Last week I listened to Warehouse: Songs and Stories by Hüsker Dü while we had a copy in the shop. The worst thing about your favorite band breaking up is that their last album sucks because all of the songs are about your favorite band breaking up. Of course, nobody really breaks up anymore because mainstream music is so defunct of ideas as to insult us year after year with new projects by the dead (Jimi Hendrix), the ironically undead (Dio) and the immortal (The Rolling Stones). At least Led Zeppelin could abandon Coda as an unwanted orphan if they chose to – Lots of bands make a last album like CCR’s Mardi Gras or a weird one with no original members like Squeeze, the bizarre last Velvet Underground album.
The last Hüsker Dü is regardless pretty good. Its title implies a shift in direction. Warehouse: Songs and Stories is said to refer to the band’s new practice space, because they were no longer trying out new material in front of an audience. Maybe there’s also something to the idea that we all have a warehouse full of songs and stories and part of our closest relationships is allowing the people we love to explore. The sad thing about the competition between Hart and Mould is that Hüsker Dü’s most devoted fans were likely to accept the two on their own individual terms, happily enjoying albums that shift between the two singers track to track. Of course, here’s a band that once said “Everything is so fucked up / I guess we like it that way.”
“Never Talking to You Again” (From a much earlier album) is heard here from a live recording during their last tour.
You don’t have to watch The Last Waltz for very long to figure out that somebody has decided that he’s in charge. Robbie Robertson’s Hollywood ambitions ultimately torpedoed a great group in the Band, and we’re all a little poorer for it.
If you’ve never seen this peculiar record before, here’s the short version: These guys decided to break up their group and made a big hootin’ deal of their last performance together by hosting a Thanksgiving Day concert at Winterland. The whole thing was made into a movie by Martin Scorcese, heavily into cocaine at the time but ironically producing the only movie he ever made where the drug use is hidden (Not to mention his only movie where nobody gets beaten with a blunt object). His pal in the group is the center of attention throughout the movie, and the other four guys feel slighted.
In the beginning the Band thrived on its collective spirit, as the soul of Music From Big Pink, the group’s legendary debut, is the interplay between clearly disparate personalities. Fame took its toll on the quintet – A subject explored with depth and sensitivity on their third album, Stage Fright. Its hard to reconcile the pomp and circumstance surrounding The Last Waltz and the rootsy anonymity that defined the group’s early work.
What really works on this triple LP is the guest appearances (Well, some of the guest appearances). I have always thought Joni Mitchell’s world-weary cautionary tale “Coyote” was the highlight, but many people prefer the heartfelt rendition of Neil Young’s “Helpless”. Maybe the most interesting choice by a guest on The Last Waltz is by Bob Dylan, who sings the break up song “I Don’t Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met)”. Its not an unreasonable choice, given that the Band nee the Hawks backed him through the same number over the din of a hecklers at Dylan’s notorious Royal Albert Hall performance in 1966.
Is Dylan’s appearance on The Last Waltz that good? Not as good as the side of Dylan on The Concert for Bangladesh – That’s right, the secret side of Dylan you could have for free right now just by looking through somebody’s basement. It is a more lively performance than the double album Dylan / Band concert Before the Flood.
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