In honor of my having watched The Last Waltz for what may have been the 100th time after happening upon it during a flip of channels this evening, I felt like revisiting this breakthrough analysis, if I do say so myself. Among the thousands of things I love about The Last Waltz is Scorcese’s keen eye for rock porn interplay. Does any other rock film allow for as many voyeuristic views of hot musician-on-musician action?
This post initially appeared 6/18/07.
Surely you know the game Rock, Paper, Scissors. You probably know it better than I do. Scissors cut paper, paper covers rock, rock smashes scissors. Using the following clip from The Last Waltz, I’ll ask you to play a similar game I like to call Licks, Faces, Feel. In this game, feel exposes faces, faces amplify licks, and licks always feel good.*
I’m going to ask you to watch the following performance of “Further On Up the Road”, featuring a guitar dual between Eric Clapton and Robbie Robertson of The Band, and I’m going to ask you to analyze this video clip, at first, at least three ways:
- With the sound OFF and your eyes fixed on the screen
- With the sound ON and your eyes fixed on the screen
- With the sound ON and your eyes closed
To keep a fresh perspective, I suggest getting up and walking around for a few minutes between each initial round of analysis.
While analyzing the video with the sound OFF and your eyes fixed on the screen, note the points at which one guitarist outshines the other in terms of his use of rock soloing faces.
While analyzing the video with the sound ON and your eyes fixed on the screen, note the points when one guitarist’s licks clearly outshine those of his opponent.
While analyzing the video with the sound ON and your eyes closed, make note of the points at which one guitarist’s feel is hitting on all cylinders.
Finally, watch the video again with the sound on. Spread your notes in front of you and assess the points at which one guitarist’s move is countered, either simultaneously or in the following solo, by another move. For instance, see if there are points at which one guitarist’s licks are countered by the other man’s faces (advantage faces). Or, perhaps, you will see a segment in which one man’s faces are exposed as cheap ploys by the other man’s feel. Or, of course, one man’s fine sense of feel will be negated by the other man’s impeccable licks. There may be times in the performance when the artists reach a draw.
Keep score and report your scores to the Hall!
*Please note that Clapton and Robertson are controlled for both Look and Gear.
Mr. Moderator weighs in with his official scoring of the dual.
Here’s my official scorecard. Please don’t let this influence or inhibit you from keeping your own score!
00:20 – Nothing special from Clapton, even his strap giving out at 00:54 causes little in the way of faces and other gestures.
00:57 – Robertson jumps in to save EC, actually dancing to the faces that the viewer of a silent video clip can only assume accompanies the solo.
1:10 – RR unleashes brief “mouthing” of his presumed solo that is undercut by a glance up at EC for approval.
1:16 – RR “conducts” EC back into solo with a hand wave, thereby commanding main camera while dancing and mouthing to his rhythm part. EC returns, still not making an impression with his faces or gestures.
Analysis of Segment 1, with sound OFF
Although RR undercuts some of his boldest gestures with overenthusiastic faces and inappropriate dancing, he can’t help but outpoint EC, to this point, based solely on facework. Later, we’ll see how Robertson’s visual approach matches up with the audio record.
2:14 – EC begins new solos, still laying on the ropes in terms of faces.
2:22 – EC shoots RR a “workingman’s” nod of competence. A half-hearted face accompanying a bend at 2:30 detracts from the confidence of his opening face.
2:35 – RR jumps at the chance to capitalize on EC’s first facial efforts. He’s got his whole body into whatever he’s playing. At 2:45 he uses a convincing head fake and bob and weave with the guitar to buy time until reaching his next presumed musical peak.
2:58 – RR is still soloing when camera cuts to EC, who gives a benevolent if slightly patronizing nod of approval. (Levon, outside of the scoring for this analysis, but significant nevertheless, tries to bridge a more supportive, sincere seal of approval between the ax slingers.)
3:07 – RR runs with EC’s facial props, now working his ax like Rambo firing off his machine gun.
3:11 – RR looks up and over at EC, ending solo with a “take that” wave of the hand.
