The Last Waltz, by The Band
Suggested by Sara-Jane Davies
First? This is a triple album, over two hours long.
Second? This is a live album.
Third? This is an important album.
Before we tackle the target, let’s share words on the band’s name. The band are called… The Band. Their original run, from 1967 to 1977, was obviously before the invention of The Internet, because let’s face it, popping that into Alta Vista or Ask Jeeves or whatever passed for a search engine in the Net’s no-wiki-wiki Wild Wild West would have thrown back so many results you’d think it was a datascreen for mass testing of Covid 19. Nowadays we’re blessed with the Great Google Algorithm, but the early Nineties were a simpler time.
I’ve established that I’m no fan of live music, and by extension the live album, across many previous reviews. To recap, my issues are a) I hate everyone, so being with people at a gig makes me feel sick, and b) a live album is a one-time recording of a night of music, presented warts and all, and it reduces the experience that any attendee may have loved, like how a novelty t-shirt can’t adequately recreate the excitement of Disneyland.
I concede that a live album chronicling an actual event, albeit an event whose claim to be an event is made by the event itself, it a slightly different gaggle of guppies. The Last Waltz is a snapshot of The Band’s final concert before they, heh, dis-Band-ed from touring for good. They conceived a massive farewell concert, inviting famous players and poster children from within their vibrant orbit. It occurred in 1976, filmed by none other than Martin Scorcese. The resultant documentary The Last Waltz is lauded as the best music film ever made, presumably by people who haven’t seen This is Spinal Tap.
I decided to buck my usual process when faced with a mega-long entry o the project. I usually declare I’m giving the first “disc” a listen and then moving on, but for The Last Waltz I felt compelled to give it a good ol’ College try. This may have stemmed from the eclectic contributor list, which includes Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Neil Diamond, Muddy Waters, Emmylou Harris, Van Morrison, Ringo Starr and more. It’d seem weird to review this without hearing everyone’s turn at the mic, after all.
Honesty? I’m glad I did.
The album does capture the feel of a grand occasion, through guest list, the charmingly understated introductions by (I presume) Robbie Robertson, the never abrasive crowd noises, and the brilliant and bolstering horn section. The guests arrive, rock, then leave, never outstaying their welcome, and the music they bring is a fine folk-rock-blues-Americana hip-swinging delight throughout. Standout songs here will be purely in the eye of the beholder, likely dictated by a fondness for the guest or a liking for The Band’s originals, but I’d go with Mannish Boy from Muddy Waters, or my standout Ophelia with those excellent horns.
The Last Waltz gets 7/10. It’s a lazy, hazy listen, one I can see repeating on a summer day with a cool drink at my elbow. I‘m still not sold on the format, but I’m excited to check out Scorcese’s film some time down the line.