On Stages (Pignon-007)
The Band’s Final Waltz in 1976 was meant to single the end of the band. But watching the film it seemed more Robbie Robertson’s than a mutual decision. After fulfilling their contract with Islands in March 1977, the musicians went their separate ways. Rick Danko released an eponymous solo album followed by Levon Helm’s first solo effort Levon Helm & the RCO All-Stars, and the others gravitated towards film soundtracks. Both Robertson and Helm even acted in front of the camera with roles in Carney and Coal Miner’s Daughter, both released in 1980.
By 1983, after guesting with one another on record and in concert, they decided to resurrect The Band. Robertson of course didn’t participate, intent upon backing up his commitment to end the band, but the others felt that enough time had passed and, as Danko points out in one of the interviews included in this collection, they just wanted to play the old songs again.
On Stages collects two videos from The Band’s tours in Japan in 1983 and four years later in 1987. Pignon also include three bonus rarities, solo performances dating from 1978 to 1983. The silver pressed DVD is about 230 minutes, almost four hours NTSC and region free to be played on all DVD players.
The menu is clear and easy to navigate. The videos are all professionally shot and come from the best available sources. The only real negative are the sync problems on the 1983 video. The audio matches with the visuals for the first hour, but they become very noticeably out of sync about the time they play “Caledonia.” It is a problem Pignon could have easily fixed and it is very distracting.
Kosei Nenkin Hall, Tokyo, Japan – September 2nd, 1983
Rag Mama Rag, Long Black Veil, Up On Cripple Creek, The Shape I’m In, It Makes No Difference, Milk Cow Boogie, Mystery Train, King Harvest (Has Surely Come), Voodoo Music, W.S. Walcott Medicine Show, You Don’t Know Me, Stage Fright, Caldonia, Chest Fever, Java Blues, I Shall Be Released, Back To Memphis, The Weight, (I Don’t Want To) Hang Up My Rock And Roll Shoes, Blaze Of Glory, Willie And The Hand Jive, Ophelia
When The Band began their reformation tour in 1983, they visited Japan in August and played several dates. They never toured Japan during their 1970’s heyday (and Europe only in 1971 with a few odd dates in England between 1969 and 1974). The September 2nd show at the Kosi Nenkin Hall in Tokyo was professionally filmed and released on VHS called Live In Tokyo and on laserdisc on Japan Tour ’83 (Pioneer PILP-2016), but never on DVD.
Pignon utilize a great quality transfer from the laserdisc. As mentioned above, there are serious Except for the aforementioned sync problems, this is a very nice and enjoyable document.
Running almost two hours, it presents the complete show from various angles. They play a very energetic set and, in contrast to The Last Waltz, they look happy and seem to enjoy the music. Also, since Robertson isn’t there, there are copious shots of the rest of the band including the “auxiliary” musicians Ernie Cate, Earl Cate, Ron Eoff, Terry Cagle.
The setlist is obviously focused upon the classics such as “The Weight,” “Up On Cripple Creek” and Manuel’s falsetto on “I Shall Be Released.” Helm refused to sing “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” unfortunately, because of a dispute with Robertson over royalties.
They also play rarities like the Chuck Willis cover “(I Don’t Want To) Hang Up My Rock And Roll Shoes,” which was included on the 1972 release Rock Of Ages, and Levon Helm’s cover of Johnny Otis’ “Willie And The Hand Jive” from his 1982 solo album Levon Helm.
Perhaps the most interesting choice is “Java Blues” from Danko’s 1977 solo album. Unlike the raucous and raw version that can be heard in the 1978 “Soundstage” telecast, this performance includes a sophisticated Garth Hudson keyboard solo in the middle. It is inspiring to hear them reinterpret and rearrange their solo material for the entire band’s performance.
This is the main video in this collection and one of the best Band visual documents in existence. Not much really circulates from the sixties and seventies. It’s unfortunate Pignon didn’t address the sync issues because this could have been a definitive release.
Shiboya Public Hall, Tokyo, Japan – February 25th, 1987
CC Rider, It Makes No Difference, The Weight, Stage Fright, Evangeline, Ophelia, Willie And The Hand Jive, Up On Cripple Creek, interview
Four years later The Band return to Japan for several dates without a new album to promote and several months after Manuel’s suicide. This footage is a forty-minute excerpt from the February 25th show in Tokyo. It begins by showing the band walking to the stage.
