Thursday, 26 December 2019

Queen - The Live Recordings


The albums covered here are:-

Queen On Air: Live At The BBC (1973-1977)
Live At The Rainbow (1974)
A Night At The Odeon (1975)
Live Killers (1979)
Queen Rock Montreal (1981)
Queen On Fire (1982)
and Live At Wembley (1986)

Scroll down to read the reviews chronologically.



Live recordings at the BBC Studios from 1973-1977

This review is for the two disc edition which, thankfully, doesn't include any "DJ chatter" between tracks as the full six disc one does. Just the music, which is fine by me.

It is good good to hear this great band performing in the BBC studios between 1973-1977. The sound is SUPERB on some of these cuts. Just listen to the opening My Fairy KingKeep Yourself Alive and one of my favourites, the beautiful Doing All Right with its great "heavy bit". Roger Taylor's drumming ROCKS. John Deacon's bass is to the fore and Brian May's guitar providing some wonderful interjections. Freddie Mercury's voice is on top form. Incredible to think it was only early 1973 when these tracks were laid down. I love hearing Queen as a rock band. Not a Crazy Little Thing Called Love or Seaside Rendezvous within earshot.

Great to hear the bluesy b side See What A Fool I've Been get a workout and Liar is always a full-on pleasure as is the wonderfully heavy (at times) Son And Daughter. Brian May certainly earns his corn here. As does Taylor. The sound quality dips just a tiny amount on the December 1973 cuts, but certainly not enough to detract from the listening experience. By 1974, the quality is back up for a beautifully heavy Nevermore and a bevy of Queen classics from the forthcoming Sheer Heart Attack album in October 1974's performances. Check out Now I'm Here and Flick Of The WristWhite Queen is always a pleasure too.

Fast forward to 1977. It is a shame there is nothing covering the 1975-76 period though. The two versions of We Will Rock You have a bizarre narration by a woman about Buddah which (presumably) was a radio mistake at the time that has to stay there! A heavy rendition of the ballad Spread Your Wings, a mix of It's Late and Get Down Make Love precede My Melancholy Blues and this wonderful trip through Queen's BBC Sessions in the 1970s is over.

1973-1974 was my favourite era for Queen as a band. Very enjoyable. I don't mind hearing Keep Yourself AliveLiarSon And Daughter and Modern Times Rock 'n' Roll twice either. Just the way these complete BBC Sessions are. Same for Thin Lizzy and Led Zeppelin.



Two live concerts from London's Rainbow from 1974

Both gigs are from London's legendary Rainbow Theatre, one from April 1974, highlighting material from Queen II, the other sees the band returning in triumph in November of the same year, hot on the heels of the chart success of Killer Queen and the album Sheer Heart Attack.

The sound quality is excellent considering the date of recording, as good as we could possibly hope for. Quite why it took forty-odd years to release this material is both astonishing and annoying. I would have loved to hear this in 1975-76.

I wish Queen had performed The March Of The Black Queen in its magnificent entirety as opposed to playing 1 minute 35 seconds of it as part of a "medley". Same with Killer Queen. The use of "medleys" was one thing that annoyed me about Queen's live performances. The "rock n roll medley" was bad enough, but understandable, but when they did it with their own songs, it frustrated.

Never mind, there is some excellent material on here - great versions of Father To Son, Ogre BattleWhite QueenLiar and a superbly powerful Now I'm Here.

A great memory of when Queen really rocked. Forget Radio Ga Ga etc. This was Queen at their best.



Recorded live at Hammersmith Odeon, December 24th, 1975

This was recorded on Christmas Eve, 1975 as a BBC TV special, live from Hammersmith Odeon. I remember watching on a tiny portable 6" screen black and white TV in my bedroom. Now it is available as a CD with accompanying DVD, which is great, after all these years. The music is my thing, so that is what I shall comment on. The sound quality is absolutely superb, much better, in fact, than Queen's Live Killers from 1979, which, for ages, was their only official live album. God knows why this was allowed to rot in the vaults for so long.

Queen were at the height of their first era powers here. Bohemian Rhapsody was at number one and their popularity had soared. For me, this was Queen at their very best. You can't beat 1974-1977 and Freddie with long hair, black fingernails and frilly blouses, none of that macho eighties stuff :). As always with Queen live gigs, however, they insisted on doing a "medley" at one point. Did they ever play Killer Queen in its entirety? I doubt it, which was a shame. Also, the magnificence of The March Of The Black Queen deserves a full performance, not just a minute and a half. Sacrilege. On this set, even Rhapsody is included as part of the medley, which again is a mistake and this segment all sounds very clumsy. Bring Back That Leroy Brown and Son And Daughter are also frustratingly curtailed.

That has always been my negative over Queen live sets. The rest of my points are always positives. Now I'm HereOgre Battle and the beautiful, underrated White Queen are delivered superbly, full of resonance and sheer live power. One forgets just what a muscular, heavy outfit Queen at this period were. This was an excellent live performance from a group really at the top of their game. Forget all that later stadium stuff, venues like the Hammersmith Odeon were made for Queen to rock the floorboards. And they did. Wonderfully.



Live recordings from early 1979

My proper Queen fandom spreads from 1974 to 1978, so this, their first official live album arrived right at the time I was leaving Queen behind as new wave full took over. Although I prefer subsequently-released live albums from earlier periods, such as Live At The Rainbow and A Night At The Odeon, I guess this is a reasonable live document of where Queen were in 1979. They were in a transitional period, about to enter one of their least successful phases at the start of the eighties, but still clinging on to what made them a great band in the 1974-1977 years. This is actually quite a heavy album, and although its tracks are taken from several live shows from early 1979, it plays as if it were one full concert.

