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Last Waltz

The Last Waltz

5.0 8
by The Band

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Back when a farewell was really a farewell, this roots-rock juggernaut threw themselves the ultimate sendoff, packing San Francisco's Winterland Theater with fans and friends for a Thanksgiving Day party that ranks with the greatest rock concerts of all time. When originally released to the public shortly after the show, the 1976 triple (vinyl) album The Last Waltz


Back when a farewell was really a farewell, this roots-rock juggernaut threw themselves the ultimate sendoff, packing San Francisco's Winterland Theater with fans and friends for a Thanksgiving Day party that ranks with the greatest rock concerts of all time. When originally released to the public shortly after the show, the 1976 triple (vinyl) album The Last Waltz consisted of 30 classic performances, including Band concert staples such as "Up on Cripple Creek" and "Stage Fright," as well as several tunes with guests as varied as Muddy Waters, Neil Diamond, and Bob Dylan (with whom the Band had toured extensively). As nice a package as it was, the original edition only touched on that evening's happenings, all of which are finally brought together on this dazzling four-CD box. The supplements include the Band's own version of "The Weight" (later recorded with the Staples for the Martin Scorsese film The Last Waltz) and "Rag Mama Rag." Just as significantly, this expanded edition sheds light on the loose, house-party vibe of that Thanksgiving Eve, with Joni Mitchell scatting through a limber "Furry Sings the Blues" and pairing with Neil Young and the rest of the Band for a gripping "Arcadian Driftwood." Similarly, instrumental jams from late in the set with a big band that included Ron Wood, Van Morrison, Eric Clapton, and Ringo Starr make their first official appearance on record. The package -- which is beautifully housed in a hardcover book boasting 80 pages of art, photos, extensive liner notes from Rolling Stone's David Fricke, and a detailed track listing -- also appends rehearsal material, such as a lovely "Tura Lura Lural," with vocals by Van Morrison, and a smoking version of "King Harvest." It's mighty hard to fault The Last Waltz in its original form, but the annotations and additions provided here re-create that special moment in time with even more vivid strokes. A must for any fan.

