Nostalgia is high in society at the moment with the world seemingly crumbling around us. People want to remember the good times and musicians are more than happy to oblige them. While many groups are touring on their best album and playing it from front to back, or playing the same hits over and over, audiences are lapping it out. The Last Waltz was a special moment in rock history in 1976 and a group of talented musicians are about done wrapping up a short tour in honor of the concert and of course The Band.
While no one can do what The Band, this band did a fine job of filling in for them musically. Don Was, the man who is usually behind the scenes producing records, teamed up with Warren Haynes after a late night New Orleans Jazz Fest show and decided that the show should go on a brief tour. Much to the delight of fans of The Band on the East Coast, the 11-date trek is a much-needed distraction from everyday life. Over two sets and an encore this band demonstrated how much time, effort, and care they have place into doing this correctly. The Band of course were one of the most talented groups to ever take the stage and a tribute would have to be top notch if it was going to honor them.
The MVP of the evening was a tie between John Medeski on keys of all kinds and Jamey Johnson on every song he sang. Medeski’s contributions were far more plentiful than imagined. His fills and solos got the crowd going no matter what song it was in. Jamey’s vocals fit the songs he sang so perfectly, you could think the songs were written specifically for him to sing. This is not a knock-on Warren, who’s solos and vocals were great all night, or the team up of Don Was on bass and Terrence Higgins on drums holding down the low end. It also doesn’t knock Michael McDonald, who was tremendous in both energy and voice. It’s just that these two, who most probably would have thought were going to be more in the background, really helped the evening achieve what it wanted to.
The set was decorated with chandeliers and a backdrop to make it look like the Winterland Ballroom and the band walked out and rattled off “Up on Cripple Creek,” “The Shape I’m In” and “Stage Fright” before you could blink. The horn section the band had with them used the original charts written by Allen Toussaint. A big highlight of both sets were the Neville Brothers who came out for very funky takes on “Down South in New Orleans,” “Who Do You Love?” and “Mystery Train.” All three of these songs had some great interplay between the band giving everyone a chance to put their mark on the songs.
After the first half concluded with “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” it was surprising how long the set break was. Considering how many hours The Last Waltz actually took place in 1976 and that this isn’t a very long tour, most figured that they would play straight through, but it was not in the cards. Just another reason why The Band was so special. Coming out strong again though with a roll-licking “Ophelia” and “Caravan” got the crowd right back into it.
A highlight of the second set was the inclusion of Bob Margolin, an original performer at The Last Waltz, and he was quite the showman and storyteller at the Albany’s Palace Theatre. He told the crowd how thankful he was for being at the original one and how it was great to see anyone try to capture that feeling again. He also talked about the much lauded over all night jam session with all the players that occurred after the original show ended that last way past dawn at a hotel nearby. His mini-set saw him pay tribute to not only The Band, but also Muddy Waters with takes on “Mannish Boy,” “King Hearted Woman Blues” and “Farther Up the Road.”
The big draw to Albany’s show however was that original member Garth Hudson was going to be playing. He hasn’t been in the best health in recent years, so it was amazing to watch him slowly get to his position on stage and get a rousing ovation. Once he was in front of the keys though his hands moved like it was 40 years ago. He played on “The Weight” which went directly into “I Shall Be Released” that had everyone share the vocals. Everyone but Garth left the stage as he started up “Genetic Method/Chest Fever” that had the crowd going wild. His playing made The Band so special and to witness him take part of the celebration was what you go to concerts for. As the whole band finished “Chest Fever” they went right into the last song of the night, and the last song The Band ever played, “Don’t Do It.” The almost sold out crowd got their money’s worth and then some to travel back in time for a few hours and forget about their troubles. Every member of this band has done quite the service for The Band.
Article: Bryan Lasky