May 8, 2009

The Last Waltz

I woke up thinking about The Band, and the first song that I heard on the radio this morning was by The Band, portents leading me to write about them today.

“He who shall remain nameless”, my husband, came home last Friday with a bag of goodies from HMV including the DVD of The Last Waltz.

Four Canadian boys and a rascal from Arkansas seemed to define Country Rock and Americana during the late 60s, early 70s with songs like The Weight, Up on Cripple Creek and The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.

Thanksgiving 1976 was The Band’s last concert and director Martin Scorsese turned it into one of the best concert films ever made.

It’s a smooth, seamless concert. Very enjoyable to watch.

You can be driven to distraction by the maddeningly handsome Robbie Robertson. Rick Danko’s voice makes you want to cry. Levon Helm’s got a bit of a Yosemite Sam thing going on, but I forgive him because he can drum and sing lead vocals at the same time.

Richard Manuel and Garth Hudson’s mammas obviously never told them girls don’t like big, aging beards.

Their stellar guests included: (click on the names, most of them are linked)

Neil Young, looking like most of my brother's highschool friends waxing lyrical and giving a shout out to North Ontario, where I was born, in Helpless.

A clear-eyed Dylan is there doing his Jesus impersonation.

The tiny perfect Van Morrison, with his lace-up pants. I wish I had his magic mirror.

Joni Mitchell, I’m not a fan, be quiet for a minute and let Neil sing.

Dr. John having a lot of fun it seems.

The reptilian Neil Diamond.

Ringo and Ronnie Wood were there too, our representatives from the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.

Eric Clapton, after reading some of his autobiography, I now know you can be a genius guitar player and not very smart.

Muddy Waters sings Mannish Boy with a great deal of energy

And The Band’s former boss, Ronnie Hawkins, gets everbody riled up with “Who Do You Love”. Emmy Lou Harris and Paul Butterfield are also in attendance.

The actual concert was about 4 hours long. Scorcese has given us 1.5. If it weren’t for the occasional howler from Robertson, overly corny comments he makes about life on the road, I’m sure I could have sat through the whole 4.

My favourite song The Band performs is The Night They Drove old Dixie Down. The lyrics, written by Toronto native Robbie Robertson, tell of the last days of the American Civil War. Virgil Caine is a Confederate who served on the Danville train, a main supply line into the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia. Robert E. Lee’s army was holding the line of defense at the Seige of Petersburg. Union General George Stoneman’s cavalry “tore up the tracks” blocking the passage of food and supplies. The siege lasted from June 1864 to April 1865, when both Petersburg and Richmond fell, and Lee's troops were starving at the end. (thanks Wiki)

As a kid this song seemed so authentic it seemed impossible to me that this wasn’t a traditional song. I bet Ken Burns would’ve liked to have it for his Civil War, along with Ashokan Farewell. Levon takes the lead, making the plight seem all the more urgent. Here’s a clip from Youtube.

pictures from The Band's website :


giulia said...

At top of list (I think I put in my profile)...have forced people to watch. (They were glad.) Saw when came out...was young but completely hooked in to all the performers even then. Bought all their albums. Burns did think of using the song but don't know why he decided against...maybe too 'familiar'...

Neil gets all the time Neil wants & always gets what he wants, so I'm not quite sure the thing about JM. (But I'm defensive on her part...being the only 'girl' (that's how they put it), she had to push to get heard usually. Maybe that's what was happening though it doesn't bug me.)

How weird...I was playing The Weight (old homemade tape of album!) last night...

fever/pain from tooth...later..

xo svs

Polly said...

I've never watched a concert on a DVD and this does sound interesting, especially if directed by Scorcese. And I must confess I like Joni Mitchell but I don't find Robbie Robertson handsom...

Poetikat said...

Oh, CP, you've mentioned one of my favourite pieces of all time - The Ashokan Farewell. I have the soundtrack to Burns's The Civil War on cd. That sends shivers up my spine, that piece.

I have never seen "The Last Waltz", but after your description I think I'm going to have to. I like Robertson and Young (like you, not a Joni fan - Gawd, I'm Canadian and I just admitted that. Yikes!)

I've always thought they were singing, "Take a load off, Grandma". That's not right, is it?

Watching Later with Jools Holland (ex of Squeeze) on Treasure HD and Paul Simon (looking more and more like Mel Brooks every day) was on last night. Don't think I'll EVER get "Graceland" out of my head again.


rabidgod said...

Thanks for leaving a comment over yonder! Sad to say that I don't write most of the reviews, I pull them from I'm working my way up, I promise.

Anyhow... I'm gonna netflix this (finally), thanks to you! I've been meaning to, but I needed a push. ;)

AZ said...

