The new Rhino DVD of the movie The Concert For Bangladesh is an interesting proposition for a number of reasons.
Historically, it was the first superstar benefit rock concert of all time, with the noble aim of donating the concert, album, and film proceeds to the victims of the famine of 1971, the same year of Bangladesh's independence from Pakistan; the death toll was one of the worst ever for a famine; the country was war-scarred.
Musically, it was ex-Beatle George Harrison's public debut as a solo performer; at 28, he was riding high from his 1970 triple-album All Things Must Pass, which had gone to #1, outselling his former band mates and gaining significant critical acclaim.
Filmed August 1, 1971 at Madison Square Garden, it marked a rare appearance by the then-elusive Bob Dylan who steals the show. Also present were Eric Clapton (post-"Layla" and mid-heroin addiction; it was a rare appearance for him, too), keyboardist Leon Russell (who was flirting with superstar status in those days), organist Billy Preston (who provides the most joyous note of a fairly solemn show), a dual drummer set-up of Ringo Starr (John and Paul were invited, but declined) and Jim Keltner, regular Beatle session man Klaus Voorman, hotshot young guitarist Jesse Ed Davis, Clapton sideman Carl Radle on bass, sax player Jim Horn and the Hollywood Horns, sitarist Ravi Shankar, a Bangladesh native and responsible for asking his friend Harrison to help in the first place, and Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, a sarod master.
Harrison had to bail out of producing a Badfinger album he was midway through, so perhaps as a consolation prize, all four members of Badfinger strum acoustic guitars throughout the show.
A very large group of anonymous background singers also appear.
The scope of this concert was monumental for a stage show; it was co-produced by Harrison and Phil Spector (seen briefly backstage with the musicians), and was an ambitious attempt to present a bona-fide Phil Spector wall-of-sound experience with a hard rock band.
In that final aim, the album only half succeeded at the time; the albums weren't of particularly good fidelity; the highs (like Preston's organ), and lows (like Radle's bass) always sounded kind of murky. The first CD's committed the unpardonable sin of speeding up the master tapes a noticeable fraction in order to squeeze what had been a triple disc onto a double disc.
Also disappointing was the film, of which not many prints were made, and those that circulated on the midnight-showing circuit usually showed considerable battle scars by the 90's; the only print I ever saw was a spliced, choppy mess.