Ever since the 1991 death of the dynamic singer Freddie Mercury, the surviving members of Queen have fought to remain relevant and stay on the musical radar. This has included some quality work, such as the 1993 EP Five Live (recorded with George Michael and Lisa Stansfield), some promising, yet ultimately disappointing combinations such as the tour with the usually amazing Paul Rodgers and some absolutely left field, flavor-of-the month matchups like the band’s current collaboration with American Idol contestant Adam Lambert. Now that Queen has officially existed as a band longer without their original vocalist than they did with their original vocalist, one must wonder what is next.
What Queen fans truly want isn’t another collaboration with a singer who reminds (or attempts to remind) audiences of the late Freddie Mercury, but more of the original rock star who was instrumental in making queen the dynamic force that they are. Luckily, Queen has answered this call with the release of the previously unseen concert video Live at the Rainbow ’74.
As the title date reveals, this is a concert of very early Queen. Recorded on November 20th 1974 on the “Sheer Heart Attack Tour” (indeed, less than two weeks after the Sheer Heart Attack album hit stores), Live at the Rainbow ‘74 necessarily contains only the classic queen songs recorded for their first three albums (including album predecessors 1974’s Queen II and 1973’s Queen). Therefore, this is just about as classic as Queen gets, which is excellent for the die-hard queen fans.
However, those looking for some of the latter-day and more commercial Queen work should inquire elsewhere. You’re not going to hear “Bohemian Rhapsody” here. You won’t be graced with ”Tie Your Mother Down”. And you certainly won’t hear the incantation of “Flash… Ah-aahhhhhhh!” and no matter how much you want it, you won’t be hearing “I Want It All” performed in this concert.
On the other hand, Live at the Rainbow ‘74 is hardly lacking in classic Queen songs with no less than twenty-eight individual numbers (including guitar and drum solos, reprises and one repeat). Fans clamoring for classic tracks like “Killer Queen”, “White Queen”, “Son and Daughter”, “Father to Son”, and “Stone Cold Crazy”, will love these live versions. Queen’s early stabs at the progressive rock market are also well-represented here with “Ogre Battle”, “The March of the Black Queen”, and “In the Lap of the Gods… Revisited”, while the remakes that Queen always managed to make their own are represented here by “Jailhouse Rock”, “Big Spender”, and the Brian May arrangement of the traditional “God Save The Queen”.
While the new release is worthy of the Blu-ray treatment, the images we find on the disc appear somewhat dated. Certainly Mercury and the band’s flamboyant costumes are not “of the now”, but that’s not what I mean here. The costumes (and the band) look great and this classic era of Queen wouldn’t be quite complete without them, just as they are. On the other hand the lighting and filming techniques make for a clear, yet limited viewing. In some cases the picture is excellent and one feels as if one might reach out and tug on Super Mercury’s cape. In others, spotlights overcome the players and the overall image tends to look like it was shot on video tape. This is, it should be noted, a Standard Definition Blu-ray, not a Hi-Def as one might expect when reaching for that little blue clamshell.
Ultimately, this hardly matters, because the sound is overall quite good and manages to stay high quality when the volume is turned up loud… which is, incidentally, an excellent way to enjoy this concert. Freddie, Brian, John and Roger were an incredibly cohesive band and total perfectionists, amping out their own version of very hard rock with enough variations to warrant a live performance, but enough precision that this could well have fooled many into believing it was a studio recording (minus the raucous cheers, naturally).
An excellent point of praise for the Blu-ray is that this concert has a tendency to make fans truly wish they were there for this show live. However, something is missing in the flat presentation that we find on the small screen and Live at the Rainbow ‘74 does outweigh its welcome by just a little bit. Then again, one can always hit pause and watch the remainder any day or simply select the songs the home audience wants to hear.
For all the greatness of this release, Eagle Rock Entertainment hasn’t sought out any true special bonus features or commissioned any new documentaries or interviews. The final four tracks (counted in the aforementioned 28 songs) were recorded in May of that same year, also at the Rainbow. These four numbers constitute the only real DVD extras we find on this disc.
That said, the music is fantastic and fun, helping to remind the audience of what a dynamic and excellent singer front man and performer Freddie Mercury truly was. While the surviving participating members of Queen continue to tour with new vocalists (and who knows if the current American Idol contestant is the last in this revolving roster?), Live at the Rainbow ‘74 stands to prove once again that there has only ever been one Freddie Mercury. After forty years, it’s a special treat to rock back and relive the days when Queen truly was killer.