Their sound was a little bit funky, a little bit loose. The harmonies were never perfect — always in tune, but rarely in sync.
They’d set up in a room and crowd around each other, instruments in hand, and record live. Nothing fancy or produced. Just pure music.
These were the days of The Band, and what former member Jim Weider calls the “Woodstock sound,” a tradition he has carried on through his new group, The Weight — a five-piece ensemble named for and dedicated to The Band’s songs — which will perform off its debut album, “World Gone Mad,” on Saturday, November 23, at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center.
“People will hear the classics, too. They don’t have to be scared,” Weider said. “The new songs will fit right in with all The Band classics. And we’re gonna have a good raucous time down there.”
Recording earlier this year, gathered inside Clubhouse Studio in upstate New York, the environment felt nostalgic, like a time gone by, Weider said. A time long before The Band founder Levon Helm died.
“Oh yeah, it brought back memories. I always think of him,” Weider said of recording without his longtime friend and bandmate. “We played together for over 30-something years, so it’s a long time. I think he’d be really happy that this album came out. I think he’d be very happy. He’s up there laughing away.”
As a boy, Weider grew up on the sounds of Van Morrison and Bob Dylan right in his backyard, during the heyday of Woodstock— his childhood home and the town made famous by its synonymous music festival in 1969, held 40 miles away.
He met the talent behind The Band as a teenager, never imagining that, in 1985, he would join them.
“It was a big thrill because Levon was one of my hometown heroes. And he was always very open, very friendly, very unassuming — just a really down-home guy. Loved all the locals and supported everybody around town, from the firemen to the police,” Weider said. “I was totally inspired by his singing and performing, and was a big fan. I was very lucky to have worked with him for so many years.”
The singer, guitarist and mandolin player replaced lead guitarist Robbie Robertson, going on to perform for the next 15 years domestically and abroad. He wrote songs for The Band and appeared on their three studio albums, “Jericho,” “High on the Hog” and “Jubilation.”
When Helm died in 2012, The Band took a hiatus until three of its former members — Weider, Randy Ciarlante and Garth Hudson — played alongside Jimmy Vivino and Byron Isaacs for “Songs of The Band,” inside Helm’s famed Woodstock barn.
And that was all it took, Weider said. The Weight Band formed less than a year later — which now consists of Weider, Marty Grebb, Brian Mitchell, Albert Rogers and Michael Bram — though their first original album would take five.
“I really wanted the music to sound like The Band, like a continuation of The Band’s music and legacy, that ‘Woodstock sound,’” Weider said. “That was a big part, a real requirement that I said, ‘Okay, if we’re going to do our own music, our own album, the songs should sound like The Band. We should just sound the same.’”
The album’s title track, “World Gone Mad,” set the tone for the album by taking a powerful look at the mood across the nation. “I see kings and queens sleeping on the street/Got no home no shoes on their feet,” Weider sings in the first verse. “Don’t it make you want to hang your head and cry/Some folks falling while other ones rise.”
“I was out in Oakland and the amount of homeless, the tent cities underneath all the bridges completely blew me away,” he said. “It’s hundreds and hundreds of people living in tents, and I don’t know if people back here in the east have seen that. Here we are, one of the richest countries in the world and that’s what’s happening.
“The album has some political tunes on it, too, you know,” he added. “It definitely made a statement. I hope the songs not only have a meaning, but that you see The Weight Band is carrying on that music of The Band — and it’s got that feel. That organic Americana feel. Songs that make you feel good.”
Including never-before-heard contributions from the late Helm and entire songs written by The Band, the album continues a tradition started long ago: the band piled into a room, with one rehearsal take, before they pressed record.
“There was a few overdubs, of course, but we tried to get the vocals live and the feel,” Weider said. “You get that feeling of ‘It’s the band. This is the way we sound.’ And the album sounds exactly the way we sound live. That’s the way The Band was.”
The Weight Band will play a concert on Friday, November 23, at 8 p.m. at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center, located at 76 Main Street in Westhampton Beach. Tickets are $52. For more information, call (631) 288-1500 or visit whbpac.org.