Tuesday, 4 October 2016

The Last Waltz

I’ve been reconnecting with Music From Big Pink these last few days, the rootsy songs still sound astonishing timeless. At the weekend, I revisited the Dylan documentary Dont Look Back so last night the stage was set for a screening of The Last Waltz. Of all the concert films I’ve seen over the years this would be one to see in a theatre - the pre-credit title card: “This Film Should be Played Loud” for once seems wholly justified. The music is of course dazzling, and I’m always in awe of Levon Helm, singing those knotty lyrics to The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down whilst keeping perfect time. Of the special guests, I think I liked Joni Mitchell performing "Coyote" the best. Ronnie Hawkins tears up the stage with some raucous bar room rhythm and blues and it's a rare treat to see Van Morrison in such exuberant form punching the air during a terrific rendition of "Caravan". I couldn't help but think during Lawrence Ferlinghetti's irreverent take on the Lord's Prayer what a born again Bob Dylan might have made of it, but Dylan was two still years away from his epiphany.

I like the band interviews as well. Rick Danko and Robbie Robertson are like hip, streetwise guys from one of Scorsese’s films, while Garth Hudson and Levon Helm look like they strayed from a Peckinpah western. It’s a shame the group later descended into bitter acrimony because the camaraderie at Winterland and the Shangri-La rehearsal space is a joy to watch. I had one minor complaint about Scorsese’s coverage - Richard Manuel doesn’t get a close-up during his vocal on I Shall Be Released, but after watching the short feature that comes with the DVD which reveals what a Herculean task it was to capture the concert, I can let this one go. Still, Scorsese’s abrupt exit out of the studio rendition of The Weight (which has a fantastic arrangement here) is the one sour note in this otherwise exemplary concert film.

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