#3. The Last Waltz
-So what if it’s not an actual original album? It’s damn good! The movie that Rolling Stone called “the greatest concert film of all-time” makes for a pretty good album too. Especially if you’ve got the four-disc set that came out in 2002.
Beginning the night with “Up on Cripple Creek,” The Band proceeded to play 12 of their songs without any guests. The highlights of this set include “The Shape I’m In,” the magnificent “It Makes No Difference,” (which happens to be my favorite song of all-time) “This Wheel’s On Fire,” “Ophelia,” “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” and “Stagefright.”
The first guest of the night is Ronnie Hawkins who comes out to sing a blistering version of “Who Do You Love?” But if you listen carefully to the song, “The Hawk” mentions everyone but Levon and Richard. This song also contains one of my favorite corny moments of the film when Ronnie uses his hat to “cool” Robbie’s guitar.
The next songs—“Such a Night” and “Down South in New Orleans”—have a distinct New Orleans feel to them; not in the least because Allen Toussaint is leading the horn section that plays throughout the concert.
Over the following five songs, The Band and their guest play some great blues. This includes “Mystery Train” with Paul Butterfield, “Caldonia” and “Mannish Boy” with the invincible Muddy Waters and “All Our Past Times” and “Further On Up the Road” lead by Eric Clapton. “Mystery Train” features some great vocals by Levon while “Further On Up the Road” is one of the best songs played all night. Robbie and Eric are in complete sync with one another and their guitar solos are some of the best that I’ve ever heard.
The next act, Neil Young, slows things down a little but that doesn’t mean he plays a bad two song set; in fact, “Helpless” and, to a lesser extent, “Four Strong Winds” are actually quite good. And, of course, we all know about Neil’s “moustache” that got edited out of the film.
Now, I like some of Joni Mitchell’s work but her performance at The Last Waltz is pretty terrible. She performs “Coyote,” “Shadows and Light” and “Furry Sings the Blues” and all are stinkers. Why she got three songs is beyond me.
For my guilty pleasure of the concert, I’d have to elect Neil Diamond’s performance of “Dry Your Eyes.” I can vividly remember driving a friend back to her house while listening to this song and the both of us singing as loudly as possible. He’s such an asshole but I can’t help liking the song.
Van Morrison is the next guest and he gives a decent version of “Tura Lura Lural (That’s an Irish Lullaby)” followed by a great performance of “Caravan.” Much better than the album version from Moondance, the song is one of the highlights from the concert.
In sort of an odd place, Young and Mitchell come to help The Band with “Acadian Driftwood.” Before the song begins, Robbie says to the crowd that they’re going to play a “Canadian song” and that he’s “going to bring out some of the Canadians to help him do it.” What follows is a great performance that gets left out of the original soundtrack and the movie for some reason. Why couldn’t this Joni song have made it instead of “Coyote?”
After another short set with only The Band (Garth performs “The Genetic Method/Chest Fever” followed by concert versions of “Evangeline” and “The Weight”), Mr. Bob Dylan comes out to perform six songs. Beginning with “Baby Let Me Follow You Down,” he goes on to perform “Hazel,” “I Don’t Believe You (She Acts Like We’ve Never Met),” “Forever Young,” a reprise of “Baby Let Me Follow You Down” and, with the help of all previous guests and Ronnie Wood and Ringo Starr, “I Shall Be Released.” Truth be told, it’s the only version of the song that I can stomach.
The concert ends with two jams—fittingly named “Jam #1” and “Jam #2”—and what’s possibly the greatest performance of the night, “Don’t Do It.” Adding something to the song that Marvin Gaye or The Who never could, this version is stunning in its intensity. It’s also the final song Robbie Robertson, Levon Helm, Richard Manuel, Rick Danko and Garth Hudson would ever play together.
A great finish to a great band.