Analysis of Segment 2, with sound OFF
Although limited in his arsenal of faces, Clapton’s brief, awkward use of faces at that 2:22 to 2:30 mark lured Robertson into a false sense of confidence. RR’s inability to curb his faces and gestures would work against him at this point. It will be interesting to see whether his audio record supports his seemingly overconfident faces. Will be interesting to see how RR’s second “conductor’s wave” at end of this solo will play.
3:14 – EC resumes singing while camera lingers on RR, to treasure RR’s pure delight in what must have been some fantastic guitar slinging. As camera cuts back to EC, shooting from stage left, if first looks as if RR is sending supportive, nourishing glances back at EC, but look more closely and you’ll see RR is looking just past EC, trying to retain the camera’s gaze. EC channels all physical energy through his beard while singing this verse.
3:48 – EC pauses before doing a little slide up the neck, signifying his final solo assault. More “all in a day’s work” faces follow.
4:00 to 4:11 – EC’s faces are searching for a new plateau. By the look of a series of “bending faces,” it seems he’s settled on new plateau. Then, he makes a few good-natured rock sneers, a heretofore unseen move by Slowhand.
4:16 – EC jerks up the neck of his guitar and makes a teenage ejaculation face, mixing awkwardness with joy. It’s his most impressive face of the performance. As the song comes to a close, he gracefully turns his attention back toward the band, then salutes the audience, soul shakes Levon Helm, and salutes Robbie, Rick, et al.
Analysis of Segment 3, with sound OFF
EC’s minimalistic use of faces, ending with his most sincere face of the performance and then his closing salutes, has muted RR’s facework during the home stretch of this performance. In terms of faces, it has come down to a matter of timing, with RR blowing his facial wad, if you’ll excuse the horrible mixing of crude metaphors, too early in the game.
Sound On, Eyes Fixed on Screen
Little could be gleaned from this stage. Clapton’s guitar work rarely inspires, although there are moments that confirm Robertson’s faces coming on stronger than his actual playing. That 1:10 mark, when I wondered whether RR’s licks could match his faces and mouthing of what looked like a fantastic solo, was telling. The solo, when heard, did not match the mouthing of the imagined solo. Similarly, after buying time at 2:45, RR’s “new peak” does not deliver. The meaning of EC’s “benevolent if slightly patronizing nod of approval,” as I reported in my solely visual notekeeping, is confirmed. “Good effort, Robbie. Glad you’re having fun,” is what EC’s look surely meant. This points to the benefit of actually listening to the music in rock videos.
Clapton’s playing is not without its faults. His “half-hearted face” at 2:30, did indeed accompany a bend, and a poorly executed bend at that. All those journeyman blues faces did indeed support journeyman blues licks. Taking everything into account, although neither the faces nor the licks were impressive unto themselves, they were consistent and accurate. The accuracy of Clapton’s faces confirm their supportive role in his music and, I believe many would agree, add to his credibility. Similarly, the “bending faces” observed with the sound off do, as it turns out, match up perfectly with his “this is the way we wash our hands” double bends on the guitar.
Sound On, Eyes Closed
This confirms almost everything seen and heard in the previous step of this analysis. I do give a few points to the jagged tone and feel of Robertson’s awkward solos, but not enough to change my final analysis and score.
Final Analysis and Score
Segment 1: Robertson’s faces outweigh both his mediocre playing and Clapton’s pedestrian run through the song’s theme and variations. Advantage Robertson Faces.
Segment 2: Clapton’s minimalistic use of faces and journeyman blues licks plays rope-a-dope with Robertson’s flurry of facial assaults. Advantage Clapton’s Licks.
Segment 3: The accuracy and sincerity of Clapton’s simple faces coupled with continued use of journeyman blues licks fends off Robertson’s tiring facial deliveries and feel-based playing. Advantage Clapton’s Sincere and Accurate Facial Accompaniment
Final decision: Through economy of faces and licks, Clapton wins on points. Robertson’s inefficient use of faces, his limited licks, and his reliance on feel fell short in the judge’s eyes despite how well the same faces and feel played on the big screen.