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Credit: The Band

Watch Joni Mitchell, The Band and Neil Young sing ‘Helpless’ at The Last Waltz

If any group could be described as the distillation of a generation, then The Band are it. The group garnered as much mystique as they did musicianship from 16 years travelling the rough roads with Bob Dylan and the likes, eventually infusing their own music with everything they had learnt.

Martin Scorsese teamed up with them for a farewell concert in San Francisco and lent his expert cinematic craftsmanship to the show. The gig itself is an important chapter in the history of music; the bill featured an array of wrongfully forgotten musicians, including the likes of Bobby Charles. In a way, it captured the night that the seventies finally drove the sixties down.  

The film is simply a fantastic document of superb musical performances from Van Morrison, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Muddy Waters and more. While the gleaming jewel in its crown is the teary-eyed symphony of ‘The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down’ which features musicians at the culmination of a journey, giving it absolutely all they’ve got, this performance of ‘Helpless’ closely rivals it. 

If a combination of Joni Mitchell, The Band and Neil Young doesn’t do it for you, then you should volunteer for a frontal lobotomy so medical science can study the density of your brain. Together the trio of triumphant musical acts complements each other for a searing performance. 

The rendition of the classic track from Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s seminal 1970 record Déjà Vu is a tour de force of soulful live music. Mitchell haunts with falsetto backing vocals, while Young’s introspection is lent a visceral edge by the profuse passion of The Band. In fact, The Band are so passionate that Robbie Robertson and Rick Danko jump the gun and come in too early for the first chorus, which very endearingly causes them to crack up. 

The song depicts the town of Omemee in Northern Ontario where Young moved with his parents when he was four, which Neil Young describes in Long May You Run, as “a nice little town. Sleepy little place… Life was real basic and simple in that town. Walk to school, walk back. Everybody knew who you were. Everybody knew everybody.”

Check out the clip below if you know what’s good for you! It truly is one of the greatest concert films of all time and this is one of the best performances contained therein.

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