In the fall of 2014, an expansive group of artists – from Brian Wilson to Butch Walker – got together for two concerts in Los Angeles honoring George Harrison. George Fest is a concert album put on by Best Fest, the traveling tribute-show series that has convened all-star tributes to Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and Fleetwood Mac.
This 27-song set is a celebration of the singer-songwriter’s introspective songbook. The roster of performers leans towards recent indie-ish artists, with members of Spoon, Weezer, the Strokes, the Killers and the Flaming Lips all showing up to pay respects to the third Beatle. Whereas previous Harrison tributes have been defined by touching declarations from contemporaries like Eric Clapton, Billy Preston, and John Entwistle, George Fest features a younger generation who likely grew up hearing Harrison’s music as children.
There are a few genuine highlights, whether it’s Best Fest regular Norah Jones shining on her yearning take of “Behind That Locked Door,” or Ann Wilson offering an impassioned rendition of “Beware of Darkness.” Too often, though, these covers suffocate in their own reverence. Excitement to pay tribute to a hero can easily turn into overeager worship, as the Cold War Kids (“Taxman”) and Perry Farrell (“Here Comes The Sun”) make all too plain. And while a concert full of fiercely faithful, off-the-cuff covers of a legendary songwriter can make for a fun night out, hearing Conan O’Brien sing “Old Brown Shoe” or Weird Al Yankovic perform “What is Life” is far less entertaining on record. With a lineup this eclectic and a songbook as undervalued as Harrison’s, a little more adventurousness would have gone a long way.