The Band-Live At The Academy of Music 1971: The Rock of Ages Concerts


thebandcdIn lieu of the more lavish five disc collection within a hard-bound book with additional photographic and written content, the two CD edition of The Band Live At The Academy of Music 1971 may suffice, especially as it is not what it appears on the surface: merely a reissue of the expanded version of this seminal group’s concert album, Rock of Ages.

Instead, the two discs, in addition to the encore numbers with Bob Dylan, collate a version of every number The Band played on their four-night run at the New York venue. Punchy and streamlined in just the proper proportions, the new mix by Bob Clearmountain, as guitarist/songwriter Robbie Robertson attests in his accompanying essay, does greater justice than its previous production to the gritty expertise within the musicianship of a group that, as My Morning Jacket’s Jim James and Mumford & Sons attest in their written tributes, maintains a resounding influence forty years after these recordings.

The first impression that may hit when hearing The Rock of Ages concerts is what accomplished vocalists drummer Levon Helm, pianist Richard Manuel and bassist Rick Danko were.  Alone and together, these men found nuances in melody and lyric even the composers of the songs, themselves, guitarist Robbie Robertson, Bob Dylan or Motown’s Holland/Dozier Holland (“Don’t Do It”) might not have imagined. In the context of alternately salty and majestic arrangements by New Orleans legend Allan Toussaint, the singing cuts to the heart of the material and the listener.

Hearing, watching and reading about this one-of-a-kind event suggests that The Band might better have ended their career with this series of concerts rather than The Last Waltz. As tight as they are focused, the group never sounded more impassioned than on these four nights, except perhaps when backing Dylan as the Hawks in 1965 and 1966 (and at certain junctures on their 1974 reunion). And, in tracing the roots of this epochal group’s music, the selection of material from The Band’s first four studio albums, is arguably just as vivid, if not more so, than the literal-minded, show-business presentation of their final show in 1976.

From the joyous ribaldry of “Strawberry Wine” to the foreboding of “King Harvest (Has Surely Come),” the soul of the playing here matches its precision, whether in the kaleidoscopic colors of Garth Hudson’s keyboards or the earthy yet exalting horns of Howard Johnson, Snooky Young, Joe Farrell, Earl McIntyre and J.D. Parron. These men are as capable at conjuring up the unsettling mystery of “Chest Fever,” as the euphoric irreverence of “(I Don’t Want to) Hang Up My Rock and Roll Shoes.”

Perhaps because there were two predecessors (To Kingdom Come in 1989 and Across the Great Divide in 1994) to the most comprehensive anthology of The Band, 2005’s A Musical History (upon which the design of this larger package is modeled), it’s impossible not to suspect these releases of Live at The Academy of Music 1971 are precursor to the inevitable release of the entire run of shows. Whether or not that happens, these packages remind, in no uncertain terms, that these recordings are as essential to The Band’s legacy as Music From Big Pink and its eponymous successor.

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3 Responses

    1. thank you JTS for knowing the difference of making music through the utmost talent of Levon, Rick, Richard, and Rick…..RR was the least talented. i am levons widow, and i go nuts when i see things written where people STILL think RR wrote all the songs of the band, and you are right, he will continue to get all of the publishing royalties for life, generation to generation, and levons grandsons will see nothing….what has RR done since The Band, nothing….Levon went on to win three grammys, whee are RR’s grammy’S

      i am so thankful that people, and fans like yourself care enough about the purity of the band and the incredible these songs will have for centuries to come, when all music will be mecahnical and complete hi tech bullshit. to think, levon was the first singing drummer, and he kicked the door open for all those drummers stuck in the back of the band, yet the drummers are the ones that open, count off the songs, and close the songs, yet it is the cinter stage, right in the front of the band, there stands RR, his microphone turned off, mouthing the words, as in The last walts, (to which levon never has been paid one cent in royalties due to RR borrowing money up front using the last waltz roaylties for collatoral, without any of the other band members even knowing about it, just realizing they were not getting any of the money. who still lives in malibu, while rick dies in poverty, as does richard, who could not stand it anymore, and garth loses his home in woodstock, and is living poor, and the levon helm estate, as his wife, we are 800,000 in debt, the IRS taking 300,000 immediately after levons death….please print this email to all and everyone that could help us save levons barn, we DID pay our taxes, but we never got the money we should have through levons royalties that RR gets all of….thanks for listening, please email me back, sandy helm, woodstock NY….levon helm studios, woodstock, NY

  1. Shame they didn’t videotape those concerts. There were some amazing ones in that period. I saw Mountain a few weeks before The Band played there – awesome.

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