The Band’s Stage Fright 50th Anniversary collection (a song order I’ve questioned since 1970) has a messy provenance, standing in the shadows of its predecessors, Music From Big Pink and The Band, hailed as rock n roll’s newest future. But Stage Fright has always borne its own grandness and earned its righteous place in the Band’s Hudson Valley canon. And a deep, deep fondness in my heart. So, in keeping with this new age of transparency, I’m going to go gaga gleefully and gush about this fiftieth anniversary release.
At the time, the hasty and claustrophobic mixes from Todd Rundgren and Glyn Johns (both guys who should have known better) kept Stage Fright strangely at bay. But there was an unapologetic muscle behind Stage Fright that led it rushing headlong in the face of all the great music, ie: Band of Gypsies, Layla, Ladies of the Canyon, John Lennon Plastic Ono Band, Bitches Brew, that resounded around it. Liberated by the remixes of Bob Clearmountain and Bob Ludwig, Stage Fright now sweeps boldly wide and cinematic. Its muscle especially felt on the magnificent, previously unreleased Royal Albert Hall Concert, June 1971 which may just replace Rock of Ages and The Last Waltz as The Band’s definitive live recording.
As Robbie Robertson explains in the liners (is it me or does Robertson seem to be explaining himself all the time lately?) this is the intended ten song order of things, and I for one still disagree with him. I know he says he wanted to highlight the collaborative side of the songwriting, but no matter how you twist or turn the argument six of the ten tracks are written by him alone. So, try the song order I’ve sworn by and have some good fun: “The Shape I’m In,” “Daniel and the Sacred Harp,” “Stage Fright,” “W.S. Walcott Medicine Show,” “Time to Kill,” “The Rumor,” “Strawberry Wine,” “Just Another Whistle Stop,” “All la Glory,” and “Sleeping”
It doesn’t change any of the songwriting facts, but the order of songs sounds more cohesive. Please feel free to tell me what you think in the comments section.
Released as all these things are in a host of shapes, sizes, vinyls, digital, CD and on and on, let your pocket decide what set you want. The 2CD set reviewed here has alternate mixes, demos and the homey Calgary Hotel Room Recordings from 1970. I’m not usually the nostalgic guy, but I can’t let this one go. And when was the last time you could say that about an artifact from fifty-one years ago.
Mike Jurkovic is a prolific poet, writer and music critic for both jazz and pop. He heads the CAPS poetry reading series at The Roost in New Paltz, New York.