Thanks for the comment on my blog. I like your review too. I recently read Levon Helm's autobiography "This Wheel's On Fire", which I would recommend. He basically bashes The Last Waltz as a huge Robbie Robertson / Martin Scorcese drug-fueled ego trip. I think Levon is great, but the movie is still terrific to watch and listen to.

neagrigore said...

also forced people to watch, unfortunatelly, here in Romania there are not so many people open to this kind of music. I must say I have been a fan since highschool, in '92, when I've got three casette tapes, great music, it seemed from another era compared with what I was listening back then, Deep Purple, Pink Floyd, all the progressive bands such as Brand X, Genesis, Yes, VDGG, etc, but somehow fresher and more sincere.
I must disagree with you on the Mitchell issue since I am a huge fan, less of Diamond :) and I have read it twice but I do not get the Clapton/stupid reference ...
anyway review since you've got people's attention, and in this times is not some small thing ...

Anonymous said...

Last Waltz-great movie! First time saw the Band was at Woodstock 1969-Been into there music since then-Levon's band now is wonderful-really the heart and soul of the Band. To much in fighting for me about Robertson and Helm,try to keep out of it. The Heroes Of Woodstock at the bethel Woods Center is having a 40 year deal this year and Helm is playing-sould be fun

The Clever Pup said...

Wow Anon, you were at Woodstock!?

...i'm not worthy, i'm not worthy...she said, genuflecting.

Anonymous said...

To Clever Pup-Yes i was there. Went to see the Dead-they sucked!!!! First time seeing the The Band-saw them many times after,the Central parks shows where just great and free!!!I chat on the Band Chat room-join it,alot of good talkabout the Band and music

K. said...

Great post, great movie, great group, great song. You've inspired Citizen K.'s Friday's Choice selection.

The audio of the entire concert is available in a 4CD set. The first three discs contain the complete show; the last disc has "The Last Waltz Suite," which I'm pretty sure was in the movie, a few rehearsals, and something The Band call's "Studio Ideas."

The Clever Pup said...

Paul, The husband pup bought that set the week earlier. The Last Waltz Suite is lovely, timeless, cinematic.

Bonbon Oiseau said...

ha! you just reminded me that i first found the band watching "easy rider", the movie that sealed most deals for me...thank you for reminding me, you renegade you. your commentary=agreed! let neil young sing.

Brian Miller said...

very cool. have a couple concert vids but this one sounds like one to see. thanks for the heads up!

K. said...

I pulled out Rock of Ages, this morning, one of the great live albums ever. I think it's the only appearance of "Get Up, Jake."

Get up, Jake, it's late in the mornin'
The rain is pourin' and we got work to
Get up, Jake, there's no need a-lyin'
You tell me that you're dyin'
But I know it's not true

K. said...

P. S. Go husband pup!

Ladybug said...

I'd enjoy this DVD. The reptilian Neil Diamond? You must know something I don't.

Diane said...

Loved this when I saw it this year at the Fox.

How'd you manage to embed that clip?

I think my favourite tune was 'Forever Young.'

Premium T. said...

Guess which band we listened to all day yesterday?! (Well, most of the day.)

tony said...

Yea,'never could understand why Neil Diamond Got The Call? Otherwise, A Great Music Film.

The Clever Pup said...

Tony, I think Robbie had just produced an album for Neil Diamond and therefore felt it a good move to have him at the concert. "One of these things is not like the others" to quote Sesame Street.

K. said...

Although his inclusion in The Last Waltz is an oddity, Neil Diamond does have terrific songs, especially "Solitary Man," "Girl, You'll Be A Woman Soon," "Shiloh," "I'm A Believer," and "Sweet Caroline." Every Red Sox home game, all of Fenway Park sings "Sweet Caroline" in the middle of the 8th inning. It's fun, too!

Anonymous said...

Robbie Robertson was from Brantford, I believe.
re Dylan: Have you seen the Martin Scorsese's movie "No Direction Home"? Recommended! Also the new flic, "He's Not There". I didn't like it at all the 1st time I watched, now I think, genius! I'd love to hear your thoughts on that.

The Clever Pup said...

Hi Anonymous (Roz perhaps?)

Yeah, Robbie was born in Toronto as Jaime Robert Klegerman. His mum was a native from The Six Nations and he spent his summers with his Indian cousins.

I've seen both Dylan films. (Seriously, my husband is a big fan. Bob takes up 2 rows on the book shelf, one CD shelf, half row of DVDs and one shelf of albums)

I liked "I'm Not There" very much. Such a strange way to do things. But Cate Blanchett was superb!