Now I Can Die In Peace

I walked into the Beacon Theater with only two wishes: Back To Memphis and The W.S. Wolcott Medicine Show. Not only did Levon provide me with both in his triumphant return to public consciousness this weekend, he delivered much more of the goods on a truly emotional night for everyone in the house.

A frail-but-confident Levon emerged shortly after 9 pm with a bright smile and a hearty wave, taking his rightful place at the drumkit, joined by Larry Campbell and Jimmy Vivino on guitars, four horns (including former collaborator Howard Johnson) and a handful of other musicians. Immediately they launched into three favorites, starting the show off without any nonsense whatsoever — they were going for it. I couldn’t ask for a better triumvirate opener than Levon’s choice of (I Don’t Want to Hang Up My) Rock ‘n Roll Shoes, Back To Memphis and Ophelia.

From the get-go, I had the perma-grin working overdrive.

Drums
Photo by veedub2001

After a couple of pleasant numbers led by Little Sammy Davis and Mr. Music Allen Toussaint, Levon then introduced Dr. John (without Robbie Robertson’s Last Waltzian intro “Y’all know the Doctor? Dr. John? Mac Rebennack?”). Strutting out with his voodoo cane and a bright red suit, Dr. John took his spot at the grand piano and broke right into the song everyone knew he’d just have to play: Such A Night. If I don’t do it…

DrJohn
Photo by veedub2001

Oh, man, my face is gonna hurt tomorrow morning from smiling so wide. What I didn’t capture here, by the way, is the absolutely incredible piano solo Mac took at the end of the tune. I was too far back in the orchestra to take any good video, but the 30-something seconds of audio are somewhat decent:

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Dr. John stayed for a few more songs before the big band broke up in favor of a more acoustic setting. Levon switched from the kit to center stage, picking up his mandolin and bringing out his daughter Amy and Teresa Williams. The smaller group ran through some amazing numbers from The Band and elsewhere, nailing bluegrassy versions of Rag Mama Rag, Man of Constant Sorrow, Evangeline and Bruce Springsteen’s Atlantic City. The crowd ate this up, and rightfully so.

Acoustic
Photo by veedub2001

At one point during the mini-set — I forget which tune — Howard Johnson broke out a slide whistle. I only mention this because it was awesome.

Levon
Photo by veedub2001

Eventually Levon returned to the drumkit and the band breezed through another handful of songs that left me borderline speechless. I kept looking around for all the friends I’d ever listened to Rock of Ages with or watched The Last Waltz with or discussed the brilliance that was The Band, but most weren’t in attendance. I was the lucky one on Saturday.

Levon then called out Warren Haynes, in town for the Allman Brothers’ annual 39-night run at the Beacon. As he did the night before, Warren led the group in a beautiful, soulful version of I Shall Be Released, and if we couldn’t have Richard Manuel up there with Levon, I’ll take a little Warren. He certainly did it justice, both vocally and musically.

Warren
Photo by Josh Wallach

Here are a couple of clips I snatched from the performance of I Shall Be Released:

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WarrenLevon
Photo by Josh Wallach

The end of the show floored me just as much as the beginning, as Levon and his growing band returned to The Band’s catalogue in full force. Peter Gallagher lookalike Larry Campbell took the lead on a uniquely amazing Chest Fever, adeptly playing Garth Hudson’s organ lines on his guitar (interestingly, there were three keyboardists up there and Campbell played Garth’s part). Shortly thereafter, Jimmy Vivino stepped up and took the lead on Tears of Rage, nearly bringing a tear to this cat’s eye — is there a prettier song? The two weren’t especially spectacular outside of those tunes, but they really did Levon a service that night.

Where was my Wolcott hiding? Right behind the awesome, upbeat Down in the Flood that ended the show, apparently. The band segued masterfully from Flood into Wolcott, and I nearly hit the ceiling in excitement (I can’t remember the last time I actually leapt for joy at a show like that). An encore of The Weight was all that remained, and while nobody could truly deliver Rick Danko’s “Wait a minute, Chester” line as much as I’d enjoy, the full-stage and full-crowd singalong of the chorus was an apropos ending if I ever did see one.

Cue house lights, everyone go home, goodnight. But something else happened. We grateful fuckers gave the band a legitimate encore call at the end. The house lights were up and the band had gone all the way up to the 6th floor, only nobody would leave, so they came back down and turned down the lights.

And then Jimmy teased us that another keyboardist was in the house, only he was late getting to the stage. The band kicked into Take Me To the River without our special guest, but lo and behold, out came a seemingly Amish man with a grey beard as big as the stage. Garth was there! He had been backstage but not planning to sit in apparently. Now he had to. We had him.

Garth emerged, first on the accordian and then moving on over to the B3. I wanted them to re-do Chest Fever with an epic Genetic Method beforehand, which possibly would have made my life, but I guess they felt my heart, and the hearts of everyone in the crowd, couldn’t take the abuse. We’d settle for a solo. I mean, when’s the last time two members of The Band (not to mention Howard Johnson, who appeared on Rock of Ages) shared the same stage? We’re blessed!

