Friday, October 21, 2016

Queen- Live At The Rainbow (March 1974)

Queen- Live At The Rainbow, March 1974: Released in 2014 (But recorded in 1974) for Virgin EMI Records
Best Song- Liar
In case you didn't know, Queen were a FANTASTIC live band, one of the best in the business. Between their improvisation skills, incredible energy, and Freddie Mercury's stage charisma, Queen were among the best. And this concert proves, even at this early stage, that they were great. This concert was recorded at London's Rainbow Theatre on March 31, 1974, on the final gig of the UK leg of the Queen II Tour, their first as a headlining act. It was supposed to be released back in 1974, as their third album, but was shelved. It circulated as a bootleg for many years, before finally seeing release in 2014 along with the November show at the same venue. 

And it's a great one! The setlist consists of 12 songs, 5 of which are from Queen I ("Son And Daughter", "Great King Rat", "Keep Yourself Alive", "Modern Times Rock N Roll", and "Liar") and 5 of which are from Queen II ("Father To Son", "Ogre Battle", "White Queen (As It Began)", "The Fairy-Feller's Master Stroke", and "Seven Seas of Rhye") with the other two being a cover medley ("Jailhouse Rock/Stupid Cupid/Be Bop A Lula") and the non album single "See What A Fool I've Been". A crap-free setlist, though given their only bad song at this point was "Jesus", it isn't really hard.

As for the performances themselves, they're top notch! The band is on fire, playing all the songs with incredible power, energy, and intensity. Equally top-notch is Freddie's singing, as he showcases power and force that was only HINTED at on the studio takes. As a result, we're in for a fantastic album. Well, MOSTLY, there is one problem, and that is the problem of AUTOTUNE! Yes, Freddie Mercury, my favorite singer of all time, gets the T-Pain treatment. Also, the show is incomplete, as their covers of Shirley Bassey's "Big Spender" and Little Richard's "Bama Lama Bama Lou" are cut out. Otherwise, though, this is a great live album!

The album starts with a tape of "Procession" (Which works well as a tape opener) before going into the first song, "Father To Son". The opening riffage explodes out of the gate, Brian's guitar tone is much more powerful then the studio. Most of the song is a standard performance, not much better then the studio, but the heavy part is FAR better then the studio, thanks to Brian's much rawer guitar, Roger's more powerful drumming, and Freddie's powerful vocals, and the outro also boasts more power. The fade-out outro is cut, but oh well. "Ogre Battle" follows. The song is introduced with a cool, eerie feedback intro, replacing the backwards part on the studio cut, and it does a great job of building tension. The main song is much better then the studio, the guitar and drums are much louder then on the more subdued studio version. We also get some humor, midway through the band STOPS the song and Freddie asks "How do you like the show so far?" before returning to the song without skipping a beat, which also shows the band's great instrumental skills. 

Next on the agenda is "Son And Daughter" which is extended from 5 all the way up to 9 minutes. It MASSIVELY exceeds the studio version. The guitar parts are even heavier and more crushing then the studio, and Freddie's vocals get a boost to match, adding the right amount of rasp to his vocals in the right places. But the extension comes after that, as we first go into a great jam section, with Brian providing great guitar parts and Roger drumming wonderfully, then we go into a guitar solo, with Brian by himself. Now, i'm not the biggest fan of extended "show-off" soloing, but this one is better then most, it follows a clear melody, and isn't too long, some parts even have the riff to "Working Man"! After around 2 minutes, we return to a reprise of the main song, which ends with a KILLER slow part. A fantastic performance, one of the best.

"White Queen" (As It Began) follows. The crying guitar intro from the original is cut off (No!) but the rest is great. Freddie delivers a great performance, the heavier riffs are MUCH more heavy and powerful then the studio, and the verse sections are performed fine (not any better, though). The instrumental break is also powerful. "Great King Rat" is next, and it ROCKS. The opening shredding section is played with much more intensity then the studio, and in the verse sections, the acoustic strumming of the beginning is now a powerful electric, adding much more energy. Freddie's singing is great as ever. The guitar soloing is blazing and powerful, and all sections of this multi-part epic are powerful, intense, and excellent. Next up, comes a holy grail of Queen recordings: A LIVE performance of "The Fairy Feller's Master Stroke". To date, this is the ONLY live recording of the song (It was played frequently on the tour, as well as once on the Sheer Heart Attack Tour, but no recordings exist). It has no harpsichord (BOO!), guitar and piano fill it's place, and while it loses some charm, it gains power in it's place. Unfortunately, the autotune is REALLY apparent here, listen especially to when he sings "soldier, sailor, tinker, tailor, plow-boy". Still a good performance, though nothing special.

"Keep Yourself Alive" is up next. Freddie's singing is more powerful then the studio, but other than that, it's just a standard performance of the song (Which means it's great), except Roger's drum solo is lengthened. It keeps a solid groove, so there's that. Next up is "Seven Seas of Rhye", which exceeds the studio performance, due to more emphasis on the guitar, plus Freddie's powerful voice, and the great harmonies. I also love the pause between "And with a smile... I'll take you to the seven seas of rhye" It ends with a great guitar outro, replacing the "I Do Like to be Beside the Seaside" bit. Afterwards we get another MAJOR highlight of the album, the rendition of "Modern Times Rock 'N' Roll". It MASSIVELY exceeds the studio, the guitars are WAY more heavy and metallic, Freddie sings instead of Roger, giving a top-notch performance, and it's all performed at a faster tempo, giving us a truly magical speed metal experience. 

Finally, we close out with a great ending triplet. The band first starts off with the cover of Elvis' "Jailhouse Rock", with excerpts of other songs ("Stupid Cupid" by Neil Sedaka, and "Be-Bop-A-Lula" by Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps). It's a burst of raucous energy, Freddie gives a great rock-n-roll vocal, and it's all great fun. Then, after two minutes, the band gets into improv mode, with Brian giving some fantastic guitar soloing, and Freddie letting the audience have some fun. Overall, a great performance of this '50s classic. But the BIG highlight of the album is up next, in a FANTASTIC performance of "Liar". Roger's opening drum-beat boasts way more power than the studio, as do Brian's guitars, especially the killer riffage 1 minute in. Into the main verse section, the harmonies are top-notch and dense, Freddie delivers a great, rawer vocal, and the guitars are great. The chugging riffage after the "Please, will you direct me, in the right way" line is extended, which sounds good. The jam is extended, with Brian pulling off absolutely WILD guitar soloing, some of the best he'd ever do, and the breakdown is also extended, with the tension escelating even more thanks to some guitar "bursts" and Roger drumming like a mad-man. The heavy riffs afterwards are also MUCH more powerful. A fantastic performance, the highlight of the show. 

We finally close out with a rendition of the B-Side "See What A Fool I've Been", where Queen does a song in the style of Led Zeppelin. It's VERY reminiscent of "You Shook Me", but that was good, so why not this? The bluesy riffs are great, Roger's drumming is strong, and Brian does some great soloing in the middle. Freddie also sounds good. A great end to the show.

Overall, a solid live album. The autotune drags things down, and some performances aren't too special, but it's a great one, you should get it. 4/5.

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