LP, CD and DVD Versions of the Last Waltz
by Dror Warschawski and Jonathan KatzUpdated by Dror Warschawski after an older version by Jonathan Katz.
The 6 audio versions of The Last Waltz:
1) 3 LPs (Warner Bros. 1978)
2) 2 CDs (Warner Bros. 1988)
3) 4 CDs Complete Last Waltz bootleg box set (Cool Daddy productions 1995)
4) 4 CDs Official Complete Last Waltz box set (Rhino 2002)
5) 1 audio DVD (Rhino 2002)
6) 1 DVD (MGM 2002)
A couple of years ago, Jonathan was asking: Can I get rid of one, two or more versions? Below we compare these six versions of the Last Waltz, more as a consumers' guide than a record review. And maybe we will decide during the process whether we can unload one or several of these.
3 vinyls, Jonathan comments:
Some might consider this purchase, as vinyl makes a come back [note the reissue of the "Brown Album"]. Some obvious arguments for this purchase are:
Additional comments that apply equally to all official releases:
2 CD box set, Jonathan comments:
The three LPs are condensed onto two CDs packaged in a multi-CD jewel box - the kind that can accommodate up to four CDs and wastes my ever dwindling space for CDs. Two individual jewel boxes take less space; better would be a double CD jewel box. Warner Bros. reproduced not one, but two booklets for this product; each in CD size and filling the vacant spaces that could be occupied by two other CDs. And everything is there - all the pictures from the original and all of the text, though in a different order. But unfortunately, all of the pictures are in black and white, and the smaller CD size format makes some of them worthless. Why Warner Bros. went to all the production costs to reproduce this CD set only to skimp on the photos seems schizoid, and is beyond me. I suppose some account-minded exec reviewed the bottom line and opted for black and white reproductions to cut costs. None-the-less, its nice to have the "clean" versions of all this, particularly in light of the shop-worn nature of my LPs.
4 CDs The Complete Last Waltz (bootleg)
4 CD box set, Jonathan comments:
Bought from Generation Records.
The four CDs are packaged in an old-fashioned album - not an "LP album," but an old-fashioned picture album in CD size. The tan cloth-covered album is inscribed on the front with the CLW logo in gold. On the inside flap is a penned number. [Mine is 1580 out of 3000 produced] The 100% recycled paper in the album is grainy and a sepia-like grey. Thirty-six pages of pictures and text precede the envelope-like pages that contain the CDs. These pages are filled with:
Also included are 18 black and white pictures from the concert. Pictures include members of The Band - with the horrific omission of Richard Manuel. [How could that happen!?] Also included are pictures of many, though not all, of the guests.
The packaging is a metaphor for the recordings. The sound is a "concert" sound [obviously I guess - but that's not so of the official release - obviously again, I guess]. You are at this concert, with all of its moments of sheer brilliance and with all of its warts. Similarly, the packaging has grainy pictures and a cloth [almost burlap] cover. The gold embossing of the CLW logo doesn't completely cover all of the cloth - but it clearly shines through the course weave.
While the CLW is an honest rendition of the concert experience, the official release is by contrast an honest rendition of Robbie Robertson's tribute to what he strived for in his musical offerings. The CLW contains grainy pictures on recycled paper, in contrast to the shiny paper of the official CD release or the color of the official LP release. Robbie Robertson's vision belongs in the studio, and it sounds like it - it strives for perfection. The CLW puts you in the audience at the concert - eat a turkey before you listen to it and you're practically there. I love this album - buy it if you can!
I was previously concerned about the sound quality, and I had read that there was a real need for the post-concert overdubs. But, in general, the sound is good - its got an up-front presence and it sounds like a real concert. I've spent a lot of hours listening to a lot worse on bootlegs and traded tapes and enjoyed them [even though I hate LP surface noise]. This recording compares well to most bootlegs and is as good as many "official" releases of live material.
Its all here - everything that was played, and in the order in which it was played, including the "post-concert" jams and the last song this group [in its original composition] played together in front of a live audience - "Don't Do It." Notable are: all of their classics, "Acadian Driftwood" by the Canadians [including Levon], a great version of "Caldonia" by Muddy Waters, and all of the Bob Dylan set [including "Hazel"].
"Evangeline/The Last Waltz" didn't come across too well; Robbie had only finished writing it that day, but it makes a great contrast to "The Weight" which follows. "Evangeline/The Last Waltz" is awkward and tentative at best, with singers forgetting words and dropping out mid-song. Its a stretch that they don't reach [hence the perceived need for a studio version on the Warner Bros. release, and the opportunity to hear Emmylou]. When the group gets to "The Weight" they romp, and its great. It must have been a relief to get past the new number and it shows. I like "The Weight" with the Staples on the official release, but I like this more. These guys are great at what they do.
Its vintage The Band in their later years, and its good - real good. But I have to air this gripe. Contrast this performance to earlier live versions of the same songs [get a good bootleg of an early performance, or if you can't get anything else, spring for the Woodstock 1969 compilation that has a few of their songs]. The older performances are open - you can hear the individual players. There is room in that music, but no dead space. The notes that they don't play are as important as the notes that they do play. In 1976 the music is crowded - every nook and cranny is filled with a frill or trill. Its as if each of the players is elbowing the others for room to be heard. Its all great playing, but you can get jostled listening to it. Maybe these guys were all just too good. There's a similar comparison to be made. Listen to "Guitars Kissing And the Contemporary Fix " [or similar vintage material] and compare it to "Before The Flood." It's the same thing - there's no breathing room in "Before The Flood." The same songs in 1966 were open and the players were able to make a stronger musical statement because there was less to hear.
