Massey Hall, Toronto, January 17th, 1970Below are five articles that appeared in Canadian newspapers the days before and after The Band's concert at the Massey Hall in Toronto, Saturday January 17th, 1970:
January 17th, 2000, marks the 30th anniversary of my Band epiphany - the day they went from being one of many good bands I liked to being far and away the best band in the world, indeed the best band ever.
The Band Comes Home
by Jack BattenJack Batten is a Toronto author and broadcaster today. This article appeared as a two page spread with pictures in the Toronto Daily Star on the afternoon of the concert.
The Band comes home this weekend.
They are the greatest rock group of them all these days, the most musical and the most acclaimed and for a little time at least, long enough to play two sold-out concerts in Massey Hall tonight, two in Guelph last night and another at McMaster university in Hamilton tomorrow, they are returning to their roots.
Four of the five Band members, all but drummer Levon Helm of Arkansas, grew up in southern Ontario, and it was in the simple, countrified, easy harmonies and melodies they absorbed as youngsters in the Ontario countryside that they found ultimately, a large share of the inspiration behind the tremendously sweet and lovely music that has made them the kings of rock.
There’s no knocking The Band’s current lofty status. They are securely at the very top of the rock scene, a fact confirmed by an uncharacteristically laudatory cover story in Time magazine last week. Already, for much of 1969, they’ve been earning $20,000 for a night’s concert work and all of their shows are turn away performances. They filled the 4,500 seat Felt Forum in new York city four times in two days just after Christmas.
Their second album, titled simply The Band, has been riding near the top of the Billboard lists for several weeks, while one track, "Up on Cripple Creek," has been pushing its way to the higher reaches of the singles Top 40.
And they’re constantly mulling over television and movie offers; so far they’ve put in one appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show and turned down a lucrative spot with Glen Campbell because Campbell asked them to mouth the words tone of their recordings rather than sing out loud.
The beginnings of all these golden adventures reach back to the gentle rolling countryside of southern Ontario, back to small places where the most familiar music was the lonely, but often complex hymns of the Anglican Church and the whiny guitars, and voices of countryside pickers.
The Band members learned those sounds by a kind of natural osmosis when they were kids. Garth Hudson, the group’s wizard organist, comes from London, Ontario and he says "The Anglican Church has the best musical traditions of any church I know of." And you can pick out he influence in his playing today.
You can find, too, the echo of Southern Ontario in the music of Rick Danko, the bassist, who’s father is a Simcoe tobacco farmer, and of pianist Richard Manuel, who was born and raised in Stratford, the son of a Chrysler mechanic. The group’s only big city boy is the guitarist and chief composer, Robbie Robertson. He’s from Toronto, but his roots, like the others, are Ontario country.
These four got together with Levon helm in the early 1960’s in the Toronto-based band of Ronnie Hawkins. In those days, in their teens or barely out of them, they were drawn not to country sounds, but to something closer to mainline rock.
"I had a hard time holding the boys down." Hawkins recalls today. "As the years went on, they wanted to get into this here psychedelic stuff. I kept telling them, wait now, the people in the bars like the rockabilly sound we’re giving them."
One lesson the five did absorb from Hawkins was discipline - "Why, I used to make Robbie Robertson carry his guitar every place with him, even right into the bathroom" - and by the time they split out on their own they were a tough little band. They billed themselves as the Hawks, and in 1964 and ’65, they moved around a circuit of Toronto bars, the Coq d’Or, the Concord out on Bloor St. West and the old, defunct Palm Grove Lounge.
Garry Clarke, a long-time observer of the rock scene who also happens to have a PhD in glacial studies (which shows how wide-ranging The Band’s audience is), remembers the early Hawks as "a very good version of a 1950’s rock'n roll band. The most compelling thing about them was that they were obviously excellent musicians who had rehearsed hard. They had a Ronnie Hawkins kind of country sound but nothing like the soft country they play now. And they looked awfully square - short haircuts and terrible suits."
In 1965, the Hawks joined Bob Dylan as his accompanying band and they matured, in the opinion of Griel Marcus, a critic for Rolling Stone magazine, who heard them often in those days, into "without exception or qualification the finest rock and roll band I have ever hear or seen. If you weren’t there, it would be difficult to convey the visual power of their performance."
