Personnel: Freddie Mercury (vocals, piano); Brian May (guitar, background vocals); John Deacon (bass guitar, background vocals); Roger Taylor (drums, background vocals).
Recording information: The Hammersmith Odeon (12/24/1975).
Photographer: Douglas Puddifoot.
The first official release of Queen's 1975 Christmas Eve concert at London's Hammersmith Odeon, A Night at the Odeon finds the legendary British rock outfit performing less than a month after the release of its landmark fourth album, A Night at the Opera. One of the major classic rock recordings of the '70s, A Night at the Opera is perhaps best remembered for being the Queen album with "Bohemian Rhapsody," a fact that helped the record debut at number one in the U.K. and number four in the States. When Queen took the stage at the Hammersmith on Christmas Eve 1975, they were already over 20 dates deep into their tour in support of the album. In fact, they had played the Hammersmith a few weeks previously and just returned from a four-night stint in Scotland. Audibly limber and primed for the show, Queen open the concert by ripping into a swaggering version of "Now I'm Here," and proceed to deliver a relentlessly exuberant set of songs culled fairly evenly from their discography to that point. Included are such Queen concert favorites as "Brighton Rock," "Keep Yourself Alive," and "In the Lap of the Gods." What is most illuminating here is the aggressiveness with which Queen play live. In contrast to their meticulously intricate and sometimes delicate multi-layered studio arrangements on Queen, Queen II, Sheer Heart Attack, and A Night at the Opera, Queen are raw, loose, and propulsive here. It's invigorating to hear them kick out "The March of the Black Queen," smartly inserted into a medley bookended by "Bohemian Rhapsody" and played with an aggressive, punk-like intensity. Vocally, Freddie Mercury -- the consummate live performer -- seems to pivot with the energy of the moment, choosing to avoid a few of the higher, more crystalline melody notes when it doesn't serve a given song's more bluesy live arrangement, such as on their rendition of "Killer Queen," coloring the song instead with a gritty but warm resonance that better fits the band's in-the-moment physicality. Together with Brian May's sizzling, ornamented guitar operatics, they transform cuts like "Seven Seas of Rhye" and "White Queen" into showstopping tidal waves of glitter-laden pomp. As live Queen albums go, A Night at the Odeon matches the archival 2014 release Live at the Rainbow '74 for raw rock intensity and charismatic stage derring-do from both May and Mercury. The concert has an epic flow and works as a thumbnail sketch of the band from its inception onward. This is classic '70s Queen, four slim longhaired gents in white pearlized satin bell-bottomed jumpsuits, performing with brute energy and swanlike grace; a band in complete control of its sound, able to bend any song or audience to its will. ~ Matt Collar