In terms of live albums, 1978’s The Last Waltz may have the breathtaking roll call of special guests and accompanying Scorsese rockumentary, but those in the know cherish Rock Of Ages as a document of The Band’s extraordinary powers as a live act. Recorded over a four-night stint at New York’s Academy Of Music, the 1972 album captured The Band in their fluid, intuitive pomp.
The first two discs here are basically a sonically refreshed reconfiguration of the 2001 reissue, plus a storming Strawberry Wine. The group’s extraordinary musical and vocal talents are emphasised by performances that sound as if they are playing for their lives. While few will need reminding of their peerless first two albums, a real pleasure here is the gusto with which the group dispatch songs from the overlooked Stage Fright and Cahoots. Time To Kill is a blast, The Rumor an extraordinary showcase for the vocals of Rick Danko, Richard Manuel and Levon Helm, and Life Is A Carnival benefits hugely from Allen Toussaint’s inspired horn arrangements.
Discs Three and Four give fans the entirety of the last show of the run on New Year’s Eve. Appropriately, old friend Bob Dylan shows up for the encore, most impressively on a gleeful Don’t Ya Tell Henry and a soaring Like A Rolling Stone. For the most part, however, his contributions feel like a step down from the level of those of his former bandmates, emphasising just how far they had come.