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Across the Great Divide

Two bands come together to pay tribute to the Band, Canadian titans of the American myth

The Dustbowl Revival applies their roots rock and pop-minded sensibilities to reinterpret the Band’s classic tunes. Photo credit: Facebook

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As a teenager, seeing the great concert documentary The Last Waltz was a foundational experience for me; not only was I getting exposed to music that I hadn't really absorbed as a kid, but I was getting a peek behind the curtain of what it meant to be a working musician in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Documenting the 1976 farewell concert of the Band, The Last Waltz is full of both great music and a pervading sense of weary resignation. At the point that The Last Waltz was made, the Band had been touring more or less constantly for over a decade, having previously served as Bob Dylan's backing band, before breaking off to start their own outfit. In recounting their wild days on the road, and lamenting the stars that lost their lives to fame (Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Hank Williams, Buddy Holly, Otis Redding, and others), the members of the Band seem so monumentally tired.

It wasn't always this case, and the story of a famous artist's backing band attempting to make a name for themselves could've easily ended in obscurity. Thankfully, the one-two punch of their debut album, Music from Big Pink, and the self-titled follow-up cemented the Band as one of the soulful greats of the emerging Americana trend that would dominate the ‘70s. Though all but one member (the inimitable drummer and frequent lead vocalist Levon Helms) hailed from Canada, the Band and lead guitarist/head songwriter Robbie Robertson were preternaturally capable of capturing the dusty, lonesome heart of the American myth. Untouchable classics like "The Weight," "Up on Cripple Creek," "Ophelia," and the arguably problematic "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" have ensured that the Band will remain woven into the American musical landscape for a long time to come.

And, boy oh boy, it already has been a long time, with the 50th anniversary of Music from Big Pink coming last year, and The Band's 50th arriving this year. Lots of things entering 50 years get a celebration (I shudder to think of what happens when 2021 rolls around and we run out of 50th anniversary Beatles reissues), and the Band is no different. One such celebration -- titled Across the Great Divide, as a nod to another indelible song by the Band -- will be held at the Rialto Theater this Sunday, with two groups coming together to pay tribute to the Band, and especially those first two crucial albums. First up, we've got the Dustbowl Revival, a roots rock eight-piece that began as practitioners of bluegrass and old-time music devotees, though they've spent the last few years modernizing their sound with flecks of soul and folk. The Dustbowl Revival will be joined by Hot Club of Cowtown, who blend roots music and Western swing.

Both bands' sounds exist somewhat on the outskirts of what the Band did so well, but they should do the trick in livening up songs that could be performed in any number of styles. It would be worth the price of admission to see the Dustbowl Revival and Hot Club of Cowtown come together on stage and recreate the end of The Last Waltz, belting out the transcendent "I Shall Be Released" in wild, ramshackle harmony.

ACROSS THE GREAT DIVIDE, w/ the Dustbowl Revival, Hot Club of Cowtown, 7:30 p.m., Sunday, Rialto Theater, 310 S. 9th St., Tacoma, $29-$49, 253.591.5894,


Located somewhere on the other side of the spectrum from the Band, we have Wimps. The Seattle trio is remarkably adept at making dryly funny punk and New Wave ditties that surge with a staccato energy. Slowly, but surely, the minimalist style of Wimps has been fleshed out to include more ambitious compositions, without forfeiting the bratty fun that they've always possessed. On last year's release, Garbage People, Wimps incorporates squealing saxophone on some songs to bring a wider sonic inspiration to songs that are just as deadpan and tongue-in-cheek as ever. Their upcoming all-ages show is a rare Tacoma visit, and the venue being new thrift store and record shop Jankuland means this is a can't-miss event.

WIMPS, w/ Retrospecter, 7 p.m., Saturday, Jankuland, 218 St. Helens Ave., Tacoma, no cover,

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