Music Blu-ray Review: Live at Knebworth

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Live at Knebworth brings the June 30, 1990 concert at the Knebworth House (in Hertfordshire, England) to Blu-ray for the first time. The marathon, 11-act super-show, a benefit for Nordoff-Robbins Music Therapy and The Brit School for Performing Arts, unfolded in front of some 120,000 fans. I remember listening to the entire concert on the radio, as a live feed was broadcast in the U.S. by Westwood One. This Eagle Rock Blu-ray is the three-hour edit that has been previously available on DVD, but this edition boasts terrific DTS-HD MA 5.1. The 1.33:1 video was shot in standard definition to begin with (it was 1990, after all) so don’t expect miracles.

While it would’ve been tremendous to have the complete show (or at least some previously unavailable performances as a bonus), this is an essential show for classic rock fans. Consider the lineup: Paul McCartney, Pink Floyd, Robert Plant (joined by Jimmy Page for two tunes), Eric Clapton, Elton John, Dire Straits, and Genesis. There’s also some Phil Collins solo for good measure. While Tears for Fears, Status Quo, and Cliff Richard & The Shadows may not hold as much immediate across-the-board appeal, their sets hold up fine (particularly the high-energy Status Quo).

The day-long concert was marred by some windy, rainy weather and the presentation is edited in confounding, non-chronological order. For instance, McCartney was the penultimate act (before Floyd closed things out), but he’s presented fourth here. It results in a jarring, day-night-day-again lack of continuity, but I guess it’s a minor gripe. Speaking of McCartney, he was in the midst of his ’89-90 world tour that marked his return to the road after a decade off. Hearing him play Beatles classics like the ones offered here—“Hey Jude,” “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “Birthday”—was still a very new treat as he hadn’t done these songs live before that tour. There’s also a funky, sample-laden rendition of “Coming Up” featuring co-lead vocals by Hamish Stuart (formerly of the Average White Band, then rhythm guitar/secondary bassist in McCartney’s touring band).

Possibly the best set of the show is the ultra-rockin’ four-tune Robert Plant showcase. Jimmy Page joins Plant for a positively crushing version of Led Zeppelin’s “Wearing and Tearing” (from Coda, a song Zeppelin never had a chance to play live). The duo also storms through “Rock and Roll” backed by Plant’s band, with which we hear him do “Tall Cool One” and “Hurting Kind.” Other highlights include a rip-roaringly entertaining Genesis medley that finds Phil Collins donning shades and a black Fedora and making like Elwood Blues. They begin with “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love” and do further covers, navigating stop-on-a-dime transitions.

Again, for fans of British classic rock, the lineup speaks for itself. Clapton does a couple numbers on his own before joining Dire Straits (Clapton solos on “Money for Nothing”), who are in turn joined by Elton John (with Clapton remaining on guitar!). The only real disappointment comes when you glimpse the full set lists for each artist and lament how much isn’t here. From Pink Floyd we only get “Shine on You Crazy Diamond” (featuring Candy Dulfer playing some mean sax solos) and “Run Like Hell,” meaning five songs (including “Wish You Were Here,” “Money,” and “Comfortably Numb”) were left on the cutting room floor. We don’t get to hear McCartney’s moving John Lennon “Tribute Medley” (one of the very few times he ever played it), nor showstoppers like “Live and Let Die.” Robert Plant played more Zep tunes (“Immigrant Song,” “Going to California,” “Misty Mountain Hop”) than the two included. And so on.

I have to imagine that the complete sets were filmed, so maybe someday we’ll see a “complete Knebworth ‘90” release (nothing wrong with keeping hope alive). It’s too bad Eagle Rock wasn’t able to at least include some additional audio as a bonus (since, again, the entire concert was broadcast live, so first-rate board tapes must exist somewhere). But since we’ll probably be holding our breath for a long time for that (probably forever), Live at Knebworth is still definitely a must-own. The Blu-ray includes a mini-replica of the concert’s program, which is a nice extra touch.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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