LIVE: The Weight Band @ Cohoes Music Hall, 12/8/18
Review by Don Wilcock
“There’s no life after death…”
“You can’t have your cake and eat it, too.”
The Weight Band shattered these two clichés in their Cohoes Music Hall concert on a cold December night in which the stars lined up to deliver the kind of concert experience that’s transcendent even to a jaded old music journalist like me.
Levon Helm, Rick Danko and Richard Manuel, original members of Woodstock’s The Band, are all dead, and guitarist Jim Weider has long since eclipsed Robbie Robertson’s role as leader of The Band since Robertson’s dissolution of the original group in 1978 at The Last Waltz concert, immortalized in Martin Scorsese’s film of the same name.
Calling themselves The Weight Band for whatever legal or creative reasons, the group that performed last Saturday night is for all intents and purposes the contemporary version of The Band. The name The Weight Band is awkward at best, conjuring up images of a cover band which does ill service to a group that performs early Band numbers like “The Weight,” “Life Is a Carnival” and “The Shape I’m In” with greater energy and style than I remember from the original group more than four decades ago. “Ophelia” literally bounces off the keyboards of Brian Mitchell and Matt Zeiner.
Jim Weider’s Roy Buchanan influences on guitar turn new songs like “A World Gone Mad” (the title track of the band’s February album release), “Common Man” (revamped from a song originally co-written by Weider and Levon Helm) and “Remedy” (co-written by Weider and Canada’s Colin Linden) into tours de force that burnish The Band’s early fiery wood stove sound. Saturday’s show was a home run crowd pleaser that “raises the dead” on a group that decades ago provided the east coast answer to the Grateful Dead’s declaration that San Francisco was the only proving ground for the American counter culture, while incidentally providing the “back-up band” for Dylan’s philosophical views of a culture that transcended youth.
The Weight Band’s concert was an all ages extravaganza that works on three levels. Yes, it gives oldies fans the kind of fix one expects from a great cover band. But secondly, it fulfills the vacuum for new material left by the original Band, and finally, it works as a contemporary rock band of spectacular acumen.
All five of the musicians are fine singers, while four of them are multiple instrumentalists. There’s not a weak link in the bunch. Keyboardist Brian Mitchell also plays accordion and channels both Dylan and Levon Helm on vocals. Newest member Matt Zeiner, also on keyboards and vocals, comes from a background with another roots rock veteran Dickie Betts. Michael Bram, whose drumming credits include Willie Nelson and Bob Margolin, was spot on for the group’s nearly two hours on stage.
Albert Rogers on bass and vocals is the wind under Jim Weider’s wings with on-stage patter and lockstep back-up for Weider’s guitar that rivals Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks for both dexterity and emotive power. Weider’s a chameleon on both guitar and mandolin and a grand master of tone and perfect control.
The Weight Band’s cover of the Grateful Dead’s “Deal” offers insight into The Band’s branding of an east coast sound that was and is more cerebral and less hedonistic than the psychedelic trips of San Francisco’s hippie ethos. It is obvious when the Dead sings the song that they are talking about a drug deal. The Weight Band’s
version forces the mind to think about the definition of a deal in a broader, more everyman perspective. What I enjoyed most about their nearly two-hour set is that it was less of a “freak show” and more plugged into the heritage that The Band’s legacy has promulgated in its meandering 50-year legacy.
Opening act acoustic guitarist Kerri Powers channels Rory Block’s uncanny ability to disappear into a song, giving old chestnuts like “Can’t Find My Way Home” and “To Love Somebody” second lives that make you forget how ubiquitous those songs have become. Her original “Peeping Tom” addresses a deviant’s action from an empathetic point of view with punch lines like “I saw you peeping through a peep hole/I didn’t mind at all” and “Peeping Tom, whatever you gonna do now that the curtain’s down?” Sure to get the #metoo police on her trail.
This is a solo artist secure in her own talent and obviously addicted to performing. She began her set by playing two chords, then stopping abruptly and thanking the audience. “Good night!” Originally from Taunton, Massachusetts, she sang one original about a derelict she met on the railroad tracks who smelled of whiskey and nicotine. But that was OK, ’cause so did she. Another song, “Tallulah, Send a Car for Me,” is about her favorite actress, Tallulah, Bankhead. She dedicated “To Love Somebody” to her father in the hospital with dementia. She gently pulled the song apart like succulent pulled pork leaving the audience spellbound but with greasy fingers.