November 24, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

On November 25, 1976, the five members of The Band -- Rick Danko, Levon Helm, Garth Hudson, Richard Manuel, and Robbie Robertson - played their last concert together. It was billed as The Last Waltz.

The Thanksgiving Day show (all 5,000 tickleholders were given a full sit-down turkey dinner before the show) was held at San Francisco's Winterland Ballroom and was filmed by Martin Scorsese. Besides the official releases, a black and white video of the entire show, filmed from the mixing desk, circulates as a bootleg ("The Lost Waltz") -- and the complete concert is also available. That's what we have here -- from the Mouth of the Beast label. (There does not seem to be any art for the MotB set; there is some here, but it's a different release.) Enjoy the show, Mike!
Disc 1
01 - Up On Cripple Creek
02 - The Shape I'm In
03 - It Makes No Difference
04 - Life Is A Carnival
05 - This Wheel's On Fire
06 - W.S. Walcott Medicine Show
07 - Georgia On My Mind
08 - Ophelia
09 - King Harvest
10 - The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down
11 - Stage Fright
12 - Rag Mama Rag
13 - Who Do You Love (Ronnie Hawkins)
14 - Such A Night (Dr. John)

Disc 2
01 - Down South In New Orleans (Bobby Charles)
02 - Mystery Train (Paul Butterfield)
03 - Caledonia (Muddy Waters)
04 - Mannish Boy (Waters)
05 - All Our Past Times (Eric Clapton)
06 - Further On Up The Road (Clapton)
07 - Helpless (Neil Young)
08 - Four Strong Winds (Young)
09 - Coyote (Joni Mitchell)
10 - Shadows & Light (Mitchell)
11 - Furry Sings The Blues (Mitchell/Young)

Disc 3
01 - Dry Your Eyes (Neil Diamond)
02 - Tura Lura Lura (Van Morrison)
03 - Caravan (Morrison)
04 - Acadian Driftwood
05 - Genetic Method
06 - Chest Fever
07 - The Last Waltz
08 - Evangeline
09 - The Weight
10 - Baby Let Me Follow You Down (Bob Dylan)
11 - Hazel (Dylan)
12 - I Don't Believe You (Dylan)
13 - Forever Young (Dylan)
14 - Baby Let Me Follow You Down (Dylan)

Disc 4
01 - I Shall Be Released
02 - Jam #1
03 - Jam #2
04 - Don't Do It
So what makes The Last Waltz the best rock and roll film of all time? There are the songs and the musicians, of course, but the key is Scorsese. He decided beforehand how he wanted to shoot every single song -- he storyboarded the entire show. I don't think I have ever seen video footage of a live band that has been shot like The Last Waltz (though it can't be unique). What you usually are given is seemingly random quick cuts between the various cameras, hectic and not timed in any way to the flow of music; any sense of the musicians playing as a group is lost (or maybe wasn't even considered as important). Scorsese framed several of the musicians in many shots, often stayed on one person for quite awhile, and captured subtle gestures and interactions between the musicians.

One great example of the camera work is towards the end of "It Makes No Difference" (why does this have subtitles?). A camera at stage right has a spotlighted Hudson and his sax in the foreground, then he steps back but we stay with that shot, with Robertson, Danko, and Helm further away, towards the middle of the stage, as Robertson solos a little bit. Then the camera pulls slightly back and Hudson steps forward again with his sax. It's one continuous camera angle. Brilliant.

There are so many highlights -- from the interviews (the beginning of the beginning of the end of the beginning ... Marshmallow Overcoat ... an adult dose ... and what's it called?) and the concert (Manuel's jacket, Hawkins fanning Robbie's guitar with his hat, Morrison's jump-suited kicks, a cool Clapton playing rings around Robertson while Robbie sweats and thrashes about) -- but I'll single out my favourite.

I first saw The Last Waltz in 1986, back when Laura and I were still long distance. During one of my weekends in Brooklyn, we rented the movie. I was doing college radio at the time and was a big fan of the American roots rock/cow punk movement, but I was fairly ignorant about Dylan's rootsier rock.Near the end of the film, Dylan and the Band slid into "Baby Let Me Follow You Down" -- and I was floored. It was a revelation. And anytime I have seen it in the nearly 25 years (!) since that night -- including the maybe 10-15 times I either watched the clip or listened to the song while writing this post -- I have never been unfloored. Familiarity has not dulled any of its vitality.

Dylan recorded the traditional folk song way back in 1962 and it was part of his electric set on his infamous 1966 tour with the Band (known then as the Hawks). The song is played at a faster clip in The Last Waltz than it was 10 years earlier -- call it a funky gallop. For all the barbed-wire guitar and Dylan's stupendous vocals (his voice peaked in the mid-70s), the star of the song is Helm. He's doing a ton of shit on the drums -- the fantastic two-beat bump-bump after the main riff that acts like a little kick in the ass, the way he rides his cymbal during the riff, the "god almighty world" lines, and even some of Robbie's bits of solo. He makes the song dance, and never comes anywhere close to cluttering things up.