Toronto fans, as it happened, had a chance to be "there" on one occasion when Dylan and the Hawks played Massey Hall concert in October, 1965. It was an electric evening for two reasons. First, because the music generated by the musicians was so utterly thrilling. And second, because a number of folk fans, disgruntled over Dylan’s traitorous switch to electronic music and shocked at the sheer noise of the Hawks, began peppering the stage with pennies.
Dylan’s later motorcycle accident and the Hawks’ resulting seclusion through part of 1966 and 1967 in the hills around Woodstock, N.Y., near Dylan’s home, provided a bridge from their hard rock style toward something that was musically softer, more gentle, more tuned to the deep and peaceful romance of country living.
Bernie Finkelstein, the Toronto rock manger, saw a bit of Robbie Robertson in those days. Finkelstein was handling the Paupers, another Toronto rock group, and he used to run into Roberson in the New York office of Albert Grossman, who handles Dylan and The Band.
"Robbie was really into a back-to-nature thing," Finkelstein recalls. "I was concerned with pushing the Paupers in clubs and stuff, but Robbie would say, 'Well, no man, we’re different now. We’re just sitting around and picking and writing and having fun.’ It seemed very peaceful."
What happened at Woodstock, to judge from the music that Robbie and the others brought out of it, was a return to musical roots. The Hawks slowed down, dug deeper, merged new and old sounds and metamorphosed as The Band. Their sound, like much of their life around Woodstock and like much of the life they knew in southern Ontario, was simple and direct and timeless. It yielded deeper rewards with more listenings. It was music that grew out of a dozen sources, from Cannonball Adderley lines and Ronnie Hawkins rockabilly and ancient folk tunes and not least, from Ontario Anglican Church hymns.
The Band emerged in the summer of 1968 with their first album, Music from Big Pink (the name of their house at Woodstock), and the simplicity and elegance of their new music carried them gradually to marvelous acclaim across the world pop scene. They went on the road and dazzled audiences everywhere - except in Toronto. They played Toronto once, at the Pop Festival in June, 1969, and it was a disaster. Just as they stepped on stage, their equipment broke down and remained broken down through their entire set.
"It was terrible" Robbie Robertson remembers. "There was a crackling noise, and nothing was coming out of our monitors. If we’d been smart we would have just stopped and said we’d be back when they got it fixed. But they would say "We’ve got it now." We’d play another song and it would be the same. It was terrible for us."
The months of their new riches have brought on other irritations. With fame, it’s harder for them to lead the quite, contemplative existence they’ve grown fond of around their new homes in Woodstock. And one employee in the office of their manager says, Albert Grossman, a man who wages constant war on behalf of his clients, has been indefatigably grooming a special image for The Band. They play fresh, pure, profound country rock, and Grossman decrees they’ll live fresh, pure country lives, at least as far as the fans are concerned.
Grossman was therefore enraged to the point of threatening a lawsuit a few months ago when Rolling Stone carried a vivid profile of Ronnie Hawkins in which Hawkins recounted in purple detail the early days when life with the Hawks was filled with wine and women and pill-popping.
"Well, it made us sound like freaks" Rick Danko said not long ago in a telephone conversation. "I guess it wasn’t good for our image."
"I thought I was doing the boys a favor," Hawkins said. "I like them and their music, and I expected I was giving them some good publicity. I was really, really surprised when the boys wouldn’t talk to me after the story came out. I think Grossman told them not to."
Hawkins won’t be around Massey Hall tonight to see about patching things up. He’s got other, more valuable fish to fry - he left on Thursday for a six week tour of 16 countries to promote his own excellent new album on Atlantic.
But plenty of other Band devotees will show up. Canadians who’ve followed the climb and progression of the boys from around home. The chances are strong that they’ll hear some superb music. After all, Robbie Robertson has promised them something extraordinary.
"The people were nice," he says of the audience who attended the debacle at last summer’s Toronto Pop Festival. "They were nice just out of niceness. But we’ll make that up. We’ll play in a real nice hall. We'll play good."
Perfect Band Concert Made Time Stand Still
by Jack BattenReview of the concert from the Toronto Daily Star, it reads like a homage to The Band. Batten really captures the essence of the show.
