Monday, August 17, 2009

Woostock redux

Now that the windbags have spent their hurricane force of wasted words about Woodstock and the 40th anniversary of the event has passed we can breath a sigh of relief and speculate that by the 50th anniversary the world may finally have moved on. The "Heroes of Woodstock" concert was nevertheless an interesting event that could have led to some thoughtful reflection. Jon Pareles of the New York Times had a good take on the event both before and after it took place, but he was alone in a wildnerness of useless verbiage. Woodstock '69 was one of numerous summer concerts featuring similar lineups of bands. Two weeks before it took place many of the same groups played a three day festival at Atlantic City, New Jersey, for example, a festival that has been essentially lost to history but was probably just as worthy a musical gathering if not moreso. The Who didn't make AC but Dr. John, the Sir Douglas Quintet, Frank Zappa and Chicago all played sets that were arguably as good or better than anything heard at the New York festival.

The Heroes of Woodstock concert was a good deal as these kind of nostalgia exploitation events go, with lawn tickets selling for $19.69, probably the cheapest ticket price for a show of this kind anywhere. Outside of auteur Paul Kantner's ongoing science fiction version of the Jefferson Airplane, which one can imagine being led by a cybernetic Kantner centuries from now, most of the music was forgettable -- Ten Years After without Alvin Lee?! -- but headliner Levon Helm's band can hold its own with anyone on the current touring scene, and Helm's Electric Dirt is one of the best recordings of the year. On the album Helm finds eternal truths in songs by Muddy Waters and Garcia/Hunter and his band translates them into glorious anthems celebrating the human spirit. There aren't many contemporary pop artists who can match the timeless beauty of this music.

I didn't expect much from the expanded 6-CD version of the Woodstock recordings, but there's some worthwhile stuff there. The full Richie Havens set is definitely worth a listen, and the additional tracks from The Who and Jefferson Airplane are fascinating even though other live documents from these bands are available. But to me the real revelation is the set by Country Joe and the Fish, which was hard edged, angular and delivered with a purpose that sounds closer to the throbbing metallic blurt of post punk music than the soft excesses of psychedelia. The band rose to this challenge and guitarist Barry Melton never had a better day.

1 comment:

Doug said...

At least we have the Summer Jam, four years later, and still in the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest outdoor concert ever -- 600,000. And yes, we got soaked, stoned, and were well behaved, too. There were just more of us. Here's to The Band, The Allmans, and The Dead.