Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert Review
Anyone who is coming here looking for an in-depth critique of Queen’s music is going to be sorely disappointed. I am a huge Queen fan and the fact I never saw them live is my only regret. As we all know Freddie left us on 24th November 1991. A few months later the remaining members of Queen put on a concert as a tribute to Freddie and for Aids awareness. This took place on 20th April 1992 and was an amazing success.
The concert was split in two halves; the first was performances by several guest bands such as Metallic, Extreme and Spinal Tap. The second half consisted of the remaining members of Queen performing their songs with many different artists. I remember the day distinctly and watched the whole thing with a lump in my throat. Indeed, I am not ashamed to admit that by the end of the day I was blubbing like a baby. Seeing other people singing the songs brought home to me the fact that Freddie would never be strutting a stage again.
This concert has finally been released on DVD in a rather unsatisfactory form. The first half of the concert is missing completely due to the complications caused by music rights. This is deplorable as the proceeds from this release go to the Mercury Phoenix Trust. The artists gave their services freely so why can’t they (or their labels) allow their performances to be released on DVD? Even the second half isn’t intact. A rather inventive and curious performance of Innuendo with Robert Plant is missing completely which is a real shame as he was on top wailing form.
So much for the bad news… The rest of the concert is presented in the order it was performed; here is a lengthy rundown and mini opinion on each track…
Tie Your Mother Down – with Joe Elliot (Def Leppard) & Slash… this is a rousing opening to the concert and Joe Elliot suits this song very well indeed.
I Want it All – with Roger Daltry & Tony Iommi. A great microphone swinging performance from Daltrey as this one keeps the tempo up.
Las Palabras De Amor – with Zucchero. This is a beautiful rendition, but I think Zucherro really struggles with the range needed for this song.
Hammer to Fall – with Gary Cherone & Tony Iommi. A storming crowd pleaser… Cherone won’t keep still and the sound is amazing. This song has rarely sounded better.
Stone Cold Crazy – with James Hetfield & Tony Iommi. This is a muted display from Hetfield. They should have let him play guitar as he obviously misses it. He seems to wander about the stage not knowing quite what to do.
Crazy Little Thing Called Love – with Robert Plant. He can never play a song straight and this one is no different. I love Plant and I don’t even mind when he puts a few “baby babies” into this one.
Too Much Love Will Kill You – Brian May. Sorry Brian, but you can’t sing live. His voice is weak and reedy but he gives it his all. This is a very personal song for him and I take my hat off to him for singing it here.
Radio Gaga – with Paul Young. A very odd choice as Young’s voice doesn’t suit this song at all. As a result this is weak and only the crowd keep it going.
Who Wants to Live Forever – with Seal. This is a haunting and touching performance. Seal has a great voice and this is one of the major standouts in the concert.
I Want to Break Free – with Lisa Stansfield. Well the plucky northern lass gives it her best shot and does a reasonable job with a very difficult song.
Under Pressure – with David Bowie and Annie Lennox. It seems to me that this could’ve been so much better. Lennox doesn’t seem to be able to handle the ‘Beh De Dep” sections at all well. Even so it is a reasonable rendition with a lot of feeling.
All the Young Dudes – with Ian Hunter, David Bowie and Mick Ronson. Good song and good performance, but I don’t think it belongs here at all.
Heroes – with David Bowie & Mick Ronson. Ditto for this song.
’39 – with George Michael. It is blindingly obvious to anyone that George Michael is one the greatest parts of this concert and his stint starts here with a very simple song. He gives it his all and the result is a great version of a song that wasn’t done live very often by Queen.
These are the Days of Our Lives – with George Michael and Lisa Stansfield. A beautiful duet here that brought a tear to my eye, as does much of the last studio album.
Somebody to Love – with George Michael. This is the song of the concert. Shivers were running up and down my spine for the entire duration of this. The vocal range on display here is magnificent and he almost sings it as well as Freddie himself.
Bohemian Rhapsody – with Elton John and Axl Rose. A bizarre pairing with Elton John doing the slower first section and Axl Rose bursting on the stage for the head-banging bit. Overall a great collaboration and the image of Axl and Elton John standing together performing is not one you will see often!
The Show Must Go On – with Elton John and Tony Iommi. This is another outstanding high point. It is performed with great feeling and despite my dislike for Elton John he really nailed this one.
We Will Rock You – with Axl Rose. A great rousing version here with Axl whirling around the stage like a Tasmanian devil.
We Are The Champions – Liza Minnelli & cast. This is the only way to end a Queen concert. This is a moving performance even though Minnelli obviously doesn’t have the style to carry it off properly.
