Woodstock – Back To The Garden – 50th Anniversary Experience 10CD Reviewed
The triple Woodstock album, original movie soundtrack, is what you most need. Sure some big, big stuff is missing, and there are no complete sets, but the most important stuff, the stuff that sounds as legends in their own time, they are there: from Joe Cocker to the Who, from Sha Na Na a to Hendrix, they fall like pearls. Perhaps you need more from Canned Heat than “Going To The Country,” I certainly don’t. And perhaps you’d rather have it in chronological order, I would rather have Arlo Guthrie’s “Coming Into Los Angeles” followed by Sha Na Na’s “At The Hop” -the drug pushing, easy rider, drifting psychedelic weirdness preceded by the High School dance party from exactly a decade earlier, gives the album an emotional elasticity, a teens together dream of rock and roll past and that Woodstock represent. Have Ten Years After ever been better remotely as exciting as they were during the nearly ten minute “I’m Going Home”?
Listening to the newly released, 162 track Woodstock 50 – Back To The Garden, what is clear is whoever chose the performances for the original Woodstock triple was spectacularly correct. With all the tracks to choose from (there is an $800 version coming out later this year that collects everything, over 450 tracks), they still managed to switch Joe Cocker’s huge “With A Little Help From My Friends” with Richie Havens weaker version.
The 162 track Woodstock runs in chronological order through the three days, everybody gets their songs, Melanie gets her (overlong) moment (as if we hadn’t heard them in 1971’s Woodstock Two), Arlo gets more room, Sly And The Family Stone are cut back though we do get the entire 22 minute medley, and while only two acts (Ravi Shankar, Keith Hartley) are not represented in this collection, those that are cut by two thirds, for instance The Incredible String Band performed for half an hour and got ten minutes.
The Woodstock triple has changed overtime. In 1970 it was state of the art, cross pollinated modern pop, folk, psychedelia, country rock, funk, everything right this minute and in front of your eyes; it wasn’t always (or even often) great but it was always completely alive, and on the triple, aware of its place in cultural history. . Within ten years, it was the remnants of a hideously idealistic world, mired in drugs, stuck in self-indulgence, and lifelessness, sometimes (Keith Moon, Jimu Hendrix -if you go to the actual line-up you can add Tim Hardin) literally.
Fifty years old, the triple is a nostalgia trip and listening to some of it, Sha Na Na, CSN&Y, Joan Baez -it stands up very well. But the 162 tracks At 50 doesn’t stand up as well. The triple is all of a piece whereas the At 50, despite its chronology, isn’t. The sets are too short or not short enough, the additions are mostly not so sharp. Janis is too short, Jefferson Airplane too long, Tim Hardin is a major inclusion and so is Bert Sommers, but Joe Cocker went from being a center upcoming Mad Dogs And Englishman epileptic dream set to a complete bore, the two blues jams At 50 uses to illustrate the set are just not good enough. Over and over again, the sets fail to stand upIt is so long (over seven hours) and so filling, despite being much closer to theactual events, the magic of the event is lost.
What is found is terrific reel to reel, the sound is glorious, the best I’ve heard from those tapes ever, and it helps always. But what you don’t get is a feel for what was happening, it doesn’t seem to be this incredible event but rather a series of fair to middling truncated sets. At 50 acts its age.