Live 1975: The Rolling Thunder Revue
[The Bootleg Series, Volume 5]
First Appeared at The Music Box, January 2003, Volume 10, #1
Written by John Metzger
Over the course of his career, Bob Dylan has made some of the finest studio recordings ever to be released. But to truly appreciate the artist who has inspired so many, one must experience the bard plying his trade in a concert setting. Be it a large venue or a small one, this is where Dylan brings his compositions to life. He constantly toys with the rhythms and beats, sometimes making the songs barely recognizable. In effect, he forces his audience to listen to his words to determine which tune he is performing, but here, too, he plays tricks on his fans, altering not so much the actual words but the phrasing ó adding a particular emphasis to a line that suits the overriding theme for the evening, the tour, or the times.
Those expecting Dylan to perform his songs as he recorded them are, more often than not, out of luck. But thatís what makes Dylanís concerts so great. You never know what song he might perform or how he will perform it. No wonder he has legions of fans who record his concerts and swap tapes and CDs, amassing hours upon hours of material in the process.
In an attempt to cater to this market as well as expand upon Dylanís well-deserved legacy, the first three volumes of a Bob Dylan bootleg series were officially released as a box set in 1991. Seven years later came Volume 4 ó a legendary full-length concert recorded at Londonís Royal Albert Hall. Fortunately, the time between editions of the bootleg series is shrinking significantly. It only took four years for Volume 5 (Live 1975 ó The Rolling Thunder Revue) to see the light of day, and Volume 6 (a complete 1964 concert) is promised in 2003.
As with the initial two installments (and four volumes) of the bootleg series, Live 1975 ó The Rolling Thunder Revue is essential Dylan material. At the time, the poet had been riding high on the success of Blood on the Tracks and was preparing to release his follow-up Desire. Out on the road he went, with a band that featured former David Bowie guitarist Mick Ronson and a ragtag group of folk singers that included Rambliní Jack Elliott, Joan Baez, and Roger McGuinn. The concerts were loose and free ó almost to a fault. As evidenced from some of the many bootlegs circulating from this tour, the entourage often pushed the music so far that it nearly spiraled out of control. Yet the fun the ensemble had consistently transcended the concerts, which stood in stark contrast to Dylanís previous tour with The Band.
Most of the contributions from Dylanís compatriots have been edited from Live 1975 ó The Rolling Thunder Revue, and his own set is compiled from five distinct performances, recorded over four nights. Whatís left, however, is a stunning representation of Dylanís 1975 touring canon, laid-out much like a typical concert from the period. As could be expected, some songs were dramatically revamped. Tonight, Iíll Be Staying Here with You was turned into a rousing show opener with a new set of lyrics that directly addressed Dylanís audience. Both It Ainít Me, Babe and The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll were given countryfied calypso rhythms that allowed them to fit in nicely with the tunes from Dylanís forthcoming album. And A Hard Rainís A-Gonna Fall as well as It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry mutated into barn-burning blues romps. Others, such as Isis, Hurricane, and the deeply personal Sara were brand-new. And then there were those tunes that didnít stray all that far from their recorded counterparts, such as the tender acoustic renditions of Mr. Tambourine Man and Simple Twist of Fate, Dylanís absolutely gorgeous duet with Joan Baez on I Shall Be Released, and the freewheeling Love Minus Zero/No Limit.
Itís hard to imagine any single concert from this tour sounding quite as good as Live 1975 ó The Rolling Thunder Revue. But this collection does a fine job in offering the absolute highlights, piecing them together to create a cohesive historical document of Dylanís sound at the time. Oddly enough, itís not all that different from his tours of today, which while not including the friends and family sideshow atmosphere are loose, spirited, and oh, so rewarding.
Of Further Interest...
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2002 The Music Box