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The Band -- Reunited and Recharged

by Steve Morse

From the Boston Globe, October 15, 1983.
The text is copyrighted, please do not copy or redistribute.

Reunited bands always run the risk of being laughed at if they don't transcend their original era and have something to say for the '80s. Thus it is depressingly common for lovers of "new music" to mock the many reunion tours that are suddenly taking place, especially if those acts are from the '60s and are viewed as sloppy and unfashionable.

The issue, however, is this: Why do reunion groups have to be compared to anything? Why can't they be appreciated for what they are, and not demeaned as relics from the dinosaur age

It would have been easy to dismiss last night's concert by The Band - one of the quintessential free-and-easy groups from the late '60s and early '70s - as one big in-joke.

After all, the scene was like a '60s flashback - beards and dungaree vests everywhere, the smell of Eastern weed in the air and a typical '60s scenario of the musicians arriving an hour late and then marching out in T-shirts and jeans, which are rarely worn anymore except by the Grateful Dead and blues bands.

But anyone who was into just the superficial aspects of the scene would have missed an outstanding concert. There were some slack moments and incoherent solos, to be sure (more examples of the '60s, and in this case not redeemable), but overall the night felt like a merry neighborhood block party.

The Band, though minus guitarist Robbie Robertson who has decided to stick with making music for movies (he did the soundtrack for Martin Scorsese's "The King of Comedy"), showed they are still a class act. They still fondly apply their country-gospel touches to Americana from New Orleans to Appalachia, coming up with a hard-scrabbled but endearing treasure chest of tunes.

Although The Band broke up in 1976 - going out on a crescendo with "The Last Waltz" concert film that featured guests like Eric Clapton, Van Morrison and Joni Mitchell - they've lost little of their unique symbiosis. Arkansas native Levon Helm still sounds like a winsome drinking buddy from next door ("hello neighbors" and "hello brothers" were among his wordier pronouncements between songs); Rick Danko still has a brawling, muscular vocal tone; Richard Manuel still has a bluesy Ray Charles intonation; and greybeard accordionist Garth Hudson is still unfathomable as he hovers in the background, lording over the proceedings like Rip Van Winkle.

The music, however, glistened. The Band played all of their hits - "Cripple Creek" (featuring two drummers and double basses); "Rag Mama Rag" (with mountain mandolin from Helm); "Stage Fright" (Rick Danko's ode to a man who gets into life over his head); "Caldonia" (an old blues given a steam- engine treatment); and even back to 1968's famous "Music from Big Pink" album, notably the organ-fueled "The Weight," which used to be played in every boutique in Harvard Square from noon until night.

The Cate Brothers sat in with the group, and guitarist Earl Cate helped the 2300 fans (about 85% capacity) forget about Robertson. Earl did not always have Robertson's drive-over-the-top power, but his solos were expressive and tasteful.

There were no new originals, though there were a few new cover songs, namely "Voodoo Music," a J.B. Lenoir tune with a a mild New Orleans feel. The lack of new material should be remedied by the time The Band starts recording again this winter, but for now it was heartwarming to see them back on stage, even if they were wildly out of synch with the times.

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