Ever wonder what "The Last Waltz" sounded like
May 25, 2014 12:04 PM   Subscribe

before Robbie Roberston got his filthy paws on it and overdubbed the hell out of it? Now you can hear it, untouched, in order, as it was played.

Sure, a link to the show as it sits on Wolfgang's Vault was posted here before. But this is different. It was also filmed by someone not Scorsese, presumably by one of Winterland's cameras. It's not the best camerawork, and it's black-and-white, but it's clear, and the sound is pretty great, overall. Part 2 and Part 3. You probably want to download this while you still can.
posted by old_growler (36 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
Still sounds pretty good without the overdubbing. In Robertson's defense, many 'live' albums from that era were pretty heavily fixed in the studio afterward.
posted by octothorpe at 12:11 PM on May 25, 2014

The Band was so good they didn't need overdubbing, IMO.
posted by old_growler at 12:14 PM on May 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

In Robertson's defense, it sounds flipping great any way you cut it. Also, are we going to get snippy about Scorsese storyboarding the film before he shot it? No. I'm not a purist on this one, the Last Waltz stands as officially Awesome as it is.
posted by C.A.S. at 12:16 PM on May 25, 2014 [5 favorites]

I'm not getting snippy about anything. I like the movie a lot. This is just another view of it, which I though some might like to see/hear.
posted by old_growler at 12:19 PM on May 25, 2014

Robbie Robertson's Filthy Paws: band name, or sockpuppet account? Decisions, decisions.

Thanks for this post; sounds great, and I would never have encountered this material on my own.
posted by Iris Gambol at 12:21 PM on May 25, 2014 [4 favorites]

I've often wondered if the basement of Big Pink was furnished and/or finished. Sure, I could Google it, but I like to live with the mystery.
posted by old_growler at 12:51 PM on May 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

thanks for the post. I truly can not get enough Band. I'm sure there is no way to truly hear what the Band sounded like, in person, live, in their prime, but man that is one talented gang. I just wish they weren't (some of them) on such tragic trajectories
posted by C.A.S. at 12:52 PM on May 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've yet to watch the Levon Helm documentary, because it will be way too fucking sad.
posted by old_growler at 12:57 PM on May 25, 2014

old_growler, it's not the cheeriest film in the world, but I found it to be sweet and ultimately very uplifting.
posted by mzurer at 1:05 PM on May 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

In Robertson's defense,

he doesn't really need any. Last Waltz is one of the great rock movies, and one of the reasons this is so is that one of the great movie directors was at the helm. If Martin Scorcese didn't mind the overdubs, why should I? Also Neil Diamond.

But this stuff is great, too. Makes the history just that much richer.
posted by philip-random at 1:10 PM on May 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Love this, thanks.

Filthy paws hey. Hmm. I just jumped to the one I'm most familiar with (and my favourite Band song) 'The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down'. It's much better in the dubbed version. I'd rather listen to it than the raw, but the raw is interesting too and worthwhile in its own right.

As an aside, I've always thought it amazing that a Canadian wrote such a Southern anthem.

"When I first went down South, I remember that a quite common expression would be, "Well don't worry, the South's gonna rise again." At one point when I heard it I thought it was kind of a funny statement and then I heard it another time and I was really touched by it. I thought, "God, because I keep hearing this, there's pain here, there is a sadness here." In Americana land, it's a kind of a beautiful sadness."
posted by jimmythefish at 1:19 PM on May 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Watching now. I always wrote Joni Mitchell off as a dirty hippie. Shit, I was wrong. She was _good_. Must reevaluate.
posted by old_growler at 1:49 PM on May 25, 2014 [6 favorites]

Music producer Rob Fraboni has long felt that the original mix didn't do it justice, and he's recently been showing a new mix of the film soundtrack that he's done which is more true to the original music, though I'm sure the heavy overdubbing is still present. It also uses his Real Feel technology, which 'cures' digital sound. He is hoping to convince Scorsese to release this new version on Bluray/DVD. I was lucky enough to attend a screening a few weeks ago, with this new mix played through Tetra speakers worth well into six figures and it was almost certainly the finest music listening experience of my life. It felt so much like being there that people in the room applauded at the end of each song.
posted by valleys at 2:09 PM on May 25, 2014 [5 favorites]

Must be something wrong with my ears, but this just sounds like a bad raw mix.

