Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Concert for Bangladesh

by Brendan Cavanagh

Sometimes you get really into an album or a specific artist or band for a while, and it dominates your vinyl-turning, or your iPod-scrolling or vehicular cruising. And then one day, you're listening to something else and your fixation transfers almost entirely to the point where you forget that you have the music you were previously listening to. This is unfortunate. However, that album or whatever is made infinitely better when one day you listen to it again and not only does its value hold up after time, but it sounds even better when revisited! That's when you know you've chosen a solid album that will remain in your collection for a long time (hopefully forever).

One such album is the Concert for Bangladesh, put on by George Harrison, his close friend Ravi Shankar and many of his most notable rock 'n' roll friends. This is a compendium of concert recordings I've had in my possession for quite some time, but at the tail end of Summa '11 it's received a considerable amount of listening.

When exposed to the abject poverty and malnourished suffering of the deprived citizens of Bangladesh, Ravi Shankar, a brilliantly talented Indian sitar player, turned to his close friend George Harrison of the Beatles to help him aid the starving masses. Consequently, Harrison decided to put on two benefit concerts at New York City's Madison Square Garden to raise awareness of the sad situation and accrue a healthy amount of monetary contribution.

To open each show, Ravi Shankar and a team of three or four other Indian musicians set the mood for the pending rock portion of the show by opening up with a lengthy, albeit intriguing and entertaining set of traditional Indian music. I mostly skip over this portion when listening to or viewing the concert, but it is still definitely enjoyable.

So many talented rock stars joined him in celebrating a jiving and animated second half: Eric Clapton on guitar, Billy Preston on the organ, former fellow Beatle Ringo Starr on drums, Leon Russell on piano and guitar, with special guest Bob Dylan, whose songs are stripped down and soulful. And there were countless backing vocals, bras, string and percussion accompaniments.

Some highlights:

The high-spirited, super-collaborative show opener, "Wah Wah:"

Billy Preston's frenzied, interpretive dance that accompanies his heart-rending "That's The Way God Planned It:"

Leon Russell expertly constructing a playful medley of "Jumpin' Jack Flash / Youngblood:"

Bob Dylan shyly walking onstage from the wings to kick off his mini-set with "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall:"

And the show-closing theme song, "Bangla Desh:"


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