On April 20, 1992 some of the biggest names in rock joined the remaining members of Queen to pay homage to singer Freddie Mercury, who passed away the previous November from AIDS-related illness. Over 70,000 enthusiastic Freddie fans turned out at historic Wembley Stadium Easter Monday to celebrate Mercury’s life and music—with all proceeds from their tickets funneled toward AIDS awareness through the Phoenix Foundation.
Abridged versions of the David Mallet-directed concert video have been issued, including a VHS tape and an edited 10th anniversary DVD. But Eagle Rock’s new 3-DVD re-master (issued with Queen’s approval) chronicles the entire show, devoting one disc apiece to the openers, the main set with Queen, and extensive rehearsal / documentary footage of the day-long festivities. Any one of these alone would be worth the admission price, given the caliber of artists on hand, the power of their performances, and the timelessness of the material presented. Packaged together for a budget price, the 2013 update of The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert becomes a must-add title to every rock aficionado’s video library.
Disc One boasts warm-up sets and speeches courtesy such giants as Metallica, Def Leppard, and (via satellite) U2, while Disc Two finds Mercury’s Queen cohorts joining forces with such heavy-hitting vocalists as Robert Plant (Led Zeppelin), Roger Daltry (The Who), David Bowie, and Elton John for a star-studded survey of beloved Queen classics—and a few surprises. A third DVD gives viewers an inside look at Freddie’s life and work, concert run-throughs with Bowie and others, and a full-length documentary covering Mercury’s time fronting one of rock’s all-time great bands.
Hot on the heels of their breakthrough eponymous “Black Album” (and with bassist Jason Newsted still on board), Metallica rouse the packed enormo-drome with the then-new tracks “Enter Sandman,” “Sad But True,” and “Nothing Else Matters.” Two decades away from their Rock Hall induction, the black-clad bashers from San Francisco deliver a loud, fist-pumping set following an intro by Queen bassist John Deacon.
Though their career hit a plateau not long after this event, Extreme prove themselves worthy of the attention they’d been receiving with an incendiary medley of Queen cuts like “Keep Yourself Alive,” “Bicycle Race,” “Fat Bottomed Girls,” and “Another One Bites the Dust,” their three-part harmonies fleshing out the mix. Lean, shaggy-haired singer Gary Cherone and guitarist Nuno Bettencourt navigate A Night at the Opera’s “Love of My Life” in full before unveiling their own chart-topping acoustic chestnut “More Than Words.”
British hard rock stalwarts Def Leppard serve up Hysteria and Adrenalize tracks “Animal” and “Let’s Get Rocked,” with singer Joe Elliott (in Union Jack pants) displaying a bit of Mercury’s signature charisma. The quintet then welcome guitarist May onstage for a muscular stab at Sheer Heart Attack’s “Now I’m Here,” with bassist Rick Savage thumping along to Ric Allen’s sturdy beats and guitarist Phil Collen trading riffs with May.
Ex-Boomtown Rats singer Bob Geldof—who masterminded the Live Aid charity show at Wembley seven years prior—runs through the Zydeco-flavored “Too Late God” in a gaudy floral suit before heavy metal movie comedians Spinal Tap (Christopher Guest, Michael McKeon, Harry Shearer) trumpet “The Majesty of Rock” from their “comeback” album Break Like the Wind. Bono, Edge, Larry, and Adam from U2 check in live from Sacramento with their own Achtung, Baby! hit “Until The End of the World,” then turn things over to Guns ‘n’ Roses for “Paradise City” and the fitting Dylan cover “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.” Sporting dated white spandex shorts, bandana, and leather jacket, G ‘n’ R singer Axl Rose screeches and spins as guitarist Slash picks away, cigarette dangling from his lips.
The first disc concludes with another broadcast feed from Afro-pop sensations Mango Groove and a heartfelt eulogy / public service message by actress Elizabeth Taylor, who encourages spectators to respect themselves…and protect themselves.
“Don’t worry, I’m not going to sing!” announces the actress, who passed away in 2011.
