TVD Live Shots: Tom Chaplin Sings Queen at the Palladium, 4/22

Reason number 437 on why I love living in London: the number of unique UK only tours. Last year Keane frontman Tom Chaplin joined the acclaimed BBC Radio 2 Friday Night Is Music Night show for an extraordinary evening to perform songs from Queen. Blending orchestral music with a mixture of contemporary music, songs from musicals and films, opera and more, Radio 2 each week delivers on a set theme. Friday Night Is Music Night dates all the way back to 1953, but was only televised for the very first time on BBC Four in 2005. Fast forward to 2019, and the series is alive and well bringing together masterful singers to celebrate iconic songbooks.

I was gutted to miss the first gig where Tom Chaplin performed a night of Queen songs back in November of last year. That show was so incredibly well received that it would become a six-city UK tour in 2019, and I was not going to miss it this time. While I was incredibly excited to see this show, I had a few looming questions. Is the beloved frontman biting off more than he can chew attempting to perform some of the most ambitious and celebrated songs of our time? Can anyone on this earth match the dynamic range and charisma of one of the greatest singers of all time?

I should note that I’m a HUGE Keane fan. I think Strangeland is one of the most stunning albums I’ve ever heard in my life and Chaplin’s solo record that followed was equally as brilliant. So I’m going in with a bit of bias, but still, this is going to be a huge challenge to pull this off. The reviews of the original show were over the top, however I find it incredibly difficult to trust reviews that are so consistently and overwhelmingly positive.

Chaplin took to the stage sporting one of his signature “where the hell did he find that design” jacket, and backed by the 24-piece Leo Green Orchestra (the same one that accompanied him at the first show). I did take a peek at the setlist online and was pleasantly surprised by the song selections. Opening the first of two sets with “I Want to Break Free,” it was immediately apparent that Chaplin’s voice was at its finest and he was just getting warmed up. Up next was one of my favorite Queen songs, “The Game.” This is where we began to figure out that Chaplin may have found his second calling and that maybe we’ve never really given him the credit he deserves as one of the finest voices of our time. (I realize we are only two fucking songs in here, but I was getting chills early on.)

I’ve seen Keane six or seven times over the years in both the UK and abroad, and I saw Chaplin on the solo tour four times. He’s always had a sense of overwhelming confidence, but this show was different as he looked nervous and came across as more vulnerable. Was he second-guessing himself? He had posted a video to social media mentioning how hard he had worked to prepare for these gigs and now he’s got to deliver. Out of all the times I’ve seen this guy perform, this was the one where he was pushing himself and his voice to new heights, and I would imagine new unexplored territory.

The first set included “Killer Queen,” “The Show Must Go On,” and closed with “Someone to Love.” Chaplin also took a minute to tell the story of him singing on stage with Queen back in 2010, admitting that he’s told this story several times and clearly signaling that this was a highlight in his career. The audience laughed along as Chaplin genuinely connected with the capacity crowd.

After a brief intermission, Chaplin returned for the second set of the evening which looked to up the ante. All the classics were there including “You’re My Best Friend,” “Under Pressure,” and a cracking version of “Radio Ga Ga” that brought us all back to that moment—one of the best performances in history, Live Aid—which is still top of mind from last year’s Oscar award-winning film. But the most fascinating part of the evening was “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Why? Not because of the song itself, but because Chaplin and his backing orchestra played the entire song note for note and it was fucking brilliant. I don’t think Queen ever played this one live in all its glory and Chaplin and Co. took it to another level. It would have been worth the entire evening just to see and hear this alone.

The bottom line for me is that Chaplin and the Leo Green Orchestra delivered a show for the ages celebrating the life and music of one of the most enduring bands of all time. I hope to god that someone recorded this show as it’s quite apparent that this needs to be released to the rest of the world. Hats off to Tom Chaplin for being brave enough to take a chance, and for bringing his unique voice to the stage in celebration of a beloved catalog of music.

The Tom Chaplin tour is part of a new series of “Friday Night Is Music Night LIVE” tours. Others currently announced include Beverley Knight singing Stevie Wonder and Peabo Bryson singing Barry White. For more info, head to the official Radio 2 website.

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