Rhino // 2003 // 146 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // March 28th, 2011
"All I wanted to do was really share our love for George and his music with the people. I need to do this for him, but it's for me most of all -- I need to be able to express my grief in this sort of way." -- Eric Clapton
Though George Harrison never quite managed to achieve the fame or stature of fellow Beatles John Lennon and Paul McCartney, there are few musicians would could match Harrison at his very best. "Something" and "Here Comes the Sun" have been named by many as two of the greatest Beatles songs, and Harrison's sprawling "All Things Must Pass" is arguably the greatest post-Beatles album by any of the fab four. His passing in 2001 was neither as startlingly unexpected nor as earth-shattering as Lennon's death, but there was no question that we had lost a great musician and a great man.
Harrison had a broad assortment of famous musical friends, and many of them participated in a tribute concert to be held on the first anniversary of his death. Interestingly enough, only celebrities who were personal friends of George were invited to participate, which gives the affair an exceptionally intimate feeling. Concert for George is unlike most concerts I've seen; a musical memorial of sorts which is by turns intensely emotional, deeply respectful and cheerfully irreverent. Organized by Eric Clapton and featuring appearances from a whole host of esteemed guests (Jeff Lynne, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Billy Preston, Ravi Shankar, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, The Monty Python troupe and others), the concert offers performances of Harrison's music from both his solo and Beatles years.
It would be entirely inappropriate to arrange a tribute concert to George Harrison without at least acknowledging his passion of Indian music. As such, Concert for George devotes the entire first act of the performance to this area, first offering the instrumental piece "Your Eyes" (with Shankar's daughter Anoushka on sitar) and then bringing out Jeff Lynne to perform vocals on "The Inner Light." The unquestionable centerpiece is the 23-minute "Arpan," a sprawling musical celebration written specifically for Concert for George by Ravi Shankar. It's a terrific piece; bristling from beginning to end with soulful energy and lifting the funereal air from the proceedings.
Things take a dramatic change of pace in the next section, though. Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones and Neil Innes trot out to perform the delightfully dirty Monty Python classic "Sit on my Face" and conclude it by mooning the audience. Michael Palin then appears to offer an amusingly over-the-top tribute to George before launching into a boisterous rendition of "The Lumberjack Song" (aided by Idle, Gilliam, Jones, Carol Cleveland and -- for some reason -- Tom Hanks). While it's a shame that John Cleese couldn't join the proceedings, this brief comic interlude is a nice way of lightening the mood and acknowledging Harrison's fondness for the famed comedy troupe.
The meat of Concert for George begins around the 49-minute mark, as Lynne leads everyone in a sprightly version of "I Want to Tell You," Clapton takes the lead on "If I Needed Someone" and Gary Brooker handles a particularly energetic "Old Brown Shoe." While the renditions remain pretty faithful to Harrison's original versions, these distinctive performerss certainly aren't afraid of adding their own touches to the numbers (contrast this to the unwavering faithfulness Jeff Beck showed to Les Paul's tunes on Jeff Beck Rock n' Roll Party Honoring Les Paul).
Though Jeff Lynne has a recognizable voice, there are quite a few times when he sounds eerily similar to Harrison. This is particularly true on his performance of "Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)" (a piece which had shades of ELO to begin with, so perhaps it's only appropriate). Clapton turns in a respectable cover of "Beware of Darkness" (the first of numerous "All Things Must Pass" pieces to be featured) before Joe Brown turns up to offer the one-two punch of "Here Comes the Sun" and "That's the Way it Goes." Brown's voice hasn't held up quite as well as some of the other musical veterans performing in the show, but he nonetheless invests his performances with a good deal of feeling. A bit more impressive is Joe's daughter Sam, who gives "Horse to the Water" a bluesy vigor.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers wander out for a trio of tunes, bringing an oddly nasal quality to "Taxman" but doing solid work on "I Need You" and especially "Handle with Care" (on which Petty shares lead vocals with Lynne). Things really hit a high point with Billy Preston and Eric Clapton collaborating on "Isn't it a Pity," a dazzling performance of a great song. Preston's organ solo is simply terrific; there's so much passion in the performance. Ringo Starr is up next, performing "Photograph" ("Because George and I wrote it together") and "Honey Don't" ("Because George loved Carl Perkins").
The arrival of Paul McCartney doesn't happen until the 105-minute mark, but there's a reason for saving him: by that point, there's not much that could upstage what has come before. McCartney kicks off his trio of songs with a breezy take on "For You Blue" before kicking off an emotion-fueled sprint to the finish line with terrific performances of "Something" (performed with a ukulele) and "All Things Must Pass." Eric Clapton turns in a blistering "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" (who else could have handled that song so well?) filled to brim with genuine heartache. Somehow, this segues perfectly into Billy Preston's return with the incomparably uplifting "My Sweet Lord." While Preston performs lead vocals, absolutely all of the major players (Petty, McCartney, Starr, Clapton, Lynne, Brown, etc.) come out onstage to get into the mix. The talented group engages in a similarly large-scale jam session on "Wah Wah" before the whole affair winds down with the gentle "I'll See You in My Dreams" (with Joe Brown on lead vocals). We also get a few brief words from George's son Dhani, who bears an eerie resemblance to his father. When Dhani performs in the background (as he does on many of the songs), it looks very much like a young George is onstage participating in the fun. "It's as if we all got old and George stayed young," McCartney marvels.
Concert for George arrives on Blu-ray sporting a middling 1080i/1.78:1 transfer. The image isn't bad, but the level of detail is lacking in contrast to many of the other concert discs I've seen (almost all of which are in 1080i, so it isn't that). Close-ups and facial detail fare well, but long shots are lacking crisp definition and seem very soft. Fortunately the audio fares much better, capturing the nuances of every performance and providing a genuinely immersive experience. The louder songs will definitely rock your speaker system, but it's the well-captured delicate details that make the track. The first disc of this Blu-ray set contains the complete 146-minute concert, but the second disc offers the 100-minute theatrical cut (which shakes up the order of the songs and cuts out quite a few completely), along with behind-the-scenes footage spotlight various participants: Ravi Shankar (11 minutes), the Monty Python troupe (12 minutes), George's Band (7 minutes), Drummers (6 minutes) and an assortment of Additional Interviews (12 minutes). Finally, you get a photo gallery.
Concert for George may have its minor flaws -- a couple of the covers don't quite stick and the absence of former Traveling Wilburys member Bob Dylan is hard to ignore -- but the vast majority of the concert is beautiful, moving stuff. I can't recommend it highly enough. The Blu-ray release is good, but the upgrade will better serve audiophiles than videophiles.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* PCM 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 146 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Theatrical Version
* Photo Gallery