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Tribute at Alex Theatre to honor the Band

On a recent Sunday afternoon, a small group of musicians has crowded into an Eagle Rock dining room, working to recreate a moment of rock ‘n’ roll history.

“This one, we have to hit pretty hard,” says guitarist Rob Laufer, as the seven players dive into a forlorn, biting tune called “Tears of Rage,” a mid-’60s collaboration between Bob Dylan and the Band.

The song unfurls in warm layers of guitar, bass, drums and two keyboards as Laufer sings the lyric: “Tears of rage, tears of grief, why must I always be the thief? / Come to me now, you know we’re so alone, and life is brief.”

The rehearsal is in preparation for a tribute to the Band Saturday at the Alex Theatre in Glendale, as performed by the Wild Honey Orchestra with former Band keyboardist Garth Hudson.

It’s the latest of the annual Wild Honey concerts to benefit the Autism Think Tank, and will feature an all-star lineup of guest vocalists and players, including Jackson Browne, Peter Case, Victoria Williams, Carleen Carter, Van Dyke Parks, Louise Goffin, Steve Wynn and many others.

As the group gathered in Eagle Rock worked through an early rehearsal for the show, Laufer and others took turns trying out arrangements and vibrant, stretched out solos.

Watching from a nearby couch is Paul Rock, organizer of the annual concerts.

“These guys are all pros,” says Rock, who established the series of Wild Honey events, and whose young autistic son inspired his activism. “They want to be challenged. This is a big challenge for everybody.”

Each of the players who make up the Wild Honey band are accomplished session players and touring musicians with years of experience and true obsession over the landmarks of popular music.

Two years ago, the Wild Honey Orchestra performed a vivid recreation of the Beatles’ “White Album,” followed last year by a concert of the Beach Boys’ lesser-known ’70s work.

For Saturday’s concert, Rock decided to explore another side of the era, one more aligned with the Dylan tradition. Since Dylan remains an active live act on his “Neverending Tour,” the Wild Honey players are diving into the first two albums by the Band — 1968’s “Music From Big Pink” and 1969’s “The Band.”

Prior to those records, the five-piece band already made history on Dylan’s “Basement Tapes” and survived boos and real threats as his sidemen during his first electric rock concerts.

Hosting the show will be music journalist Chris Morris, author of last year’s “Together Through Life: A Personal Journey with the Music of Bob Dylan.”

In a long blog post this week, Morris noted that the Band’s debut album arrived with “a powerful mystique, and its sound rippled through hippiedom like a musical smoke signal”

In his 1975 book “Mystery Train,” critic Greil Marcus wrote: “Their music gave us a sure sense that the country was richer than we had guessed ... In the unique blend of instruments and good rhythms ... there was an ambiguity that opened up the world with real force.”

“This one feels more personal somehow,” says Laufer, the night’s musical director. “These are five guys that really knew how to play together. That was very daunting. But we have risen to the challenge. When I play the songs now, it’s more exciting than music with all the bells and whistles. It’s organic, real music.”

He adds, “I can’t think of a musician I respect more than Garth Hudson.”

This week, Hudson arrived with wife and longtime collaborator, Sister Maud Hudson, to participate in several days of rehearsals, which soon moved into professional studios. “Part of the enjoyment is the preparation,” Hudson says.

“He was very interested in the gear that we had,” says bassist and concert co-producer David Jenkins of Hudson. “He wanted a list of everything that we had or had access to. To me, that shows that somebody is really interested.”

At 79, Hudson is one of two surviving members of the Band — the other, Robbie Robertson, no longer performs regularly, focusing instead on solo studio albums, movie soundtracks, artist development, occasional acting and other projects.

Drummer-singer Levon Helm continued playing until shortly before his death from cancer in 2012, but the impact of the quintet’s combined work and musical message lives on, which Hudson planned to share at the rehearsals this week.

“Levon had expressions that I’m sure came from the South,” Hudson recalls. “He said, ‘We don’t want to let it get too winky-warnkie — which means you’re trying too hard to make it swing, and it’s not quite together.”

This past year, Hudson has already participated in select concerts marking the 40th anniversary of “The Last Waltz,” Martin Scorsese’s acclaimed documentary on the Band’s 1976 farewell concert in San Francisco. (He will be part of the anniversary’s Los Angeles tour stop at the Orpheum on April 13.) But the cause behind the Wild Honey show was an added attraction for him and his wife.

With these concerts, the nonprofit Wild Honey Foundation raises money for the Autism Think Tank, connecting families with autistic children to medical specialists around the country.

“We want to see as many children helped as possible,” says Sister Maud, who will sing two songs at the Alex. “It became close to our hearts as soon as we became aware of the organization. It’s completely fascinating what they’re doing and the results that they’re getting.”

The appearance of a member of the historic act being honored is not unusual for the Wild Honey Orchestra. In the past, the players have been joined by members of the Beach Boys, the Kinks’ Dave Davies and others, which Jenkins credits to the careful but deeply felt treatment Laufer and the Wild Honey Orchestra give the music.

“There’s something about that that speaks well of Rob’s serious approach,” says Jenkins. “We have to honor this music and get it right.”

Who: “Wild Honey Orchestra & Garth Hudson Play the Band’s ‘Music From Big Pink,’ ‘The Band’ and Beyond”

When: Saturday, March 25, 8 p.m.

Where: The Alex Theatre, 216 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale.

Tickets: $25 balcony; $45 terrace and orchestra; $100 V.I.P.

STEVE APPLEFORD is a contributor to Times Community News. Follow him on Twitter: @SteveAppleford

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