Live 1975: The Rolling Thunder Revue
Now this is the sort of thing performers don’t do anymore, and should. In an age of computerized stage shows and multiple wardrobe changes, the notion of taking a cast of singers, musicians and friends (such as poet Allen Ginsburg and playwright Sam Shepard) across the country, landing in a town, throwing down a rug and playing rock and roll seems almost quaint. But Bob Dylan has always marched to a drummer only he could hear, so when he decided he wanted to make a movie (which became the epic, if rather unwatchable, Renaldo And Clara), he created something called “The Rolling Thunder Revue” and gathered busloads of friends to help him out. Big name friends such as Roger McGuinn, Mick Ronson and Joan Baez, and a few who have become more notable since then, such as T. Bone Burnett.
Every night, Dylan would cover his face in white makeup, press a large hat on his head, and go out and dazzle. This is vintage period Dylan — the setlists are drawn largely from the albums Blood on the Tracks and Desire, a very fertile period, and his delivery is free both of the “Guthrie-isms” of his early days as well as the mouthful of marbles incomprehension that followed. Nope, joined by a stageful of players that seemed at first glance incompatible (David Bowie’s guitarist, Mick Ronson, on stage with three-chord folkie Baez? Sure. Works like a charm.) but who gel wonderfully, particularly Scarlet Rivera, the violinist spotted walking down a New York street and brought into the mix, adding vibrant Gypsy touches to material such as “Hurricane” or “Isis.” This is one of those rock and roll moments that makes you wish for a time machine.
The-two CD set roughly captures a typical night of the tour, opening with “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You” and ending up with “Knocking On Heaven’s Door,” and 20 more in between. Early versions of the set include a DVD of “Tangled Up in Blue” and “Isis,” both riveting — so buy early. The 52-page book included is written by Larry “Ratso” Sloman, who accompanied the tour and reported on it in the classic On the Road with Bob Dylan, and it adds a nice perspective, 25-plus years later. Nobody (Dylan included) does things like this anymore. And that’s a shame. Because in the right hands, rock and roll can be a wonderful carnival, a circus of the mind come to town. Now, we pony up hundreds of dollars to watch formaldehyde dinosaurs lumber through their hits, the revolution sponsored by a cell phone company. People with no ears, listening to people with nothing to say. We need more thunder, and less slumber.
Bob Dylan: http://www.bobdylan.com