The Band, “Don’t Wait” from Jubilation (1998): Across the Great Divide

A searcher’s song, “Don’t Wait” also speaks to the journey Levon Helm made with Rick Danko and Garth Hudson back toward their legacy in the Band. The track, co-written by Helm for the Band’s 1998 finale Jubilation, finds our protagonist desperately searching for something to grab on to — only to meet a wizened stranger who steers him back toward old music’s sense of home and hearth.

In this way, “Don’t Wait” echoes their stirring past even as it amplifies the larger issues surrounding the Band’s long-awaited comeback.

Moving on without Robbie Robertson and Richard Manuel couldn’t have been easy, and it likewise was wrought with doubters. Helm, Danko and Hudson showed time and time again, however, that they could rise to that challenge over a trio of ’90s-era albums, adding several moments that stand with anything in the Band’s larger canon. Then came health issues for Levon Helm, something made evident in the ragged edges of his vocal here.

As such, so much of the narrative inside “Don’t Wait” rings true: They’ve certainly known high times, and their share of low ones, too. All of it informs the performance, too. A lyric that combines rustic wisdom and a mystical bent is bolstered by a slapping Randy Ciarlante cadence and Levon Helm’s plucky mandolin, even as Rick Danko begins darting in behind Levon’s lead vocal like two old friends finishing one another’s sentences.

By the time it’s over, “Don’t Wait” has first revealed itself as one of their last era’s very best moments — and then as one of the Band’s very best, period.

Across the Great Divide is a weekly, song-by-song examination from Something Else! on the legacy of the Band, both together and as solo artists. The series runs on Thursdays.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has explored music for USA Today, All About Jazz and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the nation by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso