No question about it. Half a million people trying to find their way to the toilet must have taken some determination as well as patience on behalf of those in attendance. I can’t imagine what it’s like busting for a piss while wading your way through a crowd of 20,000 only to realise that every functioning thunder-box is already full, just to see that there’s another hundred or so just like you, holding on to their groin in agony (if you’re lucky), waiting to relieve themselves of their Utopian dilemma. Though seriously, Woodstock was a major event, the likes of which the world had never seen, and must have frightened the crap out of every extreme conservative in America. Mind you that didn’t prevent the establishment from flying in all the necessary supplies which the hippies needed in order to maintain their freak festival.
On the third day, a little known Englishmen by the name of Joe Cocker and his humble Grease Band walked on to the stage, and would unwittingly create history with their raw and unrefined performance. When he took to the platform on Sunday morning, August 17th, 1969, it was clear that the cameras were in love with him, with his wild looks and spastic gestures, Cocker was obviously what the crowd needed. Most of his performances were made up of covers, but that’s alright, because Joe had a genius for taking other people’s material and making it his own.
We open with Bob Dylan’s “Dear Landlord,” from John Wesley Harding, all performed in a loose and ramshackle manner. Likewise his other takes on Dylan; “Just Like A Woman”, from Blonde On Blonde, and “I Shall Be Released”, each of which are done in a tight and convincing fashion – arguably even better than the originals themselves. Cocker turns up the heat on “Something’s Coming On”, while proving that he knew how to belt out a ballad when he wanted to with the tender “Do I Still Figure In Your Life”. His interpretation of Dave Mason’s “Feelin’ Alright” is absolutely stellar, and the most definitive in my opinion. One of the wonderful things about listening to this document is that the listener gets a real feeling that while the band are performing the whole stage and equipment were about to collapse around them. “Let’s Go Get Stoned” must have got the audience going, I must say, with Cocker’s volcanic vocals and the theme itself. The Grease Band is also right on the money, almost telepathically so, reading each other as if they were all born and bred from the same family. Cocker raises the temperature with the bluesy “I Don’t Need No Doctor”, and brings it down again with a stunningly soulful rendition of the aforementioned “I Shall Be Released”. The group keep the energy going with superb versions of “Hitchcock Railway” and “Something To Say”, the former especially, where the band are in top form throughout, as if to show the Americans that the English also knew how to rock the stage and wow a crowd.
Of course all this leads us to the final moment, and what a moment it is. Cocker’s definitive reading of The Beatles’ “With A Little Help from My Friends”. Listening to it is one thing, however watching it is another. Cocker’s delivery is so full of passion and fire that it’s little wonder it became one of the defining moments of Woodstock, cinematically speaking. Who would have thought that a working class Yorkshire lad could be capable of delivering such a powerful performance. Well, after hearing this, I’m sure many stood up and took notice, even in their stoned and shagged out stupor.
At the Woodstock festival Cocker established himself as a British equivalent to Otis Redding or Wilson Pickett, and a bona-fide soul singer in his own right, even if he sounded as if he’d been fed on a diet of Newcastle coal as a child and teenager, and started smoking rollies at the age of four. One thing’s for sure, Joe was a one off, and Live At Woodstock establishes that fact in spades. He may have resembled some deranged and hairy tramp from England, however his talents were certainly far greater than his looks.