2020 Album Draft- Round 13 Pick 6- Film- Aphoristical selects- The Last Waltz
In 1976 The Band’s pianist Richard Manuel was seriously injured in a boating accident. This prompted Robbie Robertson to consider the idea of The Band retiring as a live act, continuing to work in the studio a la The Beatles. The Band held their farewell concert on Thanksgiving in 1976, at Bill Graham’s Winterland Ballroom. It was the same place they’d played their first gig, and they celebrated by inviting guests who’d shared their musical journey with – notably Ronnie Hawkins, who they’d backed as The Hawks, and Bob Dylan, who they’d backed during his controversial 1966 electric tour.
The concert was collated into a movie by director Martin Scorcese, who interspersed the live footage with interviews with The Band, and with soundstage performances captured after the live gig. The interviews are fascinating, showing a schism between Robertson (who’d become close to Scorcese) and the rest of The Band.
The film opens with Band hits like ‘Up on Cripple Creek’ and ‘Don’t Do It’ (actually the last song of the concert), before the guest stars begin. There’s a long and illustrious list – Ronnie Hawkins of ‘Who Do You Love?’, Dr John on ‘Such A Night’, and an unlikely Neil Diamond on ‘Dry Your Eyes’. Joni Mitchell provides off-stage harmonies for Neil Young’s ‘Helpless’, before playing ‘Helpless’. Muddy Waters plays a dramatic ‘Mannish Boy’ before a clearly inebriated Van Morrison performs high kicks. Mavis Staples and Emmylou Harris guest on songs recorded on the soundstage after the main gig. Bob Dylan is the big drawcard, Eric Clapton trades licks with Robertson, while Ringo Starr and Ronnie Wood also guest.
In some ways 1976 is the end of an era for many involved – The Band themselves arguably never made another great record after The Last Waltz, Neil Diamond was about to lurch into adult contemporary, while Joni Mitchell was at the end of her golden run of records. Hedonism is present, most notably the cocaine booger that had to be edited out of Neil Young’s nose. And The Band sound tired, worn down by infighting. But despite the world weary atmosphere, the music’s consistently great.