There is a terrific line in the movie “Rocky” (you know, the good one in the series) when Rocky Balboa says to his girlfriend: “You call it Thanksgiving; I call it Thursday.” Diehard fans of Bob Dylan and The Band might say, “You call it Thanksgiving; we call it The Last Waltz.”
The Band’s 1976 farewell concert marked the last known time that Dylan and The Band, the most perfect match ever of a great singer and a great back-up band, performed together on a stage. The Winterland concert in San Francisco on Thanksgiving 1976 brought to the end of the line the tradition that had begun 11 years earlier, when The Band were known as The Hawks (or Levon and The Hawks) and Dylan was just beginning to find his way as a bandleader.
It was a perfectly symbiotic relationship in 1965 and 1966 when Dylan and the guys played incendiary rock and roll. The partnership flowered in 1967 when they collaborated on the songs that became known as The Basement Tapes. They made beautiful music in the three songs performed on Jan. 20, 1968 at Carnegie Hall for the tribute concert to the recently departed Woody Guthrie. And I love the recording I have, ramshackle as it is of the Isle of Wight concert before a few hundred thousand people in England in August 1969. The Mighty Quinn was crazy!
By the time, Dylan sang a few very loose songs with The Band on New Year’s Eve 1971/72 at the Academy of Music, The Band had been on the cover of Time magazine and was world famous in its own right. Dylan was in one of his periodic funks. But the combination still clicked. Check out the Rock of Ages album for the proof. Planet Waves, recorded by Dylan and The Band in November 1973 in Los Angeles, remains one of my favorite Dylan albums. Listen to The Band cook on Tough Mama (and You Angel You)!
Perhaps the most remarkable of all their work together occurred on Tour ’74, the big comeback series of concerts for both Dylan and The Band. They were loud, precise, rollicking and glorious. I could listen to their Before the Flood live album everyday and never feel bored.
Nearly three years later, they teamed for the final time at The Last Waltz concert. Dylan sang like a demon at this show. He transformed a nice sweet ballad like Hazel into something else entirely — a call to arms of romance! He started this tradition on the second leg of his just-completed Rolling Thunder Revue shows. But with The Band backing him, he sounded even better than on RTR.
Lead guitarist Robbie Robertson played phenomenally throughout Dylan’s Last Waltz set. Check out his solos on I Don’t Believe You and Forever Young! Drummer Levon Helm gave Dylan an enormous beat on Baby Let Me Follow You Down.
I miss Dylan and The Band. This was the perfect rock and roll partnership. They were shrewd not to overplay their hand and go out on tour together every year or every other year. They sensed how special this was, too — unless they were too busy to go out on the road much more often.
You call it Thanksgiving. I think of it, too, as the line time Dylan and The Band soared to the heights together.
JONFRIEDMAN.NET QUESTION OF THE DAY: Of all the different years that Dylan and The Band played together, which one is your favorite?
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