SDBlu-ray Review: Queen - Live At The Rainbow '74

Queen opens the vaults to release their legendary Rainbow gig for its 40th anniversary.
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1974 was a pivotal year for Queen. They had just finished a tour supporting Mott the Hoople and released two of their most ambitious albums in Queen II and Sheer Heart Attack, respectively. 1974 also saw the band receive a fair amount of airplay for the songs "Seven Seas Of Rhye" and "Killer Queen." In March and November, the band played a series of legendary gigs at The Rainbow in London. The shows were recorded and filmed but, aside from an edited VHS release in the early 1990s as part of Box Of Tricks in England, they have sat on the shelf -- until now. Queen -- Live At The Rainbow '74 is available in a number of configurations. This review focuses on the SDBlu-ray, which includes a Blu-ray and CD of the November performance, available in its entirety for the first time.

The video footage begins with the band exiting their limo to enter the venue. Set to "Procession," an instrumental that opened their shows in those days, it builds anticipation for the performance to come. A bombastic "Now I'm Here" from Sheer Heart Attack follows, with Freddie Mercury "magically" appearing on either side of the stage during the song's dramatic intro. Mercury is in fine voice throughout and guitarist Brian May bests his playing on the studio version.

With the simple words, "It's time for 'Ogre Battle'," Mercury announces the metallic Queen II track. It can be easy to forget how heavy this band was in their early days. While the band's music took many turns over the years and went in a still great, yet decidedly more commercial direction, the early Queen rocked as hard as any group and they were able to easily reproduce incredibly complex material on stage. To that end, May's "Son And Daughter" features a Black Sabbath-sounding riff and showcases his extended unaccompanied solo.

"Killer Queen" is a featured track in a medley the band performed that also included tracks such as the jazzy "Bring Back That Leroy Brown" and a portion of the Queen II cut, "The March Of The Black Queen." The band manages to segue between these vastly different songs with ease and the medley would be a mainstay in their set for the rest of their careers, though with different songs on each tour.

Mercury, who was quickly growing into his persona of being one of the greatest rock front men ever, works the crowd during a spirited "Keep Yourself Alive." The track showcased drummer Roger Taylor, who soloed midway through the song. After a potent "Stone Cold Crazy," later covered by Metallica, the band gave a fantastic reading of their first album gem, "Liar." The main set closes with "In The Lap Of The Gods...Revisited," a ballad from Sheer Heart Attack. This was well before the days of "We Are The Champions" ending every Queen show, but the song works well here with its sing-along chorus.

The video is presented in 1080i widescreen 16x9, pillar boxed at 4:3. Thankfully the band has not chosen to crop the original video and have preserved the original 4:3 aspect ratio. The video, while upscaled SD and a tad dark at times, looks great, especially considering its age. Audio options include DTS HD Master Audio 96/24 and LPCM Stereo 96/24. The SDBlu-ray allows for this lossless audio and the mix, while a bit loud, delivers in a big way. Three songs and May's guitar solo from the March show are included as video bonus tracks and the quality, while not as good as the November show, is still better than any bootlegs that used to circulate of this performance.

40 years after these great performances, Queen has finally made them available and in fantastic quality. The performances are exciting and a must-own for any Queen fan. With any luck, this will encourage the band to release further 1970s shows on audio and video.