It was often declared that despite their superior musicianship, the original Band did not really rock. Anyone who ever saw them live knew otherwise, and this is the album that gives the lie to the whole idea. Recorded at New York's Academy of Music on New Year's Eve 1971, it was intended as a summing-up of their four-LP career until then, but turned into something more like a last hurrah before the official Last Waltz of '76. (In between those two live shows, the Band tragically chased its shadow in circles.)
This one gathers mostly familiar material, but bringing Allen Toussaint in to add horn arrangements transforms these songs. "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" has never been infused with deeper and more timeless sorrow, while many other tunes now sport a New Orleans party feel that's reinforced by the ebullient group harmonies and the bedrock bottom provided by drummer Levon Helm and bassist Rick Danko. Garth Hudson's "Genetic Method" leading into "Chest Fever" is positively medicinal. The bonus cuts that were added to the CD release keep up the pace, and include three more tracks with Bob Dylan (where the vinyl album had but one).