The Universal Thump Rocks the Bell House with George Harrison Tribute
Second fiddle no more. A large group of Brooklyn musicians restored George Harrison to his rightful place in the pantheon of 20th century genius songwriters.
In other words: George Harrison: you rock. And so do organizers Greta Gertler and Adam D. Gold, whom, just weeks after the 20th anniversary of John Lennon’s death (and the attending tributes and nostalgia) had the audacity and the common sense to celebrate another ex-Beatles masterpiece from 40 years ago.
Only in Brooklyn could a super group of stellar musicians calling themselves The Universal Thump come together to recreate the Phil Spector-style wall of sound that enhanced George Harrison’s 1970 All Things Must Pass.
Only in Brooklyn could this dizzying array of vocalists and instrumentalists, perform the entire, yes, the entire three-album set. In the process they brought down the house not once but numerous times during the three-hour show at The Bell House last night, November 29th, the 10th anniversary of Harrison’s death from cancer and just days away from the albums release date in 1970.
All Things Must Pass, co-produced by Harrison and the legendary (and scary) Phil Spector, is an album loved by many, including Greta Gertler and Andy Gold, the team behind this hugely ambitious undertaking.
I asked Gertler, a singer/songwriter and pianist, what it is she loves about the album, which ranges from spirituals such as “My Sweet Lord” to a host of country-style ballads and ‘wall-of-sound’ pop masterpieces such as “What is Life?”
“The album is just so inspiring. I love every minute of it and it makes me feel like writing songs is important in the world,” she told me. “The album is consistently fantastic with a spirit of adventure and exploration.”
“Will there be another show of this?” I asked Gertler after the show eager to know if this group of 40 musicians are set to repeat the magic of Monday night.
“I haven’t even gotten that far,” she told me.
Indeed, Gertler had every right to be exhausted (and elated). What she and Gold accomplished was a masterful feat of producing. The matching of singer to song was near perfect and the musical arrangements were mind boggling good. The album itself is so brilliantly calibrated from song to song that the concert itself had an almost perfect pace.
The group nailed “My Sweet Lord” with 17 musicians on-stage and ecstatic vocals by Carol Lipnik, who was in a Hari Krishna inspired outfit. “Wah Wah” was sung by the incredible John Wesley Harding, who bantered that he’d heard that on The Concert for Bangladesh album you can hear an audience member say, “Dylan, you’re a douche bag.” Rick Moody, the author of The Ice Storm and other novels, was on hand to sing a stirring version of “Isn’t it a Pity,” which was followed by “What is Life, a high point of the evening sung by a wonderful male vocalist wearing a wool hat (who was that?). The fabulous and folky Chris Moore performed Bob Dylan’s “If Not for You” (from Self Portrait, another underrated masterpiece), Danya Kurtz sang a gorgeous Nashville influenced “Behind that Locked Door with the wrenchingly gorgeous accompaniment of Gary Langol on pedal steel guitar. Rozz Nash brought the house to its first standing ovation with the gospel-inflected “Let it Down.” I know I’m forgetting performers but Missy Higgins, a popular artist in Australia, sang a wonderful “I Live for You.”
After the first act, the man sitting next to me said, “I don’t know how they’re going to top that after the intermission.”
But they did with an instrumental jam of one of the many instrumentals from album, followed by Shara Worden, the lead singer for My Brightest Diamond (and a former back-up singer for Sufjan Stevens), who floored me with a haunting and virtuosic performance of “Beware of Darkness.” Greta Gertler sang an aching “All Things Must Pass” and Amy Allison, the daughter of jazz legend, Mose Allison, sang a reprise of “Isn’t it a Pity,” in her distinctive and heartfelt nasal voice.
And there was more.
It wouldn’t be a George Harrison tribute without “Something” from Abby Road. J. Walter Hawkes with a ukulele performed “It’s Johnny’s Birthday,” a novelty song that actually appears on All Things Must Pass, Lee Feldman did a rollicking four-keyboards version of “I Dig Love” and Amy Correia sang “While my Guitar Gently Weeps,” with wild, unbridled power.
Whoever was on lead electric guitar did not disappoint with his Harrison style guitar solos and the band’s strings, horns, drums, keyboardists, bassist, all deserve raves for making the music come alive on the stage at the Bell House and bringing the audience to its feet again and again.
What a night. What a night. And I’ll say it again, what a night!
Tags: 11215 gowanus, All Things Must Pass, george harrison, Greta Gertler, Rick Moody, The Beatles, the bell house, The Universal Thump