Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Awaiting On You All

George Harrison--"Awaiting On You All (live)" (mp3)
George Harrison (featuring Leon Russell)--"Beware Of Darkness (live)" (mp3)
Bob Dylan--"It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry (live)" (mp3)

Before the Haiti t-shirt, before the Susan B. Komen Run, before Sun City, "We Are The World," Live Aid, before almost everything except the Jerry Lewis Telethon for Muscular Dystrophy, there was the Concert For Bangladesh.

Imagine this scenario: You hear about a benefit concert, an all-star show hosted by a famous rock star. The goal is to raise a lot of money to help out a tragic situation in a Third World country, a place where people are dying in droves because of starvation and civil war--over three million people. Candidly speaking, you may not be that caught up in the cause, but you are, as a music lover, extremely excited by the afternoon's or evening's lineup. After all, you are about to see George Harrison, Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr, Leon Russell, Billy Preston, Badfinger and........for the first time in a long time, Bob Dylan. This would, of course, be one of the very first benefit concerts, certainly the first one to tackle a world problem, the Concert for Bangledesh put on by George Harrison back in the very early 70's.

To this day, I'm not sure your average music fan (including me) understands too much of the backstory much more than this. Bad situation. Ravi Shankar goes to George Harrison and asks for assistance. Wants to raise $25,000. George thinks they can raise much more. Recruits a group of friends and within 5 weeks is putting on 2 shows in Madison Square Garden for a total of 40,000 people and raising close to $250,000 for Unicef.

(Think about that for a moment: what, six, seven, eight bucks a piece to see that lineup? Even adjusted for today's prices, that's about $38/ticket. Hmmmm......concert inflation, anyone?)

George Harrison is the President Jimmy Carter of the Beatles. While Carter wasn't much of a president, as an ex-president he has set a standard for community and international involvement, diplomatic assistance, even authorship. Harrison had enough star power and more than enough friendship power to pull together a small, but amazing line-up. If you've read Clapton's biography, then you know that at this point, he was strung out on heroin post-Derek and the Dominos and that he kept saying that he was flying over for rehearsals but never showed up until the day before and played without practicing. Dylan, of course, hadn't been playing anywhere, was in a self-imposed exile from music, so to get him on the big stage was an unprecedented coup.

The only thing he couldn't quite pull off was....the Beatles. Ringo was easy. Paul was still mired in bitterness and figured, so he says, we just broke up, what's the point in getting back together? John was totally on board, but George, God bless him, wanted John on the condition that Yoko would not play with him. It seemed like it was going to work for awhile, until Yoko raised hell. End of John.

With the CD now out of print, I just got a used copy from Amazon in the mail yesterday. I hadn't heard it for decades. Who even knows where that album went? Back in '71, it was an extremely expensive 3-album box set that we got for Christmas. As neophytes, my brother and I quickly trimmed that down to 4 sides of music. We didn't care much for the Ravi Shankar side, except to enjoy the joke where the crowd thinks that the tuning up of the sitar is the actual song. And the last side only had one or two songs on it, which, back in the day of playing album sides, was hardly worth your time. Now, of course, I'm older, a bit more aware, and, since it's on cd, I listen to all of it.

Great stuff here. As I've mentioned before on these pages, George's words, "Coupla numbers from Leon" kick off one the great moments in rock music, Russell's rave-up of "Jumpin' Jack Flash" and "Youngblood." Dylan has made so many great entrances in his career, from his first plugged-in, second set show to the Band's Last Waltz to what Neil Young termed "Bobfest," but the buzz when he walked out here at Madison Square Garden may be the greatest of those entrances. Once again, back to just a man, a guitar, and a harmonica, he fulfills George's introduction of "a good friend to us all" with a brief, audience-friendly acoustic set (mostly--there are flourishes from a couple of backup musicians), the likes of which were not ever seen again. It would be three more years before he even returned to touring, and then, once again, electric and backed by the Band.

But, make no mistake, this is George's show. He covers for lack of full Beatles nicely, bringing his own "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," "Here Comes The Sun," and "Something" to the mix for those looking for a little of that old magic. And the versions are good. But really, it's George's solo stuff from All Things Must Pass that drives the show. Topical, spiritual, musical, lyrically adventurous, songs like "Wah-Wah," "My Sweet Lord," "Beware of Darkness," and "Awaiting On You All" take off in concert. The pent-up energy from being the third wheel as songwriter for all those years fuels these upbeat songs, and, one must assume, the chance to play them live is a joy as well. This is George at the peak of his powers, with social consciousness and spiritual energy to boot.

I know that all things must pass, but this moment is certainly worth revisiting, first for the music, and then for the precedent it set.

The Concert For Bangladesh cd set is out of print, but available used at


Thom Anon said...

Sold. Looks like I'm off to find myself a copy...

Anonymous said...

I checked out a few youtube videos of the concert and it appears that Ringo was the star of the show....."It Don't com Easy."

Bob said...

Ringo's pretty funny when he forgets the words to that and just makes wordless noises until he remembers them again!

cinderkeys said...

One of the disappointments of my life: I will never get to meet George Harrison.

jed said...

amen brother.