[youtube]sqJv9YQts-s[/youtube]

Along the way, Levon acknowledged some people on stage from Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, where he was treated for cancer. I enjoyed knowing that a portion of the ticket sales from this weekend’s concerts went to the facility. And I’d really like to take this time and thank the doctors and researchers there for keeping that man alive so I could selfishly enjoy an evening with one of my musical heroes playing some of my favorite songs. I’m still floored today…

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29 Responses

  1. lol @ Peter Gallagher looklike, good call!!

    That could be my favorite Warren sit-in of all-time. I loved the way he played a verse of The Weight using his leslie-fied guitar, it sounded fantastic.

  2. I’m so happy I got to see both Levon & Bustle this weekend, but I think I would have freaked out to see Garth sit in too. This may be the last time that Garth and Levon were on stage together: California Blues

    But you got him on the organ too…

    In ’93, I saw the reformed Band (L. Helm / R. Danko / G. Hudson / J. Weider / R.Ciarlante / R. Bell line up) front row at SPAC opening for the Allmans. While I realized it was something special then, the magnitude of the event didn’t hit me until much later. It meant so much to me to see the show on Friday – because I knew exactly what I was seeing.

  3. I only have one thing to say to that, MiH: God Bless YouTube, and may God continue to bless the United States of America.

    Honestly, it kills me that I missed Bustle…I wanted to trade my Levon Saturdays for Fridays and catch both shows, but now I’m really glad I didn’t. I’d never be able to live with myself if I changed the fate of the world and missed the garth sit-in. I mean, I can’t recall a show in everything I’ve seen where the crowd basically refused to leave the venue ’til they got more music. A REAL ENCORE, and it was a real encore that brought out a reunion that wouldn’t have happened otherwise.

    Scotty, good point, Warren’s sit-in was awesome.

  4. Fantastic review Ace. It was a terrific night of music and the non-stop parade of guests really made it a special night. Levon sounded great and seemed to be having a blast which hopefully means more shows like this down the road. I did see he’s playing in Tarrytown in a couple of weeks – unfortunately the same night as the Warren Hayne’s show at Irving.

    Highlights were all over the place in this show, but Ophelia might have been tops for me – they really nailed it. Dr. John on Such A Night made me feel as this was the ’07 version of The Last Waltz.

    This may be the best show I see all year.

  5. This is one of those reviews you read and are legitimately sad that you missed the show.

    Any chance you saw some recording rigs in the audience?

  6. I know for a fact there’s a recording of Friday night, which had much of the same songs (no Dr John, no Garth)…not sure about Saturday, we’ll see shortly.

  7. What was up with Garth refusing to let anyone pull his accordion into the speakers? That provided the comedic highlight of the night – a tech chasing around a guy around the stage that could have been mistaken for a homeless man.

    But seriously what took him so long to get up on stage? His B-3 solo during Take Me To The River was worth it though.

  8. great review, Ace–I wish I could’ve been there, as it really doesn’t get much better than The Band. I saw Levon & The Barn Burners a few times in Woodstock, but this sounds amazing. I’m a jealous guy for anyone who got see these shows.

  9. Outstanding coverage. Just outstandfing. Wish I had been there. I had to make a tough call to rest the body in anticipation of the 39 Allman shows coming up.

  10. “And on certain glances, you could easily forget you weren’t watching 1970s Levon” – I can attest that from where I was sittng this happened repeatedly. His style is so soulful and unique and his voice was as clean and emototional as I could have ever expected. I can’t really explain how it felt to see these cherished songs performed live in New York exept to send a whole hearted thank you out to Levon, his band, and to the people that helped him overcome his health issues and continue an amazing musical career. Thanks for a great review Ace, I know for a fact that you were not alone in welling up during Tears of Rage, definately one show for the ages.

  11. Fucking Tears of Rage!?!?! Wow…hopefully the response to these shows was overwhelming enough to convince Levon to do some dates this summer.

    I haven’t seen the setlists…any chance he did Masterpiece during the run?

  12. Thanks for the kind words, everyone. That show just wowed me, I’m surprised I could get down any of my thoughts in a coherent manner.

    No Masterpiece, TJ…the setlist was very similar from one night to the next, at least in songs (not order necessarily). But you woulda given a major thumbs up to just about every tune they played — when Jimmy broke into Tears of Rage I just about called you, but I decided to enjoy it instead.

  13. Thanks for the terrific review. For the record it was Teresa Williams, the lovely and talented wife of the lovely and talented Larry Campbell, that was up there with Amy.

  14. Good God, Fats, an egregious error on my part, and my apologies to the Great Campbell/Williams Clan. Who the deuce is Theresa Anderson and why did I think that was her on stage? Let the record show I appreciate the knowledge drop and the review has been amended. Thanks!

  15. Hey, the Relix review mentions Theresa Andersson. I guess she was there, too. I wasn’t, but hope to make the 3/31 Ramble.

  16. i saw the friday show. felt that overwhelming rush of knowing that a moment is unbelievably awesome at the same time as wishing the present could be recorded and just looped for the rest of my days. it was awesome. is there a recording out there? the “i shall be released” made me think i’d hit judgement day in the most peaceful, lucky way. i’m amazed to have heard it live, and maybe that’s how it should stay…but i would love to hear it again!

  17. Lucky to have gotten to know the cast and crew of the Midnight Ramble. We’ve been asked to perform with Uncle Levon three times in the last year and consider it one of the highest honors to be recognized by them.

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