The beauty of the moment was in its comic absurdity and sheer unpredictability - two things sorely missing in Bohemian Rhapsody, the 2018 biopic that won Oscars and smashed box office records despite being as formulaic as a Hallmark Channel melodrama.
Thanks to new singer Adam Lambert, this version of Queen was almost as cheeky as the original. Unlike Bad Company's Paul Rodgers, who fronted Queen from 2005 to 2009, Lambert is cut from the same splashy cloth as Freddie Mercury, who died in 1991.
"I am a queen," the former American Idol runner-up said with a dramatic curtsy. He was the picture of sartorial kitsch, cooling himself with a folding red hand fan while looking like a pirate crossed with a toreador in his frilly gold-and-black suit. Later, he donned a sparkly leather jacket and spun on the seat of a vintage motorcycle during "Bicycle Race."
Lambert's operatic toolbox of trills and bellows worked just fine, but his singing had little of the swagger or sweetness that made Mercury's voice so remarkable. Instead, the concert mostly revolved around the brilliant guitar playing of Brian May, the only original Queen member left aside from drummer-singer Roger Taylor. (Bassist John Deacon retired in 1997.)
May, a part-time astrophysicist, had some otherworldly moments of his own, like the marathon guitar solo he performed amid an eye-popping array of asteroids, planets and interstellar dust. The only thing missing was a cameo from Neil deGrasse Tyson.
His subtler moments were equally impressive, especially "39," his lovely skiffle about time-traveling astronauts from A Night at the Opera. May's wide-ranging guitar work reminded you just how far Queen grew beyond its hard rock roots, from the folkabilly of "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" to the Broadway pop of "I Want to Break Free" to the genre-blurring "Bohemian Rhapsody," which closed the main set.
Not all of Queen's songs have aged well, namely the late-'80s singles "I Want It All" and "Who Wants to Live Forever." Either could have been easily replaced by "You're My Best Friend," which was notable in its absence.
Late in the show, Mercury finally made his grand posthumous entrance on video, singing "Love of My Life" as a virtual duet with May. Earlier, Lambert called the singer's absence "the pink elephant in the room."
"No one can replace Freddie," he said, to the crowd's roar of approval. "I'm just carrying the torch."
Thor Christensen is a Dallas writer and critic. Email him at email@example.com.