Levon & friends at the Beacon Saturday night
The Levon Helm Band, Beacon Theater, NYC, March 8, 2008
by Jon Lyness
Originally posted in the "Little Pink" guestbook in March 2008.
OpheliaHi there, folks!
Here are my thoughts from the concert. Took my best shot at the setlist, though it may be missing a song or two.
Ollabelle opened the show, sans Amy Helm who is recovering from pregnancy. A strong version of "Gone Today" was a standout. I sometimes feel that Ollabelle works better in smaller venues, as the intimacy of their music can seem a bit overwhelmed by the scale of the Beacon. However, their final song was a cover of the Grateful Dead's "Ripple" sung just gorgeously by Fiona McBain, that got a tremendous reception and really brought the audience to life.
Levon and the band took the stage at 9 pm...Levon grinning from ear to ear. A joyous "Ophelia" with horns and a nice bluesy cover of Dylan's "It Takes a Lot to Laugh" kicked off the show. Levon sounded a bit hoarse through the first few songs, but quickly got up to speed.
A beautiful Long Black Veil was a real surprise and an early highlight...verses sung by Teresa Williams and the chorus sung by everyone (including the audience). I'm sure many of us were thinking of Rick Danko on this one...he would've loved it. Some soulful accordion by Brian Mitchell added just the right touch. Catherine Russell also showed up and did vocals on a terrific song of her own.
Got Me a Woman was the first of the "new" songs from Dirt Farmer. It sizzled when I heard Levon & his band do it last fall, but somehow the tempo seemed too fast in this performance, robbing some of the song's sly charm. However, False-Hearted Lover (not a particular standout for me on the album) was very well sung and played.
Anna Lee was done just beautifully; one of the clear highlights. Levon came to center stage with Teresa & Catherine Russell and a minimal band backing them. There's something so affecting about the way Levon sings this one...you can hear that it takes him some effort to put across the lines on this somewhat slower ballad, and the fragile quality of his voice makes it quite poignant. Gorgeous harmonies from Teresa and Catherine.
Atlantic City very well sung & played as always. Many in the audience were talking about it being a Springsteen song, but for me it brings back fond memories of the '90s Band. I'd have to think Levon sees it as a nod to that era too. ("Our luck may have died and our love has gone cold, but with you forever I'll stay...")
Rag Mama Rag got roars of recognition and was extremely well received by the audience. Levon really tore into the vocal...probably the best I've ever heard him sing it.
Phoebe Snow's guest appearance was electric, and the audience went crazy. Just incredible singing and phrasing. She sang Van Morrison's Into the Mystic, and the old song Tossin' and Turnin' with Clarence Clemons of the E Street Band on sax. Probably the best one-two punch of the night.
Deep Elem Blues (or was it "Deep River Blues"? not sure) was sung by Larry Campbell, and turned into a joyous party song with honkytonk piano by Brian Mitchell and the horn section just going crazy at the end. Similarly, I Ain't Got No Home was a hell of a lot of fun, and Levon's drumming is tremendous on this song.
During a break between songs, Jimmy Vivino paid tribute to the memory of Richard Manuel, Rick Danko, Stan Szelest and Richard Bell. And said something to the effect of "We have to remember the great things in life...like Richard Manuel's voice"...which segued into Jimmy taking the vocals on Tears of Rage. Nice touch.
I Shall Be Released was a terrific surprise, and we even got to hear Levon himself sing the first verse. I don't know of any time he has ever sung on the verses. The lines about "so I'll remember every face...of every man who put me here", coming from Levon surrounded by his good friends, couldn't have been more appropriate, and heartfelt.
The Weight...well, we've all heard it a million times of course, but everything is right with the world when Levon is singing The Weight. Phoebe Snow took the Crazy Chester verse if I remember correctly.
All in all, a wonderful night...maybe a half-step down from the amazing shows last year, but a real treat nonetheless. Wish you all could have been there. :)