Words by Russell Carstens
George Harrison fans — do a video search of “Here Comes The Sun” from the live footage of The Concert For Bangladesh. What you’ll see in the opening seconds will pull on your heartstrings. The camera is focused on Harrison’s face while he picks the song’s optimistic opening notes. The audience immediately erupts in applause. He clearly hears it, and begins to smile. However, he very briefly holds back — but he can barely play it cool, and he allows himself to unleash a beaming smile that nearly melts your heart like the thawing ice in the song’s lyrics. I think that’s how he’d react at hearing the wonderful tribute covers in George Fest.
Recorded and filmed on September 28th, 2014 at The Fonda Theatre in Los Angeles, George Fest: A Night To Celebrate The Music Of George Harrison was just released to the masses, and features performances by Brian Wilson, Britt Daniel from Spoon, Brandon Flowers from the Killers, Ann Wilson from Heart, Dhani Harrison, and Norah Jones, to name a few.
Britt Daniel’s voice is very fitting for the smooth performance of “I Me Mine.” “Let It Roll,” covered by Harrison’s son Dhani (a songwriter in his own right) and Jonathan Bate, is every bit as beautiful as the original. Additionally, Harrison would be impressed by the beautiful backing vocal performances, while his lyric “false illusions everywhere” is sung with genuine conviction. Norah Jones lends a gentle, soothing vocal delivery to “Something.”
“Set On You,” from George’s oh-so-eighties-album Cloud Nine features Brandon Flowers of The Killers. Flowers mimics the song’s upbeat enthusiasm with a performance you can tell he enjoyed. Black Rebel Motorcycle club delivers a tense and slightly dark version of “The Art of Dying,” fittingly.
Dhani Harrison pops up again to cover one of his father’s “White Album” contributions, “Savoy Truffle.” He keeps it very playful, showcasing the lighthearted side of his father’s craft. Another element that makes these covers so delightful and satisfying is that the arrangements are faithful to the originals, making it an easy listen. The artists’ intentions were not to put their own spin on Harrison’s tunes (they need not such tinkering), but simply to give a heartfelt homage to the man’s top-notch melodic sense, guitar playing and philosophical lyrical messages.
As for big highlights, the outstanding “If Not For You” (originally written by Bob Dylan, then covered on George’s classic triple LP All Things Must Pass) by Heartless Bastards has a delivery with the same soul as an old gospel number — extremely tender, reassuring and sweet. On Harrison’s Beatle send-off “Wah Wah,” Nick Valensi of The Strokes does what he does best — freakin’ rocks. Former Guns N’ Roses drummer Matt Sorum plays like he means it and employs his own well-placed cymbal crashes to the song’s drum performance. His groove is outstanding , giving new life to the song’s foundation. Valensi’s singing has just the amount of scruff, as he passionately belts out the second verse in a way that has me convinced that he could easily stand in for Harrison on covers of any of his more rocking songs. He attacks the guitar solo with passion, and like Sorum, throws a few of his own licks into it — these don’t detract from, but enhance the song.
You can feel the love for Harrison and true admiration in all these performances. His songs remind us to not take life too seriously. He recommends that instead, we ease into life with a sense of trust, excitement and awe, allowing a higher power to take the wheel.
‘George Fest: A Night To Celebrate The Music Of George Harrison’
© February 26th, 2016
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