Take on The Last Waltz:
I'm working on some reviews for the Last Waltz, I bought the new enhanced DVD, here it is, I hope you don't mind the length. This is geared for a BLOG or Amazon. Although I never saw the Band live, I was able to catch a lot of national acts in and around D.C., which is where I spent a lot of time and where my family settled. We used to live in Oakland and Seattle but ended up in Virginia. Virginia's Okay, D.C. was a real hoot back in the late 60's and up until the mid 70's then it began to sprawl and hasn't stopped yet. I left and settled in the countryside. Anyway here's my take on the Band's Last Waltz.
First off let me say this. The Last Waltz enhanced version DVD is everything a Band DVD probably should be, high quality, a bunch of features, and is a snap shot of a time long ago in many minds and unknown to many more. We (the consumer) are indebted to the producers of the enhanced product. The DVD is well worth the price, is a historical document, and again is top-shelf. Thank you…. Now on to my review… To have been a part of that era, films like this certainly document the fact that the 60’s really didn’t end until 1974 or 1975, perhaps1976. The Sunset Strip scene had moved on, Haight-Ashbury was over, but as a whole there was quite a bit of the 60’sleft, the inertia of the period spilled over into the 70’s. When the pivotal recording groups started breaking up and icon’s started dying, people began to realize that there was a change occurring. In the halcyon days of the ‘60s, perhaps we didn’t recognize what change really was (we were young), but after the death of the big-3 (Joplin, Morrison, Hendrix) and the Beatles’ breakup, what else could happen? Dylan was hiding out, Duane Allman was gone, and Berry Oakley by this point had also passed. CSN&Y couldn’t get along anymore. Musically all the heroes of the counter-culture were fading, or had broken up and moved along. The Stone’s and Led Zeppelin (recognized as a 70’s band) were still touring (they ALWAYS did). The era was drying up, withering. People who migrated to the happening spots on the map were returning to their homes throughout America to live out their lives in mediocrity. It’s weird to think of those times in retrospect, Scorsese may have captured the last chapter of the 60’s in The Last Waltz. In the movie “Woodstock” the Hendrix scene looks like a prophetic means to the end. While “Woodstock” in general, and the Star Spangled Banner scene in particular; showed America ‘s flower people at the beginning of the end, Robertson, alludes to a like similarity in reference to Band’s Last Performance or as he put it “The Last Waltz.” Scorsese beautifully captures the capitulation of just one of the remaining symbols of the 60’s music scene. Looking back at a musical who’s-who list, the Band in all probability didn’t hold a pinnacle position, but they were very prominent and influential among musicians and listeners alike. Martin Scorsese's upgraded and enhanced Version of The Last Waltz, showed several things that stuck out, and subsequently started questions rolling in my mind. First (and these might not be important to some), how much bass did Rick Danko actually play? He is obviously not playing on the Clapton section; there is no way his notes correspond with what is actually being heard. In fact the bass lines being played are so similar to Carl Radle's style that, hark, Carl Radle must have been back stage playing the Fender Electric Bass. Okay – so I start watching Danko's fingering, slip-sliding around on the fret board, he's not playing! Slip sliding hand movements don’t sound like articulated notes. I think he's faking it! Quite a bit, in a number of places. There must have been a double, backstage. Why? Danko was certainly a proficient bassist! Another point is that Danko is playing a Gibson Ripper Bass, which doesn’t sound like a Fender Jazz Bass, yet I’m hearing a Fender Bass, I could be wrong, but the Clapton segment I would bet money that Danko is NOT playing the bass part. Hmmm Scorsese may have taken some liberties with the editing. Or, Danko is not playing all of the bass all of the time. I find it odd, as an inconsistency within the event. Even more so, I was actually surprised that the Band would allow or stoop to such shenanigans. But perhaps it was conditional to Clapton’s appearance that Radle would handle the bass chores and not Danko. Was Radle on stage, or back stage? Scorsese doesn’t pan the cameras and reveal an answer. Alas, Clapton's bassist Carl Radle shows up at the end playing Bass on an extended jam. Tulsa-born Carl Radle was a bassist in a class by himself, and enjoyed a long association with the rock genre and was a seasoned veteran of stage and studio. Carl Radle played on many pivotal recording of the period, George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass, and Bangaladesh. Many Leon Russell releases, early J.J. Cale and of course Clapton; the Layla album being one of the best examples of Radle’s talent. I underscore the importance of Radle at the event, and wonder if he played a more significant role than would generally be