As the drummer and the bassist for The Band, Levon Helm and Rick Danko were once one of rock's greatest rhythm sections. Yet Helm and Danko played neither drums nor bass at the Wax Museum last night. Instead, they sat in chairs and played mandolin, harmonica and acoustic guitar. The duo were also superlative lead singers for The Band, and last night they sang old Band tunes, songs from their solo albums, and rock, country and blues classics. "This is like sitting around in the living room and singing," Danko crowed, "only it's bigger." Like a living room encounter, the evening's sparse, folkish arrangements yielded pleasurable revelations about old friends.
The duo stripped down The Band's "It Makes No Difference" until there was nothing left but Danko's bare-bones guitar and Helm's humming harmonica harmonies. Yet this minimalism reinforced the song's theme of painful loneliness as Danko's voice paused and then twisted notes. They asserted their rhythmic power on the timeless rhythm and blues of "Caldonia" as Danko whomped on the low strings of his guitar and Helm barked out the words with sharp accents. They resurrected Bob Dylan's obscure "Don't Ya Tell Henry" with the funky, slippery mythical feel of the famous Dylan/Band "Basement Tapes."
The Sidewinders, a young local quintet, opened the show with a set of competent but uninspired mainstream rock covers and originals.