What can you say about a perfect concert?
What can you say when five musicians of such breathtaking artistry and dignity as the members of The Band play at a level very close to their peaks as they did Saturday night? Over the last six or seven months, in the time that they have been on the road performing in public, they have obviously grown utterly comfortable with their audience and with their music, and that degree of ease was all they needed to bring to the astounding level of musicianship they offered on Saturday.
They simply presented a concert so perfect that time stood still. For the 65 minutes they played, nothing existed outside of Massey Hall. The world consisted only of The Band’s voices their instruments, their songs, their music. And that was all and that was enough.
So what can you say?
Well, anyway, you can at least recall some few of the glories of the night. You can recall these things:
And The Band Plays On
by Peter GoddardPeter Goddard, who co-wrote the Ronnie Hawkins biography Last of the Good Ol' Boys, is now a columnist for the Toronto Daily Star. This article appeared in The Toronto Telegram at the day of The Band's concert in Massey Hall.
"A drunkard’s dream if I ever did see one." is a line from one of The Band’s songs. And a line which tells it all pretty nicely. For The Band. The Band (nee the Hawks, late of Le Coq d’Or in Toronto) which will be at Massey Hall for two concerts tonight has given the whole idea of being No. 1 in pop music some meaning.
A recent Time cover story labeled them as Canada’s contribution to Country Rock, a label that like most labels in pop music just doesn’t work. True, with the exception of Levon Helm, the others - Jaime "Robbie" Robertson, Garth Hudson, Rick Danko and Richard Manuel are all from Southern Ontario. And equally true is the fact their two albums have established a solid reputation.
But it’s a peculiar reputation, based more on the fact they once played with Ronnie Hawkins than that they once backed Bob Dylan. Ten years ago, they were greasy slick sidemen stomping out a sound to drown out beer drinking. Then Hawkins decided to settle down in Toronto, and the Hawks - now Levon Helm and the Hawks - were on their own.
Enter Dylan, who heard them and bought them back to his home in Woodstock. End of anecdote. Lyrically, the Napoleon in Rags opened them up to aphorisms and Biblical imagery. But musically, The Band started retracing ground Hawkins had come from. And two years ago, they released an album, Music From Big Pink, that quietly and without much fuss summed up their 10 years together, and the collective feeling of an entire country to its folk music.
No doubt about it, with sell-out concerts everywhere, The Band’s a success. The question is why. Why has the liberal intellectual - probably the only one really listening to pop music these days - taken in a record whose ethos is from the country? Whose songs are peopled by men named Virgil Cain [sic] (from the Danville train) who sounds like some other Georgia cracker, a red-neck who might slip out of his house some night with a club...and sheets...?
The Band scratches more than a bit of America’s surface - all of which makes labeling them as a Canadian group slightly near-sighted.
"You know," a friend closely connected with The Band said, "Hawkins really made those boys sweat. He made it real hard for them." In their music, the toughness has stuck with them. The people, places and attitudes that crowd into their America are those of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, and not those characters wall-eyed for Hollywood in the Grapes of Wrath. They are the same as those of Red Badge of Courage and not Bury the Dead. The difference is not in the tale, but in its telling.
The Band has put itself into an emotional relation to the things it sings about. Robertson says: "I wanted to see all those fantastic places with all those names." But they have expressed this relation without any of the conventional responses - their country music is tinged blue, their rock is softened by the twang of a simulated jews-harp.
The Band members, are, of course young and relatively hip. So they’ve been forced to re-create this sense of roots and to do that by re-inventing some of the original meanings all over again. In a sense, they not only create a song, but its justification as well.
Corn in the fields
In a song like "King Harvest," The Band touches on two psychological modes at once. The love for the country, for an America that once loved its children, for problems that required only honest solutions - all these are handled in a slightly detached, slightly ironic way. The old’s filtered through the new, and comes out a bit of both.
But The Band’s popularity (certainly not their talent) is due as much to social process as musical ones. The way Glen Campbell is the distillation of all the assumptions of "mid-cult" (with his emotions generalized, his appeal soft-edged and uniform) The Band exemplifies "mass-cult" grasping the emotional and moral content of vast common experiences.
