Sunday, July 4, 2010

The The Band Band w/ Ghost Box @ The Iron Horse, July 3rd, 2010

The The Band Band may be the best band name since The Band. These folks are a tribute B/band who do their best to recreate their heroes’ best music. And they did a darned good job last night. As I write this, I have my DVD of The Last Waltz playing on the television. It’s quite a movie, with its wonderful concert footage, its parade of stoned-out guest stars, its Scorsese-conducted interviews that make the Band look like they’d been through hell, and its images of San Francisco that make me want to avoid it. Some striking images: Joni Mitchell in the shadows, singing harmonies during the Neil Young performance; Rick Danko in the spotlight for “Stage Fright;” Richard Manuel sprawled on a couch backstage, talking about the history of the band’s name; and Danko trying to answer Scorsese’s question about what he’d do after the Last Waltz, hanging his head, with his beautiful, yearning song “Sip the Wine” playing in the background. Seeing Richard Manuel always makes me sad. I really don’t know his whole story, but his singing voice is shot through with pain. Knowing how he wound up adds resonance to the songs he sang lead on, like “The Shape I’m In” and Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released.”

Part of why I put the movie on was to remind myself of the Band’s look. The The Band Band (TTBB hereafter) were modest looking men, and they dressed modestly (although the second guitarist wore a gaudy red-white-and-blue button down shirt, it being the holiday weekend and all), but they didn’t look much like their real-life counterparts. Several of them actually looked like other musicians. Their Robbie Rob…I mean, their lead guitarist looked like a combination of John Denver and Pete Stampfel, with his big glasses and goofy smile. Their second guitarist—an important deviation from the original Band of course, which had two keyboard players, not two guitarists—actually looked a bit like Loudon Wainwright, although he didn’t sing or play like him. And the frontman, the bass player, looked like the actor Elliot Gould. This guy drew the most attention not only because he did all the talking, but because of his look. He had an intense gaze and he probably came the closest to looking like a Band member, reminding me a little bit of how Rick Danko looked during his later, post-Band years. But he wasn’t a Rick Danko clone, either. In fact, he didn’t sing some of the biggest Danko parts, like on “It Makes No Difference.” A few songs into the set, he told a story about being 13 and receiving Stage Fright (1970) for his birthday. He played side 2 first, he recalled, and heard this next song, the next song being “The Shape I’m In.”

They opened with the ominous, Rick Danko-Bob Dylan composition “This Wheel’s On Fire” and then proceeded to offer a review of the Band cannon, 20 songs long in all, about 1 hour and 45 minutes worth of music. Not much in the way of jamming. I scribbled down the set list as they went, and as I look it over now, for this review, I have to ask myself why I don’t listen to the Band more often.

Highlights were not where I expected them to be. There were fun singalongs on half the songs, as they played material that I imagine a lot of people didn’t realize came from this groups’ catalog. “I Shall Be Released” was the emotional peak, with the bassist doing his impression of Richard Manuel, to whose spirit he dedicated the song. “Life is a Carnival” rocked harder than I imagined it would, and it featured a particularly intense guitar solo. I would not have imagined “Chest Fever” as a set closer, but it worked great. I had forgotten how intense that one is, with the organ lick in sync with the drums. “King Harvest Has Surely Come” isn’t one I normally think of as a favorite, but it sounded great last night, with its murmured refrain and “the union has been good to me” lyric. And there was “Acadian Driftwood,” which neither Richard Shindell nor the Roches have been able to do cover effectively. TTBB’s harmonies really came together on that one. The Band had some of the greatest harmony singing of the rock era, not to mention some powerful lead vocalists, and TTBB suffered by comparison. But on “Acadian Driftwood,” the harmonies worked the way they were supposed to.

The crowd clearly loved it. It was not a large crowd by the time that the main act came on. The opening band, Ghost Box, was on stage for around 30 minutes, and a lot of people came to see them. They were nothing special: four college kids, maybe even high school, playing mediocre original songs with a lead guitarist pulling out a few rock star moves. Their best moments came in the last two (of five) songs when the lead singer oooh oooh ooohed and the lead guitarist echoed him. A lot of young people left the room after Ghost Box finished up, which was too bad for them. I would say 60 or 70 people were left for the main act, a mixture of die-hard Band fans, curious onlookers, and intrigued young people. During the encore, “Don’t Do It,” I looked behind me to see all the smiling faces in the Iron Horse and, up in the balcony, the dozen or so people up there were dancing, including a teenage couple that was clearly pretty into it.

Here’s the complete set list:

1. This Wheel’s On Fire
2. Ophelia
3. Long Black Veil
4. The Shape I’m In
5. The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down
6. Across the Great Divide
7. I Shall Be Released
8. Up On Cripple Creek
9. King Harvest Has Surely Come
10. Rockin' Chair
11. Acadian Driftwood
12. W. S. Walcott Medicine Show
13. Where Do We Go from Here?
14. When you Awake
15. Life is a Carnival
16. The Weight
17. Stage Fright
18. It Makes No Difference
19. Chest Fever
E: Don’t Do It


Rex said...

Thanks for taking the time to write about TTBB's July 3rd show at The Horse. I thought your review was spot on, fair and balanced, especially having seen them only one time. Having shared the stage with The Band a few times back in 1973-74 during their heyday - and seeing TTBB several times now these past few years, I would respectfully disagree with your assessment that TTBB's overall vocalization "suffered by comparison." I think that is too harsh a criticism given the intricacy and genius of The Band's harmonies and of course as you pointed out, their two brilliant lead singers. Sadly we'll never see or hear The Band perform "live" again, but if you want a close second and want to be transformed by the magic and spirit of The Band's music, TTBB delivers BIG TIME. Keep up the good work and thanks again for reviewing TTBB. Rex Fowler / Aztec Two-Step

3shells said...

Thanks so much for your comment! Your point about TTBB's vocals it well-taken: there aren't too many popular music groups in the past 50 years that feature either harmony or lead vocals as magical as the Band's. And the show Saturday night truly was excellent. As you say, TTBB does deliver!


Gary Solomon said...


Thanks for the review. While I will leave it to others to evaluate and critique our performances, I would like to state here clearly that, unlike most tribute bands, it has never been our intention to try to look like the members of The Band. That's not our thing, and it would be impossible anyway. As a group, we try only to conjure a general feeling of The Band's look, without crossing into the land of "look-alikes." Fashion has never been my forte.

For us, it's about one thing only - the music. I have spent 40 years listening, studying, and emulating the music of The Band. I know it well; it’s in my blood. If something isn't quite right, we find it and fix it. It's a lot harder than it might seem, and I think we do a damn good job of capturing the essence of their sound.

In the three years and fifty or so shows since we started TTBB, our audiences have responded with unabashed joy and enthusiasm. And while I'm most grateful for being appreciated for our performances, I know that it's The Band's timeless music - classic songs, brilliant arrangements, and soulful recordings - that our fans are coming to hear, time and time again. We’re just keeping the flame burning.


Bob said...

I bought him that first album. He says it's in his blood. It is. It's in his hair; it's in those guitar-picking fingers; it's in the way his eyes light up when he thinks about the music. And that is all contagious if we're jamming. Or just humming along.

3shells said...

"and the flame still burns," indeed! In case the point got lost in either my review or my earlier comment, it was a great, great show. The Band does have a distinct sound; they were one of a kind. And what I heard on Saturday night at the Iron Horse did justice to their songs, and then some.