Mention The Band and the first thing people will mention is The Last Waltz, the now-legendary live performance involving not just The Band but a host of guests – and, evidently, no end of cocaine, with Neil Young’s infamous ‘white booger’ debacle now being as famous as the music itself.
Here’s the thing though: to me, The Last Waltz is nowhere near as good as most claim, and indeed over the years I think its become something of a case study in one member of a group (in this case Robbie Robertson) meddling with a release and attempting to rewrite history. Robertson allegedly insisted that he get preferential treatment in the edit of the film, leading one site to call it “The Robbie Robertson show, starring Robbie Robertson with music by Robbie Robertson”. Bottom line? It felt like the whole thing was fake; fixed and tweaked here and there to suit the frontman and no one else. To me its not the sound of a band locked in and playing their hearts out; its all a bit… staged.
So, where The Band are concerned my favourite album – live or otherwise – is without a doubt Rock of Ages. Sporting arguably the worst cover in the history of music, this record may just be the finest live album ever released. This was The Band in their prime: full of swagger and groove. Hell you only have to listen to their opening gambit of Don’t Do It to hear a perfect example.