By Frank Scheck 1 hour, 56 minutes ago
NEW YORK (Hollywood Reporter) -
It ended well before the
witching hour and it wasn't in a barn, but Levon Helm brought
one of his famed "Midnight Rambles" to New York's Beacon
Theater on Friday night.
Fresh from his Grammy win for "Dirt Farmer," his first solo
album in decades, the former drummer-vocalist with The Band
delivered a thrilling show of classic American music that
demonstrated his continuing artistic and physical vitality.
The latter is no small achievement, considering that throat
cancer robbed him of his voice for several years. Although his
voice is thinner and reedier than it used to be and his aged
visage now resembles a vintage photograph of a Depression-era
farmer, Helms looked and sounded robust. Grinning wildly
throughout the course of a set that lasted nearly
two-and-a-half hours, he even had enough energy at the show's
end to perform jumping jacks while receiving his ovations.
His large band, including the superb guitarists Jimmy
Vivino and Larry Campbell and a dynamic five-piece horn
section, was anchored by his deceptively simple but unerringly
perfect drumming. A sterling group of vocalists and musicians
wandered in frequently, including singer Teresa Williams,
delivering gorgeous harmonies on "Long Black Veil"; harmonica
player Little Sammy Davis, providing bluesy support on numbers
like "Baby Won't You Please Come Home"; and special guest star
Phoebe Snow, who sang lead on a slowed-down, soulful version of
the rock classic "Tossing and Turning" and a transcendent "Into
the Mystic." (Helm's daughter, Amy, normally a regular, was a
no-show, but for a very good reason: She's recently given birth
to a son, named Levon.)
The set list, including several tracks from the new album,
encompassed folk, gospel, country, blues and nearly every other
traditional American style imaginable. Helm, occasionally
switching to mandolin, handled lead vocals on numerous songs,
his voice still registering with a unique, rough-hewn timbre
and distinctive character.
The show, which included such Band classics as "Ophelia"
and "Rag Mama Rag," closed with two numbers that brought the
cheering crowed to their feet: "I Shall Be Released" and, of
course, "The Weight."