To celebrate George Harrison’s 75th birthday (which is actually Feb. 25), select theaters across the country will screen a remastered in 5.1 Stereo Surround Sound version of Concert for George, a live show that featured live renditions of some of the late Harrison’s best known songs, including ones with the Beatles and solo efforts. The show took place on November 29, 2002, a year to the day after his death, at the Royal Albert Hall in London, with Eric Clapton serving as musical director and fellow Traveling Wilbury Jeff Lynne producing the show’s audio to sonic perfection.
Highlights include some obvious choices such as Paul McCartney’s lovely ukulele-led rendition of “Something,” a version of “All Things Must Pass,” and Eric Clapton’s essential “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” alongside some hidden gems like Billy Preston’s stirring version of “My Sweet Lord”; Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ “cover” of the Wilburys’ “Handle With Care” as well as the Beatles’ “Taxman”; and “The Inner Light,” sung by Jeff Lynne, with Anoushka Shankar on sitar.
The inclusion of a pair of bits courtesy of most of the surviving Monty Python members (as well as Tom Hanks, who slips on stage as one of the singing mounties for a rendition of “The Lumberjack Song”) seems unnecessary, but knowing Harrison’s absolute adoration for the Pythons (a troupe that began the same year the Beatles broke up), it makes sense that they should be a part of this. Far more amusing is Ringo Starr singing “Photograph” (co-written with Harrison, and a song whose lyrics take on a much sadder meaning in the context of this show) and the Carl Perkins hit “Honey Don’t!,” said to be a Harrison favorite.
Director David Leland (who has helmed music videos for the Wilburys and Petty, as well as features such as Wish You Were Here and The Land Girls) makes the mistake of interrupting some of the great music numbers with interviews with some of the performers, but overall Concert for George captures a singular event that pays tribute to Harrison’s tastes and beliefs—the presence of musical and spiritual inspiration Ravi Shankar is clearly a highlight for many of those on stage, especially Harrison son’s Dhani and widow Olivia. I might have sacrificed some of the rehearsal footage and backstage interviews for an extra song or two (the full concert is available on home video), but what is included in this documentary will play well in a large theater with a great sound system and an enthusiastic audience, so make that happen if you can.
Concert for George screens one time only in Chicago at the Music Box Theatre on Monday, Feb. 26, at 7pm.