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David Leland
Joe Brown, Eric Clapton, Jools Holland and Sam Brown, Dhani Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Paul McCartney, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Billy Preston, Ravi and Anoushka Shankar, Ringo Starr

A tribute to George Harrison under the musical direction of Eric Clapton. Featuring Joe Brown, Eric Clapton, Jools Holland and Sam Brown, Dhani Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Paul McCartney, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Billy Preston, Ravi and Anoushka Shankar, Ringo Starr.

Rated NR

Widescreen 1.78:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English DTS 5.1
English Dolby Stereo
Not Closed-captioned

Runtime: 146 min.
Price: $29.99
Release Date: 11/18/2003

• Theatrical Version of Concert for George
• Three Mini-Features
• Interviews
• Photo Gallery
• 30-Page Booklet

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Concert For George (2003)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 9, 2004)

Exactly one year after the untimely demise of rock legend George Harrison, friends and family gathered to put on a tribute show. They gave this the simple title of “Concert for George”, which also gives the feature film of the event and this DVD set their titles.

Staged at the Royal Albert Hall on November 29, 2002, George opens with a performance from the band of Ravi Shankar, Harrison’s longtime idol. Led by his daughter Anoushka – the elder Shankar doesn’t play - we get a couple of Shankar numbers as well as George’s “The Inner Light” and a traditional prayer entitled “Sarve Shaam”. Eric Clapton and Jeff Lynne pop up to accompany on a couple of these.

The Indian music fills the first 42 minutes of the show. We then get a brief interlude from Monty Python, who do some of their classic routines. After that, we launch into the rock portion of the evening.

Most of those tracks come from George’s catalog of Beatle and solo hits. A few exceptions occur, though. Ringo Starr does “Photograph”, his own solo hit that he wrote with George. Ringo also plays “Honey Don’t”, a Carl Perkins tune he covered with the Beatles; Starr explains that he does this since Perkins was a favorite of George’s. The show’s closing song comes from “I’ll Be Seeing You In My Dreams”, an old standard.

I’m sure some folks will enjoy the Shankar moments, and more power to them. Unfortunately, I feel no interest in or affinity for that style of music, and listening to the songs here didn’t change that. However, Anoushka Shankar kind of looks like Natalie Portman, so take that for what you will.

Harrison loved the Pythons, which is why they show up here. Their routines add a layer of gentle irreverence to the event, which helps it keep from becoming bogged down in excessive veneration. The material’s not all that funny as depicted here, but that’s not really the point.

When enter the rock portion of the proceedings, matters start slowly. The first performances come from Eric Clapton, Jeff Lynne, and some not-too-notables, and they sag somewhat. It feels like they’re all a little too worried about stepping on toes and they treat the material with too much devotion.

Matters lighten with the arrival of an unusual source: essentially forgotten musician Joe Brown. He does “Here Comes the Sun” and “That’s the Way It Goes”. (Brown also returns to take the lead vocal for the show-ending number.) Brown didn’t offer tremendous departures from the original tunes, but he gives them a sense of joy and a spirit absent from the ones that involved Clapton.

The rest of the show seems inconsistent but generally solid. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers bring some needed fire to their numbers, and when Clapton finally cuts loose – egged on by keyboardist Billy Preston – on “Isn’t It a Pity”, the results are terrific. That number soars and starts to tap the evening’s potential.

For most viewers, the event really takes flight with the arrival of Ringo for his two numbers. Starr isn’t much of a live performer, and nothing about his takes on “Photograph” or “Honey Don’t” seems terribly strong, but we start to see more joy and smiles from the participants, as they begin to enjoy themselves more.

After that, the most highly anticipated performer of the night enters. Paul McCartney does “For You Blue”, “Something”, and “All Things Must Pass”. All three work fine, though “Something” seems like the most memorable of the bunch. Paul did that song solo accompanied only by ukulele during his 2002 tour, and he begins that way here. However, it slowly grows until it blossoms into a full-band piece. This adds majesty and emotion to the track.

The conclusion meanders somewhat, if just because it loses leads from the most prominent performers. We hear no more main vocals from Ringo or McCartney, and even get stuck with Lynne for “Wah Wah”. The lead from Brown for “Dreams” offers a surprise conclusion to the event, but one that works, as it finishes on a note of understated elegance.

Director David Leland maintains an appropriate sense of decorum throughout the show. Most concert programs suffer from rapid-fire editing and all sorts of gimmicks, but those never affect George. He seemed to take cues from the elegant Last Waltz, as he keeps the presentation simple but effective. Occasional crowd shots occur, but mostly we stick with the musicians. The camera engages in some slow panning shots but never goes into overdrive, and this lends the project a sense of stateliness and weight that it deserves.

I can’t say I enjoyed all or even most of Concert for George, as it features too many spotty performers. However, the spirit of the event makes it memorable. Many noted musicians with connections to Harrison turned out to honor his legacy, and this resulted in a generally entertaining and coherent piece that acts as a fitting monument.

The DVD Grades: Picture A/ Audio A-/ Bonus B+

Concert for George appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.78:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. A high-quality presentation, George looked terrific from start to finish.

Sharpness looked very precise and detailed throughout the show. The image came across as crisp and distinct, and I saw almost no signs of softness. Occasional wide shots looked ever-so-slightly ill defined, but those instances seemed infrequent and minor. This was a rock-solid picture that usually looked terrific. I noticed no signs of jagged edges, moiré effects or edge enhancement in this tight presentation. Source flaws and digital artifacting also seemed totally absent.

