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The Complete Last Waltz

[cover art]

[Book front cover] [Back back cover] [Front cover] [Cover CD 1-2] [Cover CD 3-4] [Back cover CD 1-2] [Back cover CD 3-4] [2006 re-release]


by Bill Glahn

This review first appeared in the November '95 Live! Music Review, a monthly publication providing quality reviews of the latest bootleg releases and more. Reproduced with permission from the author. See also Jonathan Katz' article on the different versions of the Last Waltz.

A complete soundboard or film source is used for this elaborate four-CD set presenting The Band's farewell show from Thanksgiving Day 1976 at the Winterland in San Francisco. The concert was filmed by Martin Scorsese and a three-LP soundtrack was released with some songs eliminated and the sequence of performances shuffled around to give a better flow. The Complete Last Waltz collects all the omitted tracks and is sequenced exactly as the concert was played. The CDs packaging is just as exquisite as the original event. The four discs are contained in a book binder cover housing the CD "envelopes" as well as a copy of the Last Waltz guest welcome card. Also included are 36 pages of photos, liner notes, song and personnel listings, discographies and the like. Each binder is numbered and only 3,000 sets were pressed. The recording is a solid one. It's an unmixed soundboard, so even the released tracks have a slightly different flavour to them. Some portions contain a "hum" indicating that this might be from film footage but it doesn't intrude too badly. The Complete Last Waltz is for those of you who just couldn't be satisfied with a chopped version of The Band's last show.

Here are the 17 tracks omitted from the official Capitol release:

  1. This Wheel's on Fire
    Co-written with Dylan and found on Music From Big Pink, this version gets a deluxe orchestra and horn arrangement by Allen Toussaint.

  2. The W.S. Walcott Medicine Show
    From Stage Fright, Toussaint also arranges the horns to give this a better effect.

  3. Georgia on My Mind MPEG3-file (4.8 MB)
    No one can draw on their own personal sadness when singing a melancholy number better than Richard Manuel. The omission of this track from the official release is unpardonable.

  4. King Harvest
    Another favourite sadly left off The Last Waltz.

  5. Rag Mama Rag
    Dixieland seems to be the theme here. This is a radical departure from the studio version with Howard Johnson leading a horn section of clarinets and tubas with a good measure of honky tonk piano thrown in for good measure. Listed with Robbie Robertson as singer, but it sure sounds like Levon Helm to me.

  6. Caledonia
    Not many realise that this number is a Louis Jordan cover. Muddy Waters gets the call to do the lead vocal. Paul Butterfield adds some great harp playing to this version but isn't listed.

  7. All Our Past Times
    Eric Clapton entered the proceedings with this number from his No Reason To Cry album and splits the lead vocal with Rick Danko.

  8. Four Strong Winds
    Neil Young covers this Ian Tyson song. It's more interesting than "Helpless" which made the official album.

  9. Shadows & Light
    Joni Mitchell may be a great songwriter but she's not a terribly strong performer. Left off the album with good reason.

  10. Furry Sings the Blues
    Joni Mitchell again.

  11. Acadian Driftwood
    A strong version with help from Neil Young and Joni Mitchell.

  12. Chest Fever
    Although this track was always a concert highlight, it just doesn't work here. The heavy focus on horns instead of Robertson's guitar takes all the guts out of it. The Band also seems uncomfortable with the arrangement. With these factors and its 12-min length, I can understand why it was excluded.

  13. Hazel
    Bob Dylan gives a simplistic reading of this cut from Planet Waves.

  14. I Shall Be Released
    Dylan and Richard Manuel share the vocals.

  15. Instrumental Jam #1
    This 12-min jam starts off with a drum duel between Ringo and Levon Helm before turning into a boogie-style guitar showcase with Ron Wood, Clapton, Young, Stephen Stills and Robertson.

  16. Instrumental Jam #2 AU file (292K)
    This is a slow blues featuring Garth Hudson's keyboards and lasting over 17 mins.

  17. Don't Do It
    The closing song of the show and an unforgivable exclusion from the official release for that reason alone. A set meant to close out a band's career should have contained their final notes.

The Complete Last Waltz is a pricey affair but with such a large dose of worthwhile unreleased material, it is well worth the investment to those with more than a passing appreciation for The Band.

The Band - The Complete Last Waltz - 1995 - Cool Daddy Productions CD-001, CD-002, CD-003, CD-004

Hot Stuff re-released The Complete Last Waltz as a 4CD-R set in February 2006. This is the complete, dub-free, raw soundboard of the entire Thanksgiving evening show from 1976 at Winterland, running about 241 minutes.

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