At the end of December 1971, The Band played four consecutive nights at the Academy of Music in New York City, culminating in a New Year’s Eve show during which they were joined on stage by Bob Dylan for the encores. The setlists included songs from all four of The Band’s previous studio albums and Rock of Ages, a double album compilation of 17 songs performed at the shows was released later in 1972.
It’s remained a core album in The Band’s Capitol Records back catalogue over the intervening 41 years and has been reissued several times in various forms, sometimes with extra tracks, and now as a greatly expanded collection under the title The Band – Live at the Academy of Music 1971. The intention of this release, according to Robbie Robertson’s website, is to produce “a definitive document of the pioneering group’s stage prowess at the apex of their career” and, while debates may continue indefinitely over which was their “best” record, Rock of Ages and this reincarnation of it must surely rate consideration.
The Band – Live at the Academy of Music 1971 is a 4CD+DVD release complete with accompanying 48-page book, with the first two discs also available as a 2CD set. The review copy I received was limited to the four audio CDs; the first two discs include performances of every song played during the four nights, remixed from the original multitrack masters, while the second two discs contain the entire New Year’s Eve soundboard mix.
The running order of the first two CDs is significantly different from that of the original double vinyl release and they certainly hold their own as a solid compilation of the material on the first four albums, albeit in live format. For a newcomer to The Band, the standalone 2CD set might well serve as a useful springboard into the rest of their oeuvre, in much the same way as Waiting For Columbus did for Little Feat some half a dozen years later.
The quality of the first two CDs is uniformly excellent, from the choice and sequencing of the songs, their remixing by Bob Clearmountain, the production by Robbie Robertson – and they make a fascinating contrast with the second two discs making up the New Year’s Eve soundboard mix. Here, too, the sound quality is superlative, crisp and clear, but by definition a soundboard mix is going to be very different from a live album remixed from the soundboard tapes. So we hear the full set captured at the last link in the chain, before what the musicians played reached the ears of the audience – and it sounds fabulous.
The onstage banter and song title announcements help to convey the atmosphere among the musicians. Robbie Robertson again: “It was the final night; there was a thrill in the air” and that sense of a band firing on all cylinders – and *knowing* that they’re playing up a storm – really comes across. Garth Hudson’s keyboards are a particular revelation, and the tightness of the rhythm section (Rick Danko on bass and Levon Helm on drums) is a joy to hear in such detail. With the addition of a 5-part horn section (with charts written by Allen Toussaint) for the second half, the show kicks into overdrive and it’s difficult not to get up and start jumping around. And, needless to say, when Bob Dylan joins The Band onstage for the four encores, the roar of the crowd makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up: it must have been an electrifying experience.
This is a compelling collection which provides a welcome update to the earlier release; it’s a snapshot of one of America’s finest groups at the height of their powers and would make a welcome addition to any music fan’s collection. Recommended listening for newcomer and long-term afficianado alike.
Review by: Helen Gregory
Robbie Robertson Unboxing
Robbie Robertson On The Band’s Early Days
Live At The Academy Of Music 1971 [CD+DVD, Box set] is released 30 Sep 2013 via Commercial Marketing.