If you happened to be at Cityfolk’s Ravenlaw Stage on Friday night, then you witnessed the magic made by the dozen musicians, and the entrancing effect they had on the audience. The band, The Last Waltz, led by musical director and JUNO award-winning producer, Lance Anderson, featured an all-star Canadian cast of award-winning blues and roots musicians.
The Last Waltz was the final concert given by the legendary Canadian-American roots-rock group, The Band, November 25 in 1976. It is still considered to be one of the most historical shows in rock history, and was captured on film by movie producer/director, Martin Scorsese, as well as released as a soundtrack. The show featured a cast of celebrity musical guests such as Ronnie Hawkins, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Neil Diamond, Eric Clapton, and a host of others whose material was played during the performance. True to form, tonight’s tribute band also included stellar musical guests, Quisha Wint, Johnny Max, and Matt Weidinger, along with a 4-piece horn section. All paid tribute to the music from The Last Waltz, with wonderful renditions of as many tracks as they could fit in a 90 minute set.
Featured on drums was Jerome ‘Levon’ Avis, godson to the late, great, Levon Helm himself. Avis sang some of the tunes his godfather did, like “Up On Cripple Creek,” “Ophelia,” and another favourite, “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” Jerome’s father, Bill Avis, took the stage mid-way to talk briefly about some of the highlights in his former career as The Band’s touring manager. Jerome had a few touching words to say about his godfather, and I heard his voice break when he said how much he missed him. His drum kit, decked out with Canadian and American flags, included Helm’s autographed snare.
Lance Anderson, who occupied the left side of the stage on keyboard, also sang a great deal of the material, including “Don‘t Do It,” “The Shape I‘m In,” “Rag Mama Rag,” “Stage Fright” and a whopping rendition of “Chest Fever,” saved for the encore. This one featured a killer intro by Rob Gusevs on the B3, nice vocal harmonies by Avis, some great guitar work by Terry Blersh, and the addition of the horn section, who provided a wonderful grandness to all the material.
Johnny Max came out to center stage to sing the Bo Diddley staple, “Who Do You Love,” Dr. John’s “Such A Night,” as well as a rousing performance of Van Morrison’s “Caravan”. Soul songstress Quisha Kint delivered a powerful gospel-driven version of “The Weight,” which clearly moved the audience. Both Kint and special guest, Matt Weidinger, covered vocals on Neil Young’s “Helpless,” which brought me my first wave of goosebumps felt that night.
Singer/songwriter and guitarist Weidinger gave his very talented treatment to some Bob Dylan material, including “Like A Rolling Stone” and an absolutely stirring performance of “I Shall Be Released,” with the addition of singers Max and Wint for some three-part harmony action that brought the house down.
For the 50- and 60-somethings in the crowd, it was musical heaven. But checking around, I could see quite a few younger spectators who were also enjoying the magic of this musical trip, while the musicians who led us on the journey, shared their own heartfelt connection onstage. The emotional impact was felt by all, a few tears were shed, and I was left feeling something quite extraordinary had just taken place.
The Last Waltz continue to take this golden catalogue of musical inspiration to concert venues and hearts everywhere. For more information on the band and tour dates, please visit www.makeitrealrecords.com.