For the main set, the surviving Queen members—guitarist May, drummer Roger Taylor, and (in one of his last concert appearances) bassist Deacon—weave through a marathon of magical Mercury cuts, welcoming a parade of celebrity stand-ins to cover Freddie’s parts. Def Leppard’s Elliott scorches through “Tie Your Mother Down” with Slash augmenting May’s sizzling leads. Daltry joins Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi (of “Iron Man” fame) on snippets of “Heaven and Hell” and “Pinball Wizard” before placating the masses with triumphant 1989 Queen smash “I Want It All,” The Who singer whirling his microphone cable like a lasso.
Italian rocker Zucchero interprets “Las Palabras de Amor (The Words of Love)” from 1982’s Hot Space, then Cherone returns (with Iommi) for The Works’ “Hammer to Fall.” Mustachioed Metallica singer James Hetfield howls on Sheer Heart Attack’s “Stone Cold Crazy,” with Taylor singing the high notes from behind his drum kit. Twirling in a regal blue shirt, Robert Plant mashes Queen’s “Innuendo” with the similarly-stomping “Kashmir,” zips through Zeppelin’s “Thank You,” and channels Elvis on a supercharged “Crazy Little Thing Called Love.”
Keyboardist Spike Edney—long regarded as Queen’s fifth member—accompanies May on the poignant original “Too Much Love Will Kill You,” making for a nice breather between up-tempo numbers. Paul Young leads the sing-along (and clapping) on “Radio Ga-Ga,” then lends his husky croon to “Who Wants to Live Forever” from A Kind of Magic (and the Highlander soundtrack). Songbird Lisa Stansfield does the belting on The Works’ defiant “I Want to Break Free,” pushing a prop vacuum cleaner (like Mercury did in the music video).
Bowie duets with The Eurythmics’ Annie Lennox (barely recognizable under face paint) on the transcendent “Under Pressure” and—in what was perhaps the night’s most stirring, lump-in-the-throat moment—recites The Lord’s Prayer. Bowie pals Ian Hunter and Mick Ronson get the audience swaying en masse on Mott the Hoople’s “All the Young Dudes,” assisted by Def Lep’s Elliott and Collen.
View the concert trailer here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=KDEcUtdtld8
Wham’s George Michael—sunglassed and razor-stubbled—electrifies with “39,” duets with Stansfield on “These Are The Days of Our Lives,” and nearly steals the show with his dynamic lead on “Somebody to Love.” Then, in one of rock’s unlikeliest pairings, Elton John and Axl Rose (G ‘n’ R) tag-team the verses for “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Elton goes it alone (thankfully) for “The Show Must Go On,” then leaves the cheerleading to Rose for “We Will Rock You.” Liza Minnelli guides the ceremony to its climactic finish with “We Are the Champions,” with vocal help from the entire ensemble.
Disc Three features an hour-long documentary that takes fans to rehearsals at Bray Studios with Bowie, Lennox, Michael, and English popper Paul Young. Put together for the show’s 10th anniversary, the film also contains interviews with May, Taylor, and Deacon, who describe the difficulty in saying goodbye to Freddie and soldiering on.
“I’m being jolly about it,” admits May. “But there’s this part of me thinking he’s going to come walking through the door.”
Daltry says his heart goes out to the Queen members: The Who endured similar tragedy with the sudden death of drummer Keith Moon in 1978. Speaking on the AIDS epidemic, Plant concedes “there’s a real problem out there,” and that the concert is more about spotlighting the crisis and saluting mercury than “career exposure” for participants. But one of the most complimentary quotes arrives courtesy Axl Rose, of all people:
“When I was a kid I was told rock ‘n’ roll wasn’t music, that it wasn’t art,” says the Guns ‘n’ Roses singer.
“Queen was my proof they were wrong.”
Apart from documenting the Mercury tribute and entertainment industry push for AIDS awareness, this expanded “definitive” multidisc set serves as a time capsule from an era when rock stars teased their hair and dressed more flamboyantly, mere months before the grunge flood tide saw millionaire rockers opting for blue jeans and sneakers like everybody else. Abundant (and deserved) praise is lavished upon Freddie’s memory, but also touching are the many scenes wherein legends like Bowie, Daltry, and Plant embrace one another and smile, pretense-free, egos checked at the gate for the greater good.