So ever since Syd Barrett died I'd been keeping tabs to see when and if there'd be a tribute gig. Then one day I hear on the radio that it'd already been done.
About two years ago I'd heard tell of a compilation album in tribute to The Band. Naturally, I watched like a hawk as that progressed as well. And yet the release completely flitted my radar. It came out in January and I've only heard it just now. This is a problem.
I'm not quite certain how much I've gotten it across here that I absolutely love The Band. Certainly one of the most musically talented groups in history (Three of the greatest lead singers in rock history, a backup singer who could have been the lead for most bands of similar stature, and every single damned one of them a genius on their instrument as well as maybe one or two others). Levon Helm's drumming powered a great many of their songs, and few drummers have done nearly as well as him singing from behind the kit. Rick Danko is the sort of guy you'd watch if you wanted to become a bassist. Richard Manuel edges out Joe Cocker as the closest thing to a white Ray Charles with his talent on the piano and well, see for yourself. In Garth Hudson they had a brilliant instrumentalist whose repertoire I can't trust myself to list in its entirety. Robertson didn't try to impress too much with his licks (which isn't to say that he couldn't, he kept pace with Slowhand himself onstage) but his sound was excellent. They meshed together seamlessly and put out songs rich in sound and sentiment. And not in the dopey, weepy way that has grown prominent lately.
If you don't feel anything when you hear "It Makes No Difference," I'm not sure what I can think about you.
From The Last Waltz, which you absolutely have to see if you call yourself a fan of rock and roll. Yes, I'm a dude who lays down ultimatums at times, but honestly I really can't see why I'd be resisted here. That song was covered by My Morning Jacket in the tribute album. They're perhaps guilty of covering it too closely, but the lead guitar is distinct and really those dudes are a lot like The Band anyways.
Some of the best Dylan live moments were when he was backed by The Band. They are, in fact, the ones responsible for getting him plugged in, and by extension played a hand in one of the greatest rock songs of all time, "Like a Rolling Stone." The first time he played it live he was backed by them at the Newport Folk Festival, and inspired the rage of the audience, though perhaps it may have been because the PA was leveraged for acoustic performances. They may have been the best backing band in rock history; their commercial success came after years of backing Ronnie Hawkins and then Bob Dylan. In their final concert (The Last Waltz) they backed a veritable catalog of legendary rockers and weaned out of them phenomenal performances.
I'm not here to give a history lesson, though.
Dylan's son Jakob plays a song on the album, and there's a reason he makes it clear he's not trying to follow in his father's footsteps; he's a damned fine singer and musician in his own right.
One of my favorite bands from this era; Blues Traveler, appears as well and damn if John Popper doesn't still play the harmonica like it was gold plated and won from the Devil.
The Allman Brothers Band with The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down. Death Cab For Cutie with Rockin' Chair. Government Mule with Shape I'm In. Jack Johnson with I Shall Be Released. These people are no slouches and while it would be a hell of a lot to expect from anyone to top The Band at their own material I wasn't disappointed by any rendition. I am disappointed with Guster for doing a shitty video that goes with their otherwise excellent cover of This Wheel's on Fire that's basically a shot for shot adaptation of parts of The Last Waltz and utterly sucked, nevermind that it interrupted the song, but I can easily avoid seeing that should I wish and in fact am going to aid you in avoiding it by not linking to the Youtube.
You can actually listen to it in its entirety here and I very much suggest that you check it out. It's a fitting tribute to a group of rock's perhaps most unsung legends.
Also, Studio 60 is back on the air to run out the remainder of its episodes and I'm probably going to write something about that eventually.