image from soundcheckmusicblog.com
Sparked by a boating accident which left Richard Manuel seriously injured and Robbie Robertson’s desires to stop touring, WK The Band decided in 1976 to call it quits with a farewell concert appearance. It was held on Thanksgiving Day on November 25, 1976 at San Francisco’s Winterland Ballroom. “Everything about the event was over the top” TB for “this marketing-man’s dream” TB with “a 38-piece orchestra, three teams of ballroom dancers” TB and “more than a baker’s dozen guest stars.” AMG
Director Martin Scorsese filmed the concert and made it into a documentary which also featured studio segments and interviews with the band. Released in 1978, it was “one of the first (and still one of the few) rock concert documentaries that was directed by a filmmaker who understood both the look and the sound of rock & roll, and executed with enough technical craft to capture all the nooks and crannies of a great live show.” AMG
The film is “listed among the greatest concert films. Chicago Tribune film critic Michael Wilmington calls it ‘the greatest rock concert movie ever made – and maybe the best rock movie, period.’” WKTotal Film concurs, calling it “the greatest concert film ever shot.” WK It received 36 out of 37 positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes for a 97% rating. WK
“The Band are in fine if not exceptional form here; on most cuts, they don’t sound quite as fiery as they did on Rock of Ages, though their performances are never less than expert, and the high points are dazzling, especially an impassioned version of It Makes No Difference and blazing readings of Up on Cripple Creek and The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down (Levon Helm has made no secret that he felt breaking up the Band was a bad idea, and here it sounds if he was determined to prove how much they still had to offer).” AMG
The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down
In the original concert, The Band performed a set and then were joined by a series of guest artists, starting with Ronnie Hawkins, whom The Band used to back. “Ultimately, it’s the Band’s ‘special guests’ who really make this set stand out.” AMG After Hawkins, guest stars included Dr. John, Bobby Charles, Paul Butterfield, Muddy Waters, Pinetop Perkins, Eric Clapton, Neil Young, Joni, Mitchell, Neil Diamond, Van Morrison, and Bob Dylan.
“It could be argued that you’re better off watching The Last Waltz on video than listening to it on CD, but either way it's a show well worth checking out.” AMG It “remains a landmark not just for its consistently superb music but for…brilliantly manipulative marketing. Sold on the back of one event, we got the triple album, the movie, the home video, the double-CD reissue, the DVD, and the boxset-set four-CD reissue.” TB
Resources and Related Links:
- DMDB page for The Last Waltz
- The Band’s DMDB Music Maker Encyclopedia entry
- AMG All Music Guide review by Mark Deming
- PR Paul Roland (2001). CD Guide to Pop & Rock. B.T. Batsford LTD: London.
- TB Thunder Bay (2005). Albums: The Stories Behind 50 Years of Great Recordings. Thunder Bay Press; San Diego, CA. Page 197.
- WK Wikipedia