Although they are historically more associated with the pomp of songs like “Bohemian Rhapsody” and the flamboyant fabulousness of their late lead singer, at one time Queen were one of the more kick-ass bands in rock and roll.
Yes, “that” Queen.
The complex, intricately synched harmonies that became their eventual calling card, anchored by Freddie Mercury’s pitch-perfect voice, were still very much in evidence on the early albums Queen, Queen II, and Sheer Heart Attack.
But they were matched by a primal, ferocious style of slightly proggy, but undeniably hard rock that nearly disappeared altogether by their fourth album, the breakthrough megahit A Night At The Opera, and all else that followed. If those early records created a sense that the wheels could come flying off the wagon at any moment, once that train left the station it was gone for good.
Drummer Roger Taylor and criminally underrated bassist John Deacon laid down the hammer that powered this engine, while Brian May’s thunderous riffage mowed through the din like a buzzsaw. May’s playing remained brilliant throughout the band’s latter, more commercially successful years even as Freddie Mercury proceeded in getting his full Liberace on. But it became much more measured in short, staccato blasts of power, than the way he used to simply let rip on Queen’s rawer, early records.
Sadly, in particular for those of us who remember and miss them most, this seems to be the Queen that history has largely forgotten.
Recently unearthed and restored to perfection by the fine folks at Eagle Rock, Live At The Rainbow ’74 seeks to rectify this by making one of Queen’s most legendary performances available at long last commercially. Although Queen had recorded their March 1974 performance at London’s Rainbow for a proposed live album (four of the songs from that show are included here as DVD extras), they were a much more formidable live band by the time they returned later that same year for the sold-out November show that comprises most of what is seen and heard here.
When the footage is viewed back-to-back, the differences between the band who had just come off a tour opening for Mott The Hoople in March, and the triumphant headliners on the verge of much bigger things by November are palpable. Playing with the same high level of intensity they had just months before, but with the new found confidence and polish that comes when you know that destiny has just come calling, Queen’s performance on this set is literally off the charts.
Long before “Bohemian Rhapsody” became the most difficult to sing karaoke song of all time, and “We Will Rock You” became the anthem of choice at many a professional sports stadium, Queen’s trademark was this thickly layered wall of sound. This same aural density was made even more inexplicably impossible for the fact that it was recorded by the traditional rock and roll lineup of just four guys with guitars, drums and voices.
Although they could no longer make the same claim with some of their later records, the early Queen album covers always proudly boasted that the music heard within contained “No Synths!” Appropriately, they are now, decades later, able to repeat that braggadocios statement with Live At The Rainbow ’74.
Not surprisingly, they do.
As a document of its time, Queen’s Live At The Rainbow ’74 is a long overdue historical reminder of just how much these guys used to rock prior to adopting the more pompous, grandiose, and some would argue, pretentious sound that made them jet-setting zillionaire rock stars. Not that some of Queen’s early music didn’t have its own pretentious lapses into ogres, faeries and assorted other manner of prog-rock lyrical silliness.
They just rocked so hard that it could be overlooked.
But as a performance, this set is nothing short of stunning. Hearing these guys rip through the early classics like “Keep Yourself Alive,” “Ogre Battle,” “March of the Black Queen” and the rest, it’s hard to fathom that this is even the same band later responsible for all those campy, showy tunes about bicycles and fat bottomed girls.
I suppose a lot of that can be blamed on Freddie Mercury.
But he sounds nothing short of magnificent here, particularly on songs like “Father To Son” where his range soars high above the glorious racket being created all around him in ways that would swallow other, less gifted singers whole. With barely enough time to catch his breath, Freddie then rips through the borderline speed-punk of “Stone Cold Crazy.” It’s an undeniable early display of the star power that would manifest itself so much more fully a few short years down the road.
Available in a variety of formats including Audio CD, DVD and Blu-ray, anything that captures both the visual and audio elements of the show is the way to go here. But however you choose to get this, just make sure that you do get it. You will then discover for yourself one of the best kept secrets in rock and roll: Queen – yes, “that” Queen – were once a kick-ass rock band. The evidence is right here.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00M57493K]