Saturday, November 3, 2007

"Concert for George" DVD (2005)

This weekend, I caught up with this concert DVD that I've been anxious to watch. Most of the performance DVD's I own are just straight out shows, capturing an artist at a particular point in time. However, this tribute concert -- held on November 29, 2002 at The Royal Albert Hall -- is nothing short of moving.

With huge posters of George Harrison from different stages of life hanging from the rafters, Eric Clapton assembled an all-star cast to pay tribute to the guitar-playing Beatle who gave us amazing musicianship, but wasn't able to fully showcase his songwriting until the supergroup broke up.

The complete 2 1/2 hour concert begins with a performance by Ravi Shankar, which I skipped, then two brief Monty Python sketches, followed right by the all-star concert itself.

Along with guitarist Andy Fairweather-Low from his own band, Clapton rounds up pianist Gary Brooker (Procol Harum), percussionist Ray Cooper (Elton John), longtime Beatles cohort Klaus Voormann, guitarist Albert Lee, super saxophonists Jim Horn and Tom Scott, and longtime backup singers Tessa Niles and Katie Kissoon. It was a mild shock to see the presence of longtime Electric Light Orchestra mastermind and production wizard, the rarely-seen Jeff Lynne, throughout the show, even singing lead on "I Want To Tell You" and "Give Me Love." The other pleasant surprise was seeing Harrison's son Dhani singing and playing guitar throughout the show, bearing a strong resemblance to dad.

While honoring the late Beatle was emotional enough, I felt a particular sad tug noting that two of the prominent musicians who played this show are also gone: Traffic drummer Jim Capaldi and organist/singer/"Fifth Beatle" Billy Preston.

As a matter of fact, Preston just about steals the two numbers he sings lead on, "My Sweet Lord" and "Isn't It A Pity," both of which feature his soulful organ drives.

Tom Petty sounds even more nasal than usual when he brings the Heartbreakers on to sing "Taxman" and "I Need You," and then gets Lynne to do the Roy Orbison parts on The Traveling Wilbury's "Handle With Care."

Ringo Starr has gotten a little too "West Coast showbiz" for my taste when he conjures up a little too much self-love and hamminess with his prancing for "Photograph," but tones it down for a lovely version of Carl Perkins' "Honey Don't."

McCartney steps up for "For You Blue," "All Things Must Pass," followed by a showhall rendition of "Something" seguing into the same song all over again in the album arrangement, this time with Clapton singing the lead. Clapton then turns "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" in a tour de force, recreating the solo he did on the original recording.

What is wonderful about the concert -- besides the mostly great performances and retrospective on Harrison's musical history -- is the admirable lack of sentimentality, no mushy speeches or gestures. When Dhani thanks Clapton and the musicians towards the end, it's eerie how much he sounds and looks like his father, but you really feel the gratefulness deep down.

Below are two of the many highlights of the concert to share with you: McCartney and Clapton performing "Something" and Billy Preston taking center stage for "My Sweet Lord."

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