Can a redo outdo an original?
Especially if the redo involves The Last Waltz, the legendary final concert of The Band in 1976.
Well, music fans in Atlanta got a chance to decide that last night when an all-star band featuring Warren Haynes on guitar and Michael McDonald on piano performed 24 songs that were originally played at the historic concert at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco.
Now I have been attending live rock concerts since 1965 (Herman's Hermits at Steel Pier in Atlantic City, New Jersey) and I have seen some great shows. I would place this concert, the last I will see in Atlanta before moving back to Washington DC next month, in the top 10 of shows I have witnessed.
So what made this event so special?
Well, of course there was the historic nature of the original production, which was captured in a film that many critics believe is the best rock documentary ever made.
But most of all it was the musicianship and vocal work. Haynes and McDonald were joined by Hammond organ virtuoso Jon Medeski, country guitarist and vocalist Jamey Johnson, bass player and producer Don Was, and New Orleans drummer Terrence Higgins. The 6-man nucleus was augmented on many numbers by a 4-piece New Orleans-style horn section. The group was joined on some numbers by Dave Malone, the guitarist for The Radiators. Bob Margolin, a member of blues great Muddy Waters' band, also sat in for few songs.
Obviously, the sold-out crowd of Band fans spent most of the night on their feet. In Atlanta, judging from the reaction, 2 of the most well-received songs were Alabama native Johnson's stirring rendition of "Georgia on My Mind" and the Band's southern story classic "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down," with Haynes, McDonald, and Johnson sharing the singing.
But almost all the songs were gems.
For me, the highlights were:
- a mesmerizing extended version of Bo Diddley's classic "Who Do You Love?"
- a back-to-back wallop of "Down South in New Orleans" followed by "This Wheel's on Fire"
- Jon Medeski incredible organ intro to "Chest Fever"
- a 3-pack of Van Morrison's "Caravan," Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young's "Helpless," and Little Junior's Blue Flames version of "Mystery Train"
- The trio of 2nd set closers before the 2-song encore: "Forever Young" and "I Shall Be Released", both written by Bob Dylan, and the Band's best known song - "The Weight"
- Every time Haynes, who is currently my favorite guitarist to hear live, touched the strings on his guitar.
Originally, the Last Waltz 40 Concert was to be a one-and-done special performance at last year's Jazz Festival in New Orleans. But the concert was so well received - with some critics going so far to claim it was the best thing at the famous festival - that a short tour was scheduled.
Last night's show was the 3rd in the 11-show tour. The special outing concludes on Feb. 4 with a final show at the just opened MGM Theater at the new casino at National Harbor just outside DC.
Encore - The Set List