I’m ashamed to admit this, but it wasn’t until yesterday that I finally got to see The Last Waltz, the famous movie (directed by Martin Scorsese) documenting the last concert of The Band, one of the most innovative groups in rock history. I’ve always loved their music and felt that, although they were quite popular at the time, they didn’t get near the attention they deserved.
The film was made on Thanksgiving Day in 1976 and was released two years later. It’s a magnificent achievement—in my opinion one of the three best films about rock in history, including Stop Making Sense and Woodstock. The musicianship is superb, and there are many guest stars, including Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Muddy Waters, Emmylou Harris, Van Morrison, Dr. John, and Eric Clapton.
Here are a couple clips from the movie, but they don’t come close in quality or sound to the Blu-Ray DVD version I saw.
“The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” (one of my two favorite Band songs, the other being “The Weight”):
What impressed me most about this movie was Rick Danko’s work on bass, which was fantastic. Robbie Robertson, of course, is also a world-class lead guitarist. Everyone in the band, including Garth Hudson, Levon Helm, and Richard Manuel, was a superb musician, even if they were often drugged out. Sadly, both Manuel and Danko are now dead, the former by suicide the latter from drugs.
Here’s Clapton and Robertson with duelling guitars on “Further on up the road”:
And “Helpless”, with Neil Young. Wikipedia says that this number was edited to remove a blob of cocaine that was hanging from Young’s nose (apparently there was a white room backstage, adorned with plastic noses, where the performers would go for a snort). Joni chimes in from offstage; the audience couldn’t see her.
And don’t miss Joni Mitchell’s performance of “Coyote” (I can’t embed it, but you can see it here), one of the best performances of the concert and a wonderful live rendition of a difficult song. Sadly, the sound quality is poor and a bit muted. Check out Danko’s lively work on the bass.
I suppose that, taking into account both production quality and the musicianship, I’d consider this the best rock concert movie ever made. Woodstock was great but had some forgettable performances as well as the great ones (Santana, Hendrix, Richie Havens).
Do weigh in below with your opinions and choices of other concert movies.