Lee's eagerly anticipated The Best Of Me tour kicked off under unseasonably blue Bury St Edmunds skies on Tuesday 17 October, with a return visit to The Apex, a beautiful venue he first performed at during the Autumn 2015 leg of his Some Enchanted Evening tour.
Excitement for the event had been ramped up nicely by the release that morning of Lee's new EP of the same name - listening to the new tracks, knowing we'd hear some or all of them live a little later, made for a particularly gleeful start to the day!
I have tried not to name too many of the songs from the first show to avoid spoilers for those attending later in the run, but as always, I include a full tour setlist. I will say, however, that it's a beautifully balanced set... real pace and power interwoven with moments of stillness and calm, laced together by Lee's trademark stories... some poignant, others hilarious, all told in the relaxed conversational style that give his concerts such an intimate feel.
There was a real buzz in the room as the band took their places, quieting as the house lights dimmed and the familiar throbbing beat of a song Lee first performed to huge acclaim more than 16 years ago on Any Dream Will Do filled the air. Moments later Lee strode on, dressed all in black, pausing to acknowledge the cheers before gripping the mic and starting to sing. As song followed song, there was no mistaking how happy Lee was to be back with his own show, nor how thrilled the audience were to have him there.
It's been two years since his last tour, but Lee has taken his show offshore in the meantime with regular performances for P&O cruises, in which he's clearly been honing the set he presents now - a show that embraces old favourites and new material in equal measure, delivered with the total assurance that surely comes from knowing he's got this... his voice is strong and his people are in the house! And I can't help thinking that after 100 performances of We Will Rock You over the summer, a little of his delicious Khashoggi swagger is here to stay!
A few songs into the first half, Lee mentioned that although he had no guest for this tour, he had stayed the night before with an old friend who'd agreed to perform a special duet with him... without giving too much away, the surprise guest was Joe (or should that be Sandy!) Pasquale, the duet was indeed *very* special, and the banter that followed eye-wateringly funny!
Next it was audience choice between two musical theatre classics - there was a clear winner in Bury, but I really hope that both songs get an airing over the course of the tour as Lee's treatment of each is truly special - before Lee wrapped up the half with his fabulous Feeling Good.
The second half opened with two more tracks from Lee's new EP... the first very familiar from this summer's We Will Rock You (though Lee didn't sing it in that show), the second his sublime version of George Michael's A Different Corner - I was blown away the first time I heard Lee sing this in his Westway Sessions gig at Piano Smithfield late last year, and again every time I've heard it since, and I am SO glad he has recorded it. There was also a brief, impromptu Q&A which yielded the usual 'favourite role' and 'career highlight' questions (no "why is Southend Pier so long?" this time!) to which Lee gave thoughtful and detailed answers - there have clearly been so many highlights that it is fascinating to hear which he will select to talk about on any given day - tonight it was giving a speech for Duke of Edinburgh's Award winners and said Duke's reaction when they met afterwards.
I have said many times in concert reports over the years that Lee's voice is 'the best I've ever heard it' and this has always been true ... but can he really keep raising the bar? Apparently yes! In range, in tone, in sheer mastery of the instrument... yes. I sit at his concerts with a grin a mile wide on my face, delighting in a talent that grows with every year that passes, happy for a thoroughly decent guy who never fails to entertain.
Accompanying Lee throughout were a super-talented group of musicians under the nod of Lee's long-time musical director Adam Dennis on keyboards, with Adam Goldsmith on guitars, Jon Atkinson on drums and Dan Owen on bass - their passion and skill as integral to the enjoyment of the evening as Lee's own.
I intended to post this before the second gig of the tour in Watford, but time and tide were against me and I find myself finishing off my report in the immediate aftermath of a show that reminded me, if I needed reminding, just how uniquely fabulous every show of Lee's is... he has explained the title of this tour in interviews - how a We Will Rock You colleague (the brilliant Christine Allado) commented on the absolute commitment he gives to every performance.
'The Best Of Me' is what Lee gives EVERY time he steps on to a stage. There are only five dates left on this leg of the tour - Lee does hope to add further dates in the north of England and Scotland early next year but nothing is confirmed yet, so if you can get to a 2023 show, do it - you won't regret it!
Lee's full concert and events schedule (including past appearances) can be found at - CONCERTS & LIVE EVENTS