Not so much an expansion of 1972's classic double-live album Rock of Ages, but an exhaustive tribute to its source material, the four-CD/one-DVD 2013 box set Live at the Academy of Music 1971 digs deep into the Band's year-end four-night stint at New York City's Academy of Music. The original 18-track sequence for the 1972 LP has been abandoned in favor of a double-concert construct, where the first two discs present one version of each of the 29 songs the Band played over the course of these four nights, while the final two discs present the entirety of the New Years Eve concert that capped off this residency; this CD is remixed from the soundboard tapes, and the DVD replicates this New Years Eve concert (note that there is no footage of the NYE concert, so the music is presented with a selection of stills; nevertheless, there are full clips of the Band performing "King Harvest (Has Surely Come)" and "The W.S. Walcott Medicine Show" on December 30, which are welcome). This structure is an appealing one but invites perhaps more duplications than are necessary. The 29 songs on the first two disc contain 11 songs from the New Years Eve show -- including the four-song encore with Bob Dylan -- but the trade-off is the NYE concert is loaded with unheard versions of familiar songs: 16 of the 27 songs are previously unreleased (in contrast, the only unearthed song on the first two discs is a killer version of "Strawberry Wine"). Perhaps some of these performances are ever so slightly rougher than the accompanying ones on the first two discs, but that liveliness is part of the appeal (besides, this is hardly ragged; as enthusiastic as the Band is, they're also supplemented by Allen Toussaint's horn section, so they do need to hit their marks to ensure all the elements fit together). Rock of Ages and, in turn, Live at the Academy of Music 1971 do close out the early years of the Band. They'd tour again, supporting Bob Dylan in 1974, and they turned out a few more records before disbanding in 1976, but they never seemed as triumphant as they did at the end of 1971. Although this box is not perfect -- it's hard not to wish there were no duplications on the first two discs, or the last two -- it is nevertheless a mighty testament to the Band at the peak of their powers.
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2