...and I am a huge fan of The Band.
posted by mygoditsbob at 2:14 PM on May 25, 2014

Watching now. I always wrote Joni Mitchell off as a dirty hippie. Shit, I was wrong. She was _good_. Must reevaluate.

Are they mutually exclusive?
posted by el io at 2:26 PM on May 25, 2014 [4 favorites]

Also, are we going to get snippy about Scorsese storyboarding the film before he shot it? No.

Recently saw it myself for the first time in its entirety. I admit I'm not a fan of The Band per se (which is merely that I like/admire them without being an actual "fan"), but I am a Marty fan, and the making-of doc on the box set DVD is pretty instructive. Nobody had ever done anything quite like this up to that point, and they were inventing stuff as they went along -- and a lot of things they had storyboarded they couldn't get or make work, so they made do at the last minute, and it's still considered by many the greatest concert film ever made. Quite impressive.
posted by dhartung at 2:58 PM on May 25, 2014

I can't begin to tell you how happy it's always made me that the Levon vocals you hear in the movie are the Levon vocals sung at the show. No overdub. MVP performance in that show, for sure.
posted by GamblingBlues at 3:46 PM on May 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

I think it's clear there was a good reason it was remixed. This is interesting, but the official release sounds way better. You know, mixing is an art, not some nefarious way to cover up subpar performances -- although it can be both, obviously.
posted by monospace at 3:47 PM on May 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Boy, I loved that movie. I remember when that concert happened, hearing about it over the following days and hearing people talk about who was there. And the list of performers kept growing and getting more and more unlikely. Ronnie Hawkins? Obviously. Joni Mitchell? Ok. Mavis Staples? Cool. Eric Clapton? Wow. Neil Diamond? No. Ronnie Wood? Now you're making stuff up.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 4:25 PM on May 25, 2014

old_growler, I don't mean to derail the thread off The Band, for whom my respect and love could not be higher, but it really is remarkable how wonderfully talented Joni Mitchell is. Goddess bless my wife for finally convincing me of this.

As for this footage of the band, I've been streaming it off and on over the past few days and have really been enjoying this alternate view of this amazing concert.
posted by vverse23 at 4:31 PM on May 25, 2014

My absolute favorite song off the Last Waltz album has always been "Caravan" - it's simply incredible - but one thing has always bothered me a bit: why does Van Morrison look so pissed off in the movie when they do that song? I mean, I know the guy has a reputation for being difficult, but this performance is just ethereal, right? So I was really keen to hear this version to see if it would explain anything.

Oh. My. God. That is one of the most awful renditions of the song I have ever heard. The mix is terrible, the backing players were missing their cues, and at least one of the main band members was in the wrong key for the first two verses. Van Morrison wasn't just pissed; at the end of the song he stormed off the stage!

So, on one hand, mystery solved. On the other, I'll never be able to listen to that "official" version again without knowing how doctored it must be. I cannot un-see and un-hear.
posted by Guernsey Halleck at 4:34 PM on May 25, 2014 [5 favorites]

I think it's clear there was a good reason it was remixed.

Yeah, it really is clear. The horns in "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" are all over the place, and the cheesy synth washes add absolutely nothing to the song.
posted by awfurby at 4:39 PM on May 25, 2014

This is really great. I'll admit that I've never heard The Last Waltz in its entirety before now. Don't judge me.
posted by quiet earth at 5:01 PM on May 25, 2014

I've heard all sorts of wild tales about the backstage vibe at this show - stuff like Neil Young coming out on stage with enormous gobs of blow hanging from his nose, that had to be edited out of the movie. Huge, porcelain nose sculptures that dispensed coke in the green rooms, stuff like that.

