The Band: Live at the Academy of Music 1971
A legendary live album is now twice as good. The Band’s Live at the Academy of Music 1971 box set now includes two discs of remixed and unreleased performances – more than 80 songs – plus essays, candid photos and archival film clips. The vocals are cleaner and the horns are sharper, enhancing the group’s rustic musical magic.
Already a well-tuned live attraction, The Band juiced up their four-night stay at the Academy of Music by adding a horn section directed by Allen Toussaint. Toussaint’s horns gave the songs new life, bathing them in New Orleans swing. The horns in “The W.S. Walcott Medicine Show” burst with the vitality of a Mardi Gras band marching down Beale Street and punctuate Levon Helm’s hillbilly holler in “Don’t Do It.” Snooky Young’s solemn bugle intro and Helm’s folksy vocals help bring the horrors of the Civil War to life in “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.”
Richard Manuel shines in “King Harvest (Has Surely Come),” his smoky tone capturing the desperation of a farmer trying to survive The Dust Bowl. Robbie Robertson’s rapier-like solo cuts through the air like a scythe slashing through a field of wheat. Manuel’s playful vocals compliment the bouncy “Across the Great Divide,” and he lets the grit fly in the ironically autobiographical “The Shape I’m In.”
Among the unreleased material, Manuel’s melancholy lead for “Rockin’ Chair” shows why Helm and Rick Danko considered him the group’s best vocalist. Helm charges through “Smoke Signal,” a paranoid, allegorical gem deftly comparing society to the struggle between soldiers and Indians.
The only drawback is a jarringly loud and off-key appearance by Bob Dylan. (Great songwriter, lousy singer.)
There’s a reason they could get away with calling themselves “The Band.” They were – and are – that good.