queen in general are legends, full stop.  Brian May and Roger Taylor have been making music their entire lives and it showed.  They commanded the audience with the same power as Lambert, both of them displaying the skills a lifetime of playing music for others renders.  Both did amazing solos on the guitar and drums, respectively, and Taylor was even joined by his son in a drum-off.  Brian May led the audience in “Love of My Life,” which transitioned into a clip of Freddie singing the final chorus.  Even from our view to the side, I could see May look over his shoulder at the specter of his friend and smile.  Taylor opened a tribute to Mercury and David Bowie, which featured Lambert singing the parts of Bowie against clips of Mercury for “Under Pressure”.  It was a sobering moment, knowing that both of those amazing singers are now gone, but the amazing music they made lives on.

Lambert seemed completely respectful of the honor placed on him, and equally up to the challenge.  He growled out “Fat Bottom Girls” as if it were suddenly 1979 again, pranced around the stage3even playfully slapping a cymbal for “Don’t Stop Me Now”, and had a big black throne pulled out for “Killer Queen” as he theatrically fanned himself with all the speed of a hummingbird at work.

It was glorious.

There were few that didn’t sing along to most of the songs played.  And while Lambert provided most of the vocals, even on their most iconic songs near the end of the set, as they began to wrap up the finale with “Bohemian Rhapsody”, they wisely chose to let Mercury close out the song, delivering the “anywhere the wind goes” line.  Lambert screamed “good night” and left the stage after “Another One Bites the Dust”, but nobody was fooled.  There was one final pair of songs that hadn’t been played and everyone knew them.  So when Roger Taylor snuck back out on the drums and started to bang out the buh-buh-CLAP buh-buh-CLAP the crowd lost its shit and nearly the entire Padang joined the band in belting out “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions.”

And with that, at twelve-thirty at night and throngs of drunk ang moh4seriously I haven’t seen so many white people in one place since Portland streaming out on to the track, we too wandered towards home, exhausted and fulfilled from an amazing night out.

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