Album of the Week 36-2014: Queen – Live At The Rainbow ’74

While it’s easy to dismiss Queen for the musical identity crisis that butchered most of their eighties output, we must not forget that their carreer was bookended by a group of incredible. Being a fan of bombastic music, I can’t help being captivated by especially the part tribute to, part parody of progressive Rock that characterized their early to mid seventies work. So naturally, when the news came that two of Queen’s shows at the London Rainbow Theatre – of which only parts have surfaced throughout the years – that was something to look out to. The result is a stunning look into the days when Queen was still an awesome Hard Rock band.

The first surprise is how fresh the recordings still look and sound. Of course, it’s obvious that it was recorded with seventies technology, but the Rainbow Theatre had very good equipment – as evidenced by the many fantstic recordings that were made there throughout the seventies and early eighties – and it’s obvious some experts have dealt with it before release. I suspect some of the backing choirs were beefed up somewhere along the way, but the whole thing has a delightful sense of raw abandon, most evidently in Brian May’s guitar being much more prominent and rocking than on the studio recordings of these songs.

Both shows were recorded in 1974, one in March supporting ‘Queen II’ and one in November promoting ‘Sheer Heart Attack’, both fine albums with a wealth of strong material to choose from. The DVD shows the entire November show, which is the better of the two. Performance-wise, there’s very little difference, but the recordings and the setlist of the latter show are just superior. There are a lot of songs included in both shows, which makes sense with the relatively limited time between them, but both shows are definitely a treat for fans of the band.

Those who are only familiar with the Queen’s Pop material, the heavy guitar work on songs like the pounding ‘Son And Daughter’, the gallopping ‘Keep Yourself Alive’, the rollicking ‘Stone Cold Crazy’, the epic ‘Ogre Battle’ and the dark masterpiece ‘Flick Of The Wrist’. Other highlights include the mood setting opener ‘Now I’m Here’ and a fantastic execution of both parts of ‘In The Lap Of The Gods’. However, the powerful and dramatic reading of the beautiful ‘White Queen (As It Began)’ takes the cake. Song-wise, the only disappointment would be that the mind blowing ‘The March Of The Black Queen’ – possibly the band’s best song after ‘Innuendo’ – is only included as part of a medley.

If you’re being really picky, you might notice the absence of audience footage, but let’s be honest: who cares about the audience when there’s four legends in the prime of their musical prowess on a relatively small stage? Yours truly can’t be the only fan of Queen who has been anticipating this for years, but I can honestly say, the show exceeds any expectations you might have had. This is by far the best live release of Queen, easily beating ‘Live Killers’ in terms of intensity and track listing. It’s a no-brainer for Queen fans that this release needs to be acquired, but anyone into seventies Hard Rock should also pay close attention to this gem.

Recommended tracks: ‘White Queen (As It Began)’, ‘Flick Of The Wrist’, ‘In The Lap Of The Gods’, ‘Keep Yourself Alive’

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