I first saw Queen perform live on the 1977 News of the World tour stop in Los Angeles, California. It was absolutely magnificent. Long before the band even took the stage, the crowd was madly clapping and stomping out the opening beat to their mega hit “We Will Rock You.” And once the lights went out, what an entrance – as close to rock royalty as any band I’d seen – all pomp and pageantry mixed with true grit! After all, Queen were playing arena sized shows in the states, having conquered the airways completely with A Night at the Opera (1975), A Day At The Races (1976) and News of the World (1977) between them sporting the operatic anthem “Bohemian Rhapsody” the gospel “Somebody to Love” and the double-single “We Will Rock You/We Are The Champions.” The show was spectacular both in staging and sound. A moment I will never forget was Freddie Mercury’s echo enhanced vocal solo during a break in the cannon segment of “Prophet’s Song” – I’ve seldom seen another singer accomplish the highs and lows of that moment, with such a large audience held in awe.
Because of this tremendous experience, I’ve always held that we saw the perfect Queen tour at just the right time, before they became a bit more commercial, and arena’s led to stadiums, and Freddie cut his hair. I gravitated to the less metal, more pop-rock oriented records from their mid period, after the first three albums got the band started. Unfortunately, though there have been bootleg films, I’ve never been able to find restored and official footage of these mid-70’s appearances nor any of the tours before then. There are scores of concert films from Queen that are fantastic – but those were from the 1980’s and later, once my interest had waned a bit.
Now 40 years on, this crisp, clear film emerges: Queen Live at the Rainbow ’74. It includes footage from two 1974 tour stops at London’s Rainbow Theater – a few tracks from the March 1974 Queen II concert along with a complete performance later that year after Sheer Heart Attack was released. These nights were captured for posterity and the footage is finally seeing an official release with restored and sparkling hi definition visuals and near perfect audio quality. The effort has returned hue and deep blacks to the picture, and there is clever use of cross fades, and dual angles that enhance rather than detract from the proceedings.
The band members including Freddie Mercury (keys, vocals), Brian May (guitars), Roger Taylor (drums) and John Deacon (bass) are at the peak of their powers – already developed as the skilled players we came to know – and also rocking with a bit of a harder, more glam-infused edge than in their later years. Freddie and the group confidently strut and pose on stage as though already playing to the arenas they would soon inhabit. The November appearance begins with “Procession” and a dramatic version of “Now I’m Here” – used effectively as the opener again this year when Queen plus Adam Lambert toured the states. Freddie greets the audience with “The nasty queenies are back!” and the band tear into the progressive rocker “Ogre Battle.” The set list includes many tracks from these first three albums, highlighted by the openers plus the majestic “White Queen,” a bit of “Killer Queen,” and a metal tinged “Keep Yourself Alive.”
The video is a remarkable document of the band right at the point when they emerged from smaller venues, prepared to take the super star mantle both on record and in concert. The tighter, edgier material brings a more focused lens to each band member’s technicality and skill. Now I find this a close tie with the arena sized concert I first witnessed and highly recommend the DVD as being the best way to approximate the experience so many years later.