Twenty-five years ago, the biggest and possibly the most famous, if not the most historic, farewell concert was given. The legendary rock group, The Band, said good-bye on Thankgiving night 1976 after 16 years on the road.
The Band got its start as the Hawks for Ronnie Hawkins, but became famous by backing up Bob Dylan during his first electric tour in 1966. When Levon Helm, Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko, Richard Manuel and Garth Hudson struck out on their own as The Band, they practically redefined folk rock and would be the precursor for today's alt-country.
But The Last Waltz was not just a concert. Before the show, a Thanksgiving dinner was held for the 5,000 guests while an orchestra played for anyone who wanted to waltz. Afterwards, The Band took the stage and played their hits one last time. But it did not end there. Friends like Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Muddy Waters, Ringo Starr and Neil Young, to name a few, contributed to the festivities. The evening did not end until 2 a.m.
When The Last Waltz was released in 1978, two years after the event, it was on three vinyl records, later to become one of those special three records on two compact disc sets. Needless to say, much was missing. But now, as the silver anniversary rolls around, the concert is being released again, but this time as a four-disc box set including 24 unreleased tracks taken from the actual concert, pre-show rehearsals and early demos.
Though the original release is a great collection for any fan of The Band, it does leave anyone who has heard more than their greatest hits wanting more. The new box set is a step in the right direction, but it leaves the same effect.
A lot of the new songs are the lesser known ones in The Band's catalogue, but that does not make them any less great. The version \Acadian Driftwood"" with Young and Joni Mitchell singing backup is worth the wait, while the raucus ""W.S. Walcott Medicine Show"" has to be the high point of energy for the entire evening.
The newly discovered dress rehearsal versions of Van Morrison's ""Caravan"" and Dr. John's ""Such a Night"" are so different from the actual show that the listener wants to hear all of them.
However, what is still missing are the imperfections. Knowing Robertson's perfectionist nature, it's no wonder that the rehearsal version of ""King Harvest (Has Surely Come)"" is used instead of the concert's shaky one. But that does not explain why Manuel's infamous rendition of ""Georgia on My Mind"" or the live rendition of ""Evangeline"" (finished during the intermission) are still not included. Not using these songs probably explains why the CDs do not play the concert in order, but rather a random mix of musical styles.
Having two more CDs of music from this one night is definitely worth the purchase, but hopefully fans will not have to wait another 25 years to hear the rest of the concert.