We are digging into the Far Out vault to look back at the moment Neil Young and Joni Mitchell joined The Band for a startling cover of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young song ‘Helpless’ back in 1976. It was arguably the best performance on an extremely illustrious night.
The incredible moment came when The Band, once part of the touring group for Bob Dylan but had since forged their own career, were commencing their farewell concert. The show took place on Thanksgiving Day on November 25th, 1976, at San Francisco’s Winterland Ballroom and was packed full of genuine superstars including a later appearance from Dylan himself, as well as an all-star band that, in the end, included Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr, Ronnie Wood and more.
The concert lasted for four hours and welcomed a truly overwhelming cast of singers and musicians that saw all of the greatest artists of the sixties join forces for a rollicking final farewell to one of the unsung heroes of the decade. Aside from the cast of singers, there was also fittingly brilliant ream of tunes from The Band which signified why they required such an all-star list of players.
While the encore featuring Bob Dylan certainly grabbed the headlines and much of the spotlight for the evening, perhaps the best performance from The Last Waltz show was when Neil Young joined the group for a simply breathtaking performance of ‘Helpless’, a song taken from Deja Vu, the 1970 album from the supergroup Crosby, Stills Nash & Young.
The track was originally recorded by Young with his previous group Crazy Horse but was happy for it to be included on the CSNY album. Ever since the track has become an icon of Young’s writing but is also a key part of his performance. A sng that swells and builds will always be welcome at one of Young’s show and The Band make light work of it here too.
If there’s one thing that The Band can always be proud of—they never let a night go past on stage when they didn’t give it their all and likely provide a moment of crystal clear clarity for all those who attended. Walking away from the auditorium there was always a palpable sensation that each patron silently shared, the realisation: that’s how a band should sound.
When you add to that the Canadian juggernaut Neil Young you have an incredibly potent force to be reckoned with. But there’s still one more piece to this puzzle—Joni Mitchell. Another legend from north of the border, Mitchell was present for the entire show but chose to sing her songs form backstage instead of facing the audience. It’s her remarkable tone that sets off the entire rendition of the track.
Shot by Martin Scorsese, Robbie Robertson’s filmmaking friend, the clip below captures the moment that a triumvirate of Canadian talent touched down in Winterland and delivered arguably the performance of the night with their heart-enlargening gem, ‘Helpless’.