Would love any corroborating links anyone knows about. This movie is still one of my all-time favorite live music docs ever made.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 6:23 PM on May 25, 2014

before Robbie Roberston got his filthy paws

I always wrote Joni Mitchell off as a dirty hippie.

I'm not getting snippy about anything

posted by old_growler

Oh, please.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 9:35 PM on May 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yeah Joni Mitchell is okay.
posted by sandswipe at 1:14 AM on May 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Joni Mitchell a dirty old hippie? She hired Larry Carlton, Jaco Pastorious, and Joe Sample to play on her records at this point in her career. She wrote some great, poetic lyrics, played with all sorts of open tunings in her guitar work, and generally was much more adventurous then most boring hippie music.

As for stories about this time, its not directly related to the making of Last Waltz, but around this time Martin Scorsese (recently divorced I think) and Robbie Robertson lived together in a house in LA, apparently it was completely sealed off from daylight, and was a non-stop festival of sleeping during the day, with coke-fueled movie screenings all night.

Robbie and Marty in Peter Biskind's book
posted by C.A.S. at 4:53 AM on May 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

After reading Girls Like Us it hit me that Joni Mitchell could have been the Betty Draper of those three. She came from some fairly aristocratic stock, her parents put huge expectations on her as an artist and as a person, and she had a gorgeous appearance. She was speaking from the inside of all that pressure, which is pretty remarkable. Even as a kid, many years removed from her heights as a public figure, when my mom and I drove around with Ladies of the Canyon and Court and Spark playing in the car stereo, I thought of her as sophisticated and untouchable.

posted by pxe2000 at 6:23 AM on May 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Man, oh man, do I love The Band. I was fortunate enough to see them a few times in the seventies, and a few times post-Robertson. I've watched the Last Waltz at least a billion times (OK, maybe a slight exaggeration). These new views are amazing. While I think they all were playing at the top of their game that night, Helm and Danko were absolutely transcendent. Thanks again - I'll probably watch this a few million times.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 7:10 AM on May 26, 2014


I'm. It hearing what you're hearing with "Caravan." There are a few clams there (I think Richard Manuel had the wrong chord changes at the start), and you're right the mix is a clutter (although who knows what it sounded like coming off the stage, or in the monitors), but overall it still sounds really satisfying, great punch, great rhythm section and right in Van's space. I just think that storming off the stage after two songs is a Van Morrison thing to do no matter how it sounds.
posted by argybarg at 7:25 AM on May 26, 2014

Oops. I'm *not* hearing what you're hearing.
posted by argybarg at 8:58 AM on May 26, 2014

While not exactly the same lineup, the pre-Band lineup of the Hawks who played with Dylan in 1966 was just awesome. Sublime music.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:08 AM on May 26, 2014

So, this has to be early videotape, right? Because I don't see any cuts that would result from changing film cartridges.

And yeah, this sounds like it is a direct soundboard of the concert with some audience miking for atmosphere.

It's amazing how much better we've gotten at live concert sound in the past 40 years. Well, okay, it's been 40 years of progress in both technology and knowledge, so maybe not THAT amazing.

But this document of this event IS amazing! I'm so glad you posted this. I'd seriously been thinking for the past month or so "Wow, I need to watch The Last Waltz again" and searching on the satellite service to see if it was going to be on, and kept coming up blank.

I still will probably buy the DVD sometime soon so I don't have to go through that empty yearning again, but this is filling that urge with something that is new and wonderful. Thanks!
posted by hippybear at 9:31 PM on May 26, 2014

I'll have to check the DVD and its special features again, but I don't remember anywhere near this much Muddy Waters on the official release. Many thanks for these links.
posted by GrapeApiary at 6:12 AM on May 27, 2014

Whoa. Levon. Still missed.
posted by Mental Wimp at 10:22 AM on May 27, 2014

As an aside, I've always thought it amazing that a Canadian wrote such a Southern anthem.

Only a Canadian could view the pain of Southerners through an uncynical lens. And only Levon could sing it with the right mix of pathos and integrity.
posted by Mental Wimp at 10:25 AM on May 27, 2014

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