Review & Photos | The Complete Last Waltz | Port Chester

Words By: Chadbyrne Dickens
Images By: Greg Horowitz

The Complete Last Waltz :: 11.27.13 :: Capitol Theatre :: Port Chester, NY

"Life is a Carnival - take another look" - The Band

Billed as "a song for song, word for word, re-presentation of the concert," The Complete Last Waltz was a successful reenactment and tribute to one of the most legendary music events of our time. The original performance took place nearly 37 years ago on Thanksgiving 1976 at San Francisco's legendary Winterland Ballroom (the same venue where The Band made their debut with that moniker as a group in 1969) and this performance occurred on Thanksgiving Eve, November 27, at the historic Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, NY.

A musical Thanksgiving tradition, rivaled only by Guthrie's "Alice's Restaurant," ardent fans of the iconic rock film and concert turned out in droves to relive some of the magic. Not everyone is aware of the legendary concert or film, but it's safe to say that those that are become completely addicted to its brilliance on so many levels. Scorsese’s film, released in 1978, is the definitive concert film and argued about in circles with Stop Making Sense as the greatest musical experience to ever be captured on celluloid. Having shared an initial offering last Thanksgiving in San Francisco, this was only the second time The Complete Last Waltz had ever been performed in a similar incarnation. The event was produced by Golden Gate Entertainment, a company with the goal of mounting singular, once in a lifetime collaborative music events bringing together a wide range of musicians.

Unlike the film, which edited out certain numbers for length, The Complete Last Waltz set out to share all 41 songs and readings from the actual concert in exactly the same order. After a beautiful rendition of “The Theme From the Last Waltz” with Jason Crosby leading a troupe of violinists, the inferno erupted with the first vocal song of the night. An early highlight was “Up On Cripple Creek” with its boundless energy and up-tempo rhythms. Sam Cohen’s voice isn’t southern-tinged, but does accentuate the end of stanzas like Levon did. Alecia Chakour’s powerful pipes added another layer of feminine sound with her angelic voice. The Cap was on fire as everyone belted out the yodeling section, and it served as an effective way to amp up the crowd. Joe Russo, one of a handful of drummers who could satisfactorily fill in for Levon Helm with his hard-hitting style and nuance, was seated downstage so all could witness his overt talents.

As the show progressed, one could discern that the same songs stood out as they did during a viewing of the original film. The first half of the show is still the stronger half, as the second set becomes more blues driven, but now the bombastic classic, “Ophelia” was moved up to its proper position in the set list closer to the beginning of the show (which had been randomly placed late in the film version). Scott Metzger proved his guitar chops and powerful vocal delivery on the bouncy and fun tune about unrequited love and a southern belle. It proved to be the most frenetic fury of the night fueled by the full sound of the brass section.

An early standout came about a quarter into the show with this introduction, “The man who needs no introduction, Marco Benevento!" A suit-clad, happy smiling Marco, had hair pulled down across his head, and exuded a calm swagger while hidden behind his sunglasses. Normally, the king of improvisation and devoid of any vocals during his concerts, Benevento delivered a stunningly-effective performance of “Such a Night” complete with a quirky and spot on caricature of Dr. John himself. “The Wonderful Wizard of Weird’s” prowess on organ, like Garth Hudson, shined throughout the concert, but his vocal ability on this rare opportunity surprised many. With more than ten musicians on stage at one time, with continual personnel and set changes on stage throughout, the musicians delved into one of the saddest songs ever written, the dark and depressing, “It Makes No Difference.” The harmonies were haunting and strong, with a stellar sax solo to conclude the mesmerizing tune and Alecia's harmony leading the way as a purple hazy mist of light rained down over the stage, evoking moments of sincere vulnerability.

Although still a barn-burning incendiary song, Levon’s distinctive voice on “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” was missed, until the anthemic chant of the entire Cap screamed, "And the people were singing!!" which caught everyone up in the excitement. There were many aspects of style and substance that added flavor to the proceedings, Kenny Siegel, lead singer for “Shape I’m In," donned a little blue hat, but otherwise naturally lacked Manuel’s patented quirkiness. Alecia Chakour dominated with a tambourine and Sam Cohen tackled Neil Young’s morose and melancholy “Helpless” and an alternate arrangement of “Four Strong Winds.” Unlike Neil's much touted and controversial performance, no rotoscoping in the editing process would be necessary on this night.

[Complete Audio Available At]

These were not replacement players ill equipped to fill the shoes of the original cast. In fact, Marco received greater positive adulation upon being announced than Dr. John originally did. There was a youthful mix on stage from grizzled veterans to eccentric exuberance brought by the likes of Jocie Adams who delivered an impeccable “Coyote” and added a hint of hippie hotness just like Joni had in her day. Adams' cover was an alternative and edgy take of a timeless tale.

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