He sang from his back on a gold-trimmed couch that was almost as gilded as the man draped upon it, flesh and fabric practically indivisible from one another.
He did so while cooling himself with a golden fan as matching tassels flowed from his spiked leather sleeves, guzzling champagne straight from the bottle.
French monarchs have been beheaded for lesser indulgences.
Mouth full of bubbly, the glam rock patrician shot a stream of the stuff on a few members of the audience within spitting range.
“I’m sorry, madame, did that get you wet?” he purred afterwards, savoring the innuendo and alcohol alike.
Shortly thereafter, Adam Lambert pondered the appeal of such theatrics.
He did so while fronting a band, British rock royalty Queen, that embodies ostentation, musically, visually, emotionally.
“I think we escape in all that, to fill a void,” Lambert noted Saturday from the stage at The Joint at the Hard Rock, where Queen performed the first of two Vegas shows (the band returned to the venue Sunday night).
Lambert’s point is well-taken, but what happens when that escapism becomes a constant reminder of mortality and loss, of what might have been?
This is the challenge that Queen confronts these days, touring again without beloved frontman Freddie Mercury, who died from AIDS-related complications in 1991.
Still, one would be hard-pressed to make the argument that Queen’s iconic catalog should be laid to rest along with the man who initially provided its voice.
“I think these songs deserve to live,” guitarist Brian May said matter-of-factly while seated center-stage, clutching an acoustic guitar before singing the spare, tender “Love of My Life.” “So, here we go.”
And with that, away Queen went.
The last time Queen toured, in 2009, it was with former Bad Company frontman Paul Rodgers, more of a gut bucket blues singer and come-as-you-are presence who didn’t always seem like the best fit for a band like Queen.
It was like outfitting a supermodel in a burlap bikini, favoring ruggedness over flash.
Lambert, on the other hand, doesn’t possess the lower register oomph of Rodgers or Mercury, but he sings with an almost off-handed operatic flair, and his physical bearing is suggestive of an over-abundance of swagger ziplocked into form-fitting leather trousers.
He’s the rare human being who can unselfconsciously wear a leopard-print suit — accessorized with a golden crown, of course — eliciting neither grimaces nor guffaws as he perches himself at the nexus of camp and couture.
As such, Lambert is as at home in the most flamboyant of Queen’s settings as he is lying in his own 24-karat, diamond-encrusted, peacock-feather-swaddled bed (admittedly, we’ve never seen where Lambert rests his head, but c’mon, if he doesn’t actually own something like we’ve described, the thing is on back-order).
After a somewhat tenuous start on a stiff, show-opening “Now I’m Here,” where Lambert sang of old memories while attempting to create fresh ones, the singer worked himself into a visible sweat during the proto-metal surge of second tune “Stone Cold Crazy,” where May’s guitar served as cattle prod, goosing the song forward at ever-more perilous speeds.
On tempestuous torch song “Somebody to Love,” Lambert howled with gospel-like fervor, sounding like he was shouting down the devil during a Sunday sermon; on climactic ballad “Who Wants To Live Forever?” he glared upward as he shot his voice to the rafters where it seemingly dislodged a massive disco ball that descended from above; during the rockabilly swing of “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” he hiked up his upper lip, looking like an evil Elvis as May soloed with mouth agape.
Speaking of May, a master rhythm player as well as accomplished soloist, his playing is as much of a signature of Queen’s robust sound as Mercury’s acrobatic vocal lines. It’s a mix of force and finesse, grit and glitter, exemplified by his fat-bottomed riffing on “Fat Bottomed Girls” and the way in which he accentuated “Tie Your Mother Down” with emotive slide guitar.
Along with May, drummer Roger Taylor is the only other original member of the band, whose touring lineup is rounded out by Taylor’s son, Rufus Tiger Taylor, on percussion, longtime keyboardist Spike Edney and bassist Neil Fairclough.
All six of them locked voices in big, full-bodied harmonies from time to time, while Taylor sang “These Are The Days of Our Lives.”
During the song, footage of Mercury played on the video screen at the back of the stage, as it did during “Love of My Life.”
Later, on “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Mercury’s vocals were incorporated into the song, with he and Lambert essentially performing a duet.
The two traded verses throughout, but, fittingly, it was Mercury who got the last word.
“Anyway the wind blows…” he sang at song’s end, his voice trailing off, but never fading away.
Contact reporter Jason Bracelin at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0476. Follow on Twitter @JasonBracelin.