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Posted at 12:05 PM ET, 06/14/2006

Rock on Screen

By David Malitz

Thursday is already shaping up to be one of the busiest music nights of the year. You've got plenty of big names in town -- Elvis Costello and Allen Toussaint at Wolf Trap, Sonic Youth at the 9:30 Club, Marshall Crenshaw at Jammin' Java, Percy Sledge at Strathmore and the Vans Warped Tour at Merriweather. Then there are plenty of worthwhile smaller shows -- The Positions and Page France at the Black Cat, opening night at Fort Reno with Gist, Jinxed at Twelve and Diacritical, and nifty jazz ensemble Trio BraamDeJoodeVatcher at Twins Jazz. So how is it that the best music of the evening may actually be on screen and not on stage?

That's because two documentaries from the opposite ends of the music spectrum will be screened and both are well worth checking out. The first you probably know about already. That would be the free, outdoor screening of "The Last Waltz," arguably the best concert film of all-time, as part of Silverdocs. Martin Scorcese's film captures the final performance by Americana legends the Band at San Francisco's Winterland Ballroom in late 1976. Performances are interspersed with interviews with band members and while those interviews offer some insights on the ups and downs of being in a band (and also that Robbie Robertson is kind of a jerk), it's the music that makes the film so memorable. Take a Hall of Fame band, add to the mix legends such as Bob Dylan (performing my favorite song of all time, "I Don't Believe You"), the Staples Singers (accompanying on the classic "The Weight") and Van Morrison ("Caravan") and you've got a winner, even if some of the excesses of '70s rock are readily apparent. (And that's not counting the famous Neil Young story, which you'll just have to sniff out through the power of Google if you don't already know what I'm talking about.)

While "The Last Waltz" isn't as over the top as, say, the Cher farewell DVD, it's still all kinds of lavish when compared to "Burn to Shine." The series, produced by Fugazi drummer Brendan Canty, has an interesting premise. Pick a town, find bands from that town, find a house that is about to be demolished, get bands to set up shop in that house, get bands to perform one song, film it, film the house getting demolished. It's as stripped-down as it sounds -- no full orchestra oeuvres like at the beginning of "The Last Waltz" -- and it's enthralling just the same. The first installment of the series was filmed in D.C. and featured acts such as Q and Not U, the Evens, Bob Mould and Ted Leo. The second one was filmed in Chicago and featured Wilco, the Ponys, Shellac and Tortoise, and the third volume was filmed in Portland, Ore., and will have its D.C. premiere tonight at the Warehouse Theatre. The list of bands reads like a who's who of today's most popular indie rock acts: Sleater-Kinney, the Shins and the Decemberists head the lineup, but you won't want to miss the performances by lo-fi punks the Thermals, organ-driven depressed poppers Quasi or folkie Mirah. As an added bonus, the latest episode of the hippest kids show in the world, "Pancake Mountain," will be screened as well.

By David Malitz  | June 14, 2006; 12:05 PM ET
Categories:  Music  
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Wikipedia's the best...

"In 1976, Young performed with The Band, Joni Mitchell, and other rock musicians in the high profile all-star concert The Last Waltz. The release of Martin Scorsese's movie of the concert was delayed while Scorsese unwillingly re-edited it to deemphasize the lump of cocaine that was clearly visible hanging from Young's nose during his performance of "Helpless.""

Posted by: di | June 14, 2006 2:19 PM | Report abuse

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