The Band, ‘Live at the Academy of Music 1971′ – Album Review
The Band‘s historic performances at New York City’s Academy of Music on Dec. 28-31, 1971 have been collected before, on one of the ’70s’ best live albums, ‘Rock of Ages.’ But the five-disc ’Live at the Academy of Music 1971′ (which includes a DVD) paints a more complete picture of the shows.
The set gathers songs from their four-concert, three-night stand, just as 1971 turned into 1972. The first two CDs compile highlights from the shows, including 29 songs — from ‘Up on Cripple Creek’ and ‘I Shall Be Released’ to ‘The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down’ and ‘The Weight’ — as well as four from the New Year’s Eve concert where Bob Dylan joined them onstage.
The third and fourth discs collect the complete New Year’s Eve concert — 27 songs, including the same four with Dylan. Eleven songs in all are repeated from the first two CDs here, which can be both jarring and repetitive as you listen to the exact same performances within different contexts.
It might all be too much for casual fans, even if 19 of the tracks are previously unreleased. The thrill of Garth Hudson’s massive organ moving from ‘The Genetic Method’ into ‘Auld Lang Syne’ loses some of its power on the New Year’s Eve set when you know it’s coming. Same goes for Dylan’s surprise appearance. Still, the concert-closing version of ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ is almost as ferocious as the one Dylan and the Band played during their 1966 tour of the U.K.
The DVD simply adds a visual element to some of the cuts from the album. But the Band find the various shadings in the songs without them. Listen to the way they swing through “Get Up Jake’ and pile their instrumental prowess onto the monumental ‘Chest Fever.’ Or even the way they spin the urbane Motown track ‘Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever’ toward their dusty-road Americana, all spiked by horn arrangements from New Orleans legend Allen Toussaint. That’s the sound of a band at the top of its game.