Queen, like Abba, have many a tribute band around the world in their honour. Some good, some bad, some truly awful. Hell they even have their own official tribute act (no not the one with Adam Lambert…cheeky) called Queen Extravaganza.
What most of these acts have in common is a yellow jacket, white vest, moustache and a set list that rarely diverts from the Live At Wembley ’86. It is as almost as if the earlier 16 years didn’t exist. It frustrates me when people ignore the early years and yes admittedly I am a big fan of all things Queen and so I would say that. As a big fan though I can heartily recommend you dig a little deeper past Live at Wembley (excellent though it is). If you do you will realise what a powerful rock (and roll) band they were in the 70’s. Then again Queen were always a great live act as can be heard with releases covering Live Aid, Rio, Milton Keynes and the superb Live Killers from ‘79 among others. What has been missing until now is an official document of those very early years.
After the delayed, self-titled, debut album in 1973, 1974 saw Queen break through with a hit single (‘Seven Seas of Rhye’) and a top 5 album with, the now revered, Queen II. Exactly eight months later they followed that up with another classic album, Sheer Heart Attack (the creativity of youth never fails to surprise me…). They played two tours in ’74 supporting both albums and playing to audiences in the UK, Europe and North America. The UK shows included two stints (March and November) at the Rainbow Theatre in London and it is those dates that this release celebrates.
Both shows were recorded just a few weeks after the respective albums hit the shops. Not that you would know. This is a band confident in itself. Hearing songs such as ‘Father to Son’, ‘Ogre Battle’, ‘Son and Daughter’, ‘Great King Rat’ and ‘Modern Times Rock and Roll’ live from the March gig remind you that they were one hell of a heavy band in the beginning. Even this early though the commercial slant was there in ‘Keep Yourself Alive’ and ‘Seven Seas of Rhye’ while their playful side was clear with a rock n roll medley including a lively ‘Jailhouse Rock. Sadly not much visual footage survived from the early gig but what is included here is a bonus.
Thankfully the November gig is here in all its theatrical glory both in audio and on film. ‘Now I’m Here’ opens the show with Freddie appearing in typically subtle costume. ‘Killer Queen’ is in the set by now as part of a cracking medley including ‘In The Lap Of Gods’, ‘March of the Black Queen’ and the fabulous ‘Leroy Brown’ which includes Brian May on ukulele. That is a song (and an instrument) that few other heavy rock bands would dream of playing, whereas ‘Stone Cold Crazy’ is a heavy metal classic. It is that variety that stuck with them throughout their career and is probably a major reason for their continued success. I could go on and on but space dictates that I should shut up and let you discover these shows for yourself. Suffice to say what stands out from both gigs is how confident the band is. Musically excellent and in Freddie a natural showman who’s voice was strong even then; mature beyond its years and a stage presence that even in 1974 stands out.
I spent a lot on this deluxe box set (I even went for the Super Deluxe Box Set + T Shirt Bundle) but it is very much worth it. Queen reissues / live releases are usually quality (ignoring Box Of Tricks and Live Magic) but this even includes plenty of stuff to warm the cockles of the most obsessive Queen fan who thinks they have everything. The book is excellent and actually does contain lots of photographs previously unseen. There are reproductions of concerts tickets, programmes, reviews, badges, poster and a tour itinerary (including a warning to the band not to trash their hotel rooms).
The time that has been spent putting the set together is noticeable and it is obvious that it has been done with care. It helps when true fans are the main people behind such things and not just thrown together by record companies. My one gripe with this set is that there is no vinyl included. The box is big enough to accommodate the record in that format and I really feel they should have included it. Having said that I will obviously buy the separate vinyl release (both versions) and place them neatly inside….sucker that I am.
This is no small release. This is major. This is a proper document of an earlier time in an iconic bands history. In an ideal world (my wife and wallet may disagree) next year will bring Live At Hammersmith ‘75 (40th anniversary), 2017 Live in Houston ‘77 (40th anniversary), 2019 a Live Killers full set (40th anniversary) before the bands 50th anniversary complete box set in 2020 / 2021 (toss a coin as to when they formed). Actually I have a feeling that Queen Towers may already be one step ahead…and you know what? I and every other Queen fan can’t wait.