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“The Last Waltz” Classic Concert Recreated at The Orpheum in Downtown Los Angeles

The Last Waltz 40 concert marquee at The Orpheum Theater in Downtown Los Angeles on April 13, 2017. Photo courtesy of Andy J. Gordon 2017©.

By Jenny Peters and Andy J. Gordon

“The Last Waltz” was a famous concert performed by Canadian-American rock group The Band, held on Thanksgiving Day, November 25, 1976, at Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco. The film of that memorable show, directed by Martin Scorsese, captured the amazing, guest-filled performance and is considered the greatest live concert film ever made.

“The Last Waltz 40 Tour: A Celebration of the 40th Anniversary of The Last Waltz” has been crossing the United States since the summer of 2016. It rolled into Los Angeles on April 13, 2017, and the show at The Orpheum Theatre in Downtown Los Angeles wonderfully captured the incredible vibe and music from the original concert.

The current tour is the result of a successful two-night, sold-out concert event that took place during Jazz Fest 2016 at the historic Saenger Theatre in New Orleans, Louisiana. Those shows featured an all-star cast of musicians performing many of the songs from the original Last Waltz concert. It was supposed to be a one-time celebration of the classic concert. The shows were so well received and enjoyed by the performing artists that they agreed to take it on the road.

At the height of their popularity in 1976, The Band went out with a bang during their final Last Waltz show and did it with a who’s who of music royalty including Bob Dylan, Paul Butterfield, Neil Young, Emmylou Harris, Ringo Starr, Ronnie Hawkins, Dr. John, Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, Muddy Waters, Ronnie Wood, Neil Diamond, Bobby Charles, The Staple Singers and Eric Clapton.

Warren Haynes playing an intense lead guitar solo with The Last Waltz 40 band at The Orpheum Theater in Downtown Los Angeles on April 13, 2017. Photo courtesy of Andy J. Gordon 2017©.

The current touring lineup consists of several of today’s top musicians, led by former Allman Brothers Band member and Grammy Award-winning guitar legend and vocalist Warren Haynes, as well as Grammy Award-winning producer/musician Don Was on bass. Other members of the core band are drummer Terence Higgins from The Dirty Dozen Brass Band, keyboardist Danny Louis from Govt Mule and country music star Jamey Johnson on guitar and vocals.

Don Was on with The Last Waltz 40 band at The Orpheum Theater in Downtown Los Angeles on April 13, 2017. Photo courtesy of Andy J. Gordon 2017©.

Not unlike the original concert, the current tour has a brilliant horn section featuring Mark Mullins on trombone, Matt Perrine on tuba, Bobby Campbell on trumpet and Ray Moore on soprano saxophone. All the horn pieces use original charts arranged by Allen Toussaint, the musician, songwriter, arranger and record producer who was a hugely influential figure in the New Orleans R&B scene from the 1950s through his recent death in 2015.

Ray Moore on soprano saxophone, Bobby Campbell on trumpet, Mark Mullins on trombone and Matt Perrine on tuba with The Last Waltz 40 band at The Orpheum Theater in Downtown Los Angeles on April 13, 2017. Photo courtesy of Andy J. Gordon 2017©.

Additional New Orleans influences infuse the current touring band. Dr. John, who performed at the original Last Waltz concert, reprises his role with songs he performed at the show back in 1976. Cyril Neville from the Neville Brothers provides vocals and percussion. Legendary blues vocalist, guitarist and harmonica player Taj Mahal performs on some songs. Dave Malone from the Radiators also joins the fun on guitar and vocals.

The show at the Orpheum consisted of many well-known songs from the original concert. The first set opened with the core group playing “Up on Cripple Creek.” Once the horn section came out, the band did great versions of Van Morrison’s “Caravan” and “It Makes No Difference.” Dr. John came out next and played the grand piano while singing a couple of classics including “Such A Night,” followed with “Down South in New Orleans,” a song he had performed with Bobby Charles at the original Last Waltz.

Jamey Johnson with The Last Waltz 40 band at The Orpheum Theater in Downtown Los Angeles on April 13, 2017. Photo courtesy of Andy J. Gordon 2017©.

Cyril Neville took over on lead vocals for a slow, swampy version of Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love.” Mark Mullins and Warren Haynes had particularly impressive solos during that tune. Taj Mahal came out for vocals on The Band’s “The Shape I’m In” and “King Harvest.” The set ended with Jamey Johnson singing lead with loads of great harmonizing from Haynes, Mahal, Dave Malone and Neville on the classic “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.”

The second set opened with the core group and the horn section performing a wonderful version of The Band’s “Ophelia.” Taj Mahal came back out for vocals on “Life is a Carnival” with support from Haynes and Johnson. Dave Malone and Cyril Neville sang Neil Young’s “Helpless.” Malone then grabbed his guitar and took over lead vocals for Bob Dylan and The Band’s “This Wheel’s On Fire.” Neville followed with vocals on “Mystery Train,” a song originally written and recorded by blues musician Junior Parker in 1953, but rearranged and recorded by The Band in 1973. The Band played their version of the song during The Last Waltz along with Paul Butterfield.

Like the original show, a mini blues set was featured at the Orpheum. Warren Haynes introduced Bob Margolin, the slide guitarist for Muddy Waters who came out to sing and play a ferocious slide on the Waters’ classic “Mannish Boy.” Taj Mahal played harmonica while Haynes added additional slide guitar brilliance. Margolin followed with Robert Johnson’s “Kind Hearted Woman Blues.” The standard featured Mahal on steel guitar, Johnson on electric guitar, Haynes on slide and Margolin on slide. This guitar throw down was one of the show highlights.

Taj Mahal took over on lead vocals for the Dylan standard “Forever Young.” The audience was singing along and totally engrossed in the show. The remarkable night got cranked up as Haynes introduced original Band member Garth Hudson. Hudson, 79, could barely make it out to the grand piano, but once settled in, he serenaded the audience with a long intro infused with classical, jazz, rock and country influences, before the full band launched into The Band’s “The Weight.”

The set came to a poignant conclusion as Johnson started singing Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released” and was joined by all the other vocalists. The band members cleared the stage to thunderous applause for what turned out to be a brief break. With dramatic lights focused on the keyboard kit on stage left, Hudson, hidden behind the kit, broke into the haunting intro for The Band classic “Chest Fever.”

Eventually the rest of the band joined him on the stage. Unannounced guest Jim Vivino, guitarist and bandleader for the Basic Cable Band from the late-night program “Conan,” joined the finale. The show ended with a flourish as all the band members enjoyed the celebratory conclusion to the memorable night.

The tour wrapped up on Saturday, April 15, 2017, at The Masonic in San Francisco, California. The classic “The Last Waltz” concert event may be celebrated again in the future, but it will be difficult to match the talent and excitement exhibited by the group of musicians that put on such magnificent performances on this memorable tour.

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About Andy J. Gordon (170 Articles)
Andy J. Gordon, a Los Angeles-based marketing and strategy consultant, made his writing debut in “Brentwood” magazine in 2007. His interests include music, sports, consumer electronics, premium libations, fine dining, travel, fast cars, and enjoying life.