Artist: George Harrison
Album: George Fest: A Night To Celebrate The Music Of George Harrison
Label: BMG Recorded Music/Hot Records
Release Date: 02/26/2016
There’s nothing that can be said about George Harrison that hasn’t been said before. Although his tenure with the Beatles found him laboring in the shadows of Lennon and paul McCartney, he was a brilliant songwriter in his own right, and the material he composed for both the band and his own singular solo career continues to resonate, some fifteen years after his premature passing. It’s likely it always will. He may have been known as “the quiet Beatle,” but Harrison imbued a distinct sound and sensibility into his music that not only reflected his abilities as a singer and guitarist, but also as a spiritual individual whose tenets of faith never wavered, even at the end. Indeed, viewed in retrospect, Harrison clearly became as strong a presence as his celebrated colleagues.
There’s no better reminder of just how formidable that legacy remains than the two CD/DVD set culled from the night of September 26, 2014 at the Fonda Theater in L.A., when a group of admiring musicians under the direction of Harrison’s son Dhani gathered together to celebrate the man and his music. It’s telling that many of the participants weren’t old enough to remember the Beatles in their prime, but they still show due admiration when invoking his presence. The marquee names are limited to Norah Jones, Ben Harper, Brian Wilson, Ann Wilson, Perry Farrell, the Flaming Lips and Conan O’Brien (whose opening comment, “I thought this was a tribute to George Michael,” and “I’ve been practicing singing Faith all week” starts things off on a jovial note), but every performance here is still worthy of the originals. Other than the Cold War Kids’ raucous cover of “Taxman,” nobody attempts to alter the signature arrangements to any great extent, and in most cases, the performers even go so far as to emulate George’s sinewy singing style. Even Weird Al Yankovic’s wacky read of “What Is Life” comes across with a reverence that he rarely emulates in his regular routine. Surprisingly, it’s one of the standouts in a set that boasts too many to mention.
Sadly, George Harrison was taken from us too soon, and his gentle, knowing aura is visible only through scratchy film clips and fading memories of a time when Beatlemania was considered a cure for all our ills. The sense of loss only seems to magnify as other icons pass from the planet at a shockingly alarming rate. While this faithful tribute doesn’t lessen the sadness, it does remind us that genius is timeless and that the memories of those triumphs will linger long enough to inspire us forever. The fact that these performances serve to remind us of that fact is reason enough to rejoice.
– Lee Zimmerman