By Brian Ives
What, you may ask, would iconic and fashionable pop singer Adam Lambert have to offer in the way of advice to jam band legend Trey Anastasio?
Tomorrow night (June 27) the Phish frontman will kick off a string of five Grateful Dead shows, marking the last time that members Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Billy Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart will perform together. For these very sold-out shows, which you will be able to watch on YouTube, Anastasio will be taking on the role of the Dead’s original band leader Jerry Garcia, who passed away two decades ago, playing Garcia’s guitar lines and singing his vocal parts.
Filling in for a beloved rock legend who has passed away is something that Lambert knows a little something about, having spent much of the last two years touring with Queen.
Lambert is a stone-cold entertainer, but even he was a bit intimidated to take on the late Freddie Mercury’s vocals. He says that you have to pay tribute, without coming off like you’re in a tribute band.
“It’s in how you approach it. I don’t think it should be looked at as, he’s ‘playing the role of…’ It’s not a film or a play. It’s a live piece of music. But, yeah, you’re taking the place of that person,” Lambert tells Radio.com.
Anastasio was clearly influenced by Garcia and the Dead; ditto for Lambert and Queen. But once you’ve attained your own artistic style, as both Lambert and Anastasio have, each in their own way, you have to honor that as well, and not just be an impersonator.
“I knew right away when I got this opportunity with Queen that that wasn’t how I wanted to approach it. I didn’t think it would go over well,” Lambert says. “I think it would have been kind of tacky if I got up there and imitated Freddie. I don’t know if I could do that anyway. Freddie was incredible! It’s like with Jerry Garcia, he’s an icon.
“The legacy of the Grateful Dead, I’m not necessarily a fan, but my father’s a fan, and I see how he appreciates the band,” Lambert continued. “You have to approach it with a certain amount of reverence, I think. And respect.”
Despite his stardom, Lambert realized that many of Queen’s fans might not be too familiar with him, particularly if they didn’t watch American Idol or listen to Top 40 radio.
“That was kind of the intimidation part of it, the die-hard Queen fans are going to be side-eyeing me anyway, ‘Who’s this guy?’ Moreso in the U.K,” Lambert explains. “But that was a good challenge for me, because I felt that I really had to prove myself. By the third or fourth song, the guys who were scowling would be like, ‘Yeah!’ I would see them warming up. It was good to have that challenge. ‘Stone Cold Crazy’ was usually early in the set, and that was kind of trial by fire. You’d get the more die-hard fans going, ‘Oh, all right!'”
Lambert’s collaboration has worked out well for him. Queen’s Brian May guests on his recently released new album, The Original High and Queen + Adam Lambert have a string of South American dates this fall.
Anastasio and the Grateful Dead play June 27 and 28 at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California, before heading to Chicago’s Soldier Field for a three-day run, July 3 to 5.
Don’t worry, Anastasio is not quitting his day job: Phish kick off a tour on July 21.