The Last Waltz (1978, Criterion Collection, Blu-ray, PG, 117 min.). Director Martin Scorsese’s capture of The Band’s celebratory last live concert on Thanksgiving 1976 at San Francisco’s Winterland is one of the best concert films ever. After 16 years on the road, The Band was calling it quits for touring and they were joined by an all-star cast of friends and musicians who influenced them to make some great music.
Scorsese, who was still finishing “New York, New York” and would go on to make “Raging Bull” next, originally agreed to film the show to preserve it for history, but after watching the footage from the seven 35mm cameras, he decided it was worthy of a film and conducted interviews 11 months later with The Band members, interviews that are interspersed throughout the film.
The film’s opening is notable, because it is an encore performance of “Don’t Do It,” a version of the Marvin Gaye song “Baby Don’t You Do It,” written by Holland-Dozier-Holland in 1964, that The Band often performed and now was their very last live performance. Singer/guitarist/songwriter Robbie Robertson comes out onstage, looks at the crowd and says, “You’re still there, huh? We’re gonna do one more song and that’s it.”

The Band — Robertson, bassist Rick Danko, keyboardist/organist/sax player Garth Hudson, keyboardist/lap steel guitarist Richard Manuel and drummer/mandolinist Levon Helm, all of whom sing — came together as The Hawks in Toronto in 1958, backing rockabilly singer Ronnie Hawkins through 1963. Helm was the only American in the otherwise all-Canadian group. In 1966, they backed Bob Dylan on his controversial first concert tour with an electric band. After the tour, they became The Band and released the acclaimed albums “Music from Big Pink” (1968); “The Band” (1969); “Stage Fright” (1970); “Cahoots” (1971) and, with Dylan, “Before the Flood” (live 1974); “Planet Waves” (1974) and “The Basement Tapes” (1975).

After The Band opens the concert with “Up on Cripple Creek” and “The Shape I’m In,” it is fitting that Hawkins is the night’s first guest, joining the band for a jivin’ “Who Do You Love?” Here especially, but throughout the concert, Robertson plays some hot guitar. After Danko’s emotional singing of “It Makes No Difference,” the stars start coming out, with Dr. John on piano and vocals for “Such a Night” and Canadian Neil Young on his “Helpless,” with fellow Canadian singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell on backing vocals. A short while later, Mitchell performs her own “Coyote,” after a surprise appearance by Neil Diamond on “Dry Your Eyes.”

Paul Butterfield plays mouth harp and sings backup on “Mystery Train,” while Muddy Waters is terrific on “Mannish Boy,” a performance almost not captured, as only one camera was still running at the time. Eric Clapton performs his “Further on Up the Road,” and Van Morrison wigs out on his “Caravan.” Dylan then performs “Forever Young” and “Baby, Let Me Follow You Down.”

Everyone comes out on stage, joined by Ringo Starr and Ronnie Wood, for “I Shall Be Released.” One of the bonus features is a 12-minute jam by most of the same group, plus Carl Radle and Stephen Stills. The outtake is not in the film, and, in fact, the cameras stop operating after 10 minutes.

Scorsese filmed three performances on a soundstage, including a brilliant version of “The Weight” with The Staple Singers, as well as “Evangeline” with Emmylou Harris (to show the band’s country influences) and Robertson’s new instrumental, “Theme from The Last Waltz.”
The film comes with two audio commentaries: one by Scorsese and Robertson, who also acted as producer; and one by Helm, Hudson, two journalists, two producers, two music producers, cinematographer Michael Chapman and performers Dr. John, Hawkins and Mavis Staples. There is a new conversation between Scorsese and Rolling Stone senior editor David Fear (31:31), as well as a 1978 Canadian TV interview with Scorsese and Robertson (15:03). From 2002 comes a making-of documentary consisting of separate interviews of Robertson and Scorsese edited together, plus views of Scorsese’s storyboards and detailed script for camera movements (22:31).

This was The Band’s last concert with Robertson, who went on to a highly successful solo career, but the other members did reunite in 1983 and did some touring, as well as recording three more albums. Unfortunately, Manuel died in 1986, Danko in 1999 and Helm in 2012. Grade: A+

Mary Wilson: The Motown Anthology (Motown/UMe, 2 CDs). Wilson, who died in February 2021, was a founding and longtime member of The Supremes, the best-charting female group in U.S. history. The group topped the Billboard singles charts 12 times, with Wilson singing backup on 10 of those tracks. Once Diana Ross left the group in January 1970, Wilson was featured more on The Supremes’ recordings, until the group disbanded in 1977 and she began a solo career.

The first disc here includes “Pretty Baby” from when the trio was known as The Primettes and 21 performances with The Supremes, 16 of which are previously unreleased, 11 of those being new mixes or alternate versions. Highlights include “The Tears,” live versions of “I Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” and “Falling in Love with Love,” the upbeat “Come and Get These Memories,” alternate mixes of “Touch,” “Floy Joy” and “Automatically Sunshine,” and the strong “You’re What’s Missing in My Life” and “Don’t Let My Teardrops Bother You.” The latter two were cowritten by the two Hollands of the classic Motown period. Wilson clearly got stronger as the post-Ross years went on.

There are two more Supremes songs on disc two, with the other 14 representing her solo career, including seven songs from her 1979 eponymous album, which is generally more up-tempo and often with a dance beat. A key example of the latter is the three versions of “Red Hot,” which first is heard as “Anytime at All,” a good early attempt, and lastly as an 8:44 remix by Eric Kupper. Another good example is “I’ve Got What You Need.” Three tracks are produced by the late Gus Dudgeon (Elton John), including “Save Me’ and a Tina Turner-like cover of Creedence Clearwater’s “Green River.”

The set comes with a nice 44-page illustrated booklet with two essays on her life, a personal remembrance of her solo album, brief recollections by those who knew her, song credits and a list of other recordings on which Wilson can be heard. Grade: A

Bryan Adams: So Happy It Hurts (BMG CD). Indeed, Adams’ 15th album features 12 slices of happiness, whether it is about strong women in his life (“You Lift Me Up”) or the joys of family life (“These Are the Moments That Make Up My Life”). He even celebrates touring with “One the Road,” while the opening title track is an athematic road song. There are plenty of ringing, muscular guitars which joyfully recall his music of the early 1980s. He adopts an early rock style for “I’ve Been Looking for You” and there is a slight bit of reggae in “Always Have, Always Will.” John Cleese (Monty Python) does the spoken introduction to “Kick Ass,” which was co-written by Mutt Lange, who performs on the track, and has lead guitar by longtime associate Keith Scott. Grade: A-

Tim Garland: Truth (Taste Good Music CD). Garland blends blues, soul, roots rock and country on his fifth solo album. Before recording solo, he had been a key player in the Boston blues circuit, after moving to Beantown in 1989. Previously, he lived and worked in the Chicago blues scene after college.

His harmonica playing style is influenced by Little Walter. Here, his vocals are backed by Wendy Moten, including on the jaunty “Leave Well Enough Alone” and the slower “Outta Sight Outta Mind.” “Pause” is a near breakup song, while “Wish I Could Go Back” is bluesy, as is “Cloudy with a Chance of the Blues.” “Mind Your Own Business” is old-timey rock with tinkling piano. All 12 songs are originals, with 11 co-written. Grade: B

Tom Von Malder of Owls Head has reviewed music since 1972, just after graduation from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. He has reviewed videos/DVDs since 1988.

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