Saturday, July 10, 2010

Queen Live at the Rainbow (1974)

Queen played approximately 700 live performances during their career with roughly two-thirds during the seventies. Their early performances were essentially hard rock, often heavy metal, but the band later developed a more pop rock sound as the years went by. Many of their future trademarks first appeared in these early shows although some could be traced back to the members' previous bands and artistic outlets (e.g., Smile, Ibex and Wreckage).
Freddie Mercury dressed in an overtly flamboyant, Thespian manner and acted with great camp and extravagance while dry ice and banks of colourful lights were used with considerable effect. During the concerts, it was typical for both Brian May and Roger Taylor to have impromptu, instrumental interludes and Mercury to engage in a crowd 'shout-along' whereas it was traditional for Taylor to sing one song. Brian May and John Deacon sang backup vocals. Other recognisable trademarks were Mercury's microphone, which featured only the upper part of the stand with no base (which allegedly first came about while Mercury was with his band "Wreckage" where the bottom of his stand accidentally broke off), a grand piano, and May's hand-built electric guitar, the Red Special, with his inimitable curly guitar-lead. The lengthy guitar solo by May showcased his unique skills and creativity at using a multiple-delay effect which gave rise to a layered, orchestral atmosphere. Only on very rare occasions did Queen allow a non-member to perform, or even appear, on stage with them, the most notable being keyboardist Spike Edney who performed with the band during the eighties. A semi-informal medley of 50's rock 'n roll songs (especially "Big Spender" and "Jailhouse Rock") was also a staple and usually formed the backbone of an encore. The band's logo, which was designed by Mercury shortly before the release of the first album is made up of their star signs and was usually displayed on the front of Taylor's bass drum during their early tours. Some stage costumes worn by Mercury and May on their earliest tours and a few subsequent tours were created by fashion designer Zandra Rhodes.
The concert duration and set-list for each Queen show evolved significantly during its career, eventually leading to shows that exceeded two hours. Queen performed most of the songs released on their catalogue of studio albums during live performances. Queen is remembered for stand-out performances during tours in the seventies which were mainly recorded on videotape. Examples include shows in: Rainbow Theatre (1974), Hammersmith Odeon (1975), Hyde Park (1976), Earls Court (1977), Houston (1977), and the Hammersmith Odeon (1979). None of these recordings have officially been released. Footage from other seventies shows exist, especially from Japan in 1975/1976 and Europe in 1978/1979, but most of this footage is of inferior quality compared to the aforementioned recordings, due to poor camera angles, inadequate lighting and unbalanced sound mixing. Filming of rock concerts was still in its formative stages, and most rock acts placed little importance on how well their shows could be captured on film. In addition, like many acts at the time, most of its early promotional videos featured the band performing the song on-stage as a quasi-live rendition, which could not capture Queen's full live experience.

The Sheer Heart Attack Tour of 1974 was particularly memorable for the fanatical excitement Queen encountered, especially in Japan, despite a substantial number of shows getting cancelled due to health problems of Brian May. Mercury was so impressed by the band's experiences on the Japanese leg that he would sometimes wear a kimono on stage during the encores at shows in other countries. The Australian shows, however, were not so well received. This was the first time where the UK national anthem, "God Save the Queen", was used as the concert finale, and this tour also marked the first instance where the band employed pyrotechnics (during "In the Lap of the Gods...Revisited"), making Queen one of the earliest bands to experiment with this "new" live effect. The regular inclusion of a song called "Hangman" into sets of this time became a talking point among fans, because no studio recording has ever been unearthed. For light humour and novelty, Deacon would play a single note on a triangle, Mercury would sip champagne, and May would play a handful of chords on a ukulele. The song "Liar", which often clocked in at over 8 minutes, was a highlight for many fans, and was perpetually demanded by the audience. During "Keep Yourself Alive," Mercury would frantically shake a tambourine, and, more often than not, throw it into the crowd. On 20 December 1974, Queen was filmed while performing at the Rainbow Theatre in London. This show appears in the 1992 box-set called "Box of Tricks", and clearly represents Queen's blend of stand-out lead vocals, powerful rhythm-section and backing harmonies, and the rich guitar tone that is characteristic of the band's textured live sound. These qualities are especially evident in renditions of Liar and Stone Cold Crazy. Plus, on the credits of the Live At The Rainbow Video, John Deacon is credited, "Bass Guitar, Vocals, Triangle", since he sung on Liar.


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