Martin Scorsese's The Last Waltz is regularly cited as being one of the finest concert films ever made. Recorded at San Francisco's Winterland Ballroom in 1976 and released in 1978, the film is the epitaph for the 16-year career of what came to be known as The Band, the group that attained fame as Bob Dylan's backing band on his famous and controversial first electric tour in 1966, and then went on to huge success on their own. By 1976 lead guitarist Robbie Robertson (who will also be remembered by children of the 1980s for his cinematic hit Somewhere Down The Crazy River) had tired of the touring life and was keen to wind things up, but not before the group was captured in concert in one final rock extravaganza, which soon snowballed into a who's who of the mid-70s rock scene as celebrity fans queued up to pay tribute to and play with The Band one last time.
Scorsese storyboarded the concert with meticulous attention to detail, filmed band interviews to provide some context around The Band's career and their reasons for splitting, and then shot some additional tracks in a studio to fill in a few gaps in the concert running order where certain important influences hadn't been represented. The performances of The Band at Winterland was excellent, but for a novice it's also intriguing to see how adept the members were at dovetailing with illustrious guests.
Here then are three clips from the film in which The Band take the back seat and allow others to shine. First, the classic The Weight performed in the studio with the awesome Staple Singers on soul vocals. Second, the wry Coyote from fellow Canadian Joni Mitchell, a track from her influential and then brand-new 1976 album Hejira featuring deft lyrics that may refer to an affair with playwright Sam Shepard. And third, Mannish Boy, a room-filling blues stomper from a regal Muddy Waters, which was fortunately captured by diligent cameraman László Kovács when the other cameramen had stopped filming for a much-needed break. Sick of Scorsese's hugely detailed camera instructions, Kovács had taken off his headset and so fortunately missed the earlier instruction to down tools.
Music: The Band & Emmylou Harris - Evangeline
Music: Levon Helm - Sweet Peach Georgia Wine
Music: Rick Danko & Janis Joplin - Ain't No More Cane