The Concert for Bangladesh was the first benefit concert of its kind in that it brought together an extraordinary assemblage of major artists collaborating for a common humanitarian cause-setting the precedent that music could be used to serve a higher purpose. The concert sold out Madison Square Garden and has helped to generate millions for UNICEF and raised awareness for the organization around the world, as well as among other musicians and their fans. It is acknowledged as the inspiration and the forerunner to the major global fundraising events of recent years. To quote the United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, "George and his friends were pioneers." All artists' royalties from the sales of the DVD will go to UNICEF.
Before We Are the World, before the Amnesty International concerts, before Live Aid, Live 8, 46664, and all the other charitable and/or political events that have used popular music as their principal draw, there was George Harrison's 1971 Concert for Bangladesh, a stirring affair released here in a fine two-disc set. The cause--raising money for the beleaguered people of Bangladesh (formerly East Pakistan), who were ravaged by war, floods, and famine--was enough to attract the support of stars like the former Beatle, who had never fronted a band before, along with Bob Dylan and Eric Clapton, both of whom had been out of the limelight for some years due to various personal problems and choices. Given the little time that Harrison, whose help had been solicited by sitar master Ravi Shankar, had to organize the affair, the results are very impressive indeed: the enormous band, which also features Ringo Starr, Leon Russell, and Billy Preston, is tight, the music (spotlighting tunes from Harrison's All Things Must Pass, along with a few Beatle numbers) inspired, the musicians at the top of their games. (Only Clapton is sub-par; looking out of it and playing weakly, he's a far cry from the guy who, some 30 years later, would spearhead the magnificent Concert for George.) For some, the opportunity to see Dylan onstage with Harrison, Starr, and Russell (playing bass) will be the big attraction. Others will thrill to the remastered DVD sound and restored picture. Still others will revel in an entire disc of bonus material, including three previously-unreleased performances and a documentary featuring new interviews with many of the participants. 1971 was a bleak period in rock history; the Beatles had broken up, Hendrix, Joplin, and Morrison were dead, Woodstock was a distant memory. The Concert for Bangladesh shone like a beacon, a revelation of the better angels that reside within us all. And it still does. --Sam Graham