The Band Stage Fright Album Cover web optimised 820

By the time The Band came to record their third album, in May 1970, expectations were high. They had already been Bob Dylan’s backing group and then broken out on their own to play an integral role in changing the direction of American music with their 1968 masterpiece, Music From Big Pink, and its self-titled follow-up. Judging by its title, Stage Fright suggested the group knew they’d have even more to prove. On February 12th, 2021, Capitol/UMe Records will celebrate the 50th anniversary of The Band’s classic third album, Stage Fright, with a suite of newly remixed, remastered and expanded 50th Anniversary Edition packages, including a multi-format Super Deluxe 2CD/Blu-ray/1LP/7-inch vinyl box set photo booklet; digital, 2CD, 180-gram black vinyl, and limited edition 180-gram color vinyl packages. All the Anniversary Edition releases were overseen by principal songwriter Robbie Robertson and boast a new stereo mix by Bob Clearmountain from the original multi-track masters.

Released on August 17th, 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 lead vocal performances by Manuel and Danko, respectively, and became staples in the group’s live shows. Recorded over 12 days on the stage of the Woodstock Playhouse, the album was self-produced by The Band for the first time and engineered and mixed by Todd Rundgren with additional mixing by Glyn Johns.

For the first time, the album is being presented in the originally planned song order. The boxed set, CD and digital configurations feature a bevy of unreleased recordings, including “Live at the Royal Albert Hall, June 1971″, a thrilling full concert captured in the midst of their European tour.

The new set also includes alternate versions of “Strawberry Wine” and “Sleeping”; and seven unearthed field recordings, Calgary Hotel Recordings, 1970, an impromptu late-night hotel jam session between Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko and Richard Manuel of several “Stage Fright” songs recorded while the album was in the mixing stage.

As a gesture to the residents of Woodstock – who had endured some of the problems of living in a town that played home to famous musicians – The Band offered to record “Stage Fright” in a private town concert. The proposal was rejected by the local council and so the group recorded the album at the Woodstock Playhouse, without an audience. Young engineer Todd Rundgren was in charge of the acoustics, and guitarist/vocalist Robbie Robertson said, “It turned out to be an interesting acoustical thing because you could perform with the curtain closed and it would give you this dry sound and if you opened the curtain you got the sound of the house in there.”

Though The Band had privacy to be creative, the anxieties of fame and celebrity are evident in the themes of fear and alienation that permeate Stage Fright, which was released on 17th August 1970.

The songs are more personal than those of their first two albums, and an undoubted highlight is the title track, a candid song about Robertson’s struggle with stage fright. He turns his fears about performing for an audience into a universal lament. Robertson said, “In ‘Stage Fright’ a lot of stuff I was trying to hold in was starting to creep out.” Bassist and fiddle player Rick Danko takes lead vocals on the song and delivers a powerful performance, ably supported by Garth Hudson’s fluent organ playing.

Stage Fright continued to highlight The Band’s virtuosity. Hudson also played electric piano, accordion, and tenor and baritone saxophones on the record, while Levon Helm played drums, guitar and percussion (and sang lead vocals on four songs), and Richard Manuel played piano, organ, drums and clavinet.

All that instrumental talent, together with Manuel’s skill as a singer, came together on ‘Sleeping’, a Robertson-Manuel composition that blends rock and jazz inflections into a ruminative gem.

That pairing also co-wrote ‘Just Another Whistle Stop’, which races along in zestful Band style, while the mood darkens again on ‘The Shape I’m In’ and the catchy ‘The WS Walcott Medicine Show’. The bleak ‘Daniel And The Sacred Harp’ is a parable about a musician selling his soul: “The moment of truth is right at hand/Just one more nightmare you can stand.” Robertson, who wrote the song, said he was trying to convey how helpless and vulnerable things seemed for the musicians at the time.

Helm sings tenderly on Robertson’s poignant lullaby of ‘All La Glory’, which he wrote for his child. Hudson’s graceful accordion playing brings out the best from moving lyrics, while ‘The Rumour’, one of seven songs Robertson is credited with writing solo, is another strong offering.

In their 1970 review, Rolling Stone magazine called the album “elusive”. Indeed, “Stage Fright” has the uncertainty of a record made at a time when the bonds between the band members were being tested by personal and professional frictions. However, as a piece of music it stands the test of time.

“It was a dark album,” Helm admitted later. “And an accurate reflection of our group’s collective psychic weather. We all realised something was wrong, that things were beginning to slide.”

The public loved it, however. Stage Fright reached a career-best position of No.5 in the album charts and went gold after selling more than half a million copies.

Exclusively for the boxed set, Clearmountain has also created a new 5.1 surround mix and a hi-res stereo mix of the album, bonus tracks and the live show, presented on Blu-ray. All the new audio mixes have been mastered by Bob Ludwig at Gateway Mastering. The set also includes an exclusive reproduction of the Spanish pressing of The Band’s 1971 7-inch vinyl single for “Time To Kill” b/w “The Shape I’m In” in their new stereo mixes and a photo booklet with new notes by Robbie Robertson and touring photographer John Scheele, who recorded the Calgary Hotel Recordings; plus a reprinting of the original Los Angeles Times album review by critic Robert Hilburn; three classic photo lithographs; and photographs from Scheele and several other photographers.

The new collection includes many previously unreleased live recordings.

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