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One of the biggest events in rock history.
When Queen's phenomenally talented lead singer Freddie Mercury passed away in late 1991, the surviving band members determined that they wanted to do something special to honor his legacy and to raise AIDS awareness (as complications related to the disease were responsible for the singer's death). As such, The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert was organized, eventually taking place in London's Wembley Stadium in the spring of 1992. The outdoor show gathered a host of talented rockers and drew a crowd of around 72,000 people, though it was also broadcast on television and radio for countless viewers/listeners. More than twenty years after this historic event, the concert is being released on Blu-ray for your viewing pleasure. Removed from the sentiment of the moment, how well does the music hold up after all these years?
Reasonably well for the most part, but it's important to note that this Blu-ray release is more about commemorating a significant moment in rock history and less about delivering a knockout concert. Considering that the full-frame image never really looks all that great and that the sound is sometimes quite muddy, you shouldn't go in expecting the level of quality one usually gets from a hi-def concert release. Even so, it looks and sounds good enough to allow the experience to remain a fairly enjoyable one.
The main concert (comprised almost entirely of all-star Queen covers) is preceded by a show that mostly allows some noted bands to do their own thing. Unfortunately, this material has been truncated for this release. You still have several songs from Metallica, a Queen medley performed by Extreme, two songs from Guns n' Roses and single tunes from Def Leppard and Bob Geldof. However, two Def Leppard songs are M.I.A., along with two additional Extreme songs, Spinal Tap's appearance and satellite performances from U2 and Mango Groove. What's left is enjoyable enough, but it's a disappointment that so much has been trimmed.
However, the central performance is largely left intact (save for Robert Plant's performance of "Innuendo"), and it's certainly the more compelling and focused of the concert's two parts. I honestly can't think of another singer capable of matching or surpassing Mercury's vocals (apologies to Paul Rodgers), but it's a treat to hear so many different artists deliver their own take on these well-known tunes. The show is front-loaded with the real rock n' roll performers, as the likes of Joe Elliot, Slash, James Hetfield, Roger Daltry and Robert Plant dig their way through Queen's catalogue. It's good stuff (particularly Daltry's take on "I Want It All"), but the show doesn't really soar until it unleashes its supply of all-star glam rockers.
David Bowie and Annie Lennox deliver a compelling take on "Under Pressure" (with the two singers clinging to each other as if the world's about to end by the song's conclusion), and then Bowie wanders off in his own direction by playing saxophone while Ian Hunter sings "All the Young Dudes," performing "Heroes" with the rest of Queen and then surprising everyone by offering a straight, sincere reading of The Lord's Prayer. George Michael more or less nails "Somebody to Love," and does a serviceable job on "'39" and "These Are the Days of Our Lives." Elton John and Axl Rose team up for a splendid "Bohemian Rhapsody" (with John covering the plaintive early section and Rose taking the more energetic back half), and John proceeds to deliver the strongest performance of the night with a tremendous cover of "The Show Must Go On." It's a little unusual to see John stomping around the stage with a microphone in his hand rather than sitting at the piano, but it's a tune that proves to be perfectly suited to his sensibilities. Everything wraps up in charmingly bombastic fashion, as Liza Minnelli (one of Mercury's favorite performers) leads an all-star sing-a-long of "We Are the Champions."
As I mentioned earlier, The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert (Blu-ray) isn't exactly a knockout in the A/V department. The image occasionally looks as if it's been transferred from a VHS tape—at its best it's still lacking in detail and depth. Don't expect this to look a whole lot better than it would have if you had watched it on television when it was originally aired. The DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio mix is similarly problematic, with some tunes sounding fairly strong ("Somebody to Love") while others have all kinds of balance issues ("Under Pressure"). When the participants deign to speak (Bowie proves to be the chattiest of the bunch), it can be a little difficult to make out words here and there. A decent supplemental package attempts to help make up for this: you get a lengthy documentary produced for the 10th anniversary of the concert, a few rehearsal performances (featuring David Bowie, Annie Lennox and George Michael), a photo gallery and some info on the Mercury Phoenix Trust (all proceeds from the sale of this release are going to this organization).
The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert may not be an ideal way to showcase your fancy HDTV or speaker system, but it's an enjoyable show featuring energetic performances from an impressive gallery of rock n' roll legends. Plus, by purchasing a copy you'll be supporting a good cause. Recommended.
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