Editorial Reviews

All Music Guide - Stephen Thomas Erlewine
"The road was our school. It gave us a sense of survival; it taught us everything we know and out of respect, we don't want to drive it into the ground...or maybe it's just superstition but the road has taken a lot of the great ones. It's a goddam impossible way of life" - Robbie Robertson, from the movie The Last Waltz, quoted in the box set. Perhaps Robertson's greatest gift is how he can spin a myth, making the mundane into majestic fables. Outside of his songs, his greatest achievement in myth-making was The Last Waltz, where he doesn't necessarily overstate the amount of time the Band spent on the road, but he sure tried to make it all seem like something special, both in the amount of time they spent on the road and what they've accomplished. And while he was right on the latter -- the Band did change the course of music, leaving behind records that still sound gloriously rich and out of time -- the former is a bit of a stretch since not only were the rest of the Band not exactly ready to stop touring (they would later reunite without him), it ignores the basic fact that touring is what working musicians do. They make music, they play for audiences, they keep rolling throughout the years, and many of the artists invited to participate in the Band's farewell concert -- Ronnie Hawkins, Dr. John, Muddy Waters, Van Morrison, Neil Young, the Staple Singers, Emmylou Harris, Eric Clapton, and Bob Dylan, who legendarily launched a never-ending tour in the '80s -- lived the life of a working musician, performing live well past 50. The Band was cut from the same cloth as this, but Robertson realized that the group wasn't doing itself any good by staying on the road -- and the accompanying Martin Scorsese-directed film does suggest that the Band was indulging itself way too much -- and that it was the perfect time to draw the curtain on the Band with a lavish concert that turned their entire career into a burnished myth, nearly as ancient and romantic as photographs from the Civil War. Hence, The Last Waltz, a farewell concert on Thanksgiving 1976 promoted by Bill Graham and turned into a timeless documentary by Scorsese, was released as a triple-album set in 1978 and finally reissued as a four-disc box set by Rhino in 2002, on its near-25th anniversary (it's somewhere between 24 and 26, depending if you're counting performance or release, so 25 is a good compromise). Many people call this the greatest rock movie and greatest live performance of all time. They're wrong. It could be argued that the film is among the greatest rock films -- convincingly so, actually -- but the music amplifies not just what was great about the Band, but also their greatest flaws. That is, their effortless virtuosity and wonderful organic sound is a joy to hear, yet it can be undercut by the literary pretensions of Robertson, which gives the songs and sometimes the performances an artificial, academic feel -- something that is accentuated here, since the music is being presented in an artificially romantic setting, where everything was heightened for the cinema; the Band even gives the entire enterprise a theme straight out of The Third Man. This resulted in something equally wonderful and affected, with each track having portions of both in different proportions. On the whole, the sublime outweighs the missteps, particularly since the invited guests are by and large troubadours who enjoy playing: Dr. John hauling out "Such a Night" (such a standard practice, it was later parodied on SCTV), Bobby Charles turning in the happiest performance of the evening with "Down South in New Orleans," Muddy Waters roaring through "Mannish Boy," Paul Butterfield playing mean harp, Van Morrison's joyous set, Dylan performing with an authority that suggests that he always thought he owned the Band. Other good moments are here. Clapton croons his Band-supported album track "All Our Past Times" with appropriate melancholy; Neil Young turns out a sweet "Helpless"; Joni Mitchell's "Coyote" is alluringly allusive; even Neil Diamond's "Dry Your Eyes" -- all are engaging. But it doesn't add up to something transcendent, either in its original triple-album set or in this quadruple-disc box. Part of the problem is that the concert is supplemented by a studio set -- entitled "The Last Waltz Suite," expanded to a full disc here -- that feels entirely out of place, even if it was designed to spotlight influences of the Band that weren't covered in the concert. Perhaps that's the reason why it feels so studied and affected, right down to the Staple Singers' celebrated version of "The Weight." This draws attention to one of the problems of the Band shining a spotlight on their influences -- they are treating their influences with a respective distance, not as if something that is still vital to them, making even appearances by ruffians like Hawkins seem like museum pieces. Much of the Band absorbed these influences, so some of the spirit echoes throughout their own performances, but that distance is still evident -- enough so that this music isn't transcendent, when it should be. This is all evident in spades within the box of The Last Waltz, which is an admittedly handsome, loving production. It's not necessarily historically accurate -- the Band performed a full set before the guests show up, but here their songs are interspersed throughout the first three discs, a couple of songs are left off, and even "The Genetic Method/Chest Fever" doesn't have the latter part of the song. Still, this is as good as an historical release as imaginable, since it is expertly detailed, impeccably mastered, perfectly annotated, and filled with great liner notes and much unreleased material. None of the newly released material is revelatory -- the jams are negligible (everybody sounds like they just ate a bunch of turkey before they played), the rehearsals confirm that Van the Man really clicked with the Band, the studio ideas fall flat, "Don't Do It" is as great as ever, everything inserted into the proper concert is welcome, even if it varies in quality -- but it's all good, all welcome for those that have bought the myth of the Band and, particularly, The Last Waltz. But the box proves that the myth, in regards to the final concert, is not accurate -- for those listeners who didn't grow up with the music, or those that never thought this particular concert pulled the curtain down on a wonderful era, it's easy to wonder what all the fuss was about. Because the thing is, the people who sound the best here -- Dylan, Van Morrison, Dr. John, Levon Helm himself -- are the ones who didn't treat the road as a goddam impossible way of life, but as what a working musician does. The Last Waltz teeters between these two schools of thought, wanting to celebrate the end while blithely ignoring that musicians make music for a living -- and that's what keeps the music from truly captivating, from being essential, even if this set is perfectly assembled.
Blender - Bill Wyman
Last Waltz is a reminder that 25 years ago, long before alt-country, great artists could find limitless depths in the mystery and joy that is American music.

