Various Artists: George Fest: A Night to Celebrate the Music of George Harrison-CD/DVD

With 26 tunes spread over two audio discs and an accompanying two hour DVD, there’s plenty of diversity on display.

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Various Artists
George Fest: A Night to Celebrate the Music of George Harrison-CD/DVD
(Vagrant/Hot Records)
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

“Wait a minute,” you’re saying, “wasn’t there already a tribute concert for George Harrison coordinated by his son Dhani, back in 2002?” Absolutely. But, since that happened over a decade ago, was held in UK’s massive Royal Albert Hall and featured artists that were generally social security age peers of George like Petty, Clapton, McCartney and Ringo, Dhani felt it was time to return to the concept with some major revisions. This 2014 gig was staged in a smaller venue in the States (Hollywood’s Fonda Theatre), predominantly features younger, often edgier acts and unearths gems that weren’t covered the first time around.

The result traverses more territory with only a handful of repeats from the earlier gig and shows Harrison’s influence on edgier musicians as diverse as Ben Harper, the Heartless Bastards, The Black Ryder, Cold War Kids, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and other unlikely sources.  A few elders like Brian Wilson and Heart’s Ann Wilson will attract older eyeballs and even though some questionable choices such as “Weird Al” Yankovic and Conan O’Brien seem suspect on paper, they acquit themselves surprisingly well.

With 26 tunes spread over two audio discs and an accompanying two hour DVD, there’s plenty of diversity on display; the Flaming Lips go psychedelic on over eight minutes of “It’s All Too Much,” (perhaps adhering too closely to the song’s title), “Taxman” gets a hard rock treatment courtesy of the Cold War Kids, the Heartless Bastards bring rootsy country to “If Not for You” and Dhani takes lead on “Savoy Truffle,” “The Ballad of Sir Frankie Crisp (Let it Roll)” and “Let it Down,” three songs his dad never performed live. He exhibits the same self-effacing classy sophistication as his dad. The Jamestown Revival work their harmonies on a chiming “If I Needed Someone,” Norah Jones digs into the country strains of “Behind that Locked Door” and a tender “Something,” the latter standing as one of the better takes on Harrison’s most recorded composition.

Best though is the performance of seldom heard Harrison gems like “Art of Dying” (ground out with a dark attack by BRMC), “Any Road” (a spirited, twangy Butch Walker), “For You Blue” (sung with admirable restraint by Chase Cohl, the show’s least recognizable name) that display his supurb songwriting craft.

Heart’s Ann Wilson shines luminous on the intense “Beware of Darkness,” Ben Harper looks honored to perform a heartfelt “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)” with his typical soul, Perry Farrell looks out of it on “Here Comes the Sun.” And even though Brian Wilson seems a little lost (what else is new?), he and nearly two dozen backing players lend gravitas to “My Sweet Lord,” which he clams is his favorite George composition, albeit one he still needs to read lyrics from on a screen about three feet from his head.  The concert closes appropriately with nearly all the players on stage for an unexpectedly restrained but effective “All Things Must Pass.”

Some performers are more impressive on CD where their on-stage antics aren’t visible (we’re talking to you “Weird Al”) but the dedication to, and love for, Harrison’s music is infused in every track. That makes this a fitting testament to his music, a thoroughly enjoyable experience (in either its video or audio forms), and a splendid, at times superior, companion piece to its well-regarded predecessor.