SDBlu-ray Review: Queen - A Night At The Odeon

Long available as a bootleg, Queen's legendary Christmas concert makes its SDBlu-ray debut.
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One cannot overstate the importance the year 1975 had for the members of Queen. It saw the release of their landmark album, A Night At The Opera, and saw them move to A-list status among rock bands. The band previously had success with the singles "Killer Queen" and, to a lesser degree, "Seven Seas Of Rhye" and "Keep Yourself Alive," but Opera, on the strength of its brilliant single, "Bohemian Rhapsody," turned the band into superstars.

On December 24, 1975, the band performed a concert at the famed Hammersmith Odeon. The show was broadcast live, both on the radio, as well as on television via The Old Grey Whistle Test. The show had been heavily bootlegged over the years, with both audio and video versions available, the latter having two less songs as the BBC's film crew had turned off their cameras and missed "See What A Fool I've Been" and "Seven Seas Of Rhye," but never in this quality. Queen - A Night At The Odeon, features fully restored audio and video and is, in short, a presentation worthy of this legendary concert.

The show opens with a potent "Now I'm Here." We see Freddie Mercury's silhouette on the stage during the song's signature intro before the lights come up to reveal the band, all clad in white. It's a powerful mix, with the guitars and vocals way up front as a confident Mercury commands the stage. The metal riffing of "Ogre Battle" follows. For those only familiar with the band's lighter fair, this track offers proof that they could be as heavy as anybody when the mood struck them. What set Queen apart was that they were also able to mix in delicate ballads. Having a ridiculously talented singer helped in this matter, of course.

While "Bohemian Rhapsody" would soon become one of the centerpieces of the band's live performances, with the group leaving the stage for the "opera" part, at this point, they didn't seem quite sure how to present the track. As a result, it bookends a medley which included a spot-on "Killer Queen," a (mostly) instrumental "Bring Back That Leroy Brown" and a portion of Queen II's "The March Of The Black Queen." Keen observers familiar with the bootleg will notice the vocal flub in "Black Queen" has been corrected, but that's a minor quibble. This is a band showcasing some of its most adventurous material and playing it at a high level. As Brian May states in the included documentary, the band didn't have that many hits at this point, so it allowed them a lot of freedom in terms of the set list.

An emotional "In The Lap Of The Gods...Revisited" closes the main set. This was before "We Will Rock You" and "We Are The Champions" took over this coveted slot, but it works equally well, even if the track isn't as well known among casual fans. The band returns for a very camp version of "Big Spender" that really only Queen could get away with before launching into a frantic rock and roll medley that included "Jailhouse Rock," "Stupid Cupid" and "Be Bop A Lula." The band had passed their live TV trial by fire with flying colors.

The video is an SDBlu-ray and is presented in 1080i 16:9 (4:3 pillarbox). Thankfully the original aspect ratio has been preserved. While not up to today's standards picture wise, the video is certainly mint for 1975 and looks great. Audio options include LPCM Stereo 96/24 and DTS-HD Master Audio 96/24. The mix is full and powerful. Three tracks from Japan 1975 are included as a bonus feature. While they look and sound better than the bootlegs previously circulating, one can immediately notice the difference in audio and picture quality when compared to the main feature. Also included is a documentary about the event, which features interviews with May and Roger Taylor, as well as live clips.

Not long after this concert, Queen became one of the biggest bands in the world, releasing many anthems and playing stadiums. A Night At The Odeon shows a band right on the cusp of that superstardom. It is the era that bridges the gap between the earlier, more adventurous material, and the hit making band they were about to become. Highly recommended for fans of the band.