When I first saw The Last Waltz—a documentary by Martin Scorsese that chronicles The Band’s final live performance on Thanksgiving Day, November 25, 1976—it was at the behest of a feature in The Believer magazine, which positioned the performance (as well as its documentary film) at the apex of all rock and roll ever hoped to be…and would never be again. Seemed like a lofty claim. But then I watched the film, and I knew exactly what all the fuss was about.
Sure, you’ve got The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, The Who…but of these rock giants The Band is undoubtably the most American in its ethos and therefore most decidedly our band (ironic, considering that its front man/lead guitarist is so very Canadian). Because of this, The Last Waltz not only feels like a farewell to one of the most talented and ambitious musical acts of our time, but a farewell to some nameless chapter in American history; a sign-off to an age I, being 30, never knew but nonetheless pine for in a way Sal Paradise might grow melancholy at the sound of passing trains. Also, the music is fucking fantastic.
Just a few weeks before finding this gem, a good friend of mine had come upon a flawless copy at the Princeton Record Exchange that he purchased for himself. I like to think it was the abject power of my reckless envy that willed my copy into existence when I walked into Reckless Records in Chicago last winter and saw it perched upon a display shelf. It might as well have been bathed in heavenly light and some kind of blustering Bach concerto.
I’ve been wanting a vinyl copy of this record for ages—well, let’s say 10 years, ok?—and I could barely avoid tripping over myself as I made to retrive it. When I picked it up, however, the first thing I noticed was that it was very light. Far too light for a live, tripple-disc LP with multi-page insert. But then I realized Reckless Records has an interesting system. For its used material they only display the jackets. Customers must then take the jacket up front, whereby a helpful hipster will then retreat to the stock room and retrive the materials that are supposed to be contained therein. It’s a good idea when you think about it. Not only does it thwart the occasional thief, but it also prevents the records themselves from being perpetually drawn in and out of their protective sleeves, adding unnecessary wear and tear.
I had no idea what condition the records would be in when I asked the clerk to have a look. The $15 price tag gave me some indication. They were probably in decent shape…but I couldn’t help being a bit skeptical. I would have paid $15 for this set even if each of the records had been used as puppy pee pads or scratching posts for some reclusive cat lady’s gaggle of deranged felines. If they were really in such pristine condition, shouldn’t the set cost just a little more?
Apparently not. The three records were in truly flawless condition, as was the multi-page pullout booklet that offers vintage color photos of The Band, the concert hall, and the group’s lineup of legendary musical friends who “showed up to help us take it home.” Here’s a photo, for instance, of the way the place looked before the concert began. The Band treated all 5,000 guests to a Thanksgiving dinner:
There’s really not much more I can say about this concert that hasn’t already been said. I’m simply thrilled to have this in my collection. I’ll leave the last word up to Robbie Robertson: