'The Band' Rocks With Hillbilly Ease
by Mike JahnFrom the New York Times, December 29, 1969.
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The Band, firmly on its own as a leading rock-country music group, played Friday and Saturday at the Felt Forum of Madison Square Garden.
The group was first widely known as Bob Dylan's back-up band, but for the last year and a half it has been making an increasingly important mark on popular music.
It is not strictly a rock band, as it blends country and western with hillbilly music into a rock format. The nasal vocal style and lyrical musings about rocking chairs, creeks and "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" (the title of one song) make The Band at once rocking, refreshing and sentimental.
The Band had not been performing actively from the time of Dylan's motorcycle accident in 1966 until last spring. After seven or eight months of public appearances, the group seems to have acquired much more confidence than it showed in its first appearance here in May.
The bandsmen pursued their songs aggressively Saturday at the Felt Forum, playing a long set. What is most amazing about The Band is that, despite the packed house, the amplification and the praise that has been thrown at them, the musicians still play like five friendly old coots picking away in the back of some Kentucky barroom. Their songs, even when cryptic and wordy, after the style of Bob Dylan, sound like old family favorites.
The members of The Band are Robbie Robertson, guitar; Garth Hudson, organ; Levon Helm, drums; Rick Danko, bass; and Richard Manuel, piano. Mr. Manuel is from Arkansas. The others are Canadian.