Many people today don’t realize what a big deal this concert was back in 1971. A former Beatle who was fresh off the overwhelming critical and commercial success of All Things Must Pass was organizing a concert for charity at the famous Madison Square Garden. He was bringing along another former Beatle plus the likes of Eric Clapton, Billy Preston, Leon Russell, and a host of other friends. The building rumor was that even Bob Dylan might perform.
The concert took place August 1, 1971. There were actually two performances at noon and 7:00 PM. It was a rare event that lived up to its hype, and yes, Bob Dylan did show up. A triple album,The Concert For Bangladesh, was issued during December of 1971. It would reach the number two spot on the American album charts and attain the number one slot in The United Kingdom. While the money would be held up for a number of years, eventually millions of dollars from the album and film would be donated to the designated charity.
Nearly thirty years have passed since this concert, but I still find it one of the better live releases in rock history. Once the listener gets past side one, the pacing is excellent and the musicianship first rate.
I have probably only played side one of the first disc of the original vinyl release just once, and am not sure if I made it completely through the whole 22 minutes. The Harrison/Ravi Shankar introduction is not the best start to the concert, and the sixteen minute “Bangla Dhun” is just too long and repetitive. Shankar was a sitar virtuoso, but the audience was there for the rock ‘n’ roll. It is more of a philosophical statement than exciting music.
The final five sides are excellent throughout. Harrison wisely places his songs throughout the show and allows his guests to perform in between. “Wah-Wah,” “My Sweet Lord,” and “Awaiting On You All” set the tone and allow the audience to become connected to the music. It is only then that Ringo Starr with “It Don’t Come Easy” and Billy Preston with “That’s The Way God Planned It” step into the spotlight.
Side five of the original release was given to Bob Dylan. Here he is backed by Harrison, Starr, and Leon Russell. His performance came at a time when he had rarely been performing live. He stuck to well known songs such as “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” “It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry,” “Blowin’ In The Wind,” “Mr. Tambourine Man,” and “Just Like A Woman,” forming the highlight of the show.
Harrison closes the concert with his Beatles hit “Something” and his latest solo release “Bangla-Desh,” which reached the American top thirty as a single.
The Concert For Bangladesh remains a grand gesture by George Harrison and friends. It is the early seventies at its musical and generous best.