Corby's Orbit

Corby's Orbit
Listening in All the High Places illustration by John Kricfalusi

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Lucinda Williams and Levon Helm Ramble on into Massey Hall

“You cannot stay on the summit forever; you have to come down again. So why bother in the first place? Just this: What is above knows what is below, but what is below does not know what is above. One climbs, one sees. One descends, one sees no longer, but one has seen. There is an art of conducting oneself in the lower regions by the memory of what one saw higher up. When one can no longer see, one can at least still know.”

-René Daumal

I've just finished two nights with Lucinda Williams and Levon Helm at Massey Hall.
Friday was a working day, and I had no dinner but a bag o chips, so the 2 beers I took on were very...invigorating. Sixth row center was good for the visuals, bad for the vocal mix. Two of my oldest friends down the row and my guide to all things Lucinda, Kate, beside me, so the music just came splashing out over like a summer storm, remedy to the cold puddles outside.
Lucinda's guitar player, big lanky Val McCallum, seemed to get applause after every solo. He's only going as far as New York's Webster Hall next week with the band, after which he'll be replaced by a new 24-yr-old L.A. player in Lu's endless stream of guitar-master sidemen. The bassist was looping strange patterns through the melodies and touching notes very artistically.
Butch, the drummer, had a lot of enthusiasm, and some great cymbal touches, wearin' a cowboy hat and shorts.
Levon sang little, talked less, but was the perfect host and his gregarious body language and a constant lesson in drumming made us all so glad to see him. I thought how important his ethics have been to us all. All the musicians were superb in every genre: Mississippi blues ( bandleader Larry Campbell's finger picking ), gospel ( Amy Helm and Theresa Williams shimmered on the Grateful Dead's Attics of My Life) and New Orleans second line marches ( Howard Johnson on tuba, all the way from the Rock of Ages LP). The chamber jazz segues and a trombone solo on Just A Closer Walk With Thee were stirring and resonant with reverential history. Colin Linden got up and sang Remedy. Lucinda guested on the two closers, The Weight and I Shall Be Released. We went backstage after, but all seemed ready to go back to the hotel. Levon and the ladies had already left.
The audience was more festive (less tired?) (more drunk?) on Saturday night. Rob Bowman was in the bar downstairs with a mic, recapping his liner notes from the Band box set, giving off some history. I made him talk about CKLN at the end. He used to be a dj there.
Lucinda's setlist was very different, except the last two songs. She got brought back for an encore. She did Concrete and Bob War, and Essence, and sang Evangeline with Levon's daughter about seven songs into their set, instead of staying til the end. Sound was way better. They were doing a sound check when we got there. The guitarist was now way too overbearing, cranking every song into a live-at-the-Filmore climax. Maybe Lu likes that?
The audience had lots to shout about though, and did so at every opportunity after John Donabie introduced Levon Helm as "Canada's favourite adopted son." Levon said "It's just like bein' at the Coq-a-dor!". No Colin tonight. The music was even more polished. Not as many solos from the girls. And when Levon said good-bye there, he was quite emotionally serious. It was a full service, five-star weekend of music. I will treasure it so. Video via Dan Mock

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