With all the deadlines and scarce recording studio time, he was forced to record the Dark Horse album with sub-par vocals. Nonetheless, I always thought Dark Horse was one of George's best albums. I didn't care anyway being such a big fan of his. I remember the box office demand was so strong for the New York shows that they added a second show in the afternoon on December 20th for a total of three New York shows. There was one the night before. The New York newspaper critics trashed the first show citing George's poor vocals. Early the next day scalpers were seen on every street corner trying to unload tickets. Some time during the afternoon, perhaps during the afternoon show, a rumour had spread that John Lennon was going to appear that night. All of a sudden, the easiest ticket in town became the most impossible ticket. (I read the next day that Paul and Linda McCartney were sitting in the audience with their wigs on).
I remember the atmosphere for the show was quite electric. Aside from the Lennon rumours, it was the Friday before Christmas. People were filing in to the Garden straight from Christmas parties and in a very good mood from the partying. George arranged to have some children appear on stage to sing Christmas carols before the show.
When the lights went out George hit the stage with his band and performed a real rocking version of the instrumental Hari's on Tour from the Dark Horse album. The crowd was really into it. The crowd also went wild as they heard the very familiar notes to the next song - Something. This is where George's voice was at it's harshest. He shouted his way through the song as if to loosen up his vocal cords. It didn't go over very well as did a vaguely recognizable version of In My Life that followed.
I am not sure of the exact order of what followed, but Billy Preston picked up the crowd with Will It Go 'Round in Circles. George seemed to settle in after that. He followed with a great version of Sue Me Sue You Blues featuring some great guitar work. At this point (which was a mistake in timing) George brought out the Indian musicians. They probably should have opened the show since the momentum George had suddenly stopped. The crowd did seem to enjoy the three or four songs they played. The last one featured Tom Scott from the L.A. Express.
George came back and I think played For You Blue which was followed by Give Me Love. I thought Give Me Love was the best song of the night. George played a couple of new songs from Dark Horse (Maya Love and Dark Horse). George kidded with the crowd not to confuse Maya Love with My Love by Paul McCartney.
Billy Preston followed with Nothing from Nothing and Outta Space.
George played a blistering lead for While My Guitar Gently Weeps and got a huge ovation at the songs end. He then hit the notes for What Is Life and brought the crowd to its feet again with a great rendition of the song. This ended the regular set. George came back with the band and played a rousing electric version of My Sweet Lord to end the show. The second half of the show was certainly better than the first. The crowd left wanting more.
The overall performance of the musicians was excellent. Aside from George's voice, the song selection was a good mixture of Beatle and solo material. As I mentioned, the only thing that should have been changed was the order of appearance of the Indian musicians. I think George did that so everyone would be in the arena to see them and not show up late as most people do for opening acts.
I was happy to be there and as years went by, I was happier that I went because George has not toured in America since. I was going to go to Japan to see the tour there, but changed my mind when I heard the tour was coming to the U.S. afterward. Unfortunately it didn't.
I did catch him live at the Bob Dylan Tribute a couple of years ago. He sang If Not for You (not on the album) and Absolutely Sweet Marie. He was in good form but understandably a bit nervous. Once a shy Beatle, always a shy Beatle I guess.
©1997, Frank Giusti