40 Years Ago: Queen Play Their First Show in America
Although their eventual, stadium-packing credentials make a mockery of one’s fading memories: Queen, just like every rock and roll band, had to prove their worth as concert openers before graduating to headliner status. And that’s precisely what Freddie Mercury, Brian May, John Deacon and Roger Taylor were doing on the night of April 16, 1974, when they made their American concert debut in support of Mott the Hoople.
Fact is, because Queen’s debut album had performed so modestly and with their sophomore, ‘Queen II,’ freshly delivered to American record stores just three days earlier (about one month after it’s U.K. release), the group were still, by and large, unknowns in the new world. And, thus, they were effectively starting from scratch as they stormed the stage at Regis College (a conservative Jesuit institution!), in Denver, Colorado, to try and change this state of affairs — one show, and even one fan at a time.
Luckily, the men of Queen enjoyed close friendships with the men of Mott (the two bands having already toured extensively together, back home), and so the latter did not mind that their upstart openers already pranced and posed upon the stage like well-established superstars … or at least Freddie did! In fact, Mercury and May cut quite striking visions in the lavish silk and satin costumes (all black for Freddie; all white for May, in reference to ‘Queen II’s’ “black” and “white” vinyl sides) that were custom-designed, just prior to the tour, by band friend Zandra Rhodes.
Queen’s set, likewise relied heavily on their latest album, at first, powering up with ‘Procession,’ ‘Father to Son,’ ‘Ogre Battle’ and ‘White Queen (As it Began),’ before segueing into select first album highlights like ‘Great King Rat,’ ‘Doing Alright,’ ‘Son and Daughter’ and ‘Keep Yourself Alive’ (plus the never officially released ‘Hangman’), before concluding with ‘Seven Seas of Rhye’ and finally, the explosive ‘Liar.’
Meanwhile, the audience in attendance was initially fairly stunned into slack-jawed, wide-eyed silence by Queen’s arena-sized display of heavy rock opulence, according to eyewitness reports. But they were clearly won over by set’s end, because they shouted the band back on stage for, not one, but two encores, which the band devoted to vintage rock covers (‘Jailhouse Rock,’ Shake, Rattle & Roll’) and, oddly cabaret stomps through Connie Francis’ ‘Stupid Cupid’ and Shirley Bassey’s ‘Big Spender,’ before demolishing the stage with ‘Modern Times Rock ’n’ Roll’s' frantic heavy metal onslaught.
Obviously, headliners Mott the Hoople had their work cut out for them that night, and throughout the ensuing, month-long tour, which sadly ended prematurely and on a sour note for the members of Queen, when Brian May was taken ill with hepatitis and ordered to recuperate at once. So back home to dear old Blighty they went -- undoubtedly disappointed that their American assault had been suspended for the moment, but also confident that that country’s first impression of their band had been both positive and promising, with many triumphs waiting in the next few years.