Live 1969 (BA69-001A/B/C)
Although The Band as a cohesive musical group formed in 1961, they spend much of the sixties as the back up band for Ronnie Hawkins and Bob Dylan. It wasn’t until the 1968 release of Music From Big Pink they established themselves as a talented force in rock.
Their popularity was buoyed the following year when “The Weight” was featured in Easy Rider (and with four cover versions within several months after its release) and with much touring including high profile festivals like Woodstock and the Isle Of Wight. While listening to the live documents, it’s apparent how much they improve over the months.
Silvers from The Band have been hardly been produced in the past decade, and those that were focused upon the latter years including Twilight In Concert (Mainstream MSBR-72), Plays On (Screamer-05042/43) and Across The Great New Jersey (no label). Live 1969 collects four fascinating tapes from that pivotal year in what could be considered to be definitive versions and the best available sound quality.
Woodstock Festival, Bethel, NY – August 17th, 1969
Disc 1 (48:56): Chip Monk introduction / Chest Fever, Don’t Do It, Tears of Rage, We Can Talk About It Now, Long Black Veil, Don’t Ya Tell Henry, Ain’t No More Cane, This Wheel’s On Fire, I Shall Be Released, The Weight, Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever
The Woodstock Festival was held in Bethel, New York, an hour away from Big Pink where The Band were located. Although the location was chosen to coax Bob Dylan out of semi-retirement to perform (a tactic that didn’t work – Dylan would perform two weeks later at the Isle Of Wight Festival), the audience were treated to a set by The Band instead.
Because of contractual issues no tracks from this set were in the film or the two LP sets, Woodstock: Music from the Original Soundtrack And More and Woodstock 2, released in the seventies. For the twenty-fifth anniversary several songs were included on retrospectives including “The Weight” on Woodstock Diary and “The Weight,” “Long Black Veil” and Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever” in the 4CD box set Woodstock: 25th Anniversary. The Band’s own box set Across The Great Divide, also issued in 1994, includes “Ain’t No More Cane.”
Previous bootleg releases have been inadequate. At Woodstock (Wilcock Records) was released in 2000. It is an edit from three different sources, is missing two songs and is not in the correct sequence. The Band At Woodstock (Home(r) Entertainment Network HEN106) came out in 2004. This version adds the two songs missing from the Wilcock Records release, “We Can Talk” and “I Shall Be Released,” but omits “Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever.”
Live 1969 utilizes the complete unedited raw soundboard source. It is the complete show with only one small cut before the encore. The setlist is also correct, confirmed in Levon Helm’s book This Wheel’s On Fire (some sources switch the running order of “The Weight” and “Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever.” The sound is very clear and powerful, the best sounding tape in this set.
The Band played on Sunday, August 17th after Ten Years After. Their set, lasting about forty-five minutes, has been criticized for being stiff and generally not very good. It sounds as if they have stage fright, but they give it all their might.
The audience’s reception (what can be heard on the disc) isn’t very warm. After their second song “Don’t Do It,” a heckler shouts “Where’s Dylan?”
The Band settle down by the middle of their set. There is a swinging version of “Don’t Ya Tell Henry” and “Wheel’s On Fire.” In fact, all three of their Dylan-penned songs sound the best including an emotional version of “I Shall Be Released.” They end their set with “The Weight,” which receives the biggest response, and “Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever” as an encore.
The quality of the performance aside, this is an historic show which, for legal reasons, has never been released complete before until now.
Isle Of Wight Festival, Woodside Bay near Ryde, Isle Of Wight, England – August 31st, 1969
Disc 2 (61:07): We Can Talk About It Now, Long Black Veil, To Kingdom Come, Ain’t No More Cane, Don’t Ya Tell Henry, Chest Fever, I Shall Be Released, The Weight, Loving You is Sweeter Than Ever. Felt Forum, New York, NY – December 26th or 27th, 1969: Unfaithful Servant, To Kingdom Come, The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, Across The Great Divide, We Can Talk About It Now, Up On Cripple Creek, Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever
Two weeks after Woodstock The Band participated in the massive Isle Of Wight festival in England. They played two sets. First, following Richie Havens, they played their own set for about forty-five minutes. Then, after a forty minute wait, they played an hour long set with Bob Dylan.
