Various Artists

Concert for George (Warner Strategic)

Nov 26, 2003 at 4:00 am
When George Harrison died -- has it been two years now? -- another essential figure of our youth disappeared. Those under 35 may not appreciate how the Beatles were a part of virtually everything that mattered for a few years in the 1960s. Those over 35 have at least this one band as a common bond.

It's way too early to worry about cultural memories from that time dying out, but the passing away of more and more of the elders of rock places an increasingly large burden on those who remain. To Eric Clapton, Gary Brooker, Jeff Lynne, Billy Preston, especially to Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney, and even to Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, George Harrison wasn't just an iconic figure. He was a peer, and only peers know how to instill his music with something of the understanding George had of it.

George Harrison wrote fewer songs than Lennon or McCartney, but he waited a long, long time before he wrote any that weren't just as great as theirs. Few performances from this live tribute album add anything new to such classics as "I Want to Tell You," "If I Needed Someone," "Beware of Darkness," "Here Comes the Sun," "Handle With Care" and so on. There is, however, a palpable sense of the overwhelming love for the man who wrote them.

Long-time Heartbreaker Mike Campbell comes up with a nifty little guitar solo of his own to insert in Tom Petty's version of "Tax Man." Billy Preston turns "Isn't It a Pity" into a spectacular soul performance and makes "My Sweet Lord" sound brand new (no easy task). Perhaps the single most stunning cut, though, is "While My Guitar Gently Weeps." First McCartney, then Clapton, sings the beautiful melody as if delivering a precious gift to George's spirit. Clapton, who played the original lead guitar on the Beatles' version of this song, comes up with the most achingly gorgeous playing he's done since he was in Derek and the Dominoes. In fact, Clapton raises his personal bar throughout this concert, both as a guitarist and a vocalist.

There are a few cuts featuring Anoushka Shankar on the first disc, and I'm betting most people will treat them as they did her father Ravi's side on The Concert for Bangladesh. It's not that we don't appreciate this stuff; it's just that we don't understand it. But it's a nice gesture all the same, as George Harrison loved Indian music.