In 1974, Bob Dylan returned to touring after a long absence. It had been eight years since he had semi-retired after his 1966 motorcycle accident, and he went out in 1974 with The Band, the group that had backed him on his extensive 1966 tour, and performed 40 concerts.
But he wanted to do something different, and came up with the idea of the Rolling Thunder Review. He wanted to play in small venues in smaller towns, and assembled a ragtag group of musicians to join him. This wasn’t a Dylan tour; the concerts each lasted about four hours, with Dylan on stage only for the last 90 minutes or so. The group included Joan Baez, Roger McGuinn, Joni Mitchell, Ronee Blakely, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Bob Neuwirth, and violinist Scarlet Rivera whose sound defined the album Desire, that had yet to be released.
On the first leg of the tour, which included thirty performances, some of the concerts were professionally filmed and recorded, and, while some of the best takes were released previously on The Bootleg Series, Volume 5: Bob Dylan Live, 1975 (Amazon.com, Amazon UK), we’ve only just gotten a release of five complete Dylan concerts, along with three discs of rehearsals and a bonus disc with some disparate recordings from the period.
The Rolling Thunder Revue: The 1975 Live Recordings (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) is one of the more fascinating “bootleg” releases by Bob Dylan. There’s an energy that isn’t in all of the other live recordings, in part because of the interesting concept of the traveling minstrel show. Playing in small venues made everything different, and these performances show Dylan at a pivotal period: just after the major release of Blood on the Tracks, which brought Dylan back as the pre-eminent singer-songwriter, and with the new material from Desire, including classics like Sara, Hurricane, One More Cup of Coffee, and Romance in Durango, all now classics.
If you’re a Dylan fan, it’s clear that you want this set. While the five concerts are pretty similar, there are some different songs in each one, and the recording quality, and the energy, is ideal. You can’t listen to this on the streaming services – at least not yet – there’s just a one-disc sampler available.
So get The Rolling Thunder Revue: The 1975 Live Recordings (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) and enjoy this great period. And check out the Martin Scorcese-directed documentary that is available on Netflix from today.