There’s a streak of diffidence that runs through all of them. "It’s like they are very dignified when they are on stage," says John Fogerty, of the Creedence Clearwater Revival, another band exploring some of the areas the Band’s going over.
But publicity, coming so late, takes on a different meaning. "They’re not really into that scene," explains Myra Friedman, their publicity agent. "Their whole life is to make decent music on stage. That’s it - the only thing for them, really."
When they were playing Toronto, playing was only a part of the scene. Hawkins would trundle upstairs over Le Coq d’Or and throw parties, that would last almost until the next party was ready to start.
With Dylan, things changed considerably. During his voluntary silence after his motorcycle accident the singer went through a metamorphosis. His cluttery "folk rock" a freakish inventive music was suddenly ironed out flat and country dry.
And The Band went along. The first album, with several Dylan songs previously unrecorded on it meshed so completely with Dylan’s mood that it sounded like a chorus commenting on it.
The second album, simply called The Band was only a record by necessity, I suspect. They rented a house in Hollywood to do it, taking their wives with them. Guitarist Robbie Robertson acted as engineer, and the result was steeped in its own home-brew.
But always there’s an element of surprise. At the Toronto Pop Festival last summer, The Band had arrived in mid-afternoon. The air hung hotly over everybody then, but they walked backstage casually.
On stage, the mikes weren’t working during their set and the crowds were restless for a jolt of sheer electricity. But The Band played on, its music fine, and neat and utterly controlled. Then came the applause and a call for an encore.
Suddenly everybody in The Band started laughing. The rhythms of the tune were bouncy and fast. And not at all rural It was "Slippin’ and Slidin’" an old bar band tune pounding out in chunky rhythms. And the Band kept laughing through it all - a very private bar band joke this, very private.
It Was Subtle, But The Band Made It All Happen
by Peter GoddardConcert review from The Toronto Telegram.
After everything’s been said and sung, The Band is still just a band. The only remarkable thing about it is that nothing remarkable seems to happen when they play. Notes click and fall to place like gears meshing. And while most pop goes gaudy and grandiose, they remain concise and compact.
But the feeling surrounding their two concerts at Massey Hall last Saturday night was something akin to a once removed religious experience.
These concerts had all the appurtenances of mythology in the making. The packed audiences hushed for each song, erupting into standing ovations at the conclusion. Just a hint of humour caused laughs. Just a slight bit of cymbal work by Levon Helm and the beat was felt like a shudder.
And at times it seemed that the myths surrounding The Band were as much at work here as their music: of their associating with Bob Dylan down in Woodstock, New York; of their palmier [sic] days with Ronnie Hawkins playing Yonge St. clubs and of their recent Time cover article.
This is understandable maybe. A pop music audience has often dealt with an experience not by trying to understand it, but by trying out attitudes to be adapted to it. The Band’s music is so plain and so surprisingly original, that it demands a one to one relationship. You can’t dig them just a little.
Their plainness, it turned was very elegant. For "Rocking Chair," Garth Hudson suddenly rounded the set of drums; shoeless and with an accordion. From there, the song galloped along, with the voices and accordion weaving their lines together. Nothing could have sounded so plain and folksy. Yet nothing could have been suffused with such a sweet nostalgia, with a gentleness approaching gentility.
Much of what they did was implied, rather than baldly stated. In "Wheel [sic] on Fire," Rick Danko’s bass line could barely be heard. But it was felt. And the Band sounded, slightly top-heavy (as in distinct from others in rock who make their bass line so loud that it sounds bottomless. And should be.)
And every so often they would bring out some of their extra instruments - in "The Unfaithful Servant," it Levon Helm’s mandolin and Hudson’s soprano sax, mixing in one song two attitudes. One moment it had a country tinkle, open and faltering; the next a sleazy urbanity.
Nothing seemed very certain when they were on stage. Their voices seemed to be hanging to a melody by the thinnest of threads. Instrumentally, they seemed just good enough to play just enough notes to a make a song come off.
But this strikes at the bottom of their style. For things are calculated to the degree to make them appear - and sound - uncalculated.
Rarely did individuals stand out - like the Budapest String Quartet, The Band’s a collection of soloists subordinating themselves into one solo vehicle.
