The Band have shared the rousing live version of their classic hit, “The Weight” from their legendary 1971 show at London’s Royal Albert Hall. That exhilarating, 20-song set is included as part of the 50th anniversary editions of the band’s influential third album, Stage Fright, which is out via Capitol/UMe on February 12.
In the spring of 1971, The Band set off to Europe where they hadn’t played since their tumultuous tour with Bob Dylan in 1966, where they were booed every night as the folk rock purists felt betrayed by Dylan who had gone electric, backed by his band The Hawks who would soon after become The Band.
Not having played there in five years, The Band – Garth Hudson (keyboards, piano, horn), Levon Helm (drums, vocals, mandolin), Richard Manuel (keyboards, vocals, drums), Rick Danko (bass, vocals, fiddle) and Robbie Robertson (guitar, piano, vocals) – were understandably weary and didn’t know what to expect, but instead of boos they received a rapturous response at their first concert in Hamburg, Germany and would go on to play for one enthusiastic crowd after another. “Each member of The Band was on a musical high. Everybody playing and singing at the top of their game. Each night, from Amsterdam to Paris to Copenhagen, the spirit kept rising,” remarks Robertson. When it came to the band’s concert at London’s Royal Albert Hall in June 1971, they wanted to document it so their label EMI taped it on a 4-track machine.
For the first time ever, this concert recording is being released 50 years after it was laid to tape, and will be available as part the new edition of Stage Fright, released in a suite of newly remixed, remastered and expanded packages, including a multi-format Super Deluxe Edition box set (2CD/Blu-ray/1LP/7-inch); digital, 2CD, 180-gram black vinyl, and limited edition 180-gram color vinyl version.
Live At The Royal Albert Hall, 1971 is an exhilarating 20-song set that captures The Band firing on all cylinders and delivering thrilling performances of songs from their then-recently released Stage Fright record, alongside their most popular tracks from Music From Big Pink and the self-titled sophomore “Brown Album” such as “The Weight,” “King Harvest (Has Surely Come),” “Up On Cripple Creek,” “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” “Across The Great Divide,” “Chest Fever,” and inspired covers of Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released” and the Stevie Wonder-penned, Four Tops hit, “Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever.” With the help of mixer Bob Clearmountain, these recordings have been restored five decades later, allowing listeners to experience what Robertson calls, “One of the greatest live concerts The Band ever played.”
All the Anniversary Edition releases were overseen by principal songwriter Robertson and boast a new stereo mix by Clearmountain from the original multi-track masters. For the first time, the album is being presented in the originally planned song order. In addition to Live at the Royal Albert Hall, June 1971, the box set, CD and digital configurations feature a bevy of unreleased recordings, including alternate versions of “Strawberry Wine” and “Sleeping;” and seven unearthed field recordings, Calgary Hotel Recordings, 1970, a fun and loose, impromptu late night hotel jam session between Robertson, Danko and Manuel of several Stage Fright songs recorded while the album was in the mixing stage plus a host of covers.
Exclusively for the box set, Clearmountain has also created a new 5.1 surround mix and a hi-res stereo mix of the album, bonus tracks and the live show, presented on Blu-ray. All the new audio mixes have been mastered by Bob Ludwig at Gateway Mastering. The set also includes an exclusive reproduction of the Spanish pressing of The Band’s 1971 7-inch vinyl single for “Time To Kill” b/w “The Shape I’m In” in their new stereo mixes and a photo booklet with new notes by Robertson and touring photographer John Scheele, who recorded the Calgary Hotel Recordings; plus a reprinting of the original Los Angeles Times album review by famed critic Robert Hilburn; three classic photo lithographs; and a wealth of photographs from Scheele and several other photographers.
As with the acclaimed 50th anniversary collections for Music From Big Pink and the self-titled record, Clearmountain and Robertson’s approach to remixing the beloved album was done with the utmost care and respect for the music and what The Band represents. “Doing new mixes on these songs with Bob Clearmountain has been a gift and special opportunity,” Robertson writes in the new liner notes. “Glyn Johns and Todd [Rundgren] did a terrific job on the original mixes in England while The Band was on the Festival Express train tour across Canada with Janis Joplin and the Grateful Dead. We had always been part of the mixing process before, which left something on this album feeling a little unfinished. Clearmountain has taken this music and given it the sonic lift it deserves. The album has become a whole new listening experience with the original song order and the depth of these mixes.”
The result is a new mix that allows listeners to hear these timeless songs clearer than ever before. “There may be some purists that prefer ‘the way it was,’ and of course that’s always readily available,” adds Robertson. “I’m enjoying this new version, this story, this musical journey. It feels like a fulfillment and I know my brothers in The Band would definitely agree.”
Whereas the electrifying Live at the Royal Albert Hall concert showcases The Band playing as good as they ever did, The Calgary Hotel Recordings, 1970 offer a glimpse into a different kind of performance, the kind of fun, spur-of-the-moment jam sessions that were bound to happen whenever the guys were together in a hotel room or backstage on tour. As Robertson started to run through some of The Band’s new songs recently recorded for Stage Fright, photographer Scheele, who was traveling with the group on the Festival Express, hit record on his portable cassette recorder and captured the spontaneous performance late at night on July 3, 1970 in Calgary, the last stop of the legendary tour. The field recordings, which feature Robertson on guitar and vocals with Danko harmonizing and playing rhythm and Manuel joining in on vocals and harmonica, are a fascinating document that lets fans hear the friends letting loose and having a good time together doing what they loved to do.
Released on August 17, 1970, Stage Fright features two of The Band’s best-known songs, “The Shape I’m In” and the title track, both of which showcased inspired lead vocal performances by Manuel and Danko, respectively and became staples in the group’s live shows. Recorded over 12 days on the stage of the Woodstock Playhouse, the album was self-produced by The Band for the first time and engineered and mixed by Todd Rundgren with additional mixing by Glyn Johns. Coming off the heels of the band’s monumental debut and sophomore records, Stage Fright cemented The Band as one of the most exciting and important musical acts of the ‘60s and ‘70s.
As noted music critic Robert Hilburn wrote in his glowing review for the Los Angeles Times, “Like the first two albums, the new one features a staggering display of musical prowess – superb instrumentation, precise vocals and rich, timeless lyrics,” adding, “At least five of the songs, including “The Rumor,” “Daniel and the Sacred Harp,” “The Shape I’m In” and “Time to Kill” rank comfortably alongside “The Weight,” “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” and a few others as the best things the group has ever done.” Stage Fright peaked at No. 5 on Billboard, surpassing The Band’s first two albums, and went gold.
For the 50th Anniversary collection, the sequence has been changed to present Stage Fright with the originally planned song order. “On the album, we used a different sequence to feature and encourage Richard and Levon’s songwriting participation,” Robertson reveals. “Over time, I pined for our first song order, because it pulls you right into the Stage Fright scenario.”
The 50th anniversary editions of Stage Fright are out on February 12 and can be bought here.