The Band’s The Last Waltz has to be one of the most impactful albums in American history. The Last Waltz was famously performed by The Band, a Canadian-American rock group for their very last concert on Thanksgiving Day, November 25, 1976. With turkey dinners served at 5pm to the crowd of 5000, The Band performed The Last Waltz for the very last time at 9:00pm in the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco. That night, The Band gave one of the most iconic concerts to date, enlivened with many collaborations across genres. More than a dozen A-list performers played in The Band’s final concert including Muddy Waters, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr, Emmylou Harris and The Staple Singers. These artists came together in celebration of one band who forever made their mark on American rock music, with their influences still reaching modern music. This incredible spectacle was recorded live, and exists now for fans to enjoy through streaming sites like YouTube and Tidal. While this album has over four hours of content, the listener who takes the time to hear the album in its entirety will not be disappointed.
The Last Waltz was recorded and released in the 1970s, but the musical range covered by the band is mind blowing, showcasing a talent ahead of their time. In the span of one album, listeners are treated to the blues, rock, and folk. The Last Waltz was chronicled in a documentary by the same name, directed by Martin Scorsese, featuring clips of the famous concert between commentary by members of The Band and the A-listers who loved them. The Band has also been immortalized through Across the Great Divide: The Band and America, a book chronicling The Band over the course of 30 years. Across the Great Divide tells the turbulent story of the band’s group dynamic, their individual reactions to fame and their incredible ability to play together despite everything. Neither is “required reading” in order to enjoy The Last Waltz in its concert form, but places an interesting context to an already fascinating event.
The Last Waltz begins with the title track setting the stage. While the song follows the traditional time signature of a waltz, the presence of the mandolin and the accordion make the song feel almost exotic, emulating the street sounds of a small town in Italy or France. The strings bring the song back to the signature epic endurance of a waltz, breezing through the song and anchoring its gleeful effect. The song crescendos with the strings twirling away, their notes spiraling upwards in a whimsical fashion. Once the strings bring the song to its grand finale, the crowd (who had been mostly silent until this moment) begins to cheer. Drummer and vocalist for The Band, Levon Helm, regally welcomes the crowd: “Good evening!” His simple address is met with uproarious cheering and applause, the crowd ready for the music event of their lives.
Every year during the week of Thanksgiving, Philadelphia holds the tradition of capturing some of the magic brewed that night in 1976 with A Philadelphia Tribute to The Last Waltz at the Underground Arts. Local (and not-so-local) Philadelphia artists play The Last Waltz in its entirety, with each musician adding their unique flair to the songs of the album. The event doubles as a fundraiser for the music programs of Philadelphia schools, and is a staple Thanksgiving event in Philly. This year’s musical guests will feature Mole Street Artists’ Alec Meltzer from The York Street Hustle and David Uosikkinen of In The Pocket. While the show’s guests may change with each year, performers and ticket holders alike are excited to see a great show for a good cause. David Uosikkinen, drummer for In The Pocket and The Hooters, says, “I was honored when Andrew Lipke asked me to play a song at the second Philadelphia Tribute to The Last Waltz. I also played at the first show and was blown away by the musicians who came together and the overwhelming feeling of love in the room. It was truly extraordinary," Uosikkinen continues, "The proceeds are going to support the Philadelphia School District, to bring recording studios into some Philadelphia High Schools, and to bring musicians together to work with the students. It’s something that is very close to my heart and I am willing to do all I can to help these kids.”
For some of the performing artists, getting the chance to emulate their musical heroes was too good to pass up. Alec Meltzer, drummer for The York Street Hustle says, “I’ve been a longtime fan of The Band, and their music has had such a profound influence on everything that came after. In particular, a chance to perform in the role of Levon Helm is such an exciting opportunity. The fact that this show will benefit music education in Philadelphia makes it all the more special.”
The raw emotion of this album is one that is especially palpable around Thanksgiving, with various songs of the album aligning with the often complicated feelings surrounding the holiday. While The Waltz begins the album with an epic grandeur, It Makes No Difference, and The Weight are key songs in the emotional height of the album. Each song begins with the electric or acoustic guitar strumming a sad lullaby, telling the listener a sad story before the lyrics can begin. It Makes No Difference mourns a love who has since moved on, and The Weight carries the story of a someone trying to find his way. Somewhere between heartbreak and sonder, the album transitions back to a laughing good time with Caldonia and Mannish Boy, both featuring Muddy Waters. The legendary Muddy Waters sings the lyrics like he’s talking to a good friend over a beer about the trouble the woman he loves brings him. The electric guitar and harmonica make this song an upbeat track, leading into Mannish Boy (also featuring Muddy Waters), with a classical ‘Bad to the Bone’ down beat that even younger audiences will recognize and enjoy.
The Last Waltz has too much influence to cover in one review, as the album has a total of four sides, all with their own charisma and charm. The Band’s The Last Waltz is an album that is worth a listen no matter what your favorite genre is, and should hold everyone’s respect as one of the most magnetic albums in recent music history.
We love talking music. Contact Mole Street Artists today to learn more about In The Pocket and The York Street Hustle for your upcoming event in Philadelphia. Contact our talent buyer Sean Timmons at 215-240-8552.