Even the emerging leader of the group, guitarist Jaime (Robbie) Robertson stayed as part of the background. In a sense, however, The Band’s music is all background.
For "Cripple Creek," Danko, Helm and Robertson each contributed a simple rhythmic motif. Yet together they gave the song a shifty, a rhythmical feeling, with elements interacting on each other building into an organic whole. Before them had come singer Jesse Winchester, with a bass player and drummer. All seemed intent on making the greatest non impact possible.
Winchester, (who’ll be at the Riverboat this week) is a scruffy, beat looking guy with an unerring sense for just the right musical mood. The trouble was most of his moods were identical. Yet there were some beautiful moments here too. Something like the "Skip Rope" song, played at the piano, was perfect in its way.
But Winchester faced two basic problems: a creaky guitar technique and the presence of The Band looming over everything.
For ever since the release of their first album, Music From Big Pink, The Band have loomed large over a lot of pop. It (and subsequently they themselves) arrived at a time when rock was becoming so complicated that it only served to point out its critics’ simplicity.
And in concert, The Band go ever further against the rest of pop’s grain. They experiment more, their music is lighter, jazzier in texture.
Garth Hudson’s extended solo for "Chest Fever" touched on an old oompah oompah silent cinema style of organ playing, some Messiaen [sic], a bit of Bach’s Toccatt [sic] and Fugue in D-minor and a little Jimmy Smith. It was the only solo effort of the night, but still didn’t turn out as the grand virtuoso showpiece, fitting finely with the song that followed.
There were some complaints, however. Too sappily country, not commercial enough, too aloof when they’re on stage - all these charges were brought up against The Band by friends with some justification.
But one listen to Richard Manuel’s wavery voice and the pea picker in me rebels. For there are those of us on the underside of society who have little stake in all of that Respectable Culture out there. (Brahms yes - culture no.)
The Band fills in the gaps for us. They draw discriminately from a culture that spawned Picasso and from another that gave out Pepsi ads. And they meet us somewhere halfway - where we all were waiting.
Home Again, The Band Does It Right
by Martin KnelmanMartin Knelman is a Toronto writer, The Toronto Globe & Mail is Canada's business paper. The review is pretty interesting.
Won’t it be nice just to see the folks,
They are hardly ready for the old rockin’ chair, and this was not Virginia, but on Saturday they were home again, and this is how it was the night they nearly brought old Massey down. Inside the hall the crowd is bursting into ecstatic frenzy as The Band swings into "Up on Cripple Creek" half an hour behind schedule on account of a piano that went out of tune, while outside the people who have been kept in the snow waiting for the second show are jostling and pounding to get in.
Backstage the rock hustlers and old friends and relatives and hangers on are drifting in - an unlikely assortment of swingers, hippies, and farmers having in common the fact - any of them - could have walked off the album jacket for Music from Big Pink.
Like the phlegmatic figure with thick rimless glasses, long gray hair pulled back and tied and a stomach bursting out of his rumpled trousers - not some hick cousin of one of the guys who drove in in his half ton pickup but - yes, its him - Albert Grossman.
This is one of the most powerful men in pop, the czar of rock impresarios who manages both The Band and Bob Dylan and who became an underground star in Don’t look Back, the cinema verite profile of Dylan, but now Albert Grossman has just flown in from New York unannounced and is wandering around looking bewildered and asking a stage hand:
"Where are they?"
But not for long. Against the protests of a shrieking, jumping mob that doesn’t want to go home, the boys come tripping off stage behind the blocking of a promo man who is straight-arming the visitors out of the way.
Except for Garth Hudson, the organist who brings the spirit of rural Ontario hymns into rock, listening in the wings now to an old friend from London Ont., who is telling him how his old music teacher from the University of Western Ontario once dropped into her record store for Music from Big Pink which he liked mostly.
"Well," says Hudson gently, "he must have been puzzled by some of it."
Standing by are Hudson’s parents, a kind looking retired couple who have driven up to see him.
"We heard you played in your stocking feet, " Mrs. Hudson begins, "How have you been?"
"I had a tooth out. Otherwise I guess I’m all right."
"Every one of the boys calls me Mom," Jaime (Robbie) Robertson’s mother boasts.
