Levon Helm and Ray LaMontagne at Pompano Beach Amphitheater, November 4

Levon Helm
With Ray LaMontagne
Pompano Beach Amphitheater, Pompano Beach
Thursday, November 4, 2010

Better than: A dry seat at a lousy show.

Hours of pre-show rain assured that there wouldn't be a dry booty in the crowd Thursday, but nobody seemed to be complaining about their soggy seat as they took in a stellar performance from the legendary Levon Helm and his jolly band of ramblers. He's got a group of great musicians who seem to really enjoy playing together. There is a great spirit to it, and the joy is infectious.

The 12-piece band came out of the gate with horns blaring and Levon holding the groove for the old foot tapping Band tune "The Shape I'm In", which was followed by Sam Cooke's "Ain't That Good News", and a beautiful version of "Long Black Veil". The fourth song in brought Levon's lead vocal debut -- a raging, yet crackilng, "Ophelia." If there was a weakness at all to the band, it was Helm's voice. It's unclear whether it was an off night, or if there is a larger issue stemming from his history with throat cancer, but he seemed to be struggling a bit vocally.

What effect the weary voice had on the overall sound is a subjective matter. There was certainly no shortage of enthusiasm in the delivery, and the croaky quality couldv'e easily made the experience more inspirational for some. There is something triumphant about Helm rocking out excitedly. Add a sore throat to the equation and it only becomes more so. Most importantly, this was neither American Idol or a pity party; it was a jam.

Throughout the set the band played through a nice mix of Band classics and well chosen covers. Highlights included the standard "Deep Elm Blues", which featured sexually suggestive dancing by the 70-year-old Helm and his mandolin (think Prince with grit); "Mardi Gras Day", during which the horn section paraded around the stage and the soggy-butted people finally stood up and danced; and "Tears of Rage", for which Ray LaMontagne joined the band on stage,  gaving the tune a great vocal treatment. For the closer, "The Weight," LaMontagne and each of the singers in the band each took a verse, and most of the crowd stood and sang-a-long.

LaMontagne's opening set earlier in the night drew infatuated screams, primarily from young, female members of the audience, as well as standing ovations following damn near every song from certain middle-aged dudes. The band LaMontagne plays with is very solid, and his voice a unique and lovely; bringing to mind Joe Cocker and Van Morrison. His best moments though, came when he was singing songs written by Bob Dylan and Robbie Robertson, as his own songwriting is less enjoyable. Lines like "You're the best thing that has ever happened to me" were the norm as most of the songs he played were about loving a girl or missing the girl that he loves. The young single ladies and married folks seem to enjoy his songs equally, though this reviewer was a bit bored with them.

Critics Notebook

Personal Bias: Along with Dylan and Phil Lesh, Helm is one of my musical grand pappies. I wanna drink moonshine with him on his porch.

The Crowd: Diverse: young ladies with apparent crushes on Ray LaMontagne, their boyfriends, Boomers in ponchos, Deadheads, and some younger peeps who know their history and/or generally understand the beauty of what Helm is up to these days.

Overheard: On my way out of the venue I saw a middle-aged woman in bare feet walking up the stairs crying. When asked why she was crying she said "because I'm so happy." Then, I saw a guy with his thirteen-ish year old son. Just as I was basking in the father-son beauty, the guy turns around to an older woman behind him and says "So, what did you think of that, mom?"!

By the Way: If you are planning to be in Woodstock, NY at any point, check to see if their is a Midnight Ramble goin' down at Levon's place. If there is, hit it up!

Set list:

The Shape I'm In
Ain't That Good News
Long Black Veil
Ophelia
Bourgeois Blues
Blind Willie McTell
Deep Elm Blues
Mardi Gras Day
Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning
Tears of Rage
The Weight


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