The Concert for Bangla Desh
itnessing over one million of his countrymen killed by the Wrath of God and politicians. Ravi Shankar called upon George Harrison to see if something could be done to help the refugees. The result of their meetings was the Concert for Bangla Desh on August 1 and, after a great deal of public and private hassling, a three disc recording of the concert.
And so it was that almost all of the great stars of rock were assembled on stage to raise money for Bangla Desh, and in the process they relieved the rock world of the dark and ugly cloud that descended at Altamont.
And who were these people, these musicians that were capable of offering rock music its one last chance for survival? Perhaps most significantly, George Harrison and Ringo Starr were there, marking the first time two Beatles had appeared on stage together since 1969. That, if anything, would kick life into a sluggish art form. And if more were needed, Bob Dylan was there sporting a new social consciousness. (Something he would pursue with his single "George Jackson"). Billy Preston brought along his own brand of soul, while Eric Clapton and Leon Russell, never to be left out of any meeting of the giants, were there hitting the note. Of course there was your assorted band of string-alongers including Klaus Voorman, Claudia Linnear, Carl Raddle, et al. The bad boys of rock, the Rolling Stones, still haven't developed a social conscience and didn't send a representative. However, they were there in spirit when the Benefit band performed "Jumpin Jack Flash."
Recording all of this would seem to be just about impossible given the technical difficulties of capturing the sound of so many voices and instruments, in Madison Square Garden no less. Yet, armed with over forty microphones, the technical crew was able to pull it off, and as a consequence the album is unquestionably the quintessence of live recording. The album is structured so that it follows the chronological progression of the concert (although the performances are actually the best of two different concerts), thus giving the album a you-are-there effect.
Side One contains an introduction to the concert by Harrison and a sitar and sarod duet by Ravi Shankar and Ali Akbar Khan, a meeting of the superstars of the East as Shankar and Khan rarely appear on stage together. Shankar and Khan faced a Western audience that managed to commit the faux pas of clapping after the musicians finished tuning, thinking that they had finished playing a song, but they managed to sound not too upset and rendered a beautiful performance.
For Harrison's portion of the concert, he managed to eschew the almost obligatory jam session of the greats format, and instead chose to weld the twenty or so guest artists, horn section and all, into a band tight enough to make Chicago sound like Cream. The importance of Harrison's move should not be underestimated. If it's at all indicative of a new trend, the rock conert will undergo a radical change.
Take for example "Wah-Wah", the first cut on the second side. Although it jumps and cooks, it's only three minutes and fifteen seconds long. The studio version is five minutes and thirty five seconds. The studio and live versions of "My Sweet Lord" are roughly equivalent in time and quality. And that's indicative of the whole album. What we are given are essentially live, note for note renderings of studio versions. Not that that's bad when they're playing songs like "It Don't Come Easy," and "While My Guitar Gently Weeps"; it's just different.
Thus we must wait until Side Four, when Leon Russell takes over, before we get any innovation. He leads the band in a version of "Jumpin Jack Flash" that manages to do the impossible--capture the intensity of the Stone's original and depending on what mood you're in, surpasses it.
Side Five is what's causing the great stir in the music world, though. It is the only live recording in existence of Bob Dylan since his accident, and represents (hopefully) his return to the stage. Following the format of the concert, he gives note for note renditions of "A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall," "It Takes A Lot to Laugh, It Takes A Train to Cry," "Blowin' in the Wind," "Mr. Tambourine Man," and "Just Like a Woman." In his backup band are George Harrison on electric guitar, Ringo Starr on tambourine, and Leon Russel on bass. Singing in his new voice, Dylan fails to evoke the emotion and commitment he once did. Too bad he didn't play "George Jackson."
As might have been expected, when Dylan left the stage the audience threatened to do everything short of burning New York to the ground if he didn't come back for an encore. To quell the near riot situation Harrison plunged into "Something." Again, predictably, the audience was appeased. Harrison then plunged into "Bangla Desh" ending the concert and the album.
And all of this music history is available for $12.98. The price of the album has made many record distributors very unhappy. It seems as though they can't understand why the five dollar profit from each record has to go to some starving child in Bangla Desh rather than to him so he can put his son through Harvard. The price of the album has also made a lot of Harvard students unhappy. It seems as though it's a lot easier to give up a Tuesday night dinner than shell out an extra five bucks.