In the last thirty years the benefit concert has become a more and more familiar phenomenon. It has proved itself as an effective means of raising awareness and funds for disasters, poverty and the like. What got the ball rolling was George Harrison's Concert For Bangladesh at Madison Square Garden in 1971.
The loveliest thing about this concert is that it takes place before such events got all clouded and complicated with our postmodern analysing of them - often justified criticism, I grant you.
Sitar virtuoso Ravi Shankar explained to his protégé Harrison the plight of Bangladeshis fleeing into India from East Pakistan and suffering from hunger on a scale that has come to be all too familiar down the years. Shankar asked Harrison to utilise his position and superstar contacts and organise a concert to help Bangladesh. As Harrison himself explains with characteristically beautiful simplicity, "I was asked by a friend if I'd help". And he did.
So George enrolled a very dazed Eric Clapton in the throes of addiction, Ringo, Billy Preston, Klaus Voorman, Leon Russell, renown session drummer Jim Keltner, and surely the spiritual mothership of the whole shebang, Bob Dylan.
It is strange to see George as a front man, especially with such an array of musicians behind. His evident discomfort at this doesn't detract from the show's quality; rather it exemplifies the understated, ego-free nature of the ensemble.
Indeed, the lack of broo-ha-ha seems an anachronism. Before opening the show with some mind-boggling sitar playing, Ravi Shankar asks the audience to refrain from smoking and that his music "requires concentrated listening". Somehow I can't imagine Velvet Revolver or the Black Eyed Peas saying that at Live 8. Compared with some of the monolithic benefit concerts that have happened since, George Harrison's get together is no more than a thoughtful, intellectual, humble evening of wonderful music for a good cause.
After Shankar, good times kick off with Harrison's Wah Wah, followed by a couple more songs from All Things Must Pass, his brilliant latest album at the time. Ringo's It Don't Come Easy proves his singing really hadn't improved since the Beatles split, and Eric Clapton somewhat deflates While My Guitar Gently Weeps by playing what should be a jagged solo of nasty electricity on a meagre electro-acoustic. As he himself admits, he didn't know where he was or what he was doing - but its still a sight for sore eyes to see old slow-hand guitar-duelling with the his great friend Harrison.
Things are taken to a higher plain with the wonderful Beware Of Darkness, an ominous epic and possibly Harrison's greatest post-Beatles track. Of other material from with his former band, an unplugged performance of Here Comes The Sun can't fail, nor can Something, despite him forgetting the words.
Mid-way through the show, Dylan is wheeled out. His performance here should have been a postscript to Scorcese's documentary, as it proves that he can actually sing in quite a sweet voice (for him) instead of the tuneless growl he is often associated with. His brief set, including A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall, It Takes A Lot Laugh, It Takes a Train To Cry and Just Like A Woman adds a deep and meaningful gravity to the concert that only Dylan could convey.
The exhaustive special features are amongst the best I've seen for any concert DVD in recent times. There is a lengthy documentary detailing the lead-up to the event, including insights from various surviving participants, Dylan excepted. Also tucked away on the second disc is a touching duet between Dylan and Harrison on the former's If Not For You.
In 1971 the rock world was reeling from the Beatles' split, Altamont, an increasing number of drug casualties and a dispiriting indifference from Bob Dylan. George Harrison's vision and subsequent realisation of it breathed much needed life into an ailing scene.
The only downer to watching the concert is that it acts as a poignant reminder that this man with such grace, temperament and humility no longer walks this earth.