Rock Of Ages

The Band

Capitol Records, 1972

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


The Band has always been an acquired taste, as well as a "best-kept" secret. They don't get much airplay these days, though the songs they're best known for are regarded as some of the best of their era. They broke up in 1976 (and reunited only a few years ago minus deceased keyboardist Richard Manuel and guitarist holdout Robbie Robertson), but their live album The Last Waltz is regarded as one of the best live works ever. (Believe it or not, I have never listened to it - it is sitting in the Pierce Memorial Archives awaiting its turn on the stereo.) (Editor's note: This was corrected when The Last Waltz was reviewed in May 1998.)

Their first live effort, my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Rock Of Ages, was recorded at their 1971 New Year's Eve concert, the last they would play for over a year. (There apparently was some word that this album was really recorded at the previous evening's soundcheck; I won't get involved in the speculation.) And after several listenings, one thing is very clear to me: I chose the wrong Band album to review, 'cause this is, for the most part, awful.

Oh, sure, the opening funk of "Don't Do It" gets my attention, and the performance of "Stage Fright," one of my favorite Band songs of all time, shines. Even "Get Up Jake," a song that was previously only a b-side, is an interesting piece of work that impressed me.

The problem is that the performances otherwise is boring as hell - this was recorded on New Year's Eve, a party night, for Jah's sake? Please - I've been to wakes that had more life.

Perfect example: "The Shape I'm In," a song that has the possibility to incite spontaneous dancing in the aisles, but instead sits there and causes yawns. (Side note: The Band opened for The Grateful Dead at their last show, and as much as I thought the reunion was a terrible idea, this song did shine during their set.)

Even "The Weight," one of The Band's best-known cuts, fails to impress this time around. The performance drags on a song that, admittedly, is not a fast-tempo number. I don't know what the problem is with this version - though Greil Marcus's liner notes seem to suggest that The Band was hardly a band around the time this was recorded.

What about other "greatest hits"? Well, I've never been a fan of "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down," and this version does nothing to change my mind. "Across The Great Divide" takes on the air of a polka on Valium, while "Life Is A Carnival" loses something from the controlled confusion that made the studio version such a wonderful track.

The closing track, "{I Don't Want To}Hang Up My Rock And Roll Shoes"... oh, what the hell, I don't feel like taking a cheap shot.

Rock Of Ages is just not a lot of fun to listen to, and that's one of the biggest downfalls of any rock album. If it sounds like the group is bored, the listener will surely be bored. Robbie Robertson and crew were capable of much greater work than this.

Rating: D

User Rating: A


This is very possibly Chris' worst review. Rock of Ages is not only a Great live album, it's also The Band's best album. Every song you would want to hear from them is here, and they are backed by the best Horn section they could put together, they sound incredible. If you do not own anything by this group, Rock of Ages is the best place to start. Peter S. DV Reader


© 1997 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Capitol Records, and is used for informational purposes only.