Photos by Angelo Santoro
NEW YORK, NY — About halfway through the first of its two sets last Thursday night at City Winery, The Weight ripped through a rollicking, chunky version of The Band’s “Time To Kill.”
“We’ve got time to kill/ What a thrill, June and July,” the group sang, its ragged-but-right harmony vocals ringing out with joyous verve. “When my day’s work is done/ We can take in a jamboree,” The Weight continued, the perfect couplet for the weeknight romp at the classy SoHo venue.
And so it was Thursday, as the longtime The Band-approved players — The Weight’s Jim Weider and Randy Ciarlante were both members of the latter-day Band lineup, while the rest of the group all recorded and toured with members of The Band — treated the crowd to a night of down-home warmth and nostalgia, a heartfelt and authentic tribute to one of rock’s most important and beloved acts.
Weider (guitar, vocals), Ciarlante (drums, vocals), Albert Rogers (bass, vocals), Marty Grebb (organ, piano, accordion, saxophone, vocals) and Brian Mitchell (piano, organ, accordion vocals) kicked off the evening with “Stage Fright.” Rogers brought the late Rick Danko’s feel on both bass and vocals to the fore, while Ciarlante’s intricate drum fills and a crunchy Weider Telecaster solo put the icing on the cake. A jovial Grebb dedicated the next tune, the musically and lyrically lascivious “Jemima Surrender,” to his wife, who bought him the “pair of kickass snakeskin boots” he proudly displayed from behind his keyboards.
The Weight continued the first set with standout after standout, treating the audience to some of the most treasured selections from The Band’s catalog. “Look Out Cleveland” was jubilant; “Whispering Pines” was a delicately delivered tribute to its original singer, the late Bandman Richard Manuel, lovingly sung by Grebb; and the aforementioned “Time To Kill” was the very jamboree referenced in its lyrics.
“Life Is A Carnival” was a funky trip to New Orleans, and like many Band songs, it shines a light on the seedier side of things: “Hey, buddy, would you like to buy a watch real cheap?/ Right here on the street/ I got six on each arm and two more round my feet.” Ciarlante set the table with the type of deep-groove playing that likely led Levon Helm to invite him to share drumming duties with him in The Band, and Weider wrapped up the song with a pair of white-hot solos.
The group concluded the first set with its namesake tune, “The Weight,” The Band’s most well-known and oft-covered song. The members traded lead vocal duties (as they did from song to song all night) as they retold the tale of Fanny, Chester and Jack the dog, imploring us all to “take a load off.”
The second set began with Mitchell playing Garth Hudson’s familiar wild organ intro to “Chest Fever.” Grebb handled the lead vocals, and Mitchell played a throaty organ solo, with runs up and down the keyboard. Up next was one of the audience’s favorite numbers, a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Atlantic City,” which The Band recorded for 1993’s “Jericho” album (Weider and Ciarlante both played on The Band’s recording). Mitchell switched to accordion while Weider strummed a mandolin, which were the perfect accompaniment to Rogers’ lead vocals and his bandmates’ gorgeous harmony singing. The tender selection was followed by the fun, bawdy “W.S. Walcott Medicine Show,” which recalled the traveling shows that would come through Helm’s Arkansas hometown as a youth, and later inspired his storied Midnight Ramble events.
“Don’t Do It,” like the first set’s “Jemima Surrender,” was gritty, bluesy and heavy; the Grebb-sung “It Makes No Difference” was another tearjerker Manuel ballad (and Grebb sandwiched Weider’s guitar solo with two tasteful sax solos); and “Wheel’s On Fire” was tight, energetic and trippy.
The Weight brought second set to a close with some of The Band’s best work: “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” with Rogers on lead vocals on the track originally sung by Helm; “Up On Cripple Creek,” with Ciarlante handling lead singing duties (and a drum solo) and Mitchell pounding out the funky clavinet lines made famous by Hudson; and the set-closing “The Shape I’m In,” with the raspy Mitchell passionately singing lead, waving his arms and pounding out a wild keyboard solo.
The Weight began its encores with “Down In The Flood,” which The Band recorded with Bob Dylan in 1967, Weider seemingly choking notes out of his well-worn Telecaster, before launching into “Rag Mama Rag,” with Ciarlante singing lead, Weider playing mandolin and Mitchell adding to the zydeco-flavored stew with his accordion.
The Weight, June 28, City Winery, New York City
Across The Great Divide
Look Out Cleveland
Time To Kill
Life Is A Carnival
W.S. Walcott Medicine Show
Don’t Do It
It Makes No Difference
Wheel’s On Fire
Up On Cripple Creek
The Shape I’m In
Down In The Flood
Rag Mama Rag