Have you ever had those pinch-me moments at a concert? The music is just so dang good that you can’t believe your eyes (or ears). This is what happened to me on Friday night.
Let’s rewind to November 25, 1976, on Thanksgiving Eve. The iconic group, The Band, were joined by Eric Clapton, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Dr. John, to name a few. This was going to be the official “Farewell Show” in San Francisco (Winterland Ballroom) for the Canadian/American quintet: Helm/Danko/Robertson/Hudson/Manuel.
Led by veteran guitarist, Warren Haynes, along with Willie’s Nelson’s guitar-slinging son, Lukas, of The Promise Real, The Last Waltz Tour made a stop to the legendary, Tower Theater in Upper Darby, located on 69th & Ludlow Street. Joining Haynes and Nelson was organ wizard John Medeski, country guitarist Jamey Johnson, New Orleans drummer Terence Higgins, and producer/bassist, Don Was and The Levee Horns.
Just like the 1976 show, which turned into a movie produced by Martin Scorsese, the opening notes of “Up On Cripple Creek”, brought the audience to their feet to belt out every lyric. You could feel the electrifying energy throughout the Tower Theater early on. Stepping up to the microphone early on, wielding a cowboy hat was Lukas Nelson on “The Shape I’m In”. After just two brief songs you could tell that Mr. Haynes was very pleased with the cast of musicians, he gave the nod to for this project. Bringing a New Orleans flavor to the bunch, was percussionist, Cyril Neville, who is known for his work with The Meters and the Neville Brothers, along with having ties to Robbie Robertson. Joining him on stage was Mark Mullins & The Levee Horns, and The Radiators guitarist, Dave Malone. You couldn’t help but feel like you were down on the bayou when the horn section came into play. Medeski tickled the ivories in the background as Malone, throw in a nice gritty guitar solo during “Who Do You Love?”, as bassist Don Was, throw in his well-known bass lines. Closing the first set was one of The Band’s most popular tunes, “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”, gave way for Jamey Johnson to showcase his vocals. As the house lights came on at intermission, the crowd was buzzing with excitement for the second set.
John Medeski helped begin the second set with a flawless organ solo to start off “Chest Fever”. Two of the special guests on Thanksgiving Eve ‘76 was Van Morrison and Neil Young. The Last Waltz Tour paid homage to the legendary songwriters with spot on renditions of “Caravan” and “Helpless”.
During “Mystery Train”, penned by His Blue Flames & Junior Parker, you could hear a tribute to the late great leader of Little Feat, Paul Barrere, when The Levee Horns teased “Skin It Back”.
The list of top-notch musicians kept going when, Bob Margolin, guitarist for Muddy Waters, and was also at The Last Waltz joined the supergroup. Highlighting the appearance Margolin was a bluesy nitty-gritty “Mannish Boy”.
You could hear the echoes throughout the Tower Theater as the band closed the second set with “The Weight” and a beautiful, “I Shall Be Released”.
Warren Haynes gave a nod to the late New Orleans legend, Dr. John, with a touching rendition of “Such A Night” and ending the historic evening with “Don’t Do It”.
It’s hard to recreate, a legendary performance, but on Friday evening it showed that all the musicians channeled The Band perfectly and brought their A-game to Upper Darby.