The Band is revealed in all of its muscular, almost (but never completely) out-of-control on-stage glory — bolstered, in a meeting of musical worlds, by these stabbing horn charts from Allen Toussaint.
But we’d never before experienced this justly celebrated 1971 concert quite the way it’s presented on 2013′s Live at the Academy of Music.
Such is the wonder of the well-timed, smartly packaged reissue or live set. They help us discover new things about old things … as with the sprawling Made in California box set, where we were treated to a treasure trove of Beach Boys rarities — and the realization that their triumphs weren’t always the result of Brian Wilson’s confirmed genius.
Elsewhere, Toussaint’s solo work is showcased on his intimate, deeply revealing concert souvenir Songbook — part of a series of in-concert delights from the last year. That includes a pair of Beatles-related offerings, one brand new (Ringo Starr’s crazy-good current All-Starr Band) and one finally reissued (Paul McCartney’s sparkling redo of Rock Show, with Wings).
A decades-spanning Jethro Tull set offered us a chance to examine the evolution of their on-stage performances too, even as the reissue stack underscored the sweeping impact of Stephen Stills, the feiry brilliance of Otis Redding and the joys of an often-overlooked recording from Jeff Lynne’s Electric Light Orchestra.
Then, there’s Elvis Presley. His iconic mansion is located roughly 10 minutes down the road from Memphis’ Stax Records, yet he didn’t record there until very late in his career — 1973, in fact. Still, when he did, as a first-ever collection of those sessions underscored, magic happened.
It wasn’t the only time in 2013 …
No. 10: ELVIS PRESLEY – ELVIS AT STAX: DELUXE EDITION (REISSUE): The bulk of these efforts would be scattered about a trio of recordings beginning with 1973′s Raised on Rock/For Ol’ Times Sake, including 1974′s Good Times and 1975′s Promised Land. Presley’s Stax tracks were blended with material put to tape elsewhere, however, blunting their ultimate impact. The 3-CD Elvis at Stax puts a frame around this special moment, then enlarges it.
[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: An intriguing new entry in the 'Lost Broadcasts' series focuses on the Move, illustrating that it was always far more than simply a precursor to the Electric Light Orchestra.]
No. 9: ELECTRIC LIGHT ORCHESTRA – ZOOM (REISSUE): Though there was little or no market for such things by the time Zoom finally arrived, this is precisely the album — tune-focused, lean — that Jeff Lynne should have issued as the 1980s dawned. There’s plenty of patented Electric Light Orchestra songcraft, and a notable lessening of the rote “I Am the Walrus”-inspired trickery. Sadly, instead, Zoom is likely the best ELO record that nobody’s ever heard.
No. 8: PAUL McCARTNEY – ROCKSHOW (LIVE): What you’re struck by is how loose and engaged Paul McCartney seems — how utterly thrilled by it all. To be on stage playing his own songs, separate from the Beatles; to be part of a band again. And Rockshow underscores that sense of musical camaraderie early and often. Along the way, there seem to be a few implicit points: That this was his new thing, and that it was a pretty good thing, and that he was having a complete ball.
No. 7: JETHRO TULL – AROUND THE WORLD LIVE (LIVE): When digging through this massive four-DVD set of concerts from across the storied career of Jethro Tull, “Aqualung” provides a series of revelations — working as a kind of road map for the way the band evolved. There’s more to it, of course, as Around the World chronicles performances between 1970′s Isle of Wight Festival and 2005′s Estival at Lugano Switzerland. But the title track from Jethro Tull’s classic 1971 release is a consistent presence, even as it remains ever changing — an echo for the band itself.
No. 6: STEPHEN STILLS – CARRY ON (REISSUE): Even now, with all of it laid out on Carry On, it’s difficult to comprehend the leap that Stills makes from the timid folkie copycat on very early songs like “Travelin’” to the vivid, brutal truth telling that surrounds “For What It’s Worth,” from just five years later. He remained the restless musical sojourner, moving on to CSN and then to create a series of solo efforts that often bore little resemblance to anything that had come before. Carry On, by pulling together all of Stills’ career highlights and situating them with pieces designed to give broader context, illuminates more fully these many paths.
No. 5: ALLEN TOUSSAINT – SONGBOOK (LIVE): There’s a sense of touchingly personal, almost confidential joy surrounding Songbook — which included 25 tracks recorded during two 2009 shows at Joe’s Pub, an intimate New York City club that became Toussaint’s homebase in the aftermath of the Katrina disaster. Every moment is perfectly attenuated, deeply resonate, like an old story told a whole new fashion. Along the way, Toussaint not only reclaims a briefcase of songs that he helped create as a songwriting/producer svengali but reshapes them into something entirely different.
No. 4: RINGO STARR, STEVE LUKATHER, GREGG ROLIE, TODD RUNDGREN, JOE WALSH – RINGO AT THE RYMAN (LIVE): Don’t let the goofball demeanor fool you: Ringo Starr is the model of consistency these days, as solid and professional a frontman as there is — and maestro of one of the last decades’ most reliably entertaining guest-packed tours. So the question for any All-Starr concert comes down to the chemistry among the patch-work amalgam of musicians he assembles on stage — and the 2012 edition might just be the best (or at least the most reliably cohesive and entertaining) since Ringo’s very first lineup, back in 1989.
No. 3: THE BEACH BOYS – MADE IN CALIFORNIA (REISSUE): Brian Wilson remains the acknowledged mastermind behind the Beach Boys legacy, but history — and this sprawling new rarity-packed set — reminds us that he was absent from the day-to-day operations for long periods, appearing only at odd intervals from the SMiLE period through very recently. In keeping, the first two discs of Made in California tend to focus on Wilson, while the next two — which cover the post-1967 output of the band — underscore the typically dismissed contributions made by the rest of the band. Its message is clear: Brian Wilson gave this band its spark, but there was always more to it than that.
No. 2: OTIS REDDING – THE COMPLETE STAX/VOLT SINGLES COLLECTION (REISSUE): The best-known songs on Disc One alone are more than enough to make the case for Otis Redding, and for this three-disc compilation of every single he ever released. But each of those hits, it seems, had a blistering b-side. And for every one of those smashes, there were others that slipped through the cracks. Even across a far-too-short career trajectory, he was already helping to create the very language of modern R&B singing.
No. 1: THE BAND – LIVE AT THE ACADEMY OF MUSIC 1971 (LIVE): These newly restored offerings, in particular the soundboard mix of the December 31 show, underscore the nervy, in-the-moment quality of this experiment — and how the Band bulls right through it by sheer force of musical will. The horns might play with a ragged emotion at times, and the raucous closing moments with their old pal Dylan might threaten to skid off the rails — but who can forget Garth Hudson’s canny aside during the introductory segment on “Chest Fever,” when he spontaneously slipped in a reference to “Auld Lang Syne”? It’s that kind of record — and that kind of moment. Is anybody this gutsy anymore?