As you can see this is a pretty amazing line-up singing a pretty formidable collection of hits. Even with the weaker songs there is a vibe there that carries you through. Of course my major criticism is one that is unavoidable, none of these singers is Freddie and despite some great performances they never equal what he could do.
The concert footage itself is fairly run of the mill stuff. The cameras switch between long shot, close-up and crowd shots regularly to keep you interested. The cameramen do their job with Radio Gaga, the audience are the focus on this one and very few mistakes are made. Concert footage never looks really exciting on screen but this is probably as good as it gets. Maybe multi-angle would have been a nice gimmick on a track or two but that is nit picking.
Overall Queen fans should buy this disc and I’m sure they’ve already bought it regardless. The fact that the first half of the concert is missing and the second half is incomplete is very disappointing. Maybe one day we will get the whole thing on DVD but until then this release will do nicely. And remember that proceeds go to the Mercury Phoenix Trust so let’s help keep this organisation and Freddie’s memory alive.
On the surface this two-disc edition looks magnificent with extras mainly on disc two. The 24-page booklet contains very little text and just gives you a short history of the Mercury Phoenix Trust. The rest of the booklet is devoted to pictures of the concert and behind-the-scenes footage. The menus on the disc are simple but effective. The concert is split into 20 chapters, one for each song making it easy to navigate.
The choice of aspect ratio here is bizarre. This was originally broadcast live on television in 4:3 but the DVD is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic. As a result the picture is cropped top and bottom. Despite this we don’t seem to lose that much information as the performers are kept well in frame. I would normally complain bitterly about this but I have to say that the composition doesn’t seem to suffer as far as I can see. The picture itself is clean and free of damage, but it is slightly soft in places. The transfer is accomplished with very little artifacting and shadow detail is good.
Again I start this section by pointing out a bizarre choice. There are 2 tracks available here, a DTS track and a stereo track. The bizarre part is that there is no DD5.1 option so those of you with only 5.1 and no DTS will miss out. The DTS track is a cracker, the bass thumps and the sound is rich with plenty of depth. There are no pops or crackles and it is to be commended. The surround mix is good, but not outstanding. Whilst the channel separation at the front is well handled the use of rears is limited to atmospheric crowd noise. You would expect the stereo track to pale into insignificance but that isn’t the case. The track is good and solid with clear vocals and no hiss.
The extras package here is well organised but suffers from excessive duplication of information and footage.
Firstly on disc one there is some rehearsal footage. This isn’t selectable from the menu, only from the concert itself. If there is an “I” in the corner when the song starts then you can press a button on your remote to see that entire song being rehearsed at Bray Studios. The rehearsal footage is interesting but the songs are invariably done exactly the same way as the live version.
The first extra on disc two is a 56-minute documentary about the making of the concert. Most of the participants are interviewed and whilst the majority was shot at the time there are a couple of interview snippets that seem to have been done more recently. The documentary is interesting but not outstanding. The lion’s share of the running time is devoted to showing concert footage that we have already seen on disc one (although here it is 4:3!). The rest is discussing people’s motives for appearing in the concert and what they felt about Queen, their music and of course, Freddie. Because of the duplication of concert footage I suggest you wait a week or so before watching the documentary after the concert. I did this and as a result I enjoyed it immensely. If you watch it immediately after the concert I guess you would be much less impressed.
Next up are six segments that were shown on the video screens at the concert whilst they were changing over between bands. Each piece is about 3-4 minutes long and mostly consists of archive footage of Freddie. Any fan that has seen the Magic Years documentaries or the recent Killer Queen documentary will have seen most of these clips. Even so it is nice to have for the completists among us.
Next is a photo gallery that is split into two parts. The fan photos section consists of a few dozen pictures taken by fans on the day which were submitted to the Queen fan website. The second section is entitled Official Photos that consists of about 50 stills of the concert itself. Both sections are presented as a slideshow with a backing song from the concert. Both sets of pictures are nice to have, but the fan photos section seems more personal and spontaneous.
Overall the extras package is merely above average. There is nothing too exciting here and getting the participants back for an in-depth new documentary would have been far more interesting.
This is a great concert, which has sadly been trimmed severely here. As a result my mark for the main feature is much lower than it otherwise would be. The disc is a mixed bag. The picture is in the wrong aspect ratio and DD5.1 owners will be left scratching their heads with this DTS-only release. The extras are relatively weak and probably don’t deserve a second disc of their own. Overall it’s quite a bleak picture, but the Queen music overrides all of this to make it a must buy for any Queen fan. Let’s hope that future Queen releases will get much better discs.