Such a Night at Massey Hall

Such a Night at Massey Hall

It started off with a lone conductor on stage, with three stringed instruments to his left and three brass instruments on his right. The opening notes hit and am I hearing “Closer to the Heart” and a few bars later “American Woman”? What I did not know was that this night was going to be filled with a lot of special Canadian Music. I just didn’t realize how much. The 45th anniversary of the Last Waltz was about to take place at Massey Hall and the iconic movie has never slowed down with its importance in Music history. Massey Hall was sold out. The band that put this show together is called Mrs Henry, but for this particular tour, they renamed themselves Chest Fever.

 I won’t delve into the set list too much because if you know the Last Waltz, you know the set list. The magic of the evening was built on the talent who walked onto that stage. I have to admit, I feel a little bad, because the cast was so full of amazing artist, this article can easily become a non-fiction book. I will start off with some tasty highlight that only added to the magic of the evening.

Once the first couple of songs were done and we met our MC of the night, Michael Williams, he brought on an elderly man who was a part of the original Last Waltz. His name is Bill Avis and he was the roadie for the band and Levon Helm was the godfather to his son Jerome Levon Avis. He brought to this audience a story of the Band when they were beginning to grow and become popular. Gordon Lightfoot was friends with the Band and invited them along with the crew and Bob Dylan to his home in Rosedale. Gord and Bob played pool and Bob lost $200 to Gord. In the meantime among the drinking and other delights, Gord apparently threw a beautiful white coat into his fireplace as is exploded into flames. Just as the story was getting juicy, Bill simply remarked, what was the rest of that story? Well here is an example of another Rock and Roll story that will stay in the annals of  Rock music.

The stage began to fill up as they invited Colin Linden to come out and play “Life is a Carnival”. Well the circus was in town as another Torontonian hit the stage as Rockin’ Ronnie Hawkins. His name is Duncan Alistair and with his cool cowboy hat on, he did a rousing version of “Who do you love”. Now mind you Ronnie was quite the character with his stage presence and his crazy screaming, will Duncan do this justice? Well I felt as if I was watching the movie all over again, the scream, and the funny little dance was executed to perfection. He even left the stage in the same manner. The show continued with another classic like, “Stagefright”, which I thought they took it to its highest level. The show took a turn and they added a new song to enhance our experience. There was a soulful duet of Ray Charles’ “Georgia on my mind”. Well moments like this happened all evening. The set list was very extensive with amazing music from this era.

They introduced Devin Cuddy to the stage and he sat at the piano to give us his drunken version of Dr John’s song “Such a night”. That continued with “Rag Mama Rag” and eventually finished off the first set of the evening with a spiritual experience called, “It makes no difference”.

When the break came we were encourage to go to the basement and bid on various art pieces to raise money for Toronto General Hospital. This evening seemed jam packed with a purpose and celebration. I was satisfied with the first set and I had a feeling the second set was going to be much bigger. As it turned out, I was right.

The lights went down and the keyboardist who sat very high and mysteriously at the back of the stage went into a classic Garth Hudson solo and finally crept in the haunting “Chest fever”. The tide turned again as they introduced a harmonica player called, Sugar Mill Slim. This guy was pure electric and everyone felt it. I was in the photo pit with other photographers and the looks on all our faces said it all, as we jostled for position to find a great angle to photograph this bewitching performer. Other amazing moments came when Bryan Barbarin did Muddy Waters, “Mannish Boy”. Nicole Cerminera magnetized Eric Clapton’s, “Further on up the Road”. Neil Young’s “Helpless” was performed with a new depth of sorrow. Sleepy Jean added her version of “Out of the blue “with beautiful loneliness and Skye Wallace showed the audience her side of being both slinky and unabashed.

The audience rose to their feet to honour one of our true pioneers, Sylvia Tyson. She is just as charming as ever with a sense of grace and wisdom.  One of the original hippies, Albert Lee still has it with his stylistic finger popping guitar playing that truly makes him stand out as an original guitar player.

The highlight of the evening for me happened when they introduced the amazing Bass player Prakash John and reintroduced Bryan Barbarin to do Van Morrison’s “Caravan”. The intensity of Bryans vocal held you captive as you could not escape the soulful grip he had on everyone in Massey Hall. Just like the movie I was waiting for those famous kicks that Van the Man did, and he did them to perfection. As the evening was coming to close you knew there was the Bob Dylan section was going to happen and it did, but two singers handled that part. First was a young Dylan named Jerry Legar and handling the older Dylan was famed Moby Grape drummer, Don Stevenson. Again these two pros did Dylan to transcendence. Well that’s brings us to that classic ending when everyone involved came back on stage and did a rousing version of” “I shall be released”. Well as the crowd was being released, Michael Williams kept the crowd at bay and called the band back on to do one more song. The finished off with “The Weight” and just when you thought it was safe to leave, the band kept us from leaving with, “Don’t do it”. What a fun song to leave to, because I kept hearing people singing that song all the way out the door.

I wanted to save this bit until the end, because if you go to show these days you would expect it to last about 2 hours. Well the band named Chest Fever played for 4 ½ hours. Yes over 4 hours. That is longer than a Bruce Springsteen show. But it didn’t stop there. You would think everyone would go home and straight to bed, but Chest Fever took their equipment and set it up in the basement of Massey Hall and resumed the evening by playing original songs from Mrs Henry. Remember the days when we used to stay awake all night and party? Mrs Henry gave us permission that night to relive our youth once more. The last people standing left the building doing one last waltz.

Here are some images of the Last Waltz:

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