Concert for George

Director: David Leland

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

Concert for George It's November 29, 2002, in London's Albert Hall. Musicians who loved George Harrison have gathered to pay homage to his memory on the first anniversary of his death.

What to the cynical might seem likely to be a lot of sentimental claptrap in praise of bubblegummer diddies from the sixties very soon strikes the viewer as some awfully good music well sung, with so much heart & feeling that to call it love isn't the least foolish.

Nearly everyone did Harrison songs of course, except Ravi Shankar, assisted by his daughter Anouschka. Ravi would never promote anyone's music but his own. But let's at least pretend he was sincerely thinking of George in composing an elaborate Krishna symphony mixing Indian & western instrumentation.

Concert for GeorgeI thought the Krishna homage worship music mostly stunk, but I'm sure George would've been pleased, & a couple pieces of it actually got to me.

I found myself drawn into an extended sitar solo by Anouschka & got my musical horizones broadened momentarily. However, shallow shit that I can be, it helped that Anouschka is a babe.

Plus Jeff Lynne sings George's "Inner Light" which does connect the Indian music to George's music, & Anouschka accompanies him on her sitar. This is quite nice.

If not fond of Indian music it can be a temptation to fast-forward the first half hour. The structure of the concert is odd. It begins with the patience-wearing religious junk, then moves into a long set with Eric Clapton leading a pretty damned great band in a series of songs written by George. These two highly contrastinc components of the concert are bridged or divided by material by Monte Python's Flying Circus, namely Michael Palin, Eric Idle, Terry Jones & Terry Gilliam.

Pythons sing "Sit on My Face & Let My Lips Embrace You" before mooning the audience collectively, & "I'm a Lumberjack & I'm Okay." Michael Palin provides a highly irreverant introduction to the concert. It certainly keeps the homage to George from being a weepy sort of thing.

Concert for George The heart of the concerts George's songwriting handled by sundry performers. Eric Clapton put together a band featuring Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Jeff Lynne of the Travelling Wilburys, Billy Preston at the piano, Ringo on drums, Paul mostly with guitar, George's son Dhani on rhythm guitar, & top studio musicians in the background.

They had three weeks of practice sessions before the concert, all of them eager to do this right, to highlight George's music in the best way possible. Clapton lives up to his reputation as a guitarist, & his incredible Harrison tribute band makes "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" everything it can be. The fanastic guitar solo was, of course, Eric's even in the original release, as George, fearful he could not pull it off well enough himself, asked Eric to do it.

Concert for GeorgeEven better is Eric's rendition of "Beware of Darkness" reminding us that this was a sombre but not morbid occasion, "the pain that often lingers," with George's son on rhythm guitar stage right.

The band Clapton has put together will illuminate several of George's songs before all is done. It bogs down a bit here & there especially when Eric's not the lead vocalist as on "I Want to Tell You," "Give Me Love," "Wah Wah" or "Old Brown Shoe." Jeff Lynne in particular isn't exactly a bad singer but I enjoyed him least (except perhaps on "Inner Light").

Jeff's featured a lot for reasons of history & friendship & creative partnership with George, but he's simply not great. The interest leaps back with Clapton steps to the fore singing "If I Needed Someone." But being in a position of authority on this concert, Eric seems to have stepped back in much of it to let others dominate. It's too bad because he, not Jeff, has the voice that makes these songs work so beautifully.

Concert for George"Isn't It a Pity" features Billy Preston as well as Eric on vocals, nicely done, but it's with "My Sweet Lord" that Billy glows.

Sam Brown -- the daughter of Joe Brown (who will close the concert) -- performs "Horse to Water" as though she were Janis Joplin fronting a big swing-band. As the token girl on board, it's a good thing that it's quite a good performance, which momentarily changes the tone of the concert.

"Taxman" as done by Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers is "just" a little rock song with garage-band rawness & some fine guitar strokes by Mike Campbell.

I preferred the Pettified version of "I Need You," to which Tom lends a "hillbilly sorrowfulness" which can explain why they're called the Heartbreakers.

And I also liked "Handle Me with Care" totally Pettified. For "Handle" it was visually important seeing Dhani in the band, & drummer Ray Cooper was going like a bat out of hell with only a tambourine in the background.

Concert for GeorgeRingo sang "Photograph" & "Honey Don't" so really doing only his own thing & not so much about George. At least we didn't have to suffer through "Octopus's Garden."

I know how deeply Ringo loved George & how he suffered to lose such a great friend, but he does not show it on stage.

It's like he was booked at some Riverside Inn in Oklahoma & he's just puttin' on a show. Such lines in "Photograph" as "You expect me to live without you," do explain that song choice, but it lacks mood, & "Honey Don't" isn't even a comprehensible choice.

Still, in his favor, hopping about in his happy-happy-joy-joy manner, flashing the peace sign, Ringo is, like Python early on, assuring nothing sinks into a concert of misery & loss.

By contrast, when Paul McCartney performed, it was pure emotion without getting sappy. He can be a cloying performer, but not here; he's great. He & Clapton together are an inspiration & kind of too bad they don't just do a show together, just those two guys on the road with no big production.

When Paul sang "Something" with just the ukulele, it was really something. When Eric Clapton joined in on the number, it was even better. Paul's take on "All Things Must Pass" captured George's musicality & spirituality, moving but never mawkish, & the band is just wonderful on this number, somehow making it both big & subtle. He also does "For You Blue" for an upbeat moment though it's not going to be a song most people remember from the concert.

Concert for GeorgeOne weird thing was to see Dhani Harrison throughout. Not weird bad; his presence was a wonder. but George's son seems more clone than offspring; it was just a little eerie.

Near the end as the concert is wrapping up, Paul took the microphone merely to say he loved seeing Dhani on stage because it made it seem like "George got young, we all got old."

That was exactly what I'd been feeling throughout the concert, as often I could not tear my eyes away from this beautiful young man in the background or off to the side.

Dhani seemed shy (but then so always did his father), totally without ego, humbled by the love & talent that encircled him. He was so beautiful, my heart melted to see him on that stage.

I was so moved by the concert overall that I hate to find quibbles but must say there was no reason for the second disc. Disc 1 is an extended or complete version of the concert & Disc 2 looks like it's the concert as shortened for the PBS format requirements.

There is little that was not in the full version beyond the Pythons, but much is left out. And while the edited version is timed better for the short attention spans of modern viewers including alas my own, & a lot less of the Indian material that did rather bore me, I believe the full version was all that was required. The second disc simply was not justified by anything but the desire to charge a bit more for a set.

But the quality of the filming & sound is well above most concert films on DVD. The emotions are authentic, the music truly of the highest calibre in pop.

And what I want to take out of this is none of the quibbling. I want to remember the sweetness of completely unscripted bits of patter, the sincerity of the affection for George & for the music these people were performing; the simple prayerful "thank you" from Dhani to the musicians who made it work so well; & that closing performance by Joe Brown singing the Roaring Twenties hit "I'll See You In My Dreams," hardly a Harrison song but as George loved the ukulele so much, it was a most appropriate number to sing in his memory.

That last song is performed so beautifully I thought maybe there's a Krishna heaven after all: "Tender eyes that shine, they will light my way tonight, I'll see you in my dreams." This week at least, it's my new favorite song of all time, & I'm even thinking of going out & getting myself a ukulele.

If anyone had told me the highest points of this grand concert could be so far outmatched by this final number, or that the emotion & beauty of it all could rise to greater heights with just a ukulele & one quiet voice, I would not have believed it. But it really was a dream, a beautiful heartbreaking dream.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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