Live 1969 utilizes a good to very good audience recording. It captures the music well, but is also quite thin and lacking in dynamics. It sounds like the same taper who taped the Dylan set pressed on Mighty Mockingbird (Hollow Horn Encore). It was also released in 2004 on Isle Of Wight (GSR C) along with an incomplete tape of the Dylan set, and on professional CDR on Isle Of Wight Festival 1969 (Franny Records FR-082) in 2007.
Compared to the Woodstock set, they dropped two of the three Dylan songs (only “I Shall Be Released” remains), and they add the spooky gothic “To Kingdom Come,” one of the definite highlights of the set.
They also sound a bit unsure of themselves. Before “Ain’t No More Cane” Robertson introduces it as a country song, not sure it will go down well in England. They end with “The Weight” and “Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever,” just as they did at Woodstock.
The second disc also contains a fifteen minute fragment from one of their December, 1969 Felt Forum shows in New York. They played two shows on two nights, December 26th and December 27th, but it’s not clear which show this comes from. It is a good audience tape with a fair amount of echo from the distance between the recording and the stage.
The tape cuts in with a rare live version of “The Unfaithful Servant” featuring of of Rick Danko’s best ever vocal performances. “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” segues into “Across The Great Divide” as it would be regularly performed in later years.
The New York Times published a nice review of these shows. “‘The Band’ Rocks With Hillbilly Ease” by Mike Jahn succinctly states the band’s aesthetic values.
“The Band, firmly on its own as a leading rock-country music group, played Friday and Saturday at the Felt Forum of Madison Square Garden. The group was first widely known as Bob Dylan’s back-up band, but for the last year and a half it has been making an increasingly important mark on popular music.
“It is not strictly a rock band, as it blends country and western with hillbilly music into a rock format … After seven or eight months of public appearances, the group seems to have acquired much more confidence than it showed in its first appearance here in May. The bandsmen pursued their songs aggressively Saturday at the Felt Forum, playing a long set. What is most amazing about The Band is that, despite the packed house, the amplification and the praise that has been thrown at them, the musicians still play like five friendly old coots picking away in the back of some Kentucky barroom.”
Live 1969 is the first silver pressed title to feature this fragment.
Philadelphia Academy Of Music, Philadelphia, PA – October 26th, 1969
Disc 3 (63:23): This Wheel’s On Fire, We Can Talk, Don’t Ya Tell Henry, Caledonia Mission, Chest Fever, I Shall Be Released, Lovin’ You Is Sweeter Than Ever, The Weight, Long Black Veil, Tears Of Rage, Don’t Do It, Unfaithful Servant, Up On Cripple Creek, Slippin’ and Slidin’, Look Out Cleveland, The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down
The final disc contains the recently unearthed tape of the October 26th Philadelphia performance. Sourced from the first generation reel-to-reel, it was hoarded for more than a decade until the summer of 2011 when the trader decided to share.
It’s a good sounding mono audience recording. It’s a fair distance from the stage, but the audience are well behaved, not interfering with the music at all. There is slight distortion in the lower frequencies, but otherwise it’s an enjoyable recording of a very rare show.
At the start of the tape an mc named “Herman” tells the audience to stick around after the show for some big announcements before introducing The Band, who start off with a scorching “This Wheel’s On Fire.” Their second album The Band was released only a month prior, but the first half of the show is devoted from songs from their first album Music From Big Pink.
One of the highlights of the show is a gorgeous performance of “Caledonia Mission.” Except for the December 1971 performance at the Academy Of Music in New York (and documented on the official live album Rock Of Ages), this is the only other known live performance before its sudden revival in 1994.
In the middle of the set they play “The Weight,” which also receives one of the biggest response of the night. After “Don’t Do It” they devote most of the rest of the set to the newer songs, starting with “The Unfaithful Servant.”
It’s obvious most of the audience are already familiar with the new songs. “Up On Cripple Creek” raises the energy in the venue and the band are rewarded with a standing ovation. They follow with an almost spontaneous cover of Little Richard’s “Slippin’ And Slidin'” which gets the audience on their feet, clapping and (presumably) dancing along.
The tape (and the show) ends with a perfunctory run-through of “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” In most performances it is a majestic piece, but it sounds very rushed, as if the band were under a curfew. There is no segue into “Across The Great Divide” and no evidence of an encore.
The inserts feature several publicity photographs from the era on a brown background theme, reminiscent of their second LP The Band. Live 1969 is an excellent title for collectors of The Band. It features updates of well known tapes plus new one that have never been bootlegged before and is worth having.