Queen Live at the Rainbow 74 is a newly released live album of Queen’s two 1974 shows at the famous Rainbow Theatre in London. These shows took place during the band’s Queen II tour in March 1974 which forms the basis of disc one, and the Sheer Heart Attack tour in November 1974 which features on disc two. The recordings capture the band at their hard rocking and theatrical best, when they were really just unknown novices and before they had broken through into the mainstream. The concerts were originally supposed to be released as a live album at the time but instead were put on the backburner with the band deciding to focus instead on the recording of their seminal album A Night at the Opera. Now forty years later, the original tapes have been re-mastered and polished up and boy oh boy do they sound good, with a crystal clear sound and fantastic mix which means you can actually hear the individual instruments. This is something you don’t always get with live albums where often the sound is a bit muddled and not always the best. I am sure some pitch correction and other such things have gone on to get the sound up to a modern standard, but this is all in the name of getting a great sounding modern-day historical release.
As for the material on this album, well the focus is the band’s first three albums Queen, Queen II, and Sheer Heart Attack, albums which if you know anything about early Queen are very heavy and quite progressive, something which may surprise people who only know Queen through their big late-70s and 80s hits. There are big vocals a-plenty as Mercury flexes his range, theatrics and banter with the crowd, something that occurs between each song and is a pleasure to listen to, heavy guitars, and a thunderous rhythm section courtesy of John Deacon and Roger Taylor, a somewhat underrated pairing. Song-wise, the highlights are for me mostly on disc one, the March concert with the band playing some stellar versions of tracks from their first two albums. There is the anthemic “Father To Son”, the early metal of “Ogre Battle”, the Sabbath-esque sounding “Son And Daughter”, along with two great versions of “Seven Seas Of Rhye”, “Liar” and a fantastic rollicking cover of rock and roll classic “Jailhouse Rock”. Disc two for me is the lesser of the two discs, but still captures great versions of the likes of “Keep Yourself Alive”, “Stone Cold Crazy” and “In The Lap of The Gods Revisited”. What is amazing about the material overall is how heavy Queen sounded in their early years, a sound far removed from what they became most-famous for later on. I would go as far in saying as a new band on the scene in 1974 following in the footsteps of the likes of Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, The Who and Black Sabbath, they certainly were footing it with the big boys of British heavy rock that had come before.
In conclusion, Live at the Rainbow 74 is a fantastic sounding record and offers up a great insight into early-Queen, a period in their career which has not really received much attention, especially in terms of re-releases. People forget Queen started as a hard rock band and this album does a great job of capturing their early sound. For people not familiar with the early part of the bands career, some of the material might fall a bit flat at times just because of their often theatrical and progressive nature both lyrically and musically, but this does not get in the way of what is a great 70s rock and roll show, featuring a band throwing everything they had in their arsenal out there on the stage. Little did they know that this was just the start of something much, much bigger to come, but as this album shows, the marker was being laid down in a big way.