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Thursday, May 15, 2008

GMVW # 19: "Interchangeable Parts"

Gem Music Video of the Week # 19: Interchangeable Parts
Song: Shape I’m In by The Band
(Songwriter: Richard Manuel)
May 15, 2008

There are 2 bands I know of where the talent was/is pretty well evenly distributed amongst the members.  One is R.E.M.  The other was The Band.  The members of The Band, Robbie Robertson (guitar), Rick Danko (bass), Richard Manuel (piano), Garth Hudson (organ), and Levon Helm (drums), were in many ways interchangeable parts:  They could all play multiple instruments; other than Hudson, everyone sang; and they all wrote lyrics and songs.  They were big fans of early Americana music (although all but Helm were Canadian), which was likely a big appeal to Bob Dylan when he asked them to be his backing band in the mid 60’s. 

Perhaps due to this distributed talent, there was no center piece to The Band as a stage act.  Looking thru a variety of live video footage, it appears they were always shuffling the deck on who was where.  On New Year’s Eve, 1994, when Nancy (then pregnant with Charlotte) and I went to see them at the Paradise Rock Club in Boston,  the stage set up was as funky as any I had ever seen:  Helm (on drums) was on a circular sub-stage, jutting out into the crowd right of center. Danko mostly played on a plank-like runway.  Hudson, on his massive Hammond organ, took up the entire left side of the stage.  What a show!  The Band stopped at midnight to pop a few bottles of champagne and chum up with the crowd, saluting the New Year in the process.

If any of them could be recognized as the leader of The Band, it was probably Robertson.  On the flip side, Richard Manuel is probably the most overlooked talent, partially due to his self abuse life-style.  It was this road-weary life style that Robbie Robertson felt compelled to end when he convinced the remaining members of The Band to host a breakup party in 1976.  Many other musicians were invited to play in the event (including Dylan, N. Young, and Van Morrison), which was dubbed The Last Waltz (the remaining members of The Band later rescinded on this 'agreement' and carried on without Robertson). 

Gem Music Video, “Shape I’m In” is a clip from that farewell show.  Richard Manuel sings lead, and his appearance and demeanor fit the lyrics well.  As with many great singers of the blues, his (and the rest of The Bands) personal struggles were the audiences gain. The Last Waltz reveals The Band as cohesive a unit as you could ever expect to see from 5 musicians. 

A brief interview leading up to the song on the attached Gem, shows Robertson (along with Danko and Manuel) discussing a show they played many years earlier in Texas.  The story is great, but equally revealing is how burned out all three of them appear.  Life on the road had certainly taken its toll.

Eric Clapton, a veteran of several great bands, has stated that the only band he would have stuck it out with would have been The Band.  Seeing them click on all cylinders in 'The Last Waltz' movie, I can certainly see why.


“Over yonder, peace in the valley
 Come down town you have to rumble in the alley”

- Pete (just in the door from a week on the road myself)

Gem Music Video: Shape I’m In

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About the Video: Footage from The Last Waltz movie

Video Rating: 1

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Best Feedback: Fred

Awesome again.  I loved that video of the last waltz


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