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Published: 2013/12/03
by Ron Hart

The Band
Live at the Academy of Music 1971
Capitol/UME

On New Year’s Eve 1971, The Band staged a ringing in of weird, old ’72 in the form of four epic concerts at New York City’s sadly missed Academy of Music for a series of performances truly synonymous with the title of the original double LP from which this set derived.

“Live albums do not always work in electric music because of the complexity of the set up and the usual necessity for precise control of the sound,” opined the late, great Ralph J. Gleason in his review of Rock of Ages in the October 12, 1972 issue of Rolling Stone, a print-out replica of which is one of the many treasures to be found in this excellent five-disc box set that offers a definite anthology of the Upstate greats’ legendary run. “But this album, even on first hearing (it gets better and better the more you listen to it) immediately joins the ranks of such celebrated in-person recordings as Mingus at Monterey, Count Basie in Sweden, Duke Ellington’s Seattle Concert, Miles at the Blackhawk and Ray Charles in Atlanta.”

When placed alongside the Isle of Wight performance included in the super deluxe edition of the tenth volume of Bob Dylan’s Bootleg Series collection, Another Self Portrait, it is astounding to hear the growth of this combo within the span of two short years. Their handling of such faves as “The Shape I’m In”, “…Cripple Creek”, “…Great Divide”, “The Weight” and “Chest Fever” culled from a grab bag of material recorded over the four-night stand, rank among the best versions of these cuts legally available to the public, made especially true with the mighty wind from a powerhouse horn section arranged by Allen Toussaint blowing them to the promised land. And then when Bob Dylan joins his mates during the New Year’s Eve encore set, Live at the Academy truly comes off the rails with transcendent renditions of “Down in the Flood”, Dylan’s then current hit “When I Paint My Masterpiece”, the Basement Tapes blowout “Don’t Ya Tell Henry” and an earth moving roar through “Like A Rolling Stone.”

This deluxe re-acquaintance of Rock of Ages not only restores the tracklisting of the original double album, but also adds two discs’ worth of raw soundboard mixes from alternate performances. The fifth disc, meanwhile, is a DVD that features previously unavailable film footage of the Band’s performances of “King Harvest” and “The W.S. Walcot Medicine Show” (was the rest of the show filmed is the question here). Also, why Robbie Robertson –who produced the box/book along with Michael Murphy and Matt D’Amico from the original Phil Ramone/Mark Harman tapes—chose to put Live at the Academy of Music 1971 in compilation form as opposed to a more in-depth collection that could’ve included four two-disc sets chronicling each night in their entirety is anybody’s guess. But it’s cool…

But as it stands, with its hardbound casing and in-depth literature offering laminating insight into the period through essays, photos and concert memorabilia, there isn’t a better moment to revisit one of the finest live albums of our time.

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