1976 Farewell Concert Doubles as a Get-Together of Many of Rock's Greatest Talents and Spawned Once-in-a-Lifetime Collaborations
"It started as a concert – it became a celebration." Unprecedented in scope and unrivaled in spirit, The Last Waltz transcends both the group it honors and every A-list star that appears. Indeed, The Band's farewell event captures the zeitgeist of a creative period like none other and raises a glass to the communal ethos and artistic electricity that emerged from a time during which foreign wars, political assassinations, and equality inspired an exceptional outburst of originality and innovation.
Indeed, as The Band's going-away party, The Last Waltz is one of the few albums in any genre where each instrumentalist plays as if every note will be their last. In this case, such circumstances were believed to be true. From the rustic Southern charm of the invigorating opener "Up on Cripple Creek" through a joyous circus-themed run through "Ophelia" to a stellar version of "The Weight" filled with palatable gravitas, The Band gives its all and more, cementing once and for all its permanent mark in the annals of rock's greatest artists.
Containing several songs not seen in the companion film, the soundtrack to The Last Waltz unspools as both a journey through one of the greatest catalogs of a single artist as well as a survey of fundamental American music styles and blends. The Band receives assists in the form of horn charts and a full-on brass section via New Orleans legend Allen Toussaint and ace instrumentalists. But, as we all now know, that was only the beginning of what amounts to a blowout affair graced with friends, cohorts, and admirers alike.
A Hall of Fame cast helps make The Last Waltz the first and last concert of its kind. Paul Butterfield, Muddy Waters, Pinetop Perkins, Eric Clapton, and Dr. John are among the virtuosos lending a hand on bluesier material. Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Neil Diamond, Van Morrison, Bob Dylan, Ringo Starr, and Ronnie Wood all take turns in assisting the hosts. The Band closes out the party with its own encore set. It is a truly magical affair, one further bettered by the selfless presence of Emmylou Harris, who contributes angelic backing vocals to numerous songs.
Recognizing it symbolized the culmination of a special era, The Last Waltz organizers and performers took every precaution to ensure the concert would be an event for the ages.