February 25 would have been George Harrison’s 75th birthday and in honor of this anniversary, the historic Concert For George will be available again in several different ways.
The actual film of this concert, which took place November 29, 2002 (one year after George Harrison’s passing), will be shown again on the big screen for one day only, although the date varies from theater to theater. For complete cinema information, visit http://www.concertforgeorge.com/theatrical-listings/
Now remastered in 5.1 Stereo Surround Sound, the wonderful documentary lets viewers revisit this tribute concert that features many of George’s “dearest friends” (to quote his son Dhani from the film), who also happen to be some of rock’s biggest stars. The lineup includes his Beatles brethren Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton (who organized the concert) and his fellow Traveling Wilburys, Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne.
Concert For George presents a mixture of concert performances, a bit of backstage activity, and reminiscences about George from the performers. There are times when you might prefer to hear the songs without interruptions; however, the comments do generally offer interesting personal insights or anecdotes, such as Petty revealing that he saw Harrison as the “idea man” in the Wilburys and Monty Python’s Terry Gilliam saying that Harrison felt Monty Python carried on the spirit of the Beatles since the Pythons started the year the Beatles ended.
Yes, the Monty Python guys were there too. Harrison not only was a fan of the comedy troupe but also financed Monty Python’s Life of Brian, jumping in at the last moment (reportedly mortgaging his house) when EMI Entertainment withdrew their financial support.
While it is fun to see the Pythons do a couple skits, the big highlights come in the renditions of the many great Harrison tunes, both Beatles and solo compositions. Clapton takes center-stage on songs like “I Want To You,” “If I Needed Someone,” and “Beware of Darkness,” along with serving up passionate guitar on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” (he played lead guitar, of course, on the Beatles original too). Ringo sings “Photograph” (which he co-wrote with George) and “Honey Don’t,” saluting Harrison’s admiration for Carl Perkins. Paul talks about George’s love of ukuleles before playing one on “Something.” Petty performs “Taxman” and then Lynne joins him for “Handle With Care.”
There also is a quite nice segment devoted to Ravi Shankar, who appears both in conversation and performance (which includes Ravi’s daughter, the esteemed musician Anoushka Shankar). “Isn’t It A Pity” gets covered by frequent Beatles sideman Billy Preston. American viewers might scratch their heads when an older gent named Joe Brown comes out to play “Here Comes The Sun,” but his place at the show is well-deserved. A long-time popular performer in Britain, Brown became friends with Harrison when he had the up-and-coming Beatles be his opening band in 1962. Harrison later was best man at Brown’s wedding in 2000. In fact, it is Brown, and not of the superstars in attendance, who closes the concert with a rendition of the old standard (and Harrison favorite) “I’ll See You In My Dreams.”
The documentary does not contain every performance from the concert, and even switches up the order some. For a complete Concert for George experience, you should turn to the terrific new reissue of the Concert For George album, which Concord Music re-released on Feb. 23. It will come out in a range of versions: a 2-CD set, a 2-CD + 2-DVD, and 2-CD + 2-Blu-ray combo (the later format come with bonus material), as well as streaming platforms and, for the first time, on vinyl as a 4-LP box set. The 180-gram audiophile vinyl features a special, mandala-design etched on Side 8. And if none of these are satisfying, there is the 10-disc Deluxe Box Set (limited to 1,000 pieces worldwide) with the complete sound and film recordings from the concert (on 4 180-gram audiophile LPs, 2 CDs, 2 DVDs and 2 Blu-rays), a 12″x12″ hard-bound 60-page book, and even a cutting from the original hand-painted on-stage tapestry used as the backdrop at the 2002 concert!