Ten best things about The Last Waltz
There’s never a bad time to watch Martin Scorsese’s classic 1978 concert film, which captures the Band's star-studded final show at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco. Here are 10 of the most indelible moments from the movie, according to me. And no, the big chunk of cocaine rotoscoped off of Neil Young’s face doesn’t make the cut. The Last Waltz airs tonight on the Knowledge Network.
1) Van Morrison's kung-fu throwdown
A source of fascination for 35 years now, Van the Man ends a smokin’ performance of “Caravan” with the stiffest attempt at high-kicking the air since this. The polyester pant-suit makes him look pretty tough, though.
2) Pops Staples' verse in “The Weight”For fuck’s sake, it doesn’t even look like he’s trying!
3) Neil Diamond doing "Dry Your Eyes"
I love him, you love him, but most of the people at the Winterland Ballroom on November 25, 1976 viewed Neil Diamond as a dry plastic fuck and the living epitome of popular music gone wrong. I’d like to think that Diamond was just being a contrary asshole when he went out there in those ridiculous shades and hit ‘em up with the dreary and pretentious “Dry Your Eyes”, but no—he did it because it was co-written by Robbie “Great song!” Robertson. Anyway, the guy is still selling out stadiums, so who’s laughing now, hippies?
4) Levon Helm lighting Robbie Robertson's cigarette
I’ve written about this before. The man was pure class.
5) Rick Danko listening to "Sip the Wine”
Danko is beautiful in The Last Waltz; an elegantly wasted man-child with the sincerest eyes you’ve ever seen. In this segment, he shows Martin Scorsese around the Band’s studio (Shangri La), and previews “Sip the Wine” from his 1977 solo record when the director asks him what he plans to do with the rest of his life. And it’s heartbreaking.
6) Rick Danko singing the bridge in "Stage Fright"
The part where he goes, “When he says that he’s afraid, don’t you take him at his word, and for the price that the poor boy paid, he gets to sing just like a bird, whoo-ooo-ooo-oo-uh-ooooh!”—it’s possibly the greatest confluence of lyric, melody, performance, photography, and, of course, drugs in the entire history of concert film. Or it’s the greatest confluence of hyperbole and drugs in the history of this Top 10—you decide.
7) Rick Danko, period
8) Joni Mitchell's "Coyote"
According to some sources, Ms. Mitchell didn’t think the Band was good enough to handle this cut from her 1976 album, Hejira. Naturally, they responded with the most lithe and sinewy performance of the entire concert.
9) Muddy Waters standing there being amazing
“Muddy was fantastic, but I’d like to have seen a few more high kicks”—Van Morrison
10) The bit where Jimmy Page climbs a mountain and discovers that the mythological Hermit is HIMSELF!Wait, wrong concert film.
The Last Waltz airs tonight (August 30) and Sunday on the Knowledge Network.
You can follow Adrian Mack's contribution to the lobotomizing techno-nightmare known as Twitter at @AdrianMacked.