A few random comments by Jonathan:
Its been said over and over, but its no less true, this guy does so much for this music in so many ways. Listen to "Stage Fright," listen to "Georgia On My Mind," listen to any of it - he's there sitting back and laying a foundation or he's up front dazzling you. He's a national treasure.
Somebody said that Levon's drumming can make you cry. He's great - but no drumming ever made me cry. On the other hand, his voice can do it to me at will. There's real heartbreak in his rendering of "Dixie," and he does it equally well in "Acadian Driftwood" so he can project his compassion to points less close to home. At least one native son of Arkansas can feel other peoples' pain.
"King Harvest" doesn't quite make it here, the vocal drops out at points and the utter futility doesn't project like I've heard it before, or on the "Brown Album." On the other hand, its great to hear him do "Georgia" live, and he does it well. On "The Shape I'm In" [second number] he's in fine form, spitting out the latter lines [though The Band doesn't appear to be quite warmed up yet]. It's such a loss to us that he's gone.
I thought surely that his yodel in "Stage Fright" on the official release was an overdub. And maybe it was - but the one here is just fine. He contributes a fine vocal on "It Makes No Difference" too.
There's a great picture of R.R. on page 30 (see right) - demonstrating what his playing could do to drive these songs. For my money, no lead guitarist anywhere puts more passion into a song when he cuts loose.
A few additional comments by Dror:
Surprisingly, not everything is there: it may be a minor issue, but the poems (that you can see in the movie) are missing, which proves that at least some editing has been done.
Additionally, and even for the songs that were already in the LP version, the versions here are sometimes different, not only in a different order, with a different (if any) mix, but also most are much longer. Compared to the OCLW, you get 3 more minutes of blues, 2 more minutes of Joni Mitchell, 2 more minutes of Bob Dylan, 2 more minutes of "I Shall Be Released" and almost 20 more minutes of Jams (see below for details)! As opposed to other versions, the timing for each song is indicated.
4 CDs The Official Complete Last Waltz
4 CD box set, Dror comments:
The packaging is very nice, there are more pictures, larger and in color. There are also more details about the songs and performers, including the original flyer, a new long text by David Fricke who has interviewed many of the "survivors" and a short text by Robbie. The spelling of "Caldonia" is corrected (! It's a famous 50s number popularized by Louis Jordan, for example).
1) Several songs are still missing: "Georgia On My Mind" (what a pity!), the live version of "Evangeline" without Emmylou Harris (bad?), "Chest Fever" (bad?) and "King Harvest" (bad? The OCLW has the rehearsal which is good).
2) Several songs can only be found here: "The Genetic Method/Chest Fever" and "Greensleeves" (excerpts from Movie Soundtrack, not that interesting, and you can find them on the DVD), "King Harvest", "Tura Lura Lural", "Caravan", "Such A Night" and "Rag Mama Rag" (Concert Rehearsal, great) and "Mad Waltz (Sketch track for "The Well")", "The Last Waltz Refrain (Instrumental Version) " and "The Last Waltz Theme (Sketch Idea)" (Studio Ideas, interesting).
3) More important, in my opinion, is that the versions of the songs are VERY DIFFERENT:
1 audio DVD
The content is similar to the good old 2CD or 3LP set. So it is by no means complete but it is a good compromise (concert + studio songs) and it is compensated by an excellent sound, especially if you have an audio DVD player and a six speaker setup (Mike Despeghel says: On "Cripple Creek", you can differentiate Rick, Richard and Levon during the chorus. The audio gives the feeling of being onstage. Doubtless, the highlight for me is Robbie and Garth alternating solos during the final moments of "It makes No Difference". And Garth's accordion during "Down South In New Orleans" which sounded buried previously, now shines). In addition, the order of the songs has been changed compared to the old versions, to get closer to the "correct order". The length of songs are not indicated.
1 DVD, Dror comments:
117 min, issued in May 2002, with commentary by Robbie Robertson, director Martin Scorsese and featured musicians - Featurette: Revisiting The Last Waltz, rare, unseen footage and memorabilia - 8-page booklet written by Robbie Robertson.
Of course, compared to the pure audio versions, you get the images here (duh!) and also additional interviews etc... On the other hand, with respect to the packaging, most information on the content is not given in the booklet. You can find the full script of the movie here.
1) Many songs are missing even compared to the 3 LPs version (Down South in New Orleans, Tura Lura Lural, Life is a Carnival, a shorter Bob Dylan set and a couple of studio songs: The Well and Out of The Blue) but some excerpts are only present in the DVD (The live poems are not even in the bootleg version, for exemple, but also excerpts from studio "Old time religion", "Sip the Wine", "Genetic Method" or "Greensleeves", the latter two being included in the OCLW). "Don't do it" is included, although it was not in the 2CD/3LP set. Overall it is a good selection (29 songs), with parts from the concert, the studio songs, the final jams etc...
2) Here again, some versions of the songs are quite different:
Contents of Different Versions
One more thing: Can I get rid of one or several versions?
- Maybe the LPs? But what about the artwork?
- The official release with only 2 CDs? YES!!!
- The Official AND Bootleg Complete Last Waltz? Not on your life!
-The DVD and audio-DVD? An excellent complement...