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Bob Dylan and The Band double-live record, 1974.

The musicians:
Bob Dylan-- Vocals, Guitar, Harmonica
Robbie Robertson-- Lead Guitar
Richard Manuel-- Vocals, Piano, Drums
Garth Hudson-- Organ
Rick Danko-- Bass
Levon Helm-- Drums, Vocals

The songs:

Bob Dylan and the Band:
1. Most Likely You Go Your Way And I'll Go Mine
2. Lay, Lady, Lay
3. Rainy Day Women #12 and 35
4. Knockin' on Heaven's Door
5. It Ain't Me Babe
6. Ballad of a Thin Man

The Band:
7. Up on Cripple Creek
8. I Shall Be Released
9. Endless Highway
10. The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down
11. Stage Fright

Bob Dylan:
12. Don't Think Twice, It's All Right
13. Just Like a Woman
14. It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)

The Band:
15. The Shape I'm In
16. When You Awake
17. The Weight

Bob Dylan and the Band:
18. All Along the Watchtower
19. Highway 61 Revisited
20. Like a Rolling Stone
21. Blowin' in the Wind

This was the first Bob Dylan live record ever officially released. Thanks to Columbia Records opening up the vault (or cynically profiteering off of the cult of Bob, whichever you prefer), we can now hear him as he sounded in 1966-- and soon, 1964-- onstage. This was also the first Dylan tour since the motorcycle accident, and the first concert since his uninspiring performance at the Isle of Wight Festival, 1969.

With such reclusiveness, it's a wonder that someone didn't start a rumor that Dylan was dead, and the Beatles had substituted a lookalike.

So much for historical context. What does the record sound like today? In my opinion, the worth of which you may gauge from the sixty other record reviews I've done here, it's a difficult record to warm to, but it's ultimately worth the trouble. It isn't as immediately engaging as Live '66, Live '75, or my favorite Dylan record that no one else likes, Hard Rain. None of the songs sound like you expect them to. Everything gets sped up. Dylan does more barking than singing. And no matter what The Band plays on, it all comes out sounding like the same song. My theory is that Levon Helm only knows one drum beat. (I offer, as proof, Live 1966. Which is exactly the same personnel, EXCEPT Levon Helm, and all the songs sound differently the same.)

Another potential problem is all those songs by The Band without Dylan. Often I find I have to skip them. I'll bet, on most of the vinyl copies of this, a pattern of wear starts to emerge...

The highlight of The Band's set is probably The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, and Richard Manuel's weird-ass falsetto on I Shall Be Released is strangely affecting. The rest of it doesn't leave much of an impression.

Back to Bob-- In the first set, he rips off a hard rocking "Most Likely You Go Your Way", followed by a Lay, Lady, Lay that's so fast it shaves nearly a minute off of the original's running time. Knockin' on Heaven' Door gets a similar treatment-- beautiful playing by Robbie Robertson on both songs. These are supposed to be the ballads in the first set, and they're pretty far from sedate. Dylan gets a big round of applause for "Ma, wipe the blood from my face, I'm sick and tired of the war."

It Ain't Me Babe is another surprise. It comes on fast, and this has always been one of those Dylan songs that could very well be directed at his audience. He isn't sparing them. Could it be he's remembering the Sonny and Cher cover, and taking it personal? Then Robbie plays the exact same riff he'll later use in Blowin' in the Wind, and the ending chords are from Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You!! This and "Heaven's Door" make the entire first side.

In the acoustic set, Dylan once again rushes through the songs and barks out the lyrics. This doesn't work so well on the softer numbers, though it suits "It's Alright, Ma" better, and Dylan gets another big hand for the line "Even the president of the United States must sometimes have to stand naked."

These political-protest rockers do have Richard Nixon to thank for being such an easy target. Check out Campaigner by Neil Young for another take on the subject. Neil Young may have hated Nixon more than anyone, and he was a Canadian!

Take a moment to appreciate the sequencing of this record. It's symmetrical, or palindromic, maybe. Like a glass onion.

Now the Band do their thing, and then Bob returns for his encore. "Watchtower" is in a somewhat more Hendrixian version than before, and while it only kind of works, let me say some of Robbie Robertson's finest guitar playing is all over this album. Highway 61 Revisited (is it re-revisited this time?) is surprisingly bluesy for something involving the Band, and works well. Like a Rolling Stone is a good try, but every piece of evidence points to the original version being a lucky accident that Dylan couldn't duplicate if he tried. The main offender is Levon Helm's drumming. The closer is perhaps the most sacriligeous of all, an electric Blowin' in the Wind (Eff you, Pete Seeger), with another maniacal-genius-screaming lead from Robbie.

And so concludes another terrific Bob Dylan record. You've got to wonder, though, how much it could be improved by editing it down to just the Dylan songs, and putting it on a single disc.

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