After the first song “CC Rider” a Japanese commentator discusses the history of The Band with visual cues such as showing the Northern Lights – Southern Cross LP cover, footage from The Last Waltz and from the 1983 VHS.
The eight songs represent a “best of” from their current setlist. Other songs commonly played during this period include “WS Walcott Medicine Show” and “Caledonia,” but not included in this telecast.
But those numbers included include a slow and bluesy version of “CC Rider” and a meditative and emotional rendition of “It Makes No Difference.” Danko’s vocals on the latter are particularly gorgeous. The set closes with “Willie And The Hand Jive” and the upbeat “Up On Cripple Creek” followed by the closing credits.
A very short interview in the dressing room, conducted by a female Japanese journalist, closes the segment. She asks them typical questions about why they broke up ten years before and why they reformed. Danko and Helm answer the questions while Hudson looks annoyed.
Rick Danko on Soundstage, Chicago, IL – February 23rd, 1978
Java Blues, This Wheel’s On Fire, Tired Of Waiting, Sweet Romance, Brainwashed, Sip the Wine, What a Town
The first, and earliest, solo telecast is Danko’s appearance on WTTW in Chicago. Soundstage, an “Austin City Limits” type program produced by the Chicago PBS affiliate. Rick’s brother Terry Danko was one of the members of the group.
All of the songs performed come from the eponymous solo album except for “This Wheel’s On Fire,” the Dylan-penned mainstay of The Band’s live act.
Many of the songs contain extended solos compared to the studio recordings. Perhaps the best is a long and soulful version of “Sip The Wine” which builds into a phenomenal climax. Danko himself looks very enthusiastic as he dances around stage and interacts with the other performers.
The Midnight Special, NBC, New York – April 18th, 1980
He’s Walking Away, Honky Tonkin’, Scene from Coal Miner’s Daughter, Coal Miner’s Daughter, America’s Farm, Walking After Midnight [Beverly D’Angelo], Some Small Crime, Ain’t Got the Time, Sweet Dreams of You [Beverly D’Angelo], Watermelon Time in Georgia, China Doll, Don’t Call Me Cowgirl, Watermelon Time in Georgia
Right around the time the Loretta Lynn bio-flick Coal Miner’s Daughter came out in the spring 1980, three of the movie’s stars promoted the film on the “Midnight Special” television show. The ninety-minute late-night NBC rock music series “Midnight Special” aired Friday nights (or, rather, early morning Saturdays) from 1973 to 1991. It followed The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson.
Sissy Spacek, who starred as Loretta Lynn, co-hosts the show with Levon Helm, who played her father. They start off with “There He Goes” (aka “He’s Walking Away”), the first song sung by Lynn, according to Spacek.
They show a clip from the film and sing more songs from the film including the title track. It’s funny to watch Helm’s reaction as Spacek sings “Coal Miner’s Daughter.”
Beverly D’Angelo, who plays the role of Patsy Cline in the film, is also present. She sings back up vocals on the songs and lead vocals on two Patsy Cline songs, “Walking After Midnight” and “Sweet Dreams Of You.” Overall, for fans of the film, this is a nice and rare piece of footage and is a joy to watch.
Rock N Roll Tonite, Los Angeles, CA – 1983
My Baby Left Me, Poor Boy Blues, Blaze Of Glory, The Shape I’m In, The Shape I’m In (Reprise)
The final piece of footage shows Danko, Manuel and Hudson jamming with Woodstock veteran and frequent collaborator Paul Butterfield. Taped at a Los Angeles venue and simulcast on KLOS, the short but incendiary set includes an excellent version of “My Baby Left Me,” Butterfield’s own “Poor Boy Blues” and a stab at “The Shape I’m In.” It’s fun watching the old friends jam away in a small venue without the weight of fame or expectations on their shoulders.
On Stages is a good compilation of latter day The Band visual documents. The quality is as good as has been available and they’re all very enjoyable to watch. The only negative is the sync problems in the 1983 Japan show. But, other than that, it’s a title that is recommended for the collection.If you liked this review, buy me a cup of joe. (Suggested: $3 a shot or $7.5 for a double)