Blu-ray Review: The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert

The most complete version of this legendary concert, now on SD Blu-ray.
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In the world of rock and roll, there have been few, if any, greater front men than Freddie Mercury. This was a man who while intensely private off stage, could command an audience of 100,000 and make it feel like an intimate performance. In addition to his showmanship, he had the voice and songs to match. When Mercury died in November 1991 at the age of 45 due to complications from AIDS, the band decided to, in the words of guitarist Brian May, "give him the biggest sendoff in history." They quite possibly may have achieved that on April 20, 1992, at Wembley Stadium in London. Available on Blu-ray for the first time, The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert featured the surviving members of Queen with a who's who of rock royalty paying tribute to the late singer.

The concert, which was originally released on VHS and laser disc, made its DVD debut in 2002 for its tenth anniversary. That version included a documentary about the event and some rehearsal footage, but omitted the opening acts' sets, including a killer Queen medley, pun intended, by Extreme. The Blu-ray version attempts to rectify this by including many (but not all) of the opening act sets, as well as the Queen performances. It's not 100 percent complete (Spinal Tap, U2 and all but one song from Def Leppard are missing for instance), but it's as complete as it's likely ever going to get.

Metallica opened the show with three songs from their self-titled new album, dubbed The Black Album by fans. The band delivered a punishing set, highlighted by a strong "Enter Sandman." This was a band was well on their way to mega stardom and they did a good job of getting the Wembley audience going. Extreme followed with one of the strongest performances of the entire event - a medley of Queen songs. Extreme's members have always professed a love for Queen and it showed, as they mixed big hits such as "Another One Bites The Dust" and "We Will Rock You" with deeper tracks such as "Mustapha."

May joins Def Leppard on stage for a rousing "Now I'm Here," while Bob Geldof's "Too Late God" finally makes an appearance on a U.S. release of the show. Guns 'N' Roses follow with strong takes on "Paradise City" and "Knocking On Heaven's Door," the latter of which featured a quote from Alice Cooper's "Only Women Bleed." Guns were in their "GNR Review" phase at this point, with extra musicians and backup singers, but they still delivered.

The Queen portion of the show begins with Joe Elliott of Def Leppard and Slash joining the band for a blistering "Tie Your Mother Down" that had Elliott and May trading vocals and May and Slash trading guitar leads. Fellow guitar legend, Tony Iommi, joins the proceedings for the first of several songs on "I Want It All." He is greeted by May as the pair play the riff to "Heaven And Hell." The Who's Roger Daltrey (who himself was greeted by the opening lick to "Pinball Wizard") gives a muscular reading of the track.

Robert Plant performs a bit of Led Zeppelin's "Thank You" before giving a fun performance of "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" that finds the singer channeling his inner Elvis. Sadly, his version of "Innuendo" remains unreleased officially. Lisa Stansfield pays homage to the video for "I Want To Break Free" by coming out for the song in curlers and pushing a vacuum. She'd later join George Michael for a duet of "These Are The Days Of Our Lives." Michael gives a stunning rendition of "Somebody To Love" that is worthy of its creator. In a concert filled with great performances, his stand at the very top.

After an energetic "We Will Rock You" courtesy of Axl Rose, Liza Minnelli took the stage for an over-the-top "We Are The Champions" that ended with a group sing-along. While her inclusion may have been somewhat surprising, Mercury was actually a big fan of hers. Still she may have been better suited to a torch song such as "My Melancholy Blues."

The disc is presented in 1080i High Definition Widescreen 16:9 (pillar-boxed 4:3). This is SD material that has been upscaled to HD. Thankfully the original 4:3 aspect ratio has been preserved, unlike the 2002 DVD edition. Audio options include LPCM Stereo 48/16 and DTS HD High Resolution Audio 48/24. While the video is improved over previous releases, it is the audio that really benefits here. Bonus features include the tenth anniversary documentary, as well as rehearsal footage, photo galleries and Mercury Phoenix Trust facts.

The music world hasn't seen the likes of Mercury before or since. His unique voice and persona are not easily replaced, as May and drummer Roger Taylor would surely attest. Still, the body of work he left behind is one of the greatest in rock and roll history and as a performer he had few equals. While it would have been nice to have the complete show finally available, the vast majority of it is presented here in its best quality yet. That alone makes this disc essential for all Queen fans.