Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Queen - Live At the Rainbow '74 [Blu-ray]

Last Tuesday the prayers of many long-time Queen fans were answered. Queen’s show from the Rainbow in November 1974 was finally released on video in its entirety in high definition.

So what’s the Big Fucking Deal? Well until now, the earliest officially released Queen concert was from The Game tour in 1981 – “Queen Rock Montreal.” The 1974 Rainbow show is one of the first times Queen was filmed, and still playing deep cuts from Queen I and Queen II.

This was one of those legendary shows known to live in the official Archives.  Hardcore fans were convinced that it was being held from them for no reason other than to spite them. Before I get too off track though, the Queen Archives are a real thing. There’s actually a guy who’s full time job it is to obtain, catalog, and safeguard every single piece of audio and video the band has ever produced.

So does it live up to the hype? Well I think so, but it’s complicated. Rainbow ’74 was the final show on the 1974 Sheer Heart Attack Tour. The set list is unique in that it bridges the material Queen was playing in 1973 and early 1974 which consisted of material from the first two albums, with newer songs from Sheer Heart Attack which would become staples of their live show the remainder of the decade. I think things were moving fast for the band when this show was captured. Killer Queen had just become a hit in the UK, and what we see is a band still doing a few familiar things while experimenting with what they could do with this huge captive audience they had gained.

The band takes a couple songs to get in their groove going. The first two songs, “Now I’m Here” and “Ogre Battle,” while certainly not bad renditions, kind of fell flat for me. However, by the third song, things really get going with a fantastic and energetic rendition of “Father to Son” followed by another great performance of “White Queen. “ “Flick of The Wrist” follows, introduced by Brian as “…the side you haven’t been hearing on the Radio,” as it was actually released as a double-A side with Killer Queen.

Here’s where I have an issue with the track listing,  Although they are listed as separate tracks, what comes next is a medley of “In The Lap Of The Gods,”  “Killer Queen,” “The March Of The Black Queen,” and  “Bring Back That Leroy Brown”. It’s a true medley with only small bits of each song played. Although it’s not surprising in the least, Queen did these medleys often, I wish the release would've actually been listed on the track listing as a Medley and not each individual song. What strikes me as ballsy about this medley is that the band played a shortened version of Killer Queen, their hit single that was getting so much radio play. This I think is even more of an indication that the band saw they had a larger audience and wanted to experiment and showcase more material.

The next section of the set contains a solid performance of “Son and Daughter” which includes the familiar “Brighton Rock “Guitar Solo.  This choice was rather surprising to me, as Son and Daughter would soon just be replaced in later set lists with Brighton Rock.  Here the band is still sticking to what they were familiar with. “Keep Yourself Alive” comes next and includes a Drum Solo. The Drum Solo was more of an interlude than a solo. The drum solo clocks in at under a minute, so I was kind of surprised it was listed as such.

For the next batch of songs, the band then goes all out playing highly energetic versions of “Seven Seas of Rhye,” ”Stone Cold Crazy”, and “Liar”. “Liar” in particular is very well executed here. I always thought the song sounded better live. It has some natural jam-like sections that lend themselves more to the energy of a live show that I feel couldn't really be captured adequately on the recording itself. This was probably my favorite track of the show. “In Lap of the Gods (Revisited…)”  closes out the main set quite brilliantly

The Encore kicks off with a cover of “Big Spender,” a staple of the early Queen live shows, and then right into the blistering loud and fast “Modern Times Rock and Roll” which was always one of my favorites, and here it shines, even louder and faster than the album version. The final song is a cover of “Jailhouse Rock,” and it really showcases what the band was trying to do and would eventually accomplish with audience participation at the climax of the show.

I do have a few complaints about the editing and direction. The cuts are initially awkward and not timed very well. There are also a lot of fades and that last way too long. Fades must have been a big deal at the time because they are used liberally to the point of distraction. For example, at one point we see Freddie playing at the Piano, with the entire shot overlaid with a close up shot of Brian’s Red Special. This lasts so long your brain can’t really decide which one to focus on. Also the first half of the show the cameras are mainly centered on Brian and Freddie. This does get better, but it’s very noticeable that John is not really present and Roger rarely featured for the first half of the show.

Overall, I think it’s awesome that this show saw the light of day and got an official release. The video and audio quality is probably the best you can get out of sources that are 40 years old, and originally only meant for TV broadcast at that.  We get to see the band really just starting to come into their own, playing with a large captive audience for a full headlining set. Although the transitional nature of the set itself seemed odd and a little bit awkward, it’s a real treat to see Queen start to evolve into the live powerhouse they eventually would become.

Artist: Queen
Album: Live At The Rainbow '74 (Blu-ray) [Video]
Year Released: 2014
Label: Hollywood Records

[Audio Counterpart - Includes March & November show]
Artist: Queen
Album: Live At The Rainbow '74
Year Released: 2014
Label: Hollywood Records