Some call him the quiet Beatle or the spiritual Beatle, but to me, George Harrison was, is, and always will be, the best Beatle (excluding Pete Best, of course). When the lightning bolt descended from the heavens, struck the Beatles and shattered them forever—that’s how I remember it, at least—it was Harrison, often the third wheel in the creative marriage of Lennon and McCartney, who produced the finest solo album with 1970’s “All Things Must Pass.” Therefore, it’s not surprising that one year after his untimely death from cancer, a concert was put on in his honor by some folks worthy of their own postmortem celebrations.
Concert for George is sure to please any Beatles/Harrison fan. Filmed in 2002, released in 2003, and now remastered in 2018, the film is a celebration of Harrison’s own music, as well as the music of those whom he considered himself a fan, such as Ravi Shankar and the Monty Python troupe. The talent that graces the Royal Albert Hall stage is predictably impressive, considering the era in which George made his connections—I’m not afraid to say it: the greatest era of music there will ever be. Eric Clapton, Tom Petty, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and Billy Preston all take the stage to perform Harrison’s masterful, deeply spiritual, caustically hilarious songbook, rooted in the untamed passions of early rock ‘n’ roll. True fans might also spot faces like Klaus Voormann, the bassist for Manfred Mann, but also the designer of the album cover for “Revolver.” The highlights of the show include Preston’s gospel-infused “Isn’t it a Pity,” McCartney’s ukulele rendition of “Something” and Clapton’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” (which fans will appreciate, considering the fact that Clapton played lead guitar on the original recording).
“…a celebration of Harrison’s own music, as well as the music of those whom he considered himself a fan…”
My only real complaint, musically speaking, is the concert’s overpopulated arrangements. For instance, there are about seven guitarists on stage at all times. This creates a big, thin sound that is antithetical to concert’s commemorative ambitions. I would have preferred to have seen a series of minimalist, concentrated, personal performances—this isn’t to say you wouldn’t go big with a “Taxman” or “My Sweet Lord.”
In between the songs are some brief interviews and B-roll footage of rehearsals. There’s not much to see in the latter, other than the superficial giddiness that comes with seeing one musical maverick pal around with another—think of the scene in Avengers: Age of Ultron when they’re between missions and having a dinner party. The interviews don’t reveal anything particularly interesting or new, other than Petty’s mentioning of a Traveling Wilburys barbeque (oh, to be a fly on the potato salad). If you’re looking to learn about Harrison’s life, this isn’t the place. I would refer you to Martin Scorsese’s George Harrison: Living in the Material World or, better yet, the music itself. The long journey from “Please Please Me” to “Brainwashed” is a worthwhile one, I promise.
“…Concert for George isn’t a must-see film for Beatles/Harrison fans, but I’m sure most of them will seek it out anyway.”
Speaking of Scorsese, if you’re looking for kinetic, purposeful concert footage, you won’t find it here. The camerawork is fairly simple and stagnate. This isn’t a deal-breaker, but if you’ve seen The Last Waltz or Shine a Light, where there’s a powerful visual element to the performances, you might feel the absence of something. I will commend the director, David Leland, for not constantly cutting to audience reactions, which is an irritant of mine with concert films. When Eric Clapton is on stage, I don’t want to be looking at someone looking at Eric Clapton, I want to be looking at Eric Clapton.
Concert for George isn’t a must-see film for Beatles/Harrison fans, but I’m sure most of them will seek it out anyway. For those possibly looking to initiate their own internal microcosm of Beatlemania, I would suggest a different starting place. Nonetheless, the film features some of the best artists of the 20th century performing some of the best songs of the 20th century. Films have been built on less.
Concert for George (2018) Directed by David Leland. Starring Joe Brown, Eric Clapton, Jools Holland, Sam Brown, Jeff Lynne, Paul McCartney, Tom Petty, Billy Preston, Ringo Starr.
3.5 out of 5