Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band | Review

Article Contributed by Nicole Lise Feingold | Published on Sunday, February 23, 2020

Who influenced who? I wasn’t introduced to The Band until after maybe my fifth Dead show. For me, this was the 90’s, still just a teenager. The popular music at that time, in my opinion, was nowhere near the caliber of the iconic bluegrass, folk, country, psychedelic, classic rock bands. I was diving into my parents’ world, my mind being blown, unfamiliar with the timeline of music influencers. Not as well known, The Band was the most influential in the development of the Dead’s sound. The Band has also inspired songwriters and groups, including Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Led Zeppelin, Peter Gabriel, Elvis Costello, Bruce Springsteen, etc.

Deadheads should see ‘Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band”. The documentary is extremely enjoyable if you dig this music genre and are craving a little music history. Although take it with a grain of salt since it is from the sole perspective of Robbie Robertson the group’s frontman. Robertson is extraordinarily talented. He’s a rock legend and a driving force of the success of The Band, yet again he was still only one-fifth of the group. There’s a scene where Robertson recalls Levon Helm (drums and vocals) being so high on heroin that he cannot perform. The four other members, Rick Danko, Garth Hudson, Richard Manuel and Robertson take the stage without him. The sets are off. If the other members could share their stories I wonder if the flick would have been a totally different movie.   

Putting this aside, the doc blends beautiful but eerie, rare archival footage. You want to sing along or get up and dance which would freak out or piss off your fellow West Los Angeles, stuffy moviegoers. The Band’s history is interesting and for me unexpected. Spoiler Alert….If you don’t think the discovery of Robertson’s Jewish gangster roots are hysterical, you are lacking humor. The Band toured with Bob Dylan. They weren’t The Band at that point. Dylan’s tour sparked their name once they went out on their own. I had no clue that as Dylan was exploring his new sound, The Band as his backup, they all were consistently booed and terrorized with flying objects. The movie also explores Robertson’s immense sadness focused on the Americana group’s (his band of brothers) demise due to the members’ drug addictions.    

I was born in 1976. I was able to experience the birth of rap and hip hop. I’ll admit I enjoyed a boy band or two. However, nothing is comparable to the music of the ’60s and early ’70s. See the movie and then Pandora, Prime, Spotify or whatever The Band on your way home. Regardless of the pitfalls (same tried story of a band and addiction or one person’s perspective), I am glad this flick celebrates this incredible music. The Band developed their own sound influencing countless of our favorite artists.