50 years ago on January 30, 1969, the Beatles performed live for the last time. It wasn’t a big show, but it was a big deal. The Fab Four performed on the rooftop of No. 3 Saville Row, home of Apple Corps. According to Tripadvisor, No. 3 Saville Row is 679th on a list of 1914 attractions in London. The Beatles performed 9 songs including 3 takes of ‘Get Back’. On the 50th anniversary of the fab four finale it’s announced that award winning director Peter Jackson will be piecing together unseen footage of the Let it Be sessions giving generations of Beatles fans a new look at the sessions that would result in the final Lp that the Beatles would release. There have been many articles written about the rooftop concert, the movie shows four musicians who still had something to prove. For there to be a new film about that time, that music, that LP and that concert its like a new Star Wars movie moment for me.
Forty one years ago, was the release of another generational last concert . On the American Thanksgiving in 1976, The Band hosted “The Last Waltz” a dinner and a concert for and with many of their friends at the Winterland Ballroom in San Fransisco. Conceived by Robbie Robertson the Last Waltz was not planned to be the end of the The Band, but rather like the Beatles, the end of touring. It ended up being the end of the Band led by Robbie Robertson though. The Band invited many of their friends to join them on stage for the farewell. The film directed by Martin Scorsese, stands as one of the finest concert documentaries. Five different versions of the concert, five different song line-ups. If you’re counting, there’s the concert song line up which differs from the film which differs from the original 1978 soundtrack version which differs from the 2002 four disc CD to finally, the 40th anniversary edition released in 2018. which is different from all the others. Amazingly and for whatever reason each has a different song sequence. Perhaps Robbie Robertson can answer the question with the follow up to his book Testimony which ended after the final song of the concert.
In 1976, Neil Young performed two songs in The Last Waltz, though only those who were in the Winterland Ballroom would see Young perform ‘Four Strong Winds’, it hasn’t appeared (that I know of) on any released version of the Last Waltz. In ’76 Young was an established artist but it was only 10 years earlier that he started making a name for himself since arriving in California from Toronto.
Young compared his music, especially the sessions for the ‘Everybody Knows this is nowhere’ album to that of the Beatles, short and traditionally structured. Its not the only comparison he makes to the Beatles. In the biography “Shakey” his says his time with CSN&Y is like the Beatles while performing with Crazy Horse is like the Rolling Stones.
In 2006 Young started releasing his archive series, live recordings going back to 1968. The second archives release is his concert in Massey Hall in 1971, it went to #1 in Canada and #6 in the US. It was a time when he was extremely creative he would release music with Buffalo Springfield, CSN&Y, Crazy Horse and also released solo recordings. The Live at Massey Hall recording is momental for a few reasons, first its recorded in Massey Hall and it captures Young just before he would have his first #1 hit, Heart of Gold. It’s this tour in 1971 that had Neil at his best. When I first listened to the recording in 2007 I got chills. Here was Young playing music that was new in ’71. No one knew what would happen to it. But as I listened I was envious that I was not there (I was only 11 at the time) to hear these incredible songs that would end up on “Harvest”. The people that filled Massey Hall that evening had no idea that they were a part of a generational shift in music.
I can only imagine what those people that jammed Massey Hall in 1971 thought of the music they were listening to – and then to have the chance to hear it all again 36 years later. It gives me chills just thinking now how they would react to hear that show all over again kowing that his music that night would be as great today as it was when he played those songs befiore they were released on that in 1971. There is a part in that show where I stand (or sit) still and just listen. It happens as Neil has walked off the stage and the crowd starts clapping, banging seats and making noise with just about anything to bring him out for an encore. It goes on for at least 4 minutes before Young reappears and starts into ‘I am a child’. I listen in amazement to the reaction of those at the concert when he comes back. It gives me shivers every time.
Imagine being one of the 2,765 people that would have had the opportunity to be making that noise in Massey Hall that night to bring him back, but to hear it all again a generation later. That’s what makes this recording worthy of being connected to The Beatles on the roof on No. 3 Saville Row and The Band in The Last Waltz in a trifecta of concerts we should not be without watching or listening to.
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