31 March 1974, Queen performed their landmark headlining gig at The Rainbow in London, England

The sold-out show (which cost just £1.20 per ticket) marked a turning point in the young band’s career – and secured Queen as one of the era’s most exciting new acts.

The show was properly recorded and was later proposed to be the band’s first live album, but ultimately shelved. It was eventually released officially in 2014.

Freddie is seen in an elegant new white outfit at the beginning of the show, created by designer Zandra Rhodes. Rhodes explained in 2013, “I hadn’t designed any menswear before then, but I realised he’d need a flamboyant look.” She would design outfits for the rest of the band for their next UK tour in the fall.

Ahead of this Queen had been steadily building momentum, following the release of their self-titled 1973 debut, and supporting glam rockers Mott the Hoople on a UK tour. The offer of a headlining tour around Queen II, however, came as a (very pleasant) shock.

“We’d done our support tour and then promoter Mel Bush came to us – he was a pretty top promoter at the time – and he said ‘I think you guys can headline the next tour’, and we were surprised,” recalls Brian May in the mini-doc.

“I remember thinking ‘Wow, that’s very quick,’ because normally you would support a few acts and build a following, and then you would go on your headline tour. But he said ‘No, I feel you can do it, you can sell out all these places’ and he gave us a big list – Newcastle City Hall, Manchester’s Free Trade Hall or whatever, you know all the sort of classic gigs that rock bands do, and he said ‘you can fill all these and at the end, we’re going to do the Rainbow.’”

Here is a review by Rosemary Horide, a major force behind Queen’s early popularity:

“What a night! It was a finale of the big Queen tour throughout the whole country. It was the conclusive evening for their reputation. Their lift was meteorical. So many people had challenged if Queen had the authority to play in such a prestigious place as the Rainbow. Freddie appeared in his new specially eccentric white “eagle’s” costume, bouncing and miming with even bigger ecstasy than ever and sang even better than any time before. One couldn’t believe it’s the first time of Queen appearing themselves in such an important place. After a while they got used to taking advantage of the big stage. After two encores they left the stage during a big applause of the audience.”

It was noted, Freddie quickly changed from his white outfit to a black one during Brian’s solo during near the end of Great King Rat. On the next couple tours he would change during Son And Daughter, as it was a much longer frame of time. His white and black looks complement the running themes of the Queen II album, both visual and conceptual. In a 1975 interview Roger Taylor explained their choice of attire: “It provides a good contrast, I think, on stage. We like most of the actual colour, apart from the extremes of black and white, to come from the lights on stage” (in a mid-80s interview John Deacon reminisced about how Freddie and Brian dominated the songwriting in the early days but that Roger was very involved “on behalf of the overall image of the band and how to actually be a successful rock band”).

This is the earliest known performance of White Queen. Similar to the BBC version recorded a few days later on April 3, it’s a bit more sparse (although no less intense) compared to subsequent tours.

Roger Taylor’s energetic Modern Times Rock ‘n’ Roll is played at this show. While the studio version had Roger doing the lead vocal, Freddie would sing it in concert. The vocal line had to be rearranged, as his vocal range is not nearly as high as Roger’s. The song would be performed often over the next few years.

“We’d like to end with a number we usually end with, for those who’ve seen us. It’s called Liar,” declares Freddie. Brian breaks a string around the breakdown of the song (when Freddie sings “Listen!”). He unplugs and switches to his Fender Strat, as seen in the last two pictures above. His tone is much different from this point onward. For years it has been said that the power went out during Liar at this show, but this actually occurred at one of the Rainbow Theatre shows in November.

After the show, a teenaged Simon Townshend, younger brother of The Who’s Pete Townshend, told Freddie Mercury backstage that Queen were “much better than my brother’s band.” Freddie was thrilled with the compliment, even coming from a 13 year old. Interestingly enough, in a 2005 Uncut interview, Brian May declared his belief that The Who were the better of the two bands.

Queen was officially here to stay.

Many years later, Brian May reflected on playing the Rainbow: “We had a dim, distant vision of what Madison Square Garden might be like in America, but really no idea of what it was.” He added, “After that, everything was a bonus. Everything was something which I had never even dreamed about.”

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