Product Details

Release Date:


Album Credits

Performance Credits

Band   Primary Artist
Paul Butterfield   Harmonica,Vocals
Emmylou Harris   Acoustic Guitar,Vocals
David Bromberg   Track Performer
Neil Diamond   Guitar,Vocals,Background Vocals
Dr. John   Piano,Conga,Vocals,Background Vocals
Bob Dylan   Guitar,Vocals
Ronnie Hawkins   Vocals,Background Vocals
Joni Mitchell   Acoustic Guitar,Vocals,Background Vocals
Robbie Robertson   Guitar,Piano,Vocals,Harp Guitar
Ringo Starr   Drums
Ronnie Wood   Guitar,Electric Guitar
Neil Young   Acoustic Guitar,Harmonica,Vocals,Background Vocals
Tom "Bones" Malone   Trombone,Euphonium,Alto Flute,Bass Trombone
Howard Johnson   Tuba,Bass Clarinet,Flugelhorn,Baritone Saxophone
Bobby Charles   Vocals,Background Vocals
Rick Danko   Bass,Violin,Electric Bass,Vocals
John Simon   Piano,Musical Direction
Bob Margolin   Guitar,Electric Guitar
Jim Gordon   Clarinet,Flute,Tenor Saxophone
Roebuck "Pops" Staples   Guitar,Vocals
Eric Clapton   Guitar,Electric Guitar,Vocals,Background Vocals
Levon Helm   Mandolin,Drums,Vocals
Garth Hudson   Organ,Synthesizer,Solo Instrumental,Piano,Accordion,Horn,Saxophone,Soprano Saxophone,Tenor Saxophone,Pipe organ
Charlie Keagle   Clarinet,Flute,Alto Saxophone,Soprano Saxophone,Tenor Saxophone
Richard Manuel   Dobro,Piano,Drums,Keyboards,Vocals,Background Vocals
Van Morrison   Vocals,Background Vocals
Muddy Waters   Vocals
Larry Packer   Electric Violin
Carl Radle   Bass
Dennis St. John   Drums
Mavis Staples   Vocals
Jerry Hay   Trumpet,Flugelhorn
Staples   Track Performer
Orchestra   Track Performer
Rich Cooper   Trumpet,Flugelhorn

Technical Credits

Band   Composer
Bob Dylan   Composer
Robbie Robertson   Composer,Producer,Liner Notes
Tom "Bones" Malone   Horn Arrangements
Howard Johnson   Horn Arrangements
John Simon   Producer
Terry Becker   Engineer
Joel Bernstein   Equipment Manager
Bo Diddley   Composer
Neil Brody   Engineer
Hugh Brown   Art Direction
Donivan Cowart   Engineer
Rev. Gary Davis   Composer
Lamont Dozier   Composer
Rob Fraboni   Producer
Henry Glover   Horn Arrangements
Brian Holland   Composer
Garth Hudson   Arranger,Horn Arrangements
Mel London   Composer
Elliot Mazer   Engineer
Muddy Waters   Composer
Wayne Neuendorf   Engineer
Junior Parker   Composer
Don Robey   Composer
Larry Samuels   Executive Producer
Stuart Taylor   Engineer
Ray Thompson   Engineer
Allen Toussaint   Horn Arrangements
Bradley Hartman   Engineer
Bill Spears   Equipment Manager
Tim Kramer   Engineer
Sam Phillips   Composer
David Fricke   Liner Notes
Joe Medwick   Composer
Ed Thrasher   Art Direction
Andy Bloch   Engineer
Steven Chean   Editorial Research
Steve Vance   Art Direction
Bob Cato   Creative Consultant
Paul Sandweiss   Engineer
Wray Smallwood   Engineer
Dennis Mays   Engineer
Patrick McDougal   Engineer
Traditional   Composer
Ed Anderson   Engineer
Jerry Stroud   Engineer
Jerry Caskey   Equipment Manager
Ava Megna   Production Liason
Cliff Crumpler   Equipment Manager
Barry Imhoff   Logistics

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