Watch and listen to this two-song clip. First up is "Forever Young", off Planet Waves, the 1973 album Dylan made with The Band; it did not break any new ground as far as Dylan's canon is concerned, but it's easily one of my Top 5 (maybe Top 3) Bob albums. And then it's into a reprise of BLMFYD, which Dylan had begun his short set with.

Check out Dylan noodling between the two songs at about 4:10. It's one of the best moments in the entire film. Helm is back behind the drums, head cocked, waiting, Robertson's eyes are darting from Dylan's hands to Dylan's face, down to his own hands, Danko is simply staring at Dylan with a fantastic look of anticipation. The final stray notes dissolve into the air, and everyone is watching Dylan -- except us! We have no idea what he is doing. Then Danko starts to slowly smile -- a split-second before the familiar chords start up again. YEAH!

Hazel -- from The Lost Waltz bootleg
Cripple Creek, Rockin' Chair, King Harvest and Long Black Veil -- probably from 1970
Time to Kill -- Syria Mosque, Pittsburgh, November 1970
Just Another Whistle Stop -- Wembley Stadium, 1974
Highway 61 Revisited -- Dylan/The Band, Isle of Wight, 1969


redsock said...

Big time, Bill, big time! Big time!

Anonymous said...

"The Last Waltz" is great, but "Stop Making Sense" is the best concert film of all time...

Dr. Jeff said...

Hawk referring to, and probably looking at, Bill Graham. Interesting that Bill G. wasn't interviewed for the movie, considering how influential he was. I was blown away when you posted this because two days ago I downloaded the Complete Last Waltz from a site online, and despite seeing the movie dozens of times I had never heard the songs that were not included.

Douglas said...

I Love Planet Waves!

SoSock said...

Hot damn - you have made my weekend! Or holiday I should say. I don't have time to play with this now, but.....Tommorrow's Thanksgiving! And I'll have several hours to kill before heading ove to the folks' house. I know what I'll be doing :)
I absolutely NEVER get tired of The Last Waltz, and I've only heard of, never seen or heard, The Lost Waltz. Can't wait. Thanks

L-girl said...

"The Last Waltz" is great, but "Stop Making Sense" is the best concert film of all time...

I say exactly the opposite. I love Stop Making Sense, but there's only one greatest: TLW.

L-girl said...

The week The Last Waltz opened in New York City, three friends and I skipped school to go into the city (we lived in the suburbs) and see on it on the big screen, near Rockefeller Center.

My friends and I were all totally hot for Robbie R and Rick Danko, but that day I also had an early glimmer of personal revelation. When Robbie kisses Joni Mitchell, I wasn't sure who I wanted to kiss more. Huh. Interesting.


Many years later, I turned Allan onto the movie, and when we bought our first VCR, the first tape we bought for it was TLW. Years later when we bought our first DVD player... same thing.

The Concert Movie To End All Concert Movies, and some of the greatest music ever written.

Except Neil Diamond, also known as "the pee break".

Ish said...

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Sunday morning at 10:30 AM ET the 1999 All-Star game will be shown on MLB Network. I can't wait.

redsock said...

Stop Making Sense is a worthy contender -- a creative stage set-up, a great band and beautifully shot, but as much as I love it, I can't place it higher than #2. The Band's musical background/influences resonate deeper with me. Plus only one of the films has Muddy Waters.

Now, if the Heads had made a SMS-ish film of their 1980-81 with Adrian Belew ...

redsock said...

One highlight I had in there but cut was the fact that in the NYC/adult dose segment, Levon does not blink. Like not at all.


"you got me some baloney heh heh heh ..."

Dr. Jeff said...

Great story if true (from Wikipedia):

Diamond's appearance was not popular with all of the other performers. Levon Helm was critical of the inclusion of Diamond, not discerning any
musical connection to The Band, as was Ronnie Wood, who stated in an 1980s interview, "None of us could understand what he was doing there."

Dylan also apparently held him in low esteem: Reportedly, when Diamond came off stage he remarked to Dylan, "You'll have to be pretty good to
follow me", to which Dylan responded, "What do I have to do, go on stage and fall asleep?"

L-girl said...

I've heard that re Dylan/Diamond. Very amusing.

Plus only one of the films has Muddy Waters.

Indeed. And Joni. And etc. etc.

I also love SMS. Amazing movie. Imagine being that good and still being only second best.

Allan Wood said...

Wolfgang's Vault is streaming TLW -- the whole freakin' chronological thing!!! In likely much better quality than I've got here!

(It doesn't look like they are offering the show for sale, but maybe someone somewhere will grab and share the stream.)

redsock said...

...maybe someone somewhere will grab and share the stream.)