The Band no longer performs together, but the fabled group's magic seems to follow its members wherever they go. Rick Danko and Richard Manuel lit up a dull season with the contagious exuberance of their April show here. Last night at the Bayou, Levon Helm turned in one of the year's great rock vocal performances.
When he sings, Helm has that rare ability to summon all the ghosts of a particular place. When he sang "Watermelon Time in Georgia" from his new album, his twangy voice seemed to come right out of that particular setting. When he sang the Band's Cripple Creek," his slightly unhinged voice brought to life the wild times of a Louisiana racetrack.
Helm was backed by his nephew and three other friends from Helm's hometown; The Cate Brothers Band played a likeable,capable set alone. They didn't catch fire, though, until Uncle Levon added his driving drumwork and evocative voice.
With his deep, grainy voice and gutsy harmonica solo, Helm turned "Summertime Blues" into a real blues. The evening's highlight was "The Weight." Helm's weary voice begged; "take a load off, Fanny," as if he were carrying the accumulated musical myths of the entire Mississippi Valley. w