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on 2008 10-14
An Almost Perfect Band Live at Winterland On Thanksgiving November 25th 19
What can be said about The Last Waltz that hasn't been said before?
Released in 1978, the legendary Martin Scorsese film documents the Band's last concert, an elaborate show (including Thanksgiving dinner!) at San Francisco's Winterland Ballroom.
Long story short, when the cameras roll, it's November 25, 1976, the Band are in good form, a few friends show up to jam, and it turns out to be rather a nice show.
(If you haven't seen this film, you may not know how much I'm understating things here. Then again, if you haven't seen this film, I offer - respectfully - that you've wasted your life, so you're not really my audience.)
Sure, the first ten times you watch this film, you definitely gravitate towards the flash and star power of clips like "The Weight" (featuring a positively crackling Staples Singers) or "Helpless" (featuring an infamously coked-out Neil Young chewing his pasty cud like a confused Guernsey).
Eventually, though, you're drawn to quieter, purer clips like this.
"It Makes No Difference" had only been recorded a year before as the 6th track on "Northern Lights - Southern Cross", an album that received decent, but not outstanding reviews. The album peaked at #26, and It's safe to say that if not for this performance, the song might have been a footnote.
But this performance did happen - it was the third song of the actual concert, though it appears later in the film - and it stands out as one the most memorable in the film.
It's one of those simple, plaintive songs for which Danko's voice was superbly suited, and he jerks it out of the park.
If you close your eyes, hold your nose, and sing along, you can imagine this as a Dylan song - and of course, the relationship between Dylan and the Band was highly symbiotic: they helped him immeasurably in the development of what you could still have called his "electric sound", and he helped them become ever tighter as songwriters and performers.
In Dylan's hands, though, this song might seem cynical and bitter. In Danko's, it's innocent, emotional and soulful.
Robbie Robertson's tense, staccato guitar fills and solos give this languid, mellow song an energy and intensity it deserves, and Garth Hudson's unexpected sax solo towards the end basically ties a bow around this thing and makes it an almost perfect performance.
The Last Waltz was among the first 20 videos Song released on its Blu-Ray format. No surprise: the film's video and audio is pretty much flawless. When I buy some Blu-Ray gear, it'll be the first disc I pick up.
But the intensity of this performance would shine through on an old VHS. Hell, go watch a mangy, crushed-up clip on YouTube and you'll see what I mean.
It makes no difference.