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The Last Waltz 40 Tour at the NYCB Theatre at Westbury

Mike Perciaccante By

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The Last Waltz 40 Tour
NYCB Theatre at Westbury
Westbury, NY
February 3, 2017

On November 25, 1976 (Thanksgiving), the Canadian-American rock group The Band gave its farewell concert at San Francisco's Winterland Ballroom. The concert was filmed by director Martin Scorsese and made into the documentary, The Last Waltz. The movie included appearances by over a dozen special guests, including Muddy Waters, Bob Dylan, Paul Butterfield, Ronnie Wood, Bobby Charles, Ronnie Hawkins, Eric Clapton, Neil Diamond, Emmylou Harris, Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, Dr. John, Ringo Starr, the Staple Singers and Neil Young. The musical director for the concert was the Band's original record producer, John Simon. The horns were arranged by the late, great Allen Toussaint.

The original group started out together as Ronnie Hawkins's backing group, the Hawks, and was comprised of four Canadians and one American. The Band, in its original, most famous and most successful configuration featured the late Rick Danko on bass and vocals, Garth Hudson on keyboards, the late Richard Manuel on piano and vocals, Robbie Robertson on guitar and the late Levon Helm on drums and vocals. This was the group that backed Bob Dylan on the 1967 jams that became the Basement Tapes (Columbia Records, 1975) recordings and on his original electric tour.

On a cool winter evening in early February, the fourteen member tribute group for the Band delivered a tour de force concert that came as close to the original as possible in 2017. The performance was steeped in blues, rockabilly, rock, pop, R&B, New Orleans funk and jazz, country, honky-tonk and good old-fashioned Americana. A select touring band of top-notch musical stars delivered a joyous celebratory show performing much of the Band's historic final concert as it was originally performed 40 years ago. The NYCB Theatre at Westbury was the penultimate stop on the 11-city tour.

The group was comprised of Tour Director/guitarist/vocalist Warren Haynes (a former member of the Allman Brothers Band, who is currently a solo artist and the lead guitarist for Gov't Mule); singer/keyboardist Michael McDonald (who came to prominence as a member of both Steely Dan and The Doobie Brothers, and is also solo artist); Musical Director/bassist Don Was (who has produced the Bonnie Raitt, Rolling Stones, and others including his own group Was Not Was); singer/guitarist Jamey Johnson (who has worked with Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard and many more); John Medeski, the rock/jazz/funk keyboard wizard; New Orleans drummer Terence Higgins (who is a member of both the Warren Haynes Band and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band). The brass section was overseen by trombonist Mark Mullins (of Bonerama, who used Toussaint's the original horn arrangements); Bobby Campo on trumpet; Ward Smith on saxophone and Matt Perrine (also of Bonerama) on sousaphone. Though they didn't perform on every song played during the evening, "Steady Rollin'" Bob Margolin (guitarist for the late Muddy Waters), keyboardist Ivan Neville (from Dumpstafunk) and his uncle Cyril Neville on vocals and congas, rounded out the band. The evening's concert at the cozy Long Island venue was a sold-out affair...and it was to be performed in-the-round. This configuration allowed the circular stage to rotate providing each section of the spherical concert hall with direct head-on views of the slowly spinning stage.

The performance did not replicate the complete Last Waltz concert film and album. Instead, it covered twenty-five songs spread out over two sets and encores, kicking off the festivities with a pre-recorded version of "Theme From The Last Waltz." Following the taped introduction, the band dove-in with a stellar version of "Up On Cripple Creek." The group's version, sung by Johnson, included all the nuances that made the original version iconic—twangy guitar, wah-wah pedal, yodeling and sing-a-long lyrics.

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