Amazon.com: The Last Waltz (Special Edition): Robbie Robertson, Muddy  Waters, Neil Young, Van Morrison, Neil Diamond, Eric Clapton, Emmylou  Harris, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, The Band, Rick Danko, Levon Helm, Martin  Scorsese,

2020 Album Draft- Round 13 Pick 6- Film- Aphoristical selects- The Last Waltz

Style on Film: The Last Waltz | No Man Walks Alone

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.


  1. Thank you Graham…this HAD to be included in this draft…it should have been written in law. It might be to me the best concert film of all time. I first watched it just to see Van Morrison because I saw it in the 80s and there was no place to see artists perform. The entire lineup is amazing.

  2. Definitely a classic both as a movie and an album! “Out of the Blue” is a favorite of mine, I’ve wondered why more people don’t speak of it and play it on air, but looking at the discography now I see it failed to chart …except in Toronto! It was a #11 hit on CHUM in toronto (at the time, the most listened to hit radio in that market) which I listened to as a kid, but failed to make the Canadian charts let alone US one. Weird.

  3. Levon’s book took a hint of the joy out of this for me, but I still love it and watch it every Thanksgiving. For the longest time, Joni’s “Coyote” seemed so odd, and you can tell The Band aren’t quite sure what to do with it. Now that song and her Hejira album are among my favorites of hers. Lastly, there should be a Neil tribute band called Cocaine Booger.

    • I’ve seen a few people struggle with Mitchell’s jazz stuff -it’s pretty complex and takes a while to grasp. I don’t know which Mitchell song would work with The Band easily though – her early stuff is often solo.

  4. Well there goes another of my short list. I’ve watched this more than any film I have (More than The Good The Bad The Ugly). Like “Kids” that Max just did I caught this when it was released. So much good stuff. Caught that moment and the vibe of the concert. I try and have stayed away from most of the analysis of Scorsese’s film. I like to be in the story and the music and take it on face and ear value. It’s just such a cool celebration and basically a party. What a great band that play some of my favorite music (I think you knew that). The guest are all up to the celebration and why not, they have the Band backing them. You scooped me on this one Aph but that’s cool.

  5. Graham, first, thank you for choosing this and sharing new information on the players. Next time I watch it — When the deluxe box set came out with the movie, soundtrack, and special book that Scorcese put together for Robbie, I couldn’t resist — I will look for some of them. Excellent write-up!

    Next, to all of the people here who love this movie, it gives me the warm fuzzies and a real sense of community to know others love it like I do. ❤

  6. Our local historic theater showed this a couple years ago, and I went with my little brother. We were spoiled seeing it on the big screen. I’d only seen it on a TV screen before that. It’s a really special snapshot in time. I enjoyed your write up, both for the insight and the cocaine booger. You clearly showed this film is worthy of your island and vice versa.

Comments are closed.