Late Night: The Last Waltz
Another Thanksgiving holiday tradition is The Last Waltz. I was living in the Bay Area at the time and fantasized about winning tickets to the concert.
In his autobiography, concert promoter Bill Graham says that when the Band’s singer-guitarist Robbie Robertson told him that he wanted to do one final concert on Thanksgiving, he was the one who came up with the idea of serving dinner. Graham then goes on to list the evening’s menu: “Two hundred and twenty turkeys…five hundred extra turkey legs that weighed six hundred pounds. Stuffing…sautéed in one hundred pounds of butter…ninety gallons of sauce made from drippings. Forty crates of lettuce for the salad. Eighteen cases of cranberries. Two thousand pounds of peeled yams. Four hundred pounds of pumpkin pie. Rock and roll’s last supper.” Martin Scorsese’s documentary about this momentous occasion doesn’t dwell on the fact that Graham and Co. prepared a “buffet for fifty-four hundred people,” but you can sense that something special, both grand and intimate, is taking place. It’s the ultimate portrait of a band, a showman and a community giving thanks for what they had. You should play this movie loud, with family and friends present, and on a full stomach.
So without further ado, here are a few videos from that momentous evening, November 25, 1976.
The concert opens with Up on Cripple Creek
(Levon Helm *pitter pat*)
Followed by The Shape I’m In:
God love ’em, each and every one.
Beginning with a title card saying “This film should be played loud!” the concert documentary covers the Band’s influences and career. The group—Rick Danko on bass, violin and vocals; Levon Helmon drums, mandolin and vocals; Garth Hudson on keyboards and saxophone; songwriter Richard Manuel on keyboards, percussion and vocals; and guitarist, songwriter and occasional vocalistRobbie Robertson—started out in the late 1950s as a rock and roll band led by Ronnie Hawkins, and Hawkins himself appears as the first guest. The group backed Bob Dylan in the 1960s, and Dylan performs with the Band towards the end of the concert.
Various other artists perform with the Band: Muddy Waters, Paul Butterfield, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, Dr. John, Neil Diamond and Eric Clapton. Genres covered include blues,rock and roll, New Orleans R&B, Tin Pan Alley pop, folk and rock. Further genres are explored in segments filmed later on a sound stage with Emmylou Harris (country) and the Staple Singers (souland gospel).
The film begins with the Band performing the last song of the evening, their cover version of the Marvin Gaye hit “Don’t Do It“, as an encore. The film then flashes back to the beginning of the concert, and follows it more or less chronologically. The Band is backed by a large horn section and performs many of its hit songs, including “Up on Cripple Creek“, “Stage Fright” and “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down“.