The Complete Last Waltz, Capitol Theatre, New York, NY – 11/27
The Last Waltz, held on Thanksgiving in 1976, was The Band’s triumphant swan song – a marathon goodbye concert with appearances from some of their most famous friends including Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Van Morrison and many more. Last year, following a wave of tribute concerts after the passing of The Band’s legendary drummer, Levon Helm, a group of musicians came together in San Francisco for a show billed as The Complete Last Waltz and played their way through the entire five hour concert. Anchored by a core band of Bustle In Your Hedgerow (Marco Benevento on keys, Joe Russo on drums, Scott Metzger on guitar and Dave Dreiwitz on bass) along with musical director Sam Cohen on guitar, The Complete Last Waltz made its East Coast debut at Port Chester’s Capitol Theatre and found the core band joined by a number of talented guests from today’s indie rock and jam scenes for a night of celebrating the music and joy The Band created on that Thanksgiving night in 1976.
Musical director Sam Cohen faced the immense organizational headache of incorporating 25+ guest musicians into the show, which he pulled off remarkably well. Kenny Siegel was an early highlight on “The Shape I’m In,” and returned later in the night to reprise his rousing Richard Manual impression on “Chest Fever.” Things really heated up with an appearance from Delta Spirit’s Matt Vasquez, who channeled Ronnie Hawkins with crazed howls and snarls on “Who Do You Love” as the band thundered behind him with menacing power. Cass McCombs was next in the parade of guests, lending his smooth, stunning vocals to positively majestic takes on “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” “Stage Fright” and “It Makes No Difference.”
Wilco’s guitarist Nels Cline was one of the most anticipated guests of the evening, and did not disappoint in playing the role Eric Clapton played at the original show. His lightening fast shredding wowed everyone in the theatre, including the band, as Sam Cohen joked, “Nothing thrilling about that as a guitar player…” as Cline walked off the stage. Nicole Atkins and Jocie Adams replaced Cline onstage and Atkins repeated Neil Young’s line from his sit-in during The Band’s classic performance, “It’s one the great pleasures of my life to be up here with these guys,” before easing into “Helpless.” Accompanied by Marco Benevento’s gorgeous accordion work, Atkins sounded absolutely spectacular, with Jocie Adam’s adding chillingly beautiful harmonies on the choruses and third verse, making for the night’s most magical moment.
The band only picked up wild energy as the night grew later and later, with Eric Johnson dancing his way across the stage while delivering his best Van Morrison impression on a jubilant “Caravan.” By the time Blitzen Trapper’s Eric Earley took the helm for the Bob Dylan material, the band was playing with reckless abandon, as Cohen, Benevento and Metzger traded solos on furiously rowdy romps through “Baby Let Me Follow You Down” and “I Don’t Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met).” After a moving “I Shall Be Released” sing-along and explosive “Don’t Do It” encore that found Cohen and Metzger cutting loose with searing guitar solos, the night finally came to a close. Though the show was generally faithful to the original concert, the group was not afraid to inject their own creativeness into the material. From the completely original grand opening of the show with “Theme From The Last Waltz” performed from the venue’s side balconies to all the fresh vocal and instrumental approaches, the group wildly succeeded in displaying how the joyful, collaborative spirit of The Band lives on in a younger generation of talented musicians.