Home Read Album Of The Week: The Band | Stage Fright 50th Anniversary Edition

Album Of The Week: The Band | Stage Fright 50th Anniversary Edition

The Band continue to rewrite (and improve) history with their latest remixed classic.

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THE EDITED PRESS RELEASE: “By the time The Band were ready to record their third album Stage Fright in 1970, they were riding high from having released back-to-back albums that solidified them as one of the most exciting and revolutionary groups of the late 1960s.

Seemingly coming from nowhere in ’68, their landmark debut Music From Big Pink drew from country, blues, R&B, gospel, soul, rockabilly, hymns, funeral dirges, brass band music, folk, and rock ‘n’ roll to forge a timeless new style that changed the course of music. When they released their eponymous second album the following year, The Brown Album — as it would be called — not much was known about the reclusive group. The band of four Canadians and one American was still shrouded in mystery, allowing listeners and the press to let their imaginations run wild about who the men and music. Dressed like fire-and-brimstone preachers and singing rustic, sepia-toned songs about America, The BandGarth 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 an enigma, unlike any group before or after.

One of the few things known about the band was that, along with neighbor and collaborator Bob Dylan, they called the artist community of Woodstock, NY home, years before the sleepy town became a cultural flashpoint in the wake of the Woodstock Music & Arts Festival, held 40 miles southwest in Bethel, NY. The one band to actually hail from Woodstock, The Band famously played their second-ever show on the final day of the festival in front of nearly half a million people. As a result of Woodstock, the small town became a Bohemian mecca, overrun by hordes of people. As a peace offering to their community, The Band rented out the Woodstock Playhouse to host a concert. Fearing that the show would only attract more outsiders, it was turned down by the townsfolk. As a result, The Band ended up recording their next album on the stage, without an audience. Enter: Stage Fright.

Now celebrating its 50th anniversary, The Band’s third album returns in a newly remixed, remastered and expanded package overseen by Robbie Robertson, with a new stereo mix by Bob Clearmountain from the original multi-track masters. For the first time, the album is presented in the originally planned song order. The set features a bevy of unreleased recordings, including Live at the Royal Albert Hall, June 1971, a full concert from their European tour; alternate versions of Strawberry Wine and Sleeping; and seven unearthed Calgary Hotel Recordings, 1970, an impromptu late-night jam.

As with the acclaimed reissues of Music From Big Pink and the self-titled record, Clearmountain and Robertson’s approach to remixing was done with the utmost care and respect. “Doing new mixes on these songs with Bob Clearmountain has been a gift and special opportunity,” Robertson writes in the liner notes. “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.”

In 1971, The Band set off to Europe, where they hadn’t played since their tumultuous tour with Bob Dylan in 1966. They were understandably wary, but instead of boos they received a rapturous response. “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 they wanted to document their concert at London’s Royal Albert Hall, EMI taped it on a four-track machine. For the first time, this recording is being released as Live At The Royal Albert Hall, 1971, an exhilarating 20-song set with rousing performances of 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 Clearmountain, these recordings have been restored, allowing listeners to experience what Robertson call “One of the greatest live concerts The Band ever played.”

Meanwhile, The Calgary Hotel Recordings, 1970 offer a glimpse into a different kind of performance: A spur-of-the-moment jam session on tour. As Robertson started to run through some of The Band’s new songs, photographer John Scheele hit record on his portable cassette recorder and captured the performance on July 3, 1970 in Calgary, the last stop of the Festival Express 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.

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 vocals by Manuel and Danko, respectively and became staples in the group’s shows. Recorded over 12 days on the stage of the Woodstock Playhouse, the album was self-produced by The Band 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.  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.”

Fifty years on, lifelong fans and those just discovering The Band can experience the album in a whole new way, sounding better than ever, or for the first time.”