It was given a bit of negative criticism upon release and I am not quite sure why, although until this latest remaster, I have always found the sound a bit muffled. Not so anymore, it is solid, clear and powerful and has a raw, authentic live feeling about it, which is always good. In early 1979, it has to be said, though, concerts and material like this were becoming very passé in the face of the punk/new wave onslaught. Queen were already struggling with a relevance problem, only just over three years from ruling the world.

Queen always had an irritating habit of performing three of four songs in a "medley" format in the early part of their shows, so songs like Death On Two Legs, Killer Queen, Bicycle Race and I'm In Love With My Car are frustratingly cut short while the awful Get Down, Make Love, with its pointless and indulgent sound effects, is extended far longer than it should be. Brighton Rock is also given a full workout, although I don't mind that. You're My Best Friend is also only given two minutes, though. It is interesting to hear the later to be iconic Don't Stop Me Now played as just a track from the new album (Jazz). Its performance is a bit messy, to be honest. Overall, however, this is not a bad set. You can never get too much of Now I'm Here or Keep Yourself Alive.




Recorded live in Montreal, November 1981

This was a Queen live album from the period that saw them at the height of their irrelevance (comparatively), for they were still able to sell out an arena/stadium. However, the punk, new wave, post punk, two tone and new romantic genres had left the band as a bit of a cultural beached whale. Their 1984-86 renaissance was yet to take place and the set of this live album was the bridge between 1979's Live Killers and the summer of 1982's Queen On Fire. Where it is preferable, for me, over Queen On Fire is that there are none of the clumsy funk offerings from Hot Space that are in that set. The 1974 Rainbow concerts and the 1975 Hammersmith Odeon one are still the best live Queen albums, in my opinion. That was my favourite phase of the career.

Of course, Queen always played live with a vigour and vibrancy that made them an irresistible live act and this is certainly true here, although what is odd about this one is that the Canadian crowd are not familiar with a lot of the material, so songs are introduced to relatively sparse cheers, not the rapturous receptions they got in Milton Keynes the following summer, for example. It means that although the sound quality and performance is very good, a little of the electric live atmosphere is lost. That sound quality, however, is eminently superior to both Live Killers and Live At Wembley. One low point of the album, it has to be said, is when Keep Yourself Alive morphs into the dreadful "drum and tympani solo" followed by the messy "guitar solo". Queen should have left the worst of the seventies back in the seventies. There were always messy parts in Queen shows, the early set "medley" was another infuriating one. The sets often lacked continuity because of this. This one is no different.



Recorded live in Milton Keynes in 1982

This was Queen at the nadir of their career, for me, long after their glory years of 1974-77 and before their Live Aid-inspired second coming of 1985-86. It was at the time of their venture into funk and synthesiser based riffs described, embarrassingly, by Freddie Mercury on stage in this show as being in the "funk, black category, whatever you call it...". It was a bit of a shame that Mercury felt he had to apologise for this, but it was a considerable deviation from the band's usual rock fare. Furthermore, I loved Queen in their 1974-77 period and I love funk too, but, for me, Queen and funk were never particularly comfortable bedfellows. Fair play to them for giving it a go, but it always sounded more than just a little self-conscious to me, as if they were just trying too hard.

Queen were a band struggling to stay relevant at this time, despite their later huge resurgence in popularity, and I always got the impression that the audience here were turning up out of loyalty, old stagers from the mid-seventies who hadn't moved on to punk and new wave and they put up with some of the material out of politeness. The band had yet to gain the new audience that 1985 would give them.

Regarding the sound quality, it has that certain je ne sais quoi that outdoor recordings often have that makes them ever so slightly more muffled and indistinct than their indoor equivalents. Queen Live At Wembley suffers even more for this. It is ok, sonically, but certainly not perfect.



Recorded live at Wembley Stadium in 1986

This was Queen one year after storming the same Wembley stage at Live Aid returning to greet thousands of their new-found fans and many of those who had stuck with them through thick and thin from back in 1973. This was moustachioed, yellow-jacketed, white-trousered Freddie Mercury and Queen at the height of their "phase two" powers and, contrary to as portrayed (deliberately) erroneously in the biopic Bohemian Rhapsody, Mercury had not received his AIDS diagnosis at this point. His, and the band's performance is full of vibrancy and vitality. It is largely a good set (save the early set "medley" that blighted Queen gigs throughout their career, this time cutting short Seven Seas Of Rhye and Tear It Up). It is great for old fans like me to hear In The Lap Of The Gods (Revisited) given an outing, but this is all that is really there for 1973-74 fans apart from the brief burst of Rhye and the ubiquitous, glorious Now I'm Here.

I have always been firmly in the "Queen are better when they rock" camp and in this respect I am catered for in the magnificent heavy rock of One Vision, the afore-mentioned Tear It UpTie Your Mother Down and Hammer To Fall. The recent chart converts are kept more than happy with A Kind Of Magic, played far heavier than on the hit single, the singalong, hand-clapping Radio Ga GaI Want To Break Free and Friends Will Be Friends.

It is a sad moment to hear Mercury tell the crowd the band will "stay together until they well die" and then sings Who Wants To Live Forever. This statement also gives the lie to the biopic's story that the band split up in 1984, before Live Aid. As Mercury said, they never split up and they never would, darlings.

It is pretty much a joyful romp from beginning to end as Queen command the huge stadium crowd with ease. The one negative is the sound, which has always been slightly muffled, although the most recent remaster has alleviated this somewhat. It still has that sound that outdoor concerts always have,  taken away a bit by the wind. I only had the privilege of seeing Queen live once, at Earl's Court in 1977. I always regretted not seeing them in this period. This album makes up for that.