Friday, August 15, 2008

George Harrison 3: The Concert For Bangla Desh

At this point folks had good reason to wonder if all of George’s albums would be issued as three-LP boxed sets. In his defense, it’s not all him being pompous, for the six-sided format works very well presenting the music from this historic show in concise chunks that make sense. This unexpurgated, real-time document spotlights all of the performers from the evening.
The Concert For Bangla Desh starts with the anticipatory sound of the crowd, followed by somebody singing “on with the show” opera-style. As soon as the mumble builds to a roar we know George has appeared. After quietly thanking the audience and preparing them for Ravi Shankar’s set, Ravi himself lays down the rules for paying attention to Indian music. The 26 minutes that follow build slowly and deliberately to a rapturous finish, and as essential listening as anything else in the box.
Side two kicks off the rock portion with a fast-paced “Wah-Wah”, followed by “My Sweet Lord” and “Awaiting On You All” missing some of the words. Billy Preston showboats us out with “That’s The Way God Planned It”, which is easier to listen to than it is to watch.
Ringo gets big cheers for getting most of the way through “It Don’t Come Easy”, and George lets Leon Russell take a verse of “Beware Of Darkness”. The band is introduced one by one, followed by a blistering Eric Clapton guitar solo on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”. Leon tries to turn the place into his very own juke joint with a narcissistic mutation of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and “Youngblood”, redeemed by a gentle “Here Comes The Sun” with Badfinger’s Pete Ham on second acoustic.
Side five is a big deal for a lot of people, as it consists of Bob Dylan sounding just like he did before he went electric, helped out by George, Ringo and Leon. “Something” gets a tender reading, leaving “Bangla Desh” itself to close out the show. And no one seems to know what the deal is with that gibberish at the very end.
A full-fledged tour behind All Things Must Pass would have been appreciated, especially considering the aplomb with which the assembled managed to treat the material on short notice. So it’s great to have this album as a souvenir. Despite the altruistic intentions, the album went through the usual record company wrangling before its initial release, and again when it came out on CD. When the film arrived on DVD in 2005, the album was remastered and reissued with a new cover, with the afternoon performance of Dylan’s “Love Minus Zero/No Limit” added as a bonus track.
George was batting a thousand at this rate, gaining a reputation as both a generous and savvy bandleader. We could only hope it would last.

George Harrison & Friends The Concert For Bangla Desh (1971)—4
2005 reissue: same as 1971, plus 1 extra track

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