And Mrs. Hudson greets Albert Grossman with: "We’ve heard so much about you. It’s almost as if we’re related , isn’t it?"
"I don’t like the city," Mr. Hudson volunteers, explaining why they live outside London. "Not if you can get out."
Well the boys got out too. They’ve traveled a lot of country roads since the days in the early Sixties when they were the Hawks, making as much noise as possible behind Romping’ Ronnie Hawkins on the Yonge Street strip and starting with a history making fusion with Bob Dylan five years ago, when folk collided with rock, they went into seclusion at Woodstock and what came out of it all was their new sound - the unique gentle, bittersweet trains, rivaled in musical inventiveness and sophistication only by the Beatles, which has suddenly made The Band the biggest thing in pop, two best-selling albums, sellouts whenever they give a concert, and last month’s ultimate status symbol for celebrities, a cover story on Time.
For Clive Barnes of The New York Times, the signs of Toronto’s new cultural respectability may be world’s hairiest Hair and the cinematic new frontiers of A Married Couple, but among the tribal young, there is no question about what makes Ontario famous - the boys in The Band.
Four of them grew up in southern Ontario: Garth Hudson (organ, clavinet, sax) from London; Richard Manuel (piano, mouth-harp and vocal) from Stratford; Rick Danko (vocal, bass and trombone) from Simcoe; and Jaime (Robbie) Robertson (composer, engineer and guitarist) from Toronto. The only American in the group is Levon Helm (drummer) from Arkansas.
Years ago they grabbed their hats and took that ride, absorbing the blues and country lore of old Dixie that comes out like a wearily lament for the lost road back to a simpler, slower past; "When you will [sic] awake, you will remember everything."
On records, their songs are subtle and syncopated. On stage, the sound system brings out more of their raucous beginnings, but they make emotional contact with their audience while sticking to serious business. There is none of that time wasting inane patter that litters other rock concerts.
Their homecoming for five concerts, two at the University of Guelph on Friday, two at Massey Hall on Saturday, one yesterday at McMaster University in Hamilton – is an occasion that hardly needs to be advertised. Their followers, a startlingly soft and gentle young audience, had been waiting a long time: and the wait continued through the first half of the concert which was carried by Jessie Winchester, (a young performer who will be opening this week at the Riverboat).
While Winchester warms up the audience, Robertson pulls up a foldaway chair and starts talking about bringing it all back home. He’s the tall, subdued guitarist with the unbending skinny legs, although he looks like a bright high school senior.
"The people are a lot more cooperative than they were the last time we were in this place." He says with mocking understatement. The last time The Band played Massey Hall was in 1965, when they were backing Dylan, the night he turned from folk to rock and was jeered by the audience.
"I think about the places I’ve been and how it helped us come to maturity, musically and personally, and it’s hard to put in words. Why did they put us on the cover of Time? Why us? They went to old teachers, and cousins until they nearly drove us crazy. They were pointing to Mr. and Mrs. America, but from where we are it comes out sort of corny. But then calling our stuff country is no more absurd than calling it art. We used to slam the door and make the amplifier scream.
"People ask questions about what we’re going to do now, and I could give you a hotshot answer, but it’s very hard to tell the truth. I’m gonna write songs any way I can. I’ll write them in the bathtub if I have to. What influences the music is everything I’ve ever seen between here and Biloxi. That’s some kind of circuit and it adds up. You take whatever you can get - things you have stored up.
"I don’t think we’ll ever want to give up concerts and do strictly records. I don’t think we’ll do strictly anything. We were offered a movie playing a gang of bandits. Who needs that stuff? We’ll turn down whatever we feel like turning down. We don’t want to play in baseball parks. Playing for a microphone can make you go cold; it’s important to play for people."
The only time The Band has played Toronto since the Dylan concert was at last summer’s Pop festival in Varsity Stadium when everything turned sour.
"Every time we come back here, it seems there’s something really wrong. We’ve been running into the wrong people and making the wrong moves. We we’re gonna do some good because we’re playing properly for the people. Tonight we’re doing it right." When Massey Hall stopped vibrating a little after midnight, just about everyone agreed The Band had done it right.
The Toronto Globe & Mail