Wednesday, April 10, 2002

Rock drummer leaves glory days behind

Concert review

By Chris Varias
Enquirer contributor

        Levon Helm is living every drummer's fantasy. He's playing in a band bearing his name.

        The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and member of the late, great band The Band should be on every tastefully prepared short list of rock's greatest drummers, and the man was right there on the Southgate House stage Tuesday night.

        Levon Helm and the Barn Burners played a 90-minute set that deflected Mr. Helm's spotlight onto the music, most of which was Chicago blues, but it was difficult to do anything but watch the elbow-flailing, sure-handed drummer keep the beat.

        Mr. Helm was arguably The Band's best singer, but with this new band he didn't sing at all. Harmonica player Chris O'Leary handled all the vocals, with guitarist Pat O'Shea and upright bassist Jeff Sarli rounding out the band.

        “Sing one, Levon!” occasionally shouted a few guys in the crowd. They obviously didn't get the memo. Throat cancer claimed Mr. Helm's singing voice a few years back.

        Those calls from the audience didn't throw off the band and its star. The only thing that almost did that was some sort of blister on Mr. Helm's snare-drum hand. But he just slipped on a glove and continued rocking the blues — lots of Muddy Waters, from “She's Into Something” through “I'm Ready” and “I Want To Be Loved” onto “Mannish Boy.” Of course, Mr. Waters performed that last one with The Band for their film The Last Waltz.

        But that was as close to a Band tribute as Tuesday night came, which just went to prove Mr. Helm is one '60s rock star who can let the glory days go and who's in it for the music.

        Show openers Thee Shams are part of Cincinnati's thriving and ever-growing garage-rock scene. The four-man band of 20-ish guys, augmented with a harmonica player on a few songs, had the predominantly baby-boom-aged crowd won over by the end of their 40-minute set, playing a brand of garage rock of the white R&B variety. Covers of Solomon Burke's “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love” and Bobby Womack's “It's All Over Now” by way of the Rolling Stones' versions were representative of their sound.


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