Colors appeared exceedingly warm and rich. The show featured a fairly natural palette with subdued lighting, and these tones all came across with excellent intensity and detail. The hues seemed very lively and crisp. Black levels were also nicely deep and dense, while shadow detail appeared appropriately heavy but never excessively thick. Overall, the picture seemed very impressive, and George stands as one of the best-looking concert DVDs I’ve seen.

Concert for George presented both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 soundtracks. The two seemed quite similar, and I discerned no significant differences between the pair. Occasionally, I felt the bass response of the Dolby mix sounded slightly stronger, but not to a substantial degree, so both received the same grade.

As one expects from a concert presentation, the soundfield remained anchored in the front, where it showed outstanding stereo imaging. Vocals appeared firmly set in the center, while the various instruments were accurately located and they demonstrated nice breadth and delineation. These instruments were placed in a natural and clear manner. They also blended together smoothly to create a forward soundstage that consistently created a real and involving setting.

As for the surrounds, they largely offered a general sense of ambience. Mostly I heard crowd noise from the rears, as those speakers didn’t do a whole lot of obvious work. Occasionally I noticed some backup vocals from the rears, and also a bit of concert hall ambience. Otherwise, they supported the music and made the presentation come across as natural and distinct.

Audio quality sounded solid across the board. All vocals demonstrated a vivid presence that put them strongly out front. These always appeared appropriately natural and accurate, and the clarity of the singing was impressive. The rest of the track also showed fine warmth and a dynamic tone. Instruments remained crisp and vivid during the concert. Bass response seemed generally deep and rich, and highs were clean and bright. The various components appeared crisp and the entire presentation provided a vibrant and lively piece of work.

We find a few extras along with Concert For George. In a cool touch the two-disc package includes both the complete concert as well as the theatrical version. At 100 minutes, the theatrical cut runs 46 minutes shorter than the two hour, 26 minute complete concert. It omits a number of songs: “Your Eyes”, “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth)”, “That’s the Way It Goes”, “I Need You”, and “Wah Wah”. It abbreviates others as well. To make up for the missing music, the theatrical rendition includes some interview footage with the participants as well as other footage.

For the main body of this review, I watched the complete concert; that seems like the most sensible way to check out the event. I confirmed that thought as I skimmed through the theatrical edition. The interview snippets don’t appear in isolation, and they occasionally pop up in the middle of songs! For example, we leave the middle of “Handle With Care” to hear Tom Petty chat about its writing. We also leave the stage for rehearsal images at times. Some of the notes and snippets are interesting, though the soundbites tend to be predictably laudatory and reverential. In any case, the presentation sucks, so go with the complete concert if you want to take it in properly.

The disc with the theatrical cut includes some other supplements, highlighted by three “mini-features”. Ravi’s Orchestra lasts 10 minutes, 55 seconds and presents rehearsal footage plus comments from Shankar, musicians Emil Richards, Barry Phillips, Pedro Eustache, Dhani Harrison and Anoushka Shankar. They discuss the work, the challenges of mixing western and eastern musicians, and other elements of the performance.

Monty Python fills 12 minutes, 10 seconds and uses the same format. We get notes from Michael Palin, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, and guest Python Tom Hanks. They reflect on their material, the experience of the show, and George’s love of the Pythons.

Lastly, George’s Band takes seven minutes, 12 seconds and presents remarks from Jeff Lynne, Ringo Starr, percussionist Ray Cooper, and Dhani Harrison. They don’t say much, as the rehearsal footage occupies most of the featurette. Those moments seem especially interesting because they present alternate performers for some of the songs. Overall, the three “mini-features” lack great depth, but they are worthwhile for the behind the scenes glimpses. Also, look to the ever-frank Gilliam for the set’s most blunt comments, as he notes how sick he got of hearing George always ramble about the Pythons. Gilliam doesn’t say this with malice, but it’s interesting to hear someone say something other than lavish praise for once.

Speaking of which, we get a collection of additional interviews. These last nine minutes and 53 seconds and include statements from Starr, Ravi Shankar, Richards, Lynne, Cooper, Tom Petty, Dhani Harrison, Joe Brown, Gilliam, Palin, and drummer Jim Keltner. They chat about George, his music, and other memories. Some of the best elements come from anecdotes like how Ringo apparently scared Dhani away from a life behind the drums. There remains too much praise, but the interviews add some charming moments.

One nice touch about the video extras: all of them include subtitles. Not only do we find English text, but also we get subtitles in French, Spanish, Japanese, and Portuguese.

The last disc-based supplement presents a running Photo Gallery. This shows concert stills as part of a filmed piece accompanied by music. It fills eight minutes, 15 seconds and includes some nice shots. Unfortunately, the format bites, as it doesn’t allow for any pausing, fast-forwarding or anything; you watch the program at its own pace and can’t change that at all.

Finally, the set ends with a 30-page booklet. This nice text includes a few short essays, quotes from some of those involved, and pictures of George as well as shots of the concert. It’s a classy text.

Despite a few misfires, much about Concert for George maintains that level of class and elegance. The show itself presents a fairly emotional and memorable celebration of Harrison’s life and music. The DVD offers excellent picture and audio plus some good extras highlighted by an additional version of the material. It’s a solid package that belongs in the collection of all Beatle fans.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.6883 Stars Number of Votes: 77
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