THE LAST WALTZMellowtone @ Philharmonic Music Room 25/11/16
The sense of anticipation around this gig has been building for weeks, echoing the striking intro to The Last Waltz itself, and reaching a crescendo tonight as the band ascend the stage to whoops and cheers from the sold-out crowd. The room is theirs. And they haven’t even played a note.
Wordlessly, Dave O’Grady and SEAFOAM GREEN – Adrian Gautrey (guitar/keys), Martin Byrne (bass), Ben Gonzalez (drums), Muirreann McDermott Long (vocals) Jez Wing (keys) – and Dead Hedge Trio’s Rory Ballantyne (trumpet) go straight into Up On Cripple Creek, O’Grady taking the lead on vocals. Vocal duty then switches to Gautrey, still sitting at his customised Roland keyboard, for The Shape I’m In. He straps on a Telecaster for The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, and pretty much stays centre stage all night, delivering highlights including a fine rendition of Neil Young’s Helpless and an extended guitar solo on a spine-tingling It Makes No Difference.
O’Grady, key orchestrator of this event – along with the always dependable Mellowtone – had explained before the gig that he wanted to bring together a local community of musicians to recreate that 1976 on-stage community when The Band took their final bow, and this is achieved throughout, starting with Paul Dunbar’s lively version of Who Do You Love. One half of Clang Boom Steam guest on Evangeline, with McDermott taking the Emmylou Harris role and then giving a faithful delivery of Joni Mitchell’s Coyote, before the first half of the show ends with The Weight, Rory Valentine giving it his all on trumpet.
When they return, O’Grady thanks us for “keeping The Band’s music alive” with them and reveals that Robbie Robertson has sent him a message: “Knock ‘em dead!” – kudos, guys. With that, they swing into a spirited version of Ophelia, then Mystery Train, with O’Grady on harmonica. Next, Dunbar returns to the stage and completely owns it, delivering a compelling, mesmerising performance of Mannish Boy, mic clenched in one hand, the other making a series of ever-wilder gestures as he commands guitarist Gautrey’s playing. Even the power supply seems overwhelmed. Once restored, it’s time for another guest – Edgar Jones, who gives Eric Clapton’s Further On Up The Road the full blues treatment and continues into Such A Night, with Jez Wing outstanding on honky-tonk keys.
There’s a visual as well as an aural treat in store next as the exotically-dressed Alessandro performs Van Morrison’s Caravan, delighting TLW geeks with his delivery of ‘radio’. Gautrey’s sublime Forever Young, with its most lovely of wishes, is a delicate stand-out moment before Nick Ellis and the band rock into a decibel-raising Baby, Let Me Follow You Down. Finally, everyone crowds onto the stage for I Shall Be Released. As they exit, the audience collectively spring to their feet, shouting for “More!”, and the band oblige with Don’t Do It, guests slipping back in ones and twos to join in. Another standing ovation and they’re gone. The room breathes out, possibly for the first time this evening.
Love for, and appreciation of, the original event has been apparent throughout – the band and their guests are all clearly delighted to be on stage, honouring The Band and their music, keeping TLW alive not through performing a tribute night, but as a living, breathing celebration of Americana’s finest. “May you stay forever young” indeed.