The Levon Helm Band with My Morning Jacket at Levon Helm Studios, Part II [Concert Review]

by Woody on November 8, 2010

These once informal gatherings have taken on mythic, perhaps even religious, importance as fans and musicians continue to make the pilgrimage to Levons Midnight Rambles. In fact, theres little that can be done to add to the joy of seeing Levon in what can only be described as the ultimate setting for live music. However, the addition of My Morning Jacket as the opening act is one thing that managed to elevate the experience on a recent Saturday in October.

Having attended a few Rambles over the years, we were uncertain as to how My Morning Jacket would approach their set, given the intimate confines of Levons post and beam studio. However, this question was answered before the show even began as an all out soundcheck of “Im Amazed” filtered through the woods to our car a ¼ mile away, where we sat anxiously waiting for the gates to open.

Once My Morning Jacket took the stage some two hours later, they thrilled and amazed the packed studio with a 10-song set that included tracks from each of their five studio albums. The mellow opener, “Golden,” was followed by plugged in versions of “Im Amazed,” “The Way That He Sings,” and “Gideon” that tested the structural integrity of Levons barn. The magnificent pairing of Jim Jamess angelic voice with the pastoral setting was perhaps most evident on “Wonderful (The Way I Feel),” a song that will be included on the bands next LP. My Morning Jacket closed their set with the anthem, “One Big Holiday,” which left the crowd incredulous that what had just concluded was merely the opening act.

After a brief intermission that allowed time to retrieve beverages from the car, and sample some of the offerings at the potluck style food spread, Levon took the stage and seemed determined not to be out done in his own home. Although his singing is limited to select songs as result of a recent procedure to remove a nonmalignant tumor from his vocal chords, Levon opened with a raucous “Opehlia” that showcased the emotion and depth of his voice. Throughout their almost three-hour set, members of The Levon Helm Band traded lead vocals, bringing a different sound to each song. Teresa Williams stepped up front for the oft-covered Lefty Frizzell song, “Long Black Veil.” Later in the evening, Donald Fagen took the lead on a brilliant rendition of The Grateful Deads “Shakedown Street.” One of the nights most memorable moments came when Jim James was invited back to the stage to sing the part of Rick Danko on “It Makes No Difference”, a song that My Morning Jacket had recorded for the 2007 tribute album, Endless Highway (Thankfully, recording devices are prohibited from use at The Midnight Ramble, but below is a video from a similar collaboration at this years Outside Lands Festival).

The level of talent that Levon surrounds himself with is almost surreal, and their set would do well as a crash course on the history of American music. However, the enormity of Levons presence commands the attention of the audience, which included the members of My Morning Jacket who were gathered behind his drum kit. Levons nimble drumming leaves no doubt that he deserves the title, the greatest drummer, that was once bestowed upon him by Ringo Starr. The fact that Levons singing is limited, gives those rare moments when he does sing an enormous sense of gravity. Subsequently, the crowd of roughly 250 people was awe struck when Levon retook the microphone for a haunting version of Bob Dylans “Blind Willie McTell.” The evening concluded as it traditionally does with a version of “The Weight,” which on this night included all the members of My Morning Jacket. Jim James took the opening verse, while Levon offered his vocals on “go down Miss Moses.” Its hard to imagine a better pairing of vocal talents, and a more perfect end to an extraordinary evening of music.

Hours earlier, during My Morning Jackets set, Jim James expressed a prescient sentiment that accurately reflected how I believe everyone in the audience felt as the show ended, and night gave way to morning. He said “Can you believe were all here? To say its an honor would be an understatement.”

Jim James with The Levon Helm Band – It Makes No Difference (Live at Outside Lands)

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Woody November 8, 2010 at 11:23 am

God that’s a good review. Makes me feel like I was there which I wasn’t, which in turn makes me jealous of you and, while not knowing you – it makes me dislike you.

Garciadann November 9, 2010 at 7:45 am

Rambles are magical.One of my favorites was driving up and finding out the place was struck by lightning and had no power but the show would go on.By candle light Bow Thayer & Perfect Trainwreck unplugged opened with the old time ‘In the pines” it was incredible.
By the time Levon came on the power was back and the best singing drummer of all time put a smile on everyones face.He still looks like he is having the most fun in the room though . To shed some light on how cool the rambles are Mike Gordon and John Fishman of Phish showed up just to see it and just as it ended John turns to me and says “What a musical experience that was .”Rambles are a must for any fan of music.

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