Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Plus: The Glasgow School, History Lesson

History Lesson
From The Band comes The Box Set of this season

A Musical History is intended to apply to The Band--not a band, not the bands, but The Band, greatest of all the bands ever to play rock and roll and _______, the space left to allow for every other idiom left. So this box set, then, is bigger than one band, because The Band was bigger than one sound or one man or one country, even; hence the amalgamation of four Canadians and one redneck, who together played with a rockabilly hack from Huntsville, Arkansas, an electrified folkie from Hibbing, Minnesota, and, mostly, with each other till kingdom come and gone in the span of some 15 years. Maybe that's why, two box sets later, still The Band mystifies. Shit's mysterious, all right, but not inaccessible.

This collection, assembled by control freak Robbie Robertson to seal the coffin lest anyone else have final say, consists of some 103 cuts, about a quarter of which haven't been heard by anyone save the men who made it and the bootleggers. So the classic stuff's here, as are the Hawks singles and Dylan doubles (including a live 1973 "Highway 61 Revisited" that tears down the blacktop like a motherfucker) and the triples that could have been homers had they been on better records. (The heretofore unreleased "Smoke Signal" off Cahoots is better than the version on the album, which was probably its best cut to begin with.)

But it's the "song sketches" across five discs that make this thing memorable, if not immortal--these motel-room doodles that play and stay far better than most other acts' recording-studio paintings. Rick Danko and Richard Manuel would splinter off and sing to each other like friends sharing secrets no one was ever meant to hear; or Robertson and Levon Helm, old friends who would become older enemies, hand-jiving an idea out of thin air. You will get lost in this endless journey of music, wandering from cold Canadian nights to bloody Civil War battlefields to late-night poker games with Van Morrison to warm Woodstock afternoons. There's a book here, too, a hardbound history written by the winner--Robertson, interviewed at length, with his former comrades either too stubborn or too dead to respond. And a DVD, also, with concert footage and SNL appearances and other lost-and-found ephemera--all of which is amazing, more so if you close your eyes. --Robert Wilonsky

Levon Helm, right, during the glory days of The Band.
Levon Helm, right, during the glory days of The Band.

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