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Long before Paul Rodgers started singing with a couple of Queens and he and drummer Simon Kirke enlisted in the hitmaking machine Bad Company, the pair joined guitarist Paul Kossoff and bassist Andy Fraser in Free. And though unfortunately most-remembered today for just the warhorse "All Right Now," the short-lived band's brand of heavy blues-rock sprinkled with the odd romantic ballad deserves far more attention. In an age where even C-level bands seem to record and film every live show and studio noodling, it ironic that sometimes so little footage survives of classic rock bands in their prime. BBC producers alone have probably erased or trashed more performances than they've saved - though more as a matter of business and storage issues than spite. So it's nice to have the bulk of surviving Free video material collected in this two-DVD set. Disc 1 features some incendiary live 1970 performances from European television with the band running at peak perfection despite harsh TV lights and a sedentary audience. Slinky, raw takes on "Mr. Big," "Fire and Water" and "Ride On Pony" stand out, with incredible extended solos from Fraser and Kossoff. The band plays tighter than Rodgers' pants, and both versions of "All Right Now" presented here easily pulsate with more vitality than the somewhat staid "hit" studio version.
Also included are some primitive-by-today's standards promotional videos (In "The Stealer," Rodgers is a dead ringer for a Geico caveman), and a lovely still photo tribute to Kossoff - who died in 1976 from heart failure due to severe drug addiction - in "Love You So." Disc 2 is mostly audio from the band's 1970 Isle of Wight Festival performance, but on the three filmed numbers in both original and new "split screen" edits ("Be My Friend," "Mr. Big," "All Right Now") it's clear that Free's genuine talent and power lied in their live performances, and that they approached it with a wilder abandon than what became Bad Company. Bonus features include other TV footage, contemporary interviews with Rodgers, Kirke, Fraser, and Kossoff's brother Simon, who contributes some silent concert footage he filmed during a Free college gig. Oddly, it also includes two more recent videos with a singing solo Fraser, a mishmash of homosexual themes and faux reggae beats. Free Forever is somewhat wistful because it reminds viewers what the band could have become had they held it together through the personality and drug conflicts. But at the same time, it's a solid testament to a group that burned hotly and brightly for a short time - and maybe that's the way it was meant to be. Eagle Rock, 272 minutes, $29.98.