PITTSFIELD >> The most succinct comment (for those who don't want to read this whole review!) about Thursday night's performance of The Weight at the Colonial Theatre might be what this reviewer said to the guitarist Jim Weider after the show: I never expected to hear these songs played this well live again.
The Weight, consisting of former members of The Band, as well as musicians who played with various members of that seminal group, presented 26-song, 110-minute set before a two-thirds full house on Thursday night.
There may have been an expectation that the group is a Band tribute combo, but that doesn't really begin to explain what they do.
Weider and company are the logical extension to the group and dedicated to keeping their music alive. They played the songs with great respect and love, but it is not a note-for-note performance. The Weight plays the songs their way.
They did an admirable job. Most of their set consisted of tunes from the original incarnation of The Band: The five-man group that performed from 1967-79.
Following an opening performance of "We Can Talk" from "Music From Big Pink," the group launched into a lovely version of "Stage Fright," featuring keyboardist Brian Mitchell's organ.
The original Band's signature sound is due in large part to organ virtuoso Garth Hudson. Mitchell is an admirable successor.
Mitchell is also an outstanding accordion player: his solo on "When I Paint My Masterpiece" also stood out.
In fact, one of the big roadblocks in trying to cover songs by The Band is how many instruments the original group can play. The boys of The Weight are equally versatile. Mitchell played several types of keyboard, as well as accordion, while member Marty Grebb plays saxophone in addition to keyboards and Weider plays mandolin and guitar.
In an interview a week prior to the show, Weider promised many of the old favorites, plus some rarely-played chestnuts. On Thursday, these included "We Can Talk" and, in a "holy mackerel" moment, a sharp version of "Look Out Cleveland," from the Band's self-titled second disc.
But people came to hear the hits and The Weight obligingly provided. "Across the Great Divide," "King Harvest (Has Surely Come)," "Up On Cripple Creek," "Ophelia," "Life is a Carnival" and "The W.S. Walcott Medicine Show" all surfaced, as well as, of course, "The Weight."
Grebb turned a properly mournful vocal in The Weight's version of "It Makes No Difference" and Mitchell captured the late Richard Manuel's angry vocals in "Tears of Rage."
Cheers to drummer Randy Ciarlente for his work all evening, keeping the beat along with bassist Byron Isaacs.
The big finish started with the haunting "Chest Fever" to end the regular set and "(I Don't Want to) Hang Up My Rock and Roll Shoes," an old Chuck Willis number The Band used to play as an encore in the early 1970s; and "Remedy" from the "Jericho" album. It was a good night.