Monday, December 20, 2010
The Last Waltz aka The Greatest Show On Earth
"This film [soundtrack] should be played loud!"
It was on Thanksgiving Day, 1976, at the Winterland Ballroom in San Fran, that The Band, accompanied by a slew of their best friends in music took the stage for their final performance. It was the culminating show for this great band, that got its name and start from backing Bob Dylan in the 1960s. The Last Waltz is essentially an essay in the form of art, directed by Martin Scorsese, that demonstrates The Band's long history and influence. Characters like Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Muddy Waters, Neil Young, Ronnie Hawkins, Van Morrison, and The Staple Singers all make memorable guest appearances
One of my most treasured experiences with music occurred mid-sophomore year of high school when some friends brought the documentary over on a snowy night in December. Other than maybe "The Weight" and "Cripple Creek", I hadn't discovered The Band yet, and I was downright floored, song after song, by the power The Band played with, and their incorporation of so many of my already favorite musicians. Looking back, it was sort of an unbelievable experience to watch so many legends perform on stage together for such a sentimental evening.
It's not just the fact that The Band might've been one of the "best bands" at the time of this concert based on song writing and cohesion, but they are also capable of reinterpreting their singles to fit new guests in the most delightful way. Footage of Van Morrison shaking and throwing his arms up while ripping through "Caravan", a tender rendition of Young's "Helpless", and the spiritually shaking version of "I Shall Be Released" with everyone harmonizing and swapping lyrics on stage to the end the show, it's just perfect.
As far as critics on The Last Waltz go, yes, I'm well aware of the fact that nearly no one on stage wanted to go through with the show and Robbie Robertson smugly overdubbed his vocals higher than the others. It was to some degree a bloated, coke fueled self-congratulation, and god knows I can do without the career boosting Neil Diamond cut, but hell, who cares. The music timelessly speaks for itself and whether bad vibes were present or not, it was a celebration of the friendship of years past.
I realize that to most music fans, The Band and their Last Waltz together is nothing new, but I felt compelled to give this work my time and reflection because The Last Waltz has been such a key play in my music rotation this past semester. Amongst all of its problems between musicians, this album always comes off to me as so focused. The arrangements always captivate me, and drive me to be more focused. Tracks like "It Makes No Difference", "This Wheel's On Fire", "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down", "Stage Fright", and "I Shall Be Released" surely cannot sound any better. Sheer goosebumps down my arms with every listen.
"It Makes No Difference"
"I Shall Be Released"
The Last Waltz - I Shall be Released