Sean Cotton brought his group and a bunch of friends out to Etobicoke for a dress-rehearsal of his newest tribute,The Last Waltz, honouring The Band.
This show is showcasing at Toronto's Hughs Room on Friday May 27th. Get your table reservations here!
We last saw Sean when he brought his one-man show, The Complete Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, to the backrom at The Cameron.
This project is a touch more ambitious. The scope of the project, the size of the cast, the requirements for a unique sound, all these elements add risk. Sean and his band have been hard at work practising but the 'special guests', for the most part, have been working on their own with resources culled from the DVD or YouTube. Tonight marks their first opportunity to meld the various pieces together as the ensemble assembles.
So it's a two-drink minimum on a rainy Sunday afternoon for a free look and listen to their progress.
Sean Cotton is playing the part of Robbie Robertson, band leader and MC, for the evening. That's when he's not taking on the Danko and Helms vocals. From the outset it's apparent he's paying attention to the art of the show. The set is bejewelled with homages to that special evening; a vocal aside here, a special introduction there, some accurate choreography and more allusions that I was able to note...but I'll attest to what I remember.
Show opens with a hard slam from the Cajun south, a strong version of Up On Cripple Creek. Sean is instantly in 'screamin' lead singer rock star' mode. A full band behind him, including two keyboards, gives him lots of tools to recreate the sound. They move quickly into Marvin Gaye's Don't Do It; the song finds the bouncy groove. A touch of Motown, wrapped in Canadian Bacon and topped with a hillbilly jug band bop. It makes you wanna jump up and down in the same spot.
Seans father, Neil Cotton, trots onstage, looking like a spry Ronnie Hawkins, long silver-hair, grey beard, white cowboy hat and raybans. He's instantly in character, exclaiming "Big Time! Big Time!" as he acknowledges Sean/Robbie. Neil dofs his hat to fan the smouldering strings on Seans guitar during a blistering solo and stays in character right through to his closing exclamation: "The most fun you can have with your clothes on!" He stays onstage to accompany his son on shared versus of Shape I'm In. And despite the lament in that song, the man looks to be in great shape on the young side of 65.
We move over to the piano man, Steve Klodt, for the lead on Dr John's Such A Night. These guys ain't asking for your money and giving you nothing, attention is being paid to the details as they evoke the sounds of that magical night at Wonderland.
Neil Young is represented byBrad Hart and he's seen the movie too as he comments "I just want to say before I start that it's one of the great pleasures of my life to be playing with Sean Cotton up here tonight" reprising Neil's impromptu recognition of the greatness that surrounded him that evening.
He stays onstage to sing Danko's lead on the hauntingly beautiful It Makes No Difference. Both songs were evocative of the artists who originally sang them, well delivered without being overplayed. Not an easy task either as there may be no voice in rock n roll more achingly plaintive than Rick Danko's.
Sean comes back to the mic for more Band music, Stage Fright, another fine knock-off the rocks the joint.
JUNO nominated Treasa Levasseur takes the stage to perform Joni Mitchell's Coyote. Treasa is a fixture in the talent-rich Parkdale music scene. She delivers the highlight of the evening with a scorching version of this raunchy post-modern feminist tract. In my book her version had more punch than Joni's, and that performance is my favourite from that show. The performance is enhanced by a touch of performance art as she mimes the movements of the subjects in some transfixed state more reminiscent of Patti Smith than Joni. I guess that's where the punch came from.
Sean invites everyone who's played so far back onstage for the Staples song, with Graham Howe's in the place of Pop Staples and Treasa Levasseur sitting in as Mavison the ensemble performance of The Weight. The set closes with the other song found on The Last Waltz that came from a studio session, Evangeline, with Kristin Cavoukian doing Emmy Lou Harris' vocals.
After a quick set break Sean's back with David Baxter for a rather appropriate ragged version of Rag, Mama, Rag. They then rip off another highlight of the evening, a blistering Further On Up the Road with some wicked guitar work from both Sean and David.
Corin Raymond, Sean's partner in crime when they play as The Undesirables, comes on to do the blues portion of the night. These guys started out together, jamming, learning, honing their skills with the history of the blues. Corin's been busy, just returning from a 10 week US tour with Jonathan Byrd (still ongoing and they'll be at the Tranzac on May 10th.) He was studying his parts on YouTube and he was a little concerned about getting the lyrics right. He'd need not have worried as he tears into Muddy Waters' Mannish Boy replete with joyous howls. He closes with the Paul Butterfield tune, Mystery Train...and it was no wreck.
Sean's back to get the final part of the night in gear with another rockin' outing, The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down. He's followed by Marshall Dane delivering Van Morrison's Caravan and Levon Helm's Ophelia.
Graham Howe kicks into Garth Hudson's iconic intro to The Genetic Method/Chest Fever. Then we take a 7 minute ride on that hypnotic riff. Another highlight.
The show closes with Daniel Skye doing Dylan's tunes, Forever Young and Baby Let Me Follow You Down. Now I have to recuse myself from expressing an opinion on the Dylan portion as I've seen him upwards of a hundred and forty times now. It would take a 35 year younger Dylan to impress me. Set ends when the whole cast is back for the sing-a-long, I Shall Be Released.
That's some show Sean, well done.
This show will be making a few summertime appearances at various festivals. Contact Sean, find out where they are, go see it.
Sean Cotton Band
w/ special guests
Tribute: The Last Waltz
Sean Cotton (guitar, vocals
Steve Klodt (piano, vocals)
Graham Howes (organ, vocals)
Treasa Levasseur, Corin Raymond, David Baxter, Marshall Dane, Daniel Sky, Brad Hart, Neil Cotton & Kristin Cavoukian
Up On Cripple Creek (Sean Cotton)
Don't Do It (Sean Cotton)
Who Do You Love? (Neil Cotton)
Shape I'm In (Sean/Neil)
Such A Night (Steve Klodt)
Helpless (Brad Hart)
It Makes No Difference (Brad Hart)
Stage Fright (Sean Cotton)
Coyote (Treasa Levasseur)
The Weight (ensemble)
Evangeline (Kristin Cavoukian)
Rag Mama Rag (David Baxter/Sean Cotton)
Further On Up the Road (David Baxter)
Mannish Boy (Corin Raymond)
Mystery Train (Corin Raymond)
The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down (Sean Cotton)
Caravan (Marshall Dane)
Ophelia (Marshall Dane)
The Genetic Method/Chest Fever (Sean Cotton)
Forever Young(Daniel Skye)
Baby Let Me Follow You Down (Daniel Skye)
I Shall Be Released (ensemble)