supposed? Additionally, Robertson hacks out a lame solo in response to Clapton’s wizardry. Robertson’s guitar“ formula” certainly worked in the context of the Band, but “a man’s gots-ta know his limitations!” If anything, Robertson’s response to Clapton’s call showcased Robertson’s narrow guitar vocabulary. Which really should bring out the fact that Hudson and Helm were the backbone, and the heart of the Band, but were never given the full acknowledgment of their rightful place in annals of rock history, musicologist would argue, but the press places (as does Scorsese) the import on Robertson. Perhaps Robertson had that effect on people. The cocaine booger hanging on to Neil Young’s nose hair is particularly impressive, as is the illegal smile, which couldn’t have been wiped of his face with a belt sander. If Clapton’s piece wasn’t trampled on by Robertson’s attempts at matching guitar solos, it would have been a high point, however, since Robertson felt the need to interfere with mastery, I would have to point towards Dr. John’s “What a Night” as dynamite. Watching Dr. John play the piano was observing virtuosity. Smooth, precise, the maestro! Joni Mitchell was deeply into the jazzy side of things at this point in her illustrious career and whips out a number that totally out of context with the associated R & B of the evening, while she was into pouring her little ‘ol heart out and exposing here inner most being, it’s obvious that she was boring the Band (Robertson was politely smiling), it is amusing to watch Danko checking out Mitchell’s hindquarters during the number. Garth Hudson is working some magic on the synthesizer waveforms accompanying Mitchell, and she giggles at the ability of Hudson to add very interesting keyboard lines and textures. Garth Hudson saves the number. The guests are great; why Neil Diamond was there I can only wonder, but his demeanor and look in that Robins-egg-blue polyester outfit came across like an Elvis; it’s oh so demi-gawd-awful. Van Morrison is charged-up and looking svelte, it also obvious that Neil Diamond and Van Morrison shop off the same clothes rack. The Staples were absolutely fantastic; their segment was produced in the studio and edited into the production, as was Emmy Lou Harris. The Dylan sighting produced a lot of hype, three songs, none recorded with the Band. The old man could have at least belted out “Maggie’s Farm” or “Like a Rolling Stone,” or some number that showed association and was something that the Band had actually recorded with him. While Dylan, it may be argued was instrumental in bringing the Band out to the public, the Band also kept Dylan’s career moving through sheer musicianship during the Woodstock years. Dylan was much better in Harrison’s Bangladesh, the advent of the Dylan segment, precludes the bummer of the extended jam. Ugh! But it’s not Scorsese’s fault, it was what happened, and he just documented it. The extended jam begins, with a number of folks on stage trying to make something happen. Hudson is deeply into whatever he was into and squiggles around with sonic texture and a deeply convicted fugue; one only he could understand. Clapton whispers something in Ron Wood’s earthen heads backstage enduring only a couple of minutes with Garth Hudson’s predominance on the stage. Leaving Ron Wood hanging, Clapton probably needed to “re-energize” if you know what I mean. Oh and look, Carl Radle is holding down the bass line on Danko’s bass! The camera’s are running but overheating by this point and are shutdown. The jam continues (audio only), for the duration of the documentary. It’s a melancholy look back, in the history of popular music; the Band was great, think back on the catalog and anyone would agree. Sadly this film comes across like a “Let It Be,” the music is over, there is contempt among the members, but they put a good face on it, fatigue, it is finished. The Band’s individuals will never match the Band as a whole. In some respects documentaries like this only display the withering death of a once infused, synergized effort. Summarizing I would call this Great stuff, but it is apparent that some liberties were taken in regards to what actually transpired and what the viewer is presented with, both visually and aurally. Interestingly, the interviews were shot after the event. So the lads are still together for a while, but apart. It’s over. Later Levon Helm later wrote that he harbors (still) quite a bit of resentment concerning the documentary in general and Robertson in particular, and yes Robertson is the cute media darling who enjoys the attention and plays up to it. I guess I’ll have to get a read on what this production meant to Helm. I walked away from this film torn, what was in my minds eye a great band had been put into an ugly context. These guys were great, yet they came across like trash. I don’t know if the attitudes they displayed were part of what made me feel that way or the production pointed me into that direction. The documentary did make me realize that the 70’s really were ugly and thus the documentary made me glad the 70’s are over.
Hope you got thru that okay. Again Happy Holidays.