All-star lineup delivers at ‘Last Waltz 40’


When the Last Waltz 40 show hit on Groundhog Day, the all-star (really!) revue, like Harold Ramis’ film of repetition, was all about time. Like the chandeliers over the stage, expectation hung over everything: How well could those pros play and (especially) sing songs everybody in the packed Palace could (and often did) sing with them?

Very well indeed, in the first half of their 8 p.m. to near-midnight ramble, a rambunctious romp full of songs of The Band with both lift and heft; less well in the bluesy second that felt stretched. The playing was better than the singing, except when Michael McDonald led.
A New Orleans Band tribute (Jazz Fest 2016) led Warren Haynes and Don Was to put likely the strongest crew of talent on one stage since the original (1976) for this dozen-shows tour. The core band – Haynes and Was, keyboardists John Medeski and Michael McDonald, guitarist-singer Jamey Johnson, drummer Terence Higgins and the Levee Horns: Bobby Campo, trumpet; Ward Smith, saxes; Matt Perrine, sousaphone; and Mark Mullins, trombone and leader expanded and colored the music. Haynes never emulated Band guitarist Robbie Robertson’s pinched, oblique runs (Jim Weider of the Weight does that), instead playing as in Gov’t Mule or the Allman Brothers; Was paid the debt Band bassist Rick Danko owed to R&B.
We all stood through the 70-minute first set – Up on Cripple Creek/The Shape I’m In/Stagefright/Georgia on My Mind/Life is a Carnival/Makes No Difference/Down South in New Orleans/Who Do You Love?/This Wheel’s On Fire/King Harvest/The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down – though some sat as Johnson southern-crooned “Georgia on My Mind.”
Medeski’s keys, Haynes’ guitar and McDonald’s voice ran the table until singer Cyril Neville and nephew keyboardist Ivan Neville took over mid-set with “Down South in New Orleans” and “Who Do You Love.” Spotting Cyril’s percussion rig, neighbor Greg Haymes of Nippertown predicted his surprise entry. Fellow New Orleanians Higgins and Mullins happily joined the funky fray; Mullins’ plunger-mute solo in “Who Do You Love” was the hottest break all night. (Mullins led the great Bonerama at the Parish Public House last March, and Higgins returns with the volcanic Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Feb. 24 in the Bridge Jazz Festival at Troy Savings Bank Music Hall.)
After a break, the Palace got the blues: Ophelia/Caravan/Helpless/Mystery Train/Rag Mama Rag/Mannish Boy/Kind Hearted Woman/Further on Up the Road/Forever Young/The Weight/I Shall Be Released/Chest Fever/Don’t Do It. Guitarist Bob Margolin, who played the original Last Waltz, added slide guitar fire while surprise guest Chris O’Leary’s harmonica meshed well with the horns. They wandered more than explored, so the energy sagged. Though well sung (McDonald), “Helpless” and “Forever Young” felt incongruous.
The Band’s organist Garth Hudson, gaunt and frail, played the last half hour, adding little to “The Weight” but flexing imagination and chops in “Chest Fever.” Hudson was just 39 when The Band played its Last Waltz. A guest-swollen swan song hailed as rock’s finest concert film, it also lamented how bands, even THE Band, break up. But, echoing “Groundhog Day,” these all-stars could likely play The Band’s great songs forever, and be well worth seeing.

Categories: Entertainment

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