Having my own music blog has really magnified one of the things that I love most about life - the musical journeys that you take, and are introduced to, by friends.
A couple of weeks ago, I was catching up on the massive stack of blogs in my Google Reader.....which really makes me think about how hard it is to believe that I used to be satisfied with my Rolling Stone subscription every two weeks, plus visits to the library to read Billboard, Spin, Creem, Musician, Stereo Review, Consumer Reports, and a few other magazines.
My insanely artistically talented Reese's Pieces and music lovin' friend Rachael had a post on her blog about The Last Waltz, Martin Scorcese's legendary concert film about The Band.
Below is the trailer for The Last Waltz. If you haven't seen it, rent it, buy it, borrow it (from me or elsewhere) I don't care. Just watch it! The most star-studded stage evvver.
I was embarrassed to admit that I hadn't ever seen The Last Waltz. One look at the trailer, and at the guest list, and I knew that I had to acquire a copy immediately.
I went out to the record store and snagged a used DVD of the 2002 special edition, and after watching it, I immediately wanted to own the 4-CD box set (purchase) issued by Warner/Rhino in conjunction with the 2002 DVD reissue. One of the reasons that I hadn't ever seen The Last Waltz, was because I wasn't a fan of The Band. The Band were just a little bit before my time, and though I've learned quite a bit through the years about the members individually, my knowledge about the collective group was still limited.
Levon Helm might not be the biggest fan of The Last Waltz, but there's no reason that he shouldn't be proud of it. Watching the DVD (and you've GOT to start with the DVD,) I was instantly converted to full-fan status, and I imagine that I'll be taking a similar musical trip like Rachael, to pick up additional albums from the catalog.
I don't want to spoil your own personal viewing experience with The Last Waltz, but I will share with you one of the tracks that had the most impact with me personally, The Last Waltz version of "It Makes No Difference."
As I dug around for more info on The Last Waltz, I was interested to see that some fans swear by the original soundboard tapes of the performance. Personally, I really enjoyed the Scorsese view of the performance - the video quality of the footage from 1976 is stunning, as is the soundtrack.
The Band - It Makes No Difference (original soundboard recording)
If you're lame like me, and haven't seen The Last Waltz, check it out - I'm guessing that you'll be similarly blown away like I was.
As a film, The Last Waltz was a triumph -- 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. But as an album, The Last Waltz soundtrack had to compete with the Band's earlier live album, Rock of Ages, with which it bears a certain superficial resemblance -- both found the group trying to create something grander than the standard-issue live double, and both featured the group beefed up by additional musicians. While Rock of Ages found the Band swinging along with the help of a horn section arranged by Allen Toussaint, The Last Waltz boasts a horn section (using Toussaint's earlier arrangements on a few cuts) and more than a baker's dozen guest stars, ranging from old cohorts Ronnie Hawkins and Bob Dylan to contemporaries Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, and Van Morrison. 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). Ultimately, it's the Band's "special guests" who really make this set stand out -- Muddy Waters' ferocious version of "Mannish Boy" would have been a wonder from a man half his age, Van Morrison sounds positively joyous on "Caravan," Neil Young and Joni Mitchell do well for their Canadian brethren, and Bob Dylan's closing set finds him in admirably loose and rollicking form. (One question remains -- what exactly is Neil Diamond doing here?) And while the closing studio-recorded "Last Waltz Suite" sounds like padding, the contributions from Emmylou Harris and the Staple Singers are beautiful indeed. 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.
Purchase The Last Waltz box set (remastered/expanded 4-CD set) - CD