THE LAST WALTZ LIVES ON

Words by: Harry McNeil :: Images by Stewart Lange

The Last Waltz Tribute Ensemble :: 03.03.06 :: Georgia Theatre :: Athens, GA


The Last Waltz Tribute Ensemble :: 03.03.06
"When I get offa this a' mountain..." The stage lights came on, and there was the great Rick Richards of the Georgia Satellites leading a nine-piece band and horn section through the same "Up On Cripple Creek" opener that The Band had used on that historic night back at Winterland. The scene on this night - 30 years later - was the historic Georgia Theatre in Athens, GA, where The Last Waltz Tribute Ensemble opened their Spring touring season by performing 26 songs from the original Winterland show.

Richards, the most high-profile member of the show, is a force of nature, setting the tempos for his songs based on however the spirit happens to move him at that particular moment. Richards is chiseled from the stone age of the 70's, a "guitar player's" guitar player. His chops are just as nasty as they were twenty years ago when Keith Richards called Arista Records and demanded to know, "Who is that fucking guitar player on 'Keep Your Hands to Yourself.'" Rick Richards closed his raunchy rendition, and the tribute was off and running.


The Last Waltz Tribute Ensemble :: 03.03.06
The Ensemble gives you The Last Waltz in sections, ordering the setlist based on the particular performers joining the shifting lineup on that particular evening. The constant is Houndog, the four-piece Atlanta band led by Kris "Jellyroll" Gloer, which serves as the backing band with Gloer as the host/emcee for the entire show. A talented band in their own right, Houndog leads the ensemble though a delicate version of "Long Black Veil" off Music from Big Pink with the understated harmony between guitarist Mark Kramer and bassist Eric Reed giving the song about misguided murder and adultery its emotional heart.

True to form, the ensemble brings out yet another talented guest, harmonica madman David Fisch, to rev up the energy for the blues rave-up "Mystery Train" and the country brilliance of "Ophelia," showcasing the top-notch horn section of Brad Thomas (Bluestring) and Neil Mackelroy. The crowd was thick with revelers by this time, filling the old theatre with old-fashioned energy - dancing, singing, boozing, and laughing. A bit later in the set, I took a little lap of the swelled crowd and found that from the stage to the back door, folks were singing every damned word.


The Last Waltz Tribute Ensemble :: 03.03.06
What strikes me most about this show is the extreme confidence of the performers just oozing out of every song - the guests come on and do their thing with abandon and joy, bringing out their inner Jagger. Never is that more true than with our next guests, Will and Lee Haraway of the Atlanta rock & roll band The Sundogs. With an intro from Gloer and moment of silence for the National Anthem - the band launched into "The Night They Drove ol' Dixie Down," with the signature voice of Lee Haraway leading the way and with Will and Kramer (and the entire Theatre) adding harmony.

Older brother Will then led a rousing rendition of "Stage Fright" behind the stirring keyboard interplay between Jason Fuller on piano and Dan Seifert on Hammond B-3. The brothers' set took us through some great blood harmony on "Evangeline" and "It Makes No Difference," along with a tight version of the complex "This Wheel's On Fire" that the whole ensemble seemed to particularly enjoy. The Haraways' set ended with the Marvin Gaye standard and crowd favorite "Don't Do It," wherein Will Haraway laid down his acoustic to grab hold of his mic stand and channel Chris Robinson.


The Last Waltz Tribute Ensemble :: 03.03.06
Now, my favorite part of The Last Waltz is Van Morrison's "Caravan," and on this night, we needed an Irishman to fill the shoes of Van the Man. Greg Hester took the stage in a slick leather blazer to give everybody a reason to TURN IT UP, followed by a soulful version of the little-known Rick Danko-penned "Out of the Blue." Hester has the soul of James Brown running through his Augusta, GA, veins and gave the crowd plenty of funky ad-libs and improvisation during his set. Then it was time to bring the Rock Star back on stage, and Rick Richards didn't disappoint with a nasty, rocking "Shape I'm In," a "Mannish Boy" that Muddy would have loved, and "Who Do You Love" that featured an extended "Mountain Jam" duel between Richards and Gloer that again highlighted the extreme musicianship of this group of badasses.

As the evening went on, I realized that the degree of separation between these guys and the original Band was minimal; they were all just people interacting through their individual and collective love of performing great, timeless music. It's a palpable feeling during the group hug that is "I Shall Be Released," with Hester leading the entire company through the Dylan classic via his brand of blue-eyed soul. For this and the show-stopping, verse-trading closer, "The Weight," there ain't a voice not lifted or a smile not found. I walked out of that place humming, and I'm sure I wasn't the only one in the capacity crowd that kept that good feeling for the rest of the weekend.

For more information about The Last Waltz Ensemble and additional tourdates, visit www.LastWaltzTribute.com.

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[Published on: 4/18/06]

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Comments

broomnaradio Mon 5/15/2006 08:36AM
0 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Hell howzabout bringin the show home to san fran....I will be there front and center.