News Column

Review: New DVD Releases Hit The Mark

November 16, 2013


Nov. 16--Good band chemistry is difficult to explain, and it's often more difficult to find.

New DVD releases from Carlos Santana, John McLaughlin and Queen repeatedly demonstrate how making a musical group gel is so much more than just hitting the right notes and keeping a steady tempo. Chemistry is the food and water of a successful band, as demonstrated in "Santana & McLaughlin -- Invitation to Illumination: Live in Montreux 2011" and "Queen -- The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert." Without the ability to follow and anticipate band members' next musical moves, musicians can find themselves screeching helplessly into a sonic train wreck.

Six-String Serenity

Free of bum notes and timid musicianship, "Santana & McLaughlin -- Invitation to Illumination" mostly steers clear of a greatest-hits mind set. Instead, Santana and McLaughlin (Mahavishnu Orchestra) dig deep into jazz rock, Latino rhythms and musical passages that dance on the fringes of progressive rock.

Santana's guitar style merges seamlessly with the fret work of McLaughlin, giving weight to "Echoes of Angels," "The Life Divine," "Dear Lord," "The Creator Has a Master Plan" and "Venus/Upper Egypt." For most bands, an interpretation of Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" could be a huge, fatal misstep, but not for Santana and McLaughlin. Their instrumental take adds spice to the FM radio favorite, while Santana's wife, Cindy Blackman Santana, alternates between incredible, blistering strikes of her drums and soft, thought-out taps on her cymbals. She, like all of the band members, plays as a peerless pro.

And Then There Were Three

Freddie Mercury, Queen's lead singer and multi-instrumentalist, who died of bronchial pneumonia resulting from AIDS in 1991, is hailed by many as the greatest male rock voice in history. The larger-than-life front-man was gifted with a multi-octave voice that, even when AIDS pushed his deteriorating body deep into the looming shadow of death, remained powerful, distinct and passionate.

Filmed after Mercury's death in April 1992, "The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert" DVD is rock-solid proof at the versatility and charismatic quality of the Queen leader. Celebrity guests like Metallica, Guns N' Roses, David Bowie, Roger Daltrey, Elton John, Annie Lennox, Def Leppard, Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi and Liza Minnelli join Queen survivors Brian May (guitar), John Deacon (bass) and Roger Taylor (drums) for a wonderfully loud memorial inside a packed Wembley Stadium. Although some of the guests have trouble hitting Mercury's high vocal notes -- who wouldn't? -- the spirit and heart of the evening remain infectious.

When footage of the concert first aired on TV in 1992, many viewers inaccurately predicted George Michael would replace Mercury as Queen's main vocalist. Make no mistake -- Michael comes within shooting distance of making Queen's "Somebody to Love" his own, and the pre-show rehearsal footage of Michael watching Bowie and Lennox run through the majestic "Under Pressure" could be evidence that Michael indeed wanted to join Queen at the time.

But "All the Young Dudes," performed brilliantly by a saxophone-playing David Bowie and ex-Mott the Hoople members Ian Hunter and Mick Ronson, and the should-have-been-a-massive-hit "I Want to Break Free" performed by a vacuum-pushing Lisa Stansfield, are equally thrilling. Extreme turns in a surprisingly strong, early evening set, unleashing a Queen medley that surely would have made the social butterfly-like Mercury himself grin with pride.


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