The opulent and ornate Orpheum Theater located in the original theater district of downtown Los Angeles played host to a very special concert, Thursday night April 13th. The Last Waltz 40 Tour, billed as a celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Last Waltz concert by The Band, filmed by director Martin Scorsese and made into a documentary of the same name, was originally meant to only be a one-time tribute concert in New Orleans. But the event garnered so much praise and interest it became a national tour and just recently added a second leg of new markets.
The show features a nine-piece core band of Southern rock and New Orleans jazz veterans. The band was fronted by guitarist extraordinaire Warren Haynes and singer-guitarist Jamey Johnson. The rhythm section was composed of legendary music producer Don Was on bass and New Orleans monster funk drummer Terence Higgins. Gov’t Mule keyboardist Danny Louis rounded out the five-piece band and were joined by a four-piece all-star horn section led by Mark Mullins of Bonerama.
The nine-piece band opened with two of The Band’s more well known compositions: “Up on Cripple Creek” and “Stage Fright.” The horn section kicked in on the third song, a cover by Hoagy Carmichael, “Georgia on My Mind,” that would set the pace of the evening’s marathon two-set performance. Classic songs by The Band would be interspersed with covers played at the original Last Waltz.
Towards the beginning, the first of a long parade of very special guests began to appear on stage. The first guests included two New Orleans legends, Dr. John on piano and Cyril Neville on percussion, as Dr. John was one of the original performers at Last Waltz. The raspy-voiced John opened with his original song “Such a Night,” leading the band with a bright honky tonk piano sound. He followed with another Band classic “Down South in New Orleans.” Cyril Neville took over lead vocals for the next song, a cover of the Bo Diddley classic, Who Do You Love?
The core group continued with another Band classic “Rag Mama Rag,” bringing the crowd in the packed theater to their feet. The master of all music that is Blues, Taj Mahal, took over lead vocals for the next Band cover “The Shape I’m In.The Shape I’m In. “ The blues innovator brought his 50 years of musical experience to bear and became the most prolific guest for the rest of the concert, singing, playing guitar and harmonica. Another New Orleans music veteran, singer-guitarist Dave Malone of Radiators fame took over lead vocals, ending the first set with the stirring classic, The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.
While the first set was superb, the second set proved to be even more magical with more surprise guests and lasted nearly 30 minutes longer than the scheduled end time. A few songs in Taj Mahal then shared vocals with Dave Malone as they led the group in two very different cover songs, including the old Eric Von Schmidt classic “Baby, Let Me Follow You Dow” and the Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young rock masterpiece, “Helpless.” After several more songs, Malone shined on a cover of Little Junior Blue Flames, “Mystery Train.”
Singer-guitarist Bob Malone joined the jam next, turning in one of the most explosive blues-drenched performances of the concert. The former guitarist for Muddy Waters’ band, he also played at the Last Waltz and shared fascinating stories with the crowd between songs. He spoke about how Bob Dylan and Keith Richards organizing a jam session back at the hotel after the historic concert that lasted until sunrise. Malone played a stirring cover of Muddy Waters, “Mannish Boy,” and several other blues nuggets.
Just as the concert seemed to have reached a crescendo of fever-pitched energy, the show took on a whole new meaning and tone as one of the only two surviving members of the original Band, Garth Hudson appeared. It was a bittersweet moment as the long white haired keyboardist looked frail and old shuffling onstage. But once he began to play piano it was clear that his musical magic was intact. A brilliant piano solo segued into the Band classic, “The Weight.”
The group ended the second set of the Orpheum show with a rousing cover of the Bob Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released.”After a standing ovation that lasted several minutes, Hudson returned to play a searing solo on his prized Lowrey organ, on “Chest Fever.” Then he was joined by all the players of the evening sans Dr, John and an additional guitarist, Jimmy Vivinol; it wIt was nearly midnight when the band took their final bow at this historic tribute.