It was almost like a disclaimer, a bit of legalese Adam Lambert had to get out of the way before a show nearly 50 years in the making could begin.
"Every time I take the stage with these guys, I realize what an honor this is," the singer told a sold-out crowd Sunday night in Tampa. "I am so lucky that I've been given this chance to carry a torch for one of my all-time heroes. Let's hear it for the irreplaceable, one and only Freddie Mercury!"
You can only imagine the roar. Nearly three decades after Mercury's death, even cities he never played are still unimaginably desperate to celebrate him, judging from Sunday's blockbuster, 2-plus-hour show by Queen and Adam Lambert at Amalie Arena.
This was the first Tampa Bay concert by any version of Queen, down these days to guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor (bassist John Deacon is long retired). They never came closer than the old Lakeland Civic Center, and even then, not since 1978.
Not that it mattered to the impassioned Tampa crowd, who sang and danced and showered as much love upon Lambert as they might have on Mercury himself.
Timing's everything, isn't it? With last year's biopic Bohemian Rhapsody racking up more than $900 million globally, plus a handful of Oscars to boot, it's a grand time to be in the Queen business – which, let's face it, was probably the whole point of Bohemian Rhapsody in the first place. It was an okay film, but a hell of a Queen commercial, celebrating the band and its brand as much as it did Mercury. In the end, the show must go on, and they've still got find a way to sell it.
And boy, are they good at doing so live.
"You sound amazing," May told the crowd. "I never thought I would be doing this at this point in time. That's the truth."
At 72, with his same silver mane poofing up around his noggin, May is still plenty spry on his fretboard, taking center stage as he let solo after solo fly like meteors across the sky. Late in the set, he uncorked a nine-minute guitar solo as daring as it was virtuosic, drifting from atmospheric post-rock to chugging, almost droning tones. When he stomped up the stage for the double-time breakdown in I Want It All, or the roaring-chainsaw finale of Fat Bottomed Girls, it's a wonder the greybeards down front didn't crack open a circle pit.
As for Lambert, while he's a gifted rock vocalist, he doesn't exactly sound like Freddie Mercury -- and that's likely precisely the point. Unlike Journey's Steve Perry sound-alike Arnel Pineda, Lambert's got his own thing going, borrowed and hodgepodged from all kinds of sources, from Elvis Presley to Mick Jagger to Rob Halford to MacPhisto-era Bono. And there's some Freddie in there, of course, but it's more in his sparkle, his snazz, his ineffable Adamness. The way he dangled his golden boots from a piano, fanning himself like a flirt, on Killer Queen. The sexy swirls and skitter-steps during Another One Bites the Dust, bringing a grin to May's face. The way he straddled and humped a glitter-pocked Harley on Bicycle Race, punctuating the line "I don't want to be the president of America" with a pointed slap of his rear.
As veteran artists go, Queen and Lambert are surprisingly resourceful, spreading stacks of harmonies across a relatively tight six-man operation. May unplugged to play a solo Love of My Life and '39 before being joined by Taylor and Lambert for Doing All Right. And Taylor held his own as a vocalist, filling in for David Bowie on Under Pressure and singing lead on the proggish, dystopian oddity I'm In Love With My Car.
But then, who needs a symphony when you've got an arena of fans at your disposal? They were clapping in sync to Radio Ga Ga, just like the crowd did at Live Aid. They screamed for Freddie's pumped-in vocals at the start of Bohemian Rhapsody, creating what amounted to a surreal duet between Lambert and Mercury (for half the song, at least; they just let the middle "I see a little silhouette-o of a man" part play out via the song's original video).
The clap-clap-stomp began well before the encore, so starved were Tampa fans to finally hear We Will Rock You live. But then, out of the dark, emerged a video image of a familiar figure in a regal yellow coat.
"Ayyyy-day-day-do!" he yelled.
"AYYYY-DAY-DAY-DO!" the delighted crowd yelled back.
And there it was, sort of, Tampa's long-awaited chance to sing with Freddie Mercury. Lambert was right: Even on film, there's just no replacing him. His voice will always be worth the wait.
Contact Jay Cridlin at email@example.com or (727) 893-8336. Follow @JayCridlin.