CONCERT FOR GEORGE (David Leland, 2002)
Beekman Theatre, 1271 Second Ave., 212-249-0807, Tuesday, February 27
Village East Cinema, 181-189 Second Ave., 212-529-6998, Tuesday, February 27
IFC Center, 323 Sixth Ave. at West Third St., 212-924-7771, Monday, March 5
On November 29, 2002, on the first anniversary of the death of George Harrison from lung cancer at the age of fifty-eight, friends and relatives of the Quiet Beatle gathered at London’s Royal Albert Hall for a tribute concert and fundraiser. Concert for George was captured on film by director David Leland and hit movie theaters in October 2003; it has now been remastered in 2K and 5.1 Stereo Surround Sound and is being rereleased on February 27 in honor of what would have been Harrison’s seventy-fifth birthday (on February 25). The stellar event was organized by Harrison’s longtime close friend Eric Clapton, with the support of Harrison’s widow, Olivia, and son, Dhani, who was onstage playing the guitar through the whole show. Among other musicians participating were Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Billy Preston, Ravi Shankar, Anoushka Shankar, and Joe Brown, performing songs from Harrison’s career as a Beatle and a solo artist. It’s a real treat because many of these songs had never been played live by Harrison; the Beatles stopped touring in 1966, and Harrison avoided the road except for a problematic tour in 1974 and a brief visit to Japan in 1991. And through it all, large-scale photos of Harrison look down from above, taking in the festivities.
Beautifully photographed by Oscar-winning cinematographer Chris Menges and edited by Claire Ferguson, Concert for George opens with Hindu music, a favorite of Harrison’s, including the traditional prayer “Sarveshaam” and Ravi Shankar’s “Your Eyes” and “Arpan,” the latter composed specifically for the evening. Following a comic interlude featuring Month Python members Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones, Eric Idle, Michael Palin, Neil Innes, and bonus guest Tom Hanks — Harrison was a big Python fan and good friends with the troupe — the all-star band turns to Harrison’s music, which is performed with love and admiration and reveals his genius at melody and incorporating nontraditional choruses and guitar lines. Unfortunately, during too many of the songs, Leland (Wish You Were Here, Checking Out) cuts away from what’s happening onstage to show rehearsals and behind-the-scenes footage. While it’s fascinating to hear Petty talk about how Harrison helped write the Traveling Wilburys hit “Handle with Care” and see Ravi and Anoushka Shankar preparing for a special musical presentation, it would have been better to see such things in between songs. And indeed, the songs are revelatory, certifying Harrison’s genius as a songwriter as well as a guitarist. Starr excels on “Photograph,” which he wrote with Harrison and, as Ringo notes, takes on different meaning given the circumstances; McCartney is brilliant performing “For You Blue” on acoustic guitar and “Something” on ukulele, breathing new life into two old chestnuts; Clapton wails away on “Beware of Darkness” and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”; and Preston, one of several men referred to as the Fifth Beatle, turns “Isn’t It a Pity?” into a powerful epic. The crack backup band boasts such great musicians as guitarists Andy Fairweather-Low and Marc Mann (who both play some sweet slide), pianists Gary Brooker and Jools Holland, bassists Dave Bronze and Klaus Voormann, percussionists Jim Keltner, Jim Capaldi, and Ray Cooper, and vocalists Katie Kissoon, Tessa Niles, and Sam Brown. It was filmed only a year after Harrison’s passing, but all the men and women onstage are enjoying themselves immensely, their joy extending into the audience as they celebrate an extraordinary man of peace and love. Concert for George is screening February 27 at the Beekman and Village East and March 5 at IFC Center; proceeds from the rerelease and DVD package will benefit the Material World Foundation, which Harrison founded in 1973 “to encourage the exploration of alternate and diverse forms of artistic expression, life views, and philosophies as well as a way to support established charities and people with special needs.”