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Rick Danko Came to Party

Rick Danko - In Concert at The Paradise Theater, Tuesday

by Jim Sullivan

From the Boston Globe, October 9, 1980.
The text is copyrighted, please do not copy or redistribute.

"Is everybody getting enough to drink?" asked ex-Band bassist Rick Danko from the Paradise stage, concerned that, as the party's host, he might have neglected a few details.

No worry. Despite a small crowd, the spirits - alcoholic and otherwise - were flowing in abundance. Danko treated the Paradise as his living room and spent the evening playing songs to a few friends and walking the tightrope between seriousness and absurdity. He fell off on the absurd side more than a few times.

On stage and off, Danko is the Bill Murray of the rock world. His lopsided smile, his loopy comments (an exaggerated, mock-theatrical "We love you, Boston!") and his apparent disorientation quickly knock him off the rock star pedestal. But his looseness sometimes works against the music. In the moving ballad "It Makes No Difference," Danko couldn't help but interject a deadpan, "It's a long song" midway through. It distanced him (and us) from the emotional impact and muted its effect.

Inevitably, Danko's four-man group doesn't transmit the ensemble intensity or magic of the Band. Still, Danko's good-timey blues-rock works a low-key charm. The group functions smoothly, but leaves enough ragged edges - notably evidenced in Blondie Chaplin's stinging leads - to give the music bite. "Java Blues," J.J. Cale's "Crazy Mama" and Elvis' classic "Mystery Train" boasted intricate and exciting syncopation among Danko, Chaplin and keyboardist Howard Larava.

Danko is a man of complex, sometimes contradictory, impulses. Backstage after the show, he flits from one topic to another like a slightly crazed honeybee. As he downs beers, he pontificates about alcoholism: "An unsuccessful alcoholic doesn't have any fun; a successful alcoholic looks forward to not having any fun." Later, Danko unflinchingly lets a flame from his cigarette lighter lick his outstretched palm.

Former Band members Levon Helm and Robbie Robertson are acting in movies. How about Danko, who hasn't made an album in several years? Any interest in film? He says he's been in two. "I'm a star in one and a big distraction in the other," he says, refusing to name them because of "karma."

Danko is asked about the Band's "The Last Waltz," their majestic swan-song concert which was made into a film by Martin Scorcese. Danko calls it "a desperation move."

The Band itself? "We will make another record very soon," he says, "and I mean very soon." Touring? "I don't think we'll ever tour again," although he wryly notes, "Every eight years the Band gets together to play with Bob Dylan." (True, they joined forces for tours in 1965 and 1973.)

"I am Bob Dylan's friend," pronounces Danko with mock pomposity. Then, in a childlike voice, he sings, "I know Bob, I know Bob," before stating he respects Dylan's new-found vocal conviction.

"I have come to party, and this is but the first stage of what a good time can be," Danko declared to no one in particular. Later, he collected the leftover beer in a plastic trash bag and hauled it off with him to a new frontier.

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