The Band | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

The Band 

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There's an odd bit of historical revisionism on the liner notes to the Band's new release, Jericho. When the Band called it quits on Thanksgiving 1976, Martin Scorsese filmed the farewell concert, making it as official as any- group's bust-up has ever been. But Stephen Davis, who wrote the Jericho liner notes and also coauthored This Wheel's on Fire: Levon Helm and the Story of the Band, says Scorsese's film, The Last Waltz, wasn't the Band's swan song but simply a send-off for guitarist-songwriter Robbie Robertson. Eighteen years on, Robertson's still gone, but Davis's interpretation probably saves face for drummer Levon Helm, bassist Rick Danko, and keyboardist Garth Hudson, who've found it impossible to walk away from their past. And the past is all over Jericho. There's Peter Max's cover painting of Big Pink, the legendary Woodstock house where the Band holed up at the end of the 60s to record Music From Big Pink and The Band, albums that remain at the fore of the American music canon. There's even a track by late keyboardist Richard Manuel, recorded before his death in 1986. Summoning ghosts, however, doesn't always resuscitate the magic. Some tracks labor under Islands-era production bland-out, others under relentlessly upbeat horn-section blasts. Helm's extraordinary razorback twang and Danko's moony, off-key laments need somewhere important to go, and only when the material is heavyweight--Bob Dylan's "Blind Willie McTeil," Willie Dixon's "Same Thing," and Bruce Springsteen's "Atlantic City"--do you get any sense of a vision thing going on. There's a bit of magnificence left in this lineup, but for those of us who care (maybe too much), perhaps a name change is in order. John Wesley Harding and Swingin' Steaks open. Next Thursday, January 27, 7:30 PM, Park West, 322 W. Armitage; 549-7171 or 559-1212.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Elliot Landy.

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