Tuesday, September 24, 2013
MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: THE BAND - LIVE AT THE ACADEMY OF MUSIC 1971 (The Rock Of Ages Concerts)
Rock Of Ages has already been expanded once before, in The Band reissues series, with the most significant edition the four-song encore set with Bob Dylan, certainly a highlight, but it's inclusion here is no longer newsworthy. So really, you have to ask yourself if you want the best-possible audio treats, and a nice new package for your money, rather than the old 2-disc or 2-album set. It does sound remarkable, and even better, it's nice to have the complete New Year's Eve show in the exact running order, as the original Rock Of Ages for some reason mixed the tracks up mightily. Now, all the delicious horn arrangements are found on the second half of the show, when the players were brought on that night. The box itself is nice, with a good essay from Robbie Robertson, and some words from Jim James and Mumford and Sons, flavours of the day who bow at the alter.
Now, let us address this package for those who've never heard the album. GOOD LORD, why are you still reading this, and not on some website ordering it? Rock Of Ages is simply one of the best live albums ever, with The Band at the peak of its powers. The plaintive vocals of the three lead singers, each one (Helm, Danko, Manuel) with their own specialty, and together simply miraculous, are just the start. You can listen to Rick Danko's amazing bass playing the whole way through, and marvel at what a master he was. Robbie Robertson is probably the most tasteful lead guitar player of his day, his stinging, short passages coming in just at the right moment to raise the emotion. Richard Manuel is a tempest on piano, vastly underrated, and when he goes mad on the rock and roll numbers such as Rag Mama Rag, nobody can touch him. Garth Hudson is the wild card, his organ and keyboard tricks coming from a place no one but he could imagine. His classic improv number, The Genetic Method, incorporates space-rock to licks learned playing the services in the Anglican Church back in Ontario. Plus, the show is pretty much a greatest hits package, with Up On Cripple Creek, Stage Freight, The Shape I'm In, The Weight, The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, Live Is A Carnival and many more faves.
Then there's the encore, first added on the expanded CD of Rock Of Ages, with Dylan. The four-song set shows why The Band were always Dylan's best on-stage group, with jovial versions of Basement Tapes-era tunes Down In The Flood, When I Paint My Masterpiece and Don't Ya Tell Henry, capped off with a rousing Like A Rolling Stone, Dylan sounding fully engaged and happy. Robertson reveals in the booklet it was all pretty casual coming together, including the merging of the group with Allan Toussaint's horn arrangements. Even Dylan didn't know what they'd play until he stepped on stage. All this proves what most already know, The Band were the best.