The Band’s double-LP Rock of Ages was released in August 1972, their ﬁrst live collection – as well as their last before they disbanded with 1978’s The Last Waltz. As phenomenal as their ﬁnale show was, guest stars and all, the earlier collection captured them at a creative peak and was a much more characteristic period set.
Yet the Band’s erstwhile leader and current keeper, Robbie Robertson, was never truly happy with the sound and mix on Rock of Ages. The original was culled from four shows at New York City’s Academy of Music on December 28-31, 1971. This new collection – available in a two-CD set and expanded four-CD one-DVD album – rewrites that history. As Robertson pronounces in the liner notes here, “I can’t tell you how thrilled I am to have another crack at this.” The result is a new collection with what he claims is “a sonic life in these recordings that was meant to be.”
For the shows, the Band was augmented by a ﬁve-man horn section scored by Allen Toussaint. And as these new remixed and remastered versions prove, the group perhaps never sounded better.
The Band’s setlist drew on their four previous studio albums, plus Motown and R&B covers. From “The Shape I’m In” to “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” they work together like few bands before or since – part of their legacy that’s perhaps made them even more famous today. Garth Hudson’s keyboard improvisations, Richard Manuel’s piano, and Robertson’s Telecaster lines sparkle within the stellar rhythms of Levon Helm and Rick Danko. The horns are icing on an incredibly tasty cake. As Robertson writes, “Within The Band there was a tight togetherness and ambition to have a good time at the gigs.” Right on both scores.
These two packages offer soundboard mixes of further shows from the run. But the most exciting addition is the encore with special guest Bob Dylan.
Dylan was largely silent at that time. Remember, this was between ’70’s New Morning and ’73’s Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid soundtrack and his eventual “return” with ’74’s Planet Waves. A nervous Dylan had recently return to the public eye at George Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh in August ’71, but fans at the time had little sense if he was writing new material or had retired to a house in the suburbs.
Dylan made an appearance at the Band’s concert at Robertson’s invite, playing a four-song encore to the ﬁnal show in the early-morning hours of New Year’s Day. Dylan roars into “Down In The Flood,” proving he had not forgotten how to rock and roll. The gig would in part inspire Dylan and the Band’s 1974 tour, captured on the performance-rich, sonically challenged Before the Flood.
If you’re a fan of The Band or Dylan, you need this collection. No question. And perhaps with the creative success of this set, Robertson could inspire Dylan once again, and a revised and expanded Before the Flood will be next.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s February ’13 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.