Nov 222011
 

The 2002 DVD release of the concert bills the back end of the night as “Queen+,” which is apt. After Guns N Roses departs, mostly every song features the classic Queen line-up (May plus drummer Roger Taylor and bassist John Deacon) fronted by a rotating cast of superstars. Though generally the resulting interpretations of songs play it pretty close to the originals, it’s often a treat to see how these noted personalities bring their own talents to bear on classics that many would consider untouchable (if for no other reason than that Mercury’s voice is not an easy one to ape).

As all Queen shows do, this set opens with “Tie Your Mother Down.” In a nice move, our three surviving members handle the first verse/chorus solely, with May taking lead vocals. At that point Joe Elliott (Def Leppard) and Slash (Guns N Roses) come out to give the trio a hand. The grit of the song’s not as well suited to Elliott as “Now I’m Here” back in Leppard’s set, but Slash feels right at home with his bluesy shredding in the solo sections (he also has the same perm as Brian May).

At this point May introduces longtime friend Tony Iommi, guitarist for the groundbreaking British metal outfit Black Sabbath. As if to make this clear, May and Iommi riff on Sabbath’s “Heaven and Hell” for a minute. Iommi sticks around for about half the show, adding mostly rhythm guitar to back up May’s solos. It almost seems unnecessary, but one assumes Iommi wanted to pay tribute to a fellow musician he respected, and he can’t be faulted for that.

Following Iommi comes another British rock icon, the Who’s Roger Daltrey (introduced with some “Pinball Wizard” action). Daltrey and the band rip through a performance of the 1989 rocker “I Want It All,” which fits Daltrey’s powerful voice really well. It’s nice to know he’s still got those pipes in 1991; not all aged rockers are so lucky, as we’re about to see. Daltrey can also join the perm club with Slash and May.

Next we get a performance cut from the original VHS release, Italian singer Zucchero’s take on the ballad “Las Palabras de Amor.” Though the performer’s probably unfamiliar to many audience members in the U.S., he does a great job with the song. With a voice ridiculously full of passion and quite strong, he sings a great rendition of a Queen number that hasn’t necessarily survived the test of time as well as some others.

After that our Extreme friend Gary Cherone returns for “Hammer to Fall,” another heavy rock song. Cherone brings his high-energy crowd antics back with him and turns in another fantastic performance. Iommi also takes his only lead in this song.

Next up comes Metallica’s James Hetfield (unfortunately credited by the DVD as James “Hatfield”) to bark through the 1974 “Stone Cold Crazy.” This choice probably didn’t surprise anyone; Metallica had recorded the song two years previous for a record label compilation and ended up using it as a B-side as well. Hetfield opts to use Metallica’s reworked lyrics here, which are just a bit more violent and profane. 1992’s maybe the heyday of Hetfield’s voice, and he sounds great on this song, bringing the perfect level of intensity to this claustrophobic number. Visually, though, this makes one of the oddest pairings of the night: Queen’s an iconic glam band, and there’s nothing glam about Metallica’s blue collar metal.

James Hetfield has the distinction of providing a lead-in to the night’s biggest disappointment. Some would even call it a train wreck. Led Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant takes the stage next for a two-song set consisting of “Innuendo” and “Crazy Little Thing Called Love.” If you wonder why “Innuendo” hasn’t been included on either home release of the concert, it’s because Plant asked producers to leave it off. Yeah, it’s that bad. Plant can’t hit Mercury’s notes, but darn if he doesn’t keep trying. It sounds awful. And unlike Gary Cherone, who during “Love of My Life” looked actually hurt when he made mistakes, Plant just preens around the stage like a fool as he gleefully butchers the song (he even seems to lose track of where he is during the second verse).

On paper, Plant performing “Innuendo” looks great — an epic song totally cut from Zeppelin’s cloth. In actuality, what results is hideous. On the other hand, nothing about Robert Plant performing “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” should sound appealing — a country song delivered by someone who isn’t a country singer, or at least not in 1991. That said, Plant fares a little better here simply because he does not try to sing out of his range, but we still get an awful mismatch, complete with a fairly embarrassing lead-in from his own band’s “Thank You” (spoiler alert: he bridges the two songs by using the word “because.” In other words, if the sun refuses to shine, he’ll still keep loving you because of that crazy little thing called love. Awful.). All that said, the “Ready Freddie!” chant in the middle of the song provides an especially cool moment, but that has nothing to do with Plant and everything to do with the concert’s environment. An amazing collaboration in theory that instead is completely skipable. Watch the videos if you dare.

After a touching solo debut of an original number called “Too Much Love Will Kill You” from Brian May, U.K. pop sensation Paul Young (of “Every Time You Go Away” fame) takes the stage for a more full performance of “Radio Ga Ga.” Were he and Cherone competing, Young would probably come out on top. He’s just an extremely logical choice for this song, a perfect ’80s pop number. Young also pulls off some slick mic stand tricks.

Then comes Seal (with hair!), just at the beginning of his popularity. He delivers an incredibly sensitive, haunting performance of the Highlander ballad “Who Wants to Live Forever,” one of the best performances of the night. That voice of his just has so much soul.

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  5 Responses to “A Look Back at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert”

Comments (5)
  1. A truly great post….thank you. I had actually forgotten about this odd moment in pop culture history. Performances in that show truly ran the gamut from horrifying to transcendent. I think we need another one of these…

  2. Thank you very much! Yeah, another tribute to Freddie 20 years later could be amazing. Lady Gaga, Brandon Flowers and Billie Joe Armstrong would definitely all line up to take part… I wonder if any metal acts would make the cut this time.

  3. This is definitely one of the greatest shows ever put on! Freddie touched the entire world with his love-embracing energy and lyrics. 20 years after his death, I paid tribute to him on my artist’s blog with a new portrait at http://dregstudiosart.blogspot.com/2011/11/killer-queen-portrait-of-freddie.html This new work of art is inspired by the words of many of Queen’s songs.

  4. Brandt, that’s really great. Thanks for sharing!

  5. I remember calling the radio 1hot line trying to get tickets for this concert, and after 2hours of re-dialling got through. wHat a privalage to apart of this extraordinary event. The one think that I will never forget is the audience, there were couples in there ate 20’s (that was me!)..people in there late 40’s (that’s me now!) children, groups of mates etc,The Freddie Mercury lookalike that was hoisted into the air by his friends got a wave from Roger.It didn’t matter that a couple of the vocals were a tad off,ike your article states, it didn’t matter .a memorable nite.

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