George Fest: A Night To Celebrate The Music Of George Harrison

Various Artists

Vagrant/Hat, 2016

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


Two thousand and two's Concert For George was an immediate tribute concert to the former Beatle stocked with performances from his contemporaries and held together by George's son Dhani. 2016's George Fest taps the talent of Harrison's protégés, the modern musicians whom the quiet Beatle inspired in both personality and songwriting.

Other than Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, pretty much all the artists on this two-CD set found fame after the turn of the century, with names like Norah Jones, Cold War Kids, the Flaming Lips, Ben Harper, Heartless Bastards, Britt Daniel (of Spoon), Brandon Flowers (of the Killers) and, um, Conan O'Brien. A few '80s and '90s artists are here as well, proving that George's music reached across generational and genre lines.

Any project like this rarely transcends its intent, and this one is no exception. Tributes are basically a chance for fans to get together and honor their hero, so often the readings of the songs are faithful. The best entries will honor the spirit of the artist by taking the song and making it something different but equal – such as the Stone Temple Pilots' acoustic take on "Dancing Days" from the Zeppelin tribute my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Encomium – but these are rare.

So, essentially, George Fest is 26 songs played straight and without any capitulation to the artists performing them. That is, this is all about George and the songs, no frills, just peace and love. It's not to say there aren't some tweaks, of course, but you don't listen to "Here Comes The Sun" and say it's a Jane's Addiction song. It's Perry Farrell faithfully (and without much spirit) singing the Abbey Road classic, nothing more.

Fans of George Harrison are sure to love this, and certainly the appreciative audience at the Fonda Theater seems to, even if it falls somewhere north of karaoke. And for those sensitive, thoughtful, spiritual, globally-minded George fans, the highlights here are many: Nick Valensi's rocking version of "Wah-Wah," Jones' lovely "Something," Dhani and the extended guitar solo on "Let It Down," a solid large-group "All Things Must Pass" and Dhani again doing the White Album obscurity "Savoy Truffle," which George never played live.

Most of the rest of the songs sort of blend together, pleasant and played with love, but again not transcending tribute-concert status. Only a couple of songs are questionable, such as the Cold War Kids' rowdy version of "Taxman" and Brian Wilson growling his way through "My Sweet Lord." I thought the man used to have a nice voice, but time has certainly taken its toll, because this is rough and not fitting the subject matter (although Wilson always loved the song, so maybe it was a chance to fulfill a personal fantasy).

One overlooked aspect of George was his dry humor, evident in songs like "Piggies" and "Taxman" (and his scenes in A Hard Day's Night), so the appearance of Conan O'Brien and Weird Al Yankovic here is not entirely inappropriate. Moreover, both acquit themselves well; Yankovic plays "What Is Life" absolutely straight, while O'Brien tells a couple jokes and then roars out "Old Brown Shoe" like a closet fan finally getting to play in front of an audience. It's a blast, and even if the rest of the show is serious, it's good to have some levity to remind people that George was a Beatle, after all, and they never took themselves too seriously pre-1967.

The casual or average fan probably doesn't need this; nothing here supersedes the originals, but the more serious fan will get a lot out of this, and certainly if your favorite artist here succeeds in drawing your attention to explore George's back catalogue, so much the better.

Rating: C+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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