For Your Weekend Listening Pleasure: 25 Years Ago Tonight, The Band Played Fast and Cool

Categories: Music
TheBandatFastandCoolAd.jpg
The ad for the show as it appeared in the Observer
Earlier today I spent as much time as I could, which wasn't anywhere near close to enough, listening to a song Wilco posted to YouTube late yesterday: the band performing The Band's "The Weight" backstage at the Civic Opera House in Chicago, joined by show-opener Nick Lowe and Mavis Staples, who rather famously performed the song in The Last Waltz with her family and Bob Dylan's old back-ups. It's a soulful, joyful rendition of a song that has been covered countless times, by everyone from Aretha Franklin to Travis to Gillian Welch to Weezer to Elvis Costello and an all-star Spectacle -- and that's barely even the start of a starting point. "The Weight" is more than a standard; it's an immortal, one of the greatest songs of all time. Anything that can endure this much analysis, not to mention Panic! at the Disco, deserves at least that much respect.

But if you click this link, and you should, you will hear "The Weight" carried onto a small Dallas stage by three of the men who performed it originally: Levon Helm, Rick Danko and Garth Hudson, who, on January 6, 1987, played the old Fast and Cool Club on Greenville Avenue. They were all that remained of The Band by that point: Robbie Robertson was long gone and about to release his first solo record, which contained none of the joy and soul of the music he once made; and Richard Manuel had been dead almost a year, having killed himself in a motel room in Florida.

The three originals, joined by Jim Weider and Fred Carter, soldiered on. Such was their nature: Helm told me in 1999 that The Band existed at some point just to prove it couldn't be destroyed by anyone -- not Robertson, not Martin Scorsese, not the Grim Reaper. "We won't retire, and we won't die." But Danko did, 10 months after that story ran.

This KZEW-sponsored show and this setting is as far removed from Woodstock and the Winterland Ballroom as they could get -- a little joint on Greenville, not so different from when they were out on the road as The Hawks in the early 1960s. Except on this night, they came bearing classics, staples, standards -- not just "The Weight," but also "Up on Cripple Creek," "It Makes No Difference," " Chest Fever," "King Harvest (Has Surely Come)," "Stage Fright" and "W.S. Walcott Medicine Show," among others.

What's extraordinary about this recording, which I hadn't heard till today, isn't just how clear it sounds, but how into it the band sounds; like Helm said when we spoke years later, they were pros who knew better than to hit the road to collect a paycheck. "Let's all have a drink, whadya say?" shouts Levon to an adoring, boisterous crowd at 'round the 39-minute mark. "Here's wishin' ya the best new year's ya ever had."

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5 comments
Kurt Ivy
Kurt Ivy

Thanks, Robert.  For any die-hards, you can still  hear Levon "live" with his current group of friends doing The Weight to finish every concert near his Woodstock home/recording studio. He's had some health issues, but still sounds great at his Midnight Rambles: http://www.LevonHelmStudios.co... 

ChrisYu
ChrisYu

you list all the greats performing that song, so i just have to add-saw Helm and Danko with Ringo's All Stars(!) just a couple years after this. off of Forest and Central where they used to have summer concerts. saw 'The Weight' performed by Ringo, Danko, Helm, Dr. John, Joe Walsh, Clarence Clemmons, Billy Preston. (wow Ringo's lineups are pretty weak by comparison these days)    

Christine_Whittemore_28
Christine_Whittemore_28

@bac4151f39fb29a2123e1e60b9e6bc5f:disqus .....WоW......Мy friеnd`s sistеr mакеs 69/hr оn thе intеrnеt. Shе hаs bееn unеmрlоуеd fоr 11 mоnths but lаst mоnth hеr incоmе wаs 5846$ јust wоrкing оn thе РС fоr а fеw hоurs. Read about it here ........... C a s h M a n y . c о m

claytonauger
claytonauger

Thanks for this Robert, and for the Mavis Staples fix.

michael minzer
michael minzer

We were mixing " The Lion For Real" in Bearsville during this time. Rick and Garth came by the sessions and I remember sitting with Rick and Sally Grossman in a small alcove off studio B. Rick seemed sad. At one point I asked him what he was up to and he told me he was waiting for inspiration. I told him how much he had inspired us. Sally kind of waved me off but I'm still glad I got a chance to tell him. On a lighter note, I remember Sally telling me that Richard Manuel was the sexiest guy in the group!

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