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ITS A LONG WAY from Big Pink to the cover of Time magazine, Even further to Boston College. I suppose. But somehow the journey has left The Band fresh-very much themselves-and unchanged by the rights of idolization and the pressures of financial success. Unlike so many rock groups in circulation today. The Band has but one purpose: playing its music, playing it well and with all of the feeling with which it was written.
There is nothing electronically intricate about The Band's music. It is, in fact. very simple. But through this simplicity-perhaps purity is the better word-The Band achieves a musical breadth seldom heard in rock circles. While the music is simple, it is powerful. There is no dominating force in The Band. The chief concern is the final sound, the end result, not brief flashes of individual brilliance. Tefal excellence is perhaps, the best expression of The Band.
This selflessness within The Band is all the more remarkable considering the musical abilities of its members. Versatility is a distinguishing, and a vital, characteristic of The Band. The group plays 15 instruments proficiently, and employs as many as ten in concert. The instruments are played without gimmicks-there is no fuzz bass, no reverb, no echo to The Band. The emphasis is on talent, unaltered ability, and the result is a near-perfect blend of keyboards, guitars, and percussion.
As I nestled onto the floor amongst discarded Narragansett beer cans Saturday night at B.C.'s Roberts Center. I didn't really know what to expect from this group that seemed to do no wrong on record. What followed seemed strangely appropriate, as if I knew what was coming because it was the only way for The Band to be.
There was no supporting act. The Band neither needs, nor wants support. They simply want to play their music. And they did just that for an hour and a half. As they flowed through a cross-section of their two albums. The Band and Music From Big Pink it was easy to envision The Band creating this music in Big Pink or backing up Dylan in a cellar in the Village. Everything seemed natural-pure-the way it should be.
From the first chord of "Jemima Surrender" to the last note of "Slippin" and Slidin it was as though The Band derived a peculiar pleasure from the very act of being on stage, playing their music. There was Richard Manuel, head turned away from the piano, eyes closed, his melodic voice drifting into the microphone. There was Levon Helm on drums, delivering the amazingly steady, but unobtrusive, beat that drives The Band. His eyes, too. were closed his head turned to the microphone. There was Rick Danko playing his archaic Fender Precision bass. But, oh, how he played it. And his voice, so important to The Band's sound-twangy, country, but at the same time smooth. The sweat streamed down Danko's face, a face crossed by a myriad of expressions in the course of the evening. Only once did his voice break, deep into the second set on "Look Out Cleveland."
And there was Garth Hudson and Jamie Robertson, Not once did a smile appear on Hudson's bearded face as he moved from organ. to accordian, to baritone sax. But always there was a knowing expression. as if more than anyone, he understood and felt The Band's music. Bent over the organ at the back of the stage, almost but never completely forgotten by the audience, he cast quick glances-knowing glances-about the stage, as if acknowledging the source of The Band's incredible music.
IN THIS WAY, Hudson comes on like The Band's spiritual leader. But in the flesh, the leader is Jamie Robertson, Songwriter, lead guitarist, this music is his music. It is everyone else's, too. Robertson seldom sings, but at the center of the stage, it is hard to take your eyes away from him. He plays guitar like a mathematical guitar genius," Bob Dylan once said. Robertson and his guitar are one. Or is he making love to it like B.B. King to die-hard Lucille? A "missed it" when he is too slow; an "I've got it now" when he is just right-Robertson talks constantly to himself on stage. Always smiling, the joy contained in The Band's music emanates most from him. It is rare indeed when there is not a smile somewhere within The Band.
Talent-wise. The Band is irreproachable. Saturday night, Robertson switched effortlessly from electric to classical guitar and back again. Hudson played four instruments, although his range includes eight. On a four-minute variation leading in to "Chest Fever," his sheer talent on the organ and his vast knowledge of popular and classical music poured forth. Manuel went from piano to drums on "This Wheel's on Fire" and "When You Awake," while Helm played rhythm and gut-string guitar, Danko, on bass, was never off as his lightning fingers rambled.
SHIFTING to the next beer can, I could not help wonder why The Band chose to play at B.C. The audience overflowed in what is normally the school's gymnasium, but they were, in essence, a paradox of themselves, and of many rock audiences today. There was a certain incongruity in their throwing paper airplanes into the stage one minute, and applauding with what seemed to be appreciation the next. It seemed childish to shout down relief man Bobby Kosser between The Band's sets, and then to shout for an encore of The Band.
I suspected that this crowd was there because that was the place to be at Boston Colilege on Saturday night. To get to the front of the auditorium, I first had to be passed by the Gold Key Society into the first eight rows, which were, of course, reserved for the Social Committee. At the end of the concert, the audience stomped on the bleachers and clapped in unison for a second encore, but suddenly picked up their coats and left-just like at a basketball game.
But, not surprisingly, The Band's music moved even this tattersalled audience. Perhaps it was made for them. Probably not, though. The Band's music was made for everybody: rock freaks, blues freaks, C and W freaks, or just plain freaks. Call it country rock if you wish. I don't know where I fit into this classification, but I can now well understand it when Shelton Brooks said:
I'll be down to get you in a taxi honey
Better be ready by half past eight
Now, honey don't be late
I want to be there
When THE BAND starts playing...
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