I’m not usually a fan of tribute bands, but I saw one last weekend that proved to be the exception to the rule. It took place at Dolan’s Warehouse in Limerick, though it would be more correct to call it a tribute to one of the greatest musical events in rock & roll. The show being celebrated was the 1976 farewell performance by The Band that took place at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco during Thanksgiving Day. This spectacular concert not only featured The Band along with an impressive horn section, but also some of the biggest names in music at the time. Thankfully, the show was filmed by Martin Scorsese and given a cinema release two years later as The Last Waltz. I first bought a copy on video cassette over twenty years ago and upgraded to DVD a few years ago. I’ve watched it dozens of times over the years and it always cheers me up no end when I put it on. It was no different at Dolan’s last Saturday night
I took a couple of photos of the lads on stage on my phone and you should just be able to make out some similarities to the original concert from these pictures. The stage at Dolan’s is obviously a lot smaller than the one at the Winterland, but the people behind the show managed to create a decent representation of the stage with the backdrop and the chandeliers. You may also recognise the guitarists in the top picture as Rick Danko on bass, with Robbie Robertson on his left and Eric Clapton beside him. Levon Helm is on drums on the right of the frame and Richard Manuel and Garth Hudson are also on the stage. There’s a four-piece horn section in the background and together they created a pretty impressive sound. The running order followed the film’s and the musicians did their best to reproduce the original performers’ movements and banter throughout. The musicianship and singing on The Band’s songs was of a high standard and two of the highlights for me were “Rick Danko”‘s soulful rendition of It Makes No Difference and a rousing version of The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down
Of course, the band were joined on stage by an impressive collection of friends and their entrances and performances proved to be as entertaining as the main act. Some of the performers resembled who they were portraying, some sounded on the money and sometimes they managed a bit of both. Neil Young and Joni Mitchell were ringers for the two Canadians, though it wasn’t as easy for them to mimic such distinctive voices. The guy doing Van Morrison was a lot slimmer than the man from Belfast, but he delivered an energetic performance of Caravan. The guy doing Dr John reminded me more of Liberace, while the Neil Diamond doppelganger would have given the original a run for his money. The same fella also did Muddy Waters and treated us to an interesting impression of Mannish Boy. All of the musicians on stage were having a great time and the same could be said for the audience. We all joined in throughout, particularly on the singalong versions of I Shall Be Released and The Weight that ended the show. It turned out, in the end, to be a fitting tribute to what must have been a pretty amazing night back in 1976
There had always been a wide range of musical influences on The Band’s music and they paid tribute to many of these styles during the Last Waltz concert. The influence of blues and early rock & roll was evident and came to the fore on Ronnie Hawkins’ version of Bo Diddley’s Who Do You Love? Bo Diddley had already paid tribute to The Band by recording The Shape I’m In as the opening track of his 1971 album, Another Dimension. A bluegrass group named Last Fair Deal make it country on Up On Cripple Creek from 2007’s Cover Stories EP. Pennsylvania singer-songwriter Denison Witmer brings a combination of folk and soul to his version of It Makes No Difference from his 2003 Recovered album, while Richie Havens does a similar job on his slowed down take on The Band’s most famous song from his 1990 Live at the Cellar Door set. Finally, Weezer‘s River Cuomo and Scott Shriner share vocal duties on their version of The Weight, a bonus track on their 2008 Red album. Look out for a future post where I ask the question: What exactly was Neil Diamond doing at The Last Waltz?