The Concert For Bangla Desh Complete (Zeus Z2026001/2/3)
The Concert For Bangla Desh was the first multi-star rock charity concert. And it was organized for a cause that not many people at the time truly understood. But it remains as one of the greatest achievements in the history of popular music in the twentieth century.
Regarding the actual cause, many in the press and in the rock establishment argued that the cause was too obscure. One reporter asked about it in the press conference before the gig (and can be seen in the film), and even John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin expressed similar sentiments at the time. Harrison’s reaction is simple and profound: he was asked by Ravi Shankar. It wasn’t something he sought out but rather came to him. The concert raised $243,418.50, which was given to UNICEF to administer. By 1985 nearly $12 million had been sent to Bangladesh for relief. However, the money was tied up in an Internal Revenue Service escrow account for 11 years because the concert organisers had not applied for tax-exempt status.
The talent assembled is extraordinary, something that perhaps only an ex-Beatle could accomplish. This was George Harrison’s first live appearance since the break up of the Beatles outside of supporting roles for Delaney & Bonnie and Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band. Eric Clapton made his first public appearance since the end of the five-month Derek and the Dominos tour the previous December. Clapton was still in the grip of a heroin addiction, and had been unable to attend any rehearsals until the final soundcheck. This was the first live performance of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and may have been the first time the general public was made aware that it was Clapton who played the solo on The Beatles’ recording.
Musical help was also on hand from Billy Preston, Leon Russell, Klaus Voormann, Jim Keltner, Badfinger, a large horn section put together by Jim Horn and other musicians, including Carl Radle, Jesse Ed Davis, Don Preston and a host of backing singers organized by Don Nix.
Bob Dylan made his first stage appearance since the Isle of Wight Festival in August 1969. Apart from sitting in for a few numbers with The Band on New Year 1972 and an unannounced appearance backing John Prine on harmonica at a Greenwich Village club, he did not play live again until January 1974.
Zeus released in 1999 The Concert For Bangla Desh Complete which contains on three discs audience recordings of both the afternoon and evening shows for the first time. Both omit the Ravi Shankar “Bangla Dhun” first half of the program and focus solely upon the rock second half of the show.
Madison Square Garden, New York, NY – August 1st, 1971 (afternoon & evening)
Disc 1 (71:08), Afternoon show: Wah-Wah, Something, Awaiting On You All, That’s The Way God Planned It, It Don’t Come Easy, Beware Of Darkness, While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Jumping Jack Flash, Young Blood, Here Comes The Sun, Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall, Blowin’ In The Wind, It Takes A Lot To Laugh, Love Minus Zero/ No Limit, Just Like A Woman
Disc 2 (45:02): Hear Me Lord, My Sweet Lord, Bangla Desh. Evening show: Wah-Wah, My Sweet Lord, That’s The Way God Planned It, It Don’t Come Easy, Beware Of Darkness, While My Guitar Gently Weeps
Disc 3 (61:49): Jumping Jack Flash, Young Blood, Here Comes The Sun, Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall, It Takes A Lot To Laugh, Blowin’ In The Wind, Mr. Tambourine Man, Just Like A Woman, Something, Bangla Desh, interview
The afternoon show takes up disc one and the first three songs on disc two. It is a distant, poor to fair sounding recording and is very bottom heavy. The tapers also seem to have problems finding their seats and are chased around the Garden by ushers and security affecting the sound quality. Despite the limitations it is possible to make out the music and is a valuable document since most of this show wasn’t used for the official releases. What was used, as far as can be determined, was “Awaiting On You All,” the band introduction and Leon Russell’s “Jumping Jack Flash” and “Young Blood” medley.
The afternoon show begins with three George Harrison numbers: a ragged version of “Wah-Wah” followed by “Something” from Abbey Road and “Awaiting On You All” from All Things Must Pass. “We’d like to do a tune now written by Billy Preston” Harrison says before “That’s The Way God Planned It.” Preston has the ability to steal the show when given the chance and does so here in the early show. Ringo Starr follows with “It Don’t Come Easy.” There is some kind of commotion in the audience during the first verse obscuring some of the music. This song is played at a slightly slower tempo than the evening, which is the one used for the film and album.
The highlight of the show is Leon Russell playing a medley of “Jumping Jack Flash” with The Coasters’ “Young Blood” in the middle for good measure. Don Preston takes lead guitar throughout the charged piece and this is what music should be: dramatic, exciting, and full of surprises. “Here Comes The Sun” played as an acoustic duet with the late Pete Ham of Badfinger provides a quiet respite. Dylan’s five song set contains “Love Minus Zero / No Limit” played only in the afternoon and he is joined by Harrison, Leon Russell on bass and Ringo on tambourine. This performance isn’t included in either the film or the LP but is a bonus track in the 2005 remaster CD and is notable because they actually start playing “If Not For You” before figuring out the correct melody.
The finale of the afternoon show contains a gut-wrenching version of “Hear Me Lord,” one of Harrison’s most brutally honest confessions. The performance is great and makes me wonder why it wasn’t included in either the film or movie. This will also be the only live performance of the song. “My Sweet Lord,” which was his latest hit, follows and is ruined when Clapton seriously flubs the solo at the end. The show ends with “Bangla Desh,” Harrison’s song written specifically for the event.
The evening show begins on the fourth track of the second disc. The sound quality of this tape is slightly better than the afternoon show. The taper didn’t have the same problems with security and was closer to the stage but it still ranks merely fair at best. The tape begins with Harrison’s introduction of Ravi Shankar’s set which is heard in the film. But the taper turned the recorder off and started it up again at the very beginning of “Wah Wah.” “My Sweet Lord” and “Something” change positions in the set so “My Sweet Lord” follows and with Clapton remembering the break delivers a tighter performance which ended up in the film.
There are tremendous audience reactions to Preston dancing in “That’s The Way God Planned It” and Ringo singing “It Don’t Come Easy.” But again Leon Russell steals the spotlight with an even more wired version of “Juming Jack Flash.” He tends to get carried away in the song which is probably why the afternoon recording was used instead. Bob Dylan’s set is nicely recorded in contrast to the rest of the show as is the finale with “Something” and “Bangla Desh.” Zeus’ packaging in very good with photos of the event, but given how poor the tape are this release is recommended only for those who absolutely have to hear what the shows sounded like before editing. Hopefully maybe someday better audience tapes will surface.