Wednesday, 25 September 2013

The Band – Live At The Academy Of Music 1971

Stunning 5 disc edition of the Rock Of Ages /New Years Eve concerts. Remastered set captures The Band at their best and contains many unreleased tracks!

Levon Helm, Richard Manuel, Rick Danko, Garth Hudson and Robbie Robertson, collectively known as The Band, were the musician's musicians. With big name fans that included Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Elton John, Eric Clapton and countless others, The Band's reputation as the musicians was largely built on their first two albums, Music From Big Pink and the self-titled follow up. The Band played and pretty much defined Americana before the genre even existed, with the five man group being the epitome of musical brotherhood with their ego-less playing. They managed to mix country, blues, funk, folk and rock into music which sounded comforting and somehow old, (much welcomed in the USA, a country whose young men were away fighting in Vietnam), yet still managed to forge dynamic new ground.

(Click over the jump for more on The Band's Live At The Academy Of Music 1971)

After influencing the get-back-to-roots nature of contemporary music with those two albums they entered a period of slow decline with inter-band relationships and drink and drugs taking their toll. What was never in question though was their musicianship, songwriting and force as a live band. As such it's a pleasure to hear this 5 disc set which revisits the band's four end of year concerts at New York's Academy Of Music from 1971.

Some of the recordings from these gigs were released in 1972 as the Rock Of Ages live set. What's clear now is that that album's performances were not one seemless live gig but a cherry picked selection from all four gigs. Similarly discs 1 and 2 of this new expended set comprise of the best performances from all four nights, newly remastered to overcome to any muddiness that marred the Rock Of Ages versions, with many of the tracks previously unreleased.

Discs 3 and 4 contain the final Friday night, New Year's Eve in full as recorded at the soundboard. Again many of the performances are previously unreleased. The unique selling point of this live set is in the second half of the show when the group are joined by a five man horn section, their parts written by R&B legend Allen Toussaint. As such disc 4 is probably the most rewarding of the whole set, with classic Band songs such as Life Is A Carnival, Across The Great Divide, and particularly Rag Mama Rag getting extra nuances and a new lease of life.

In addition long time pal and collaborator, Bob Dylan, is welcomed to the stage for a four song encore. It's a joy to hear The Band enthusiastically perform an essentially greatest hits set with warts and all. There's the odd burst of feedback, the occasional bum note but that's all part of the seats of the pants charm. Dylan even fluffs the lyrics on a spirited version of Like A Rolling Stone, but it sounds alive, they're having fun, taking chances, fully charged and generally on great form. If all this is not enough disc 5 is a DVD containing 5.1 Surround mixes of selected tracks, along with photos and a couple of film clips.

Before Levon Helm succumbed to cancer last year, Robbie Robertson visited him in hospital so the two men could attempt to patch up their relationship and put their differences to rest. It's widely known that Helm blamed Robertson for destroying the sense of brotherhood within the group. What was said at that meeting rightly remains a secret between the two men. What is clear though is that with this release Robertson is curating The Band's catalogue and legacy with the love, care and attention to detail they deserve. This box set should take a place among the greatest live albums of all time.

Out now on Capitol/Universal Music.