Friday, October 4, 2013

Live At The Academy Of Music 1971


WOW. I am totally blown away by the sound mix on this new boxset . It's so good it makes even the Rock Of Ages 2000 remaster sound sterile. For example, where Garth Hudson's organ was previously buried in the mix, he is now brought more to the front. The overall volume is louder. The music sounds punchier and has more treble than before. But all the instruments have plenty of breathing room, and that's important in order to a get a good sense of the immense talent just oozing out from each player of The Band -- I can finally hear every single intricate detail of Levon Helm's drumming and Rick Danko's wild bass playing on the fretless. The vocals and the harmonies are simply out of this world. I like how the audience noise is more audible now (discs 1 & 2), and I'm hearing cheers and reactions that were previously cut out from the original mix, usually after the instrumental passages. Also the killer horns definitely stand out more this time, and Bob Clearmountain mixes in such a way they don't draw too much attention to themselves, and the result is they flawlessly blend in with the band. The track sequences on the first two discs are also jumbled up; very different from Rock Of Ages. As far as this is concerned, I can't really say which sequence is better -- this or the original. I believe both offer unparallelled emotional impact. So for listeners who want to relieve Rock Of Ages but with more superior sound quality, they can just reassemble the new setlist according to that. But I must say, nothing will ever beat Don't Do It as the opening song on any live rock record.

For the first time ever, discs 3 & 4 present the entire New Year's Eve show, the final night of The Band's four-night stand in New York. It should be noted that despite same setlists on all nights, most of these New Year's Eve versions are not present on the first 2 discs. The difference between this mix and that of discs 1 & 2 is like night and day. This soundboard mix (co-mixed by Robbie Robertson's son) is rougher sounding, more raw, more lively, more intimate, close to making me feel like I'm in front row. They even left in the frequent feedback noise during Stage Fright. The audience is mixed low on this one, and I would've liked it louder. I like the in-between-song sections, where you can hear random shouting from the crowd, as the band tunes up and fiddles with their instruments. The encore with Bob Dylan was an afterthought. It was a great twenty minutes but I've always thought it didn't necessarily make the whole show better than it already was. Easily the best of the lot was Don't Tell Ya Henry. Dylan had played with the band just two years ago at the Isle Of Wight festival, and it's mindblowing to hear how completely different he sounded in '71. At this point of writing, I have yet to hear the DVD 5.1 surround mix, and I'll eventually get to it once I wear these four discs out. This much-needed re-release continues to solidify The Band as the ultimate melting pot, the pinnacle of American music, and literally the greatest group ever. They transcend race, politics, religion, time and space.