Bob Dylan
Credit: Bob Dylan: Bill Vetell/Camera Press/Retna

The Bootleg Series Volume 5: Live 1975--The Rolling Thunder Revue


Twenty-seven years ago, Bob Dylan set out on what would be one of his most surreal adventures, even in a career filled with them. Leading a pack of fellow folkies and ’60s expatriates like Joan Baez and Roger McGuinn, he tooled around parts of the country in a bus, putting on impromptu shows in small clubs and theaters. Like many who were either too young or too far away to attend, I read reports of the Rolling Thunder Revue, as it was dubbed, with wonder and envy; rarely did a rock road show sound so magical.

Live 1975 — The Rolling Thunder Revue, the latest installment in his ”Bootleg Series” of rarities, affords us our biggest peek to date into this mysterious, mythical period of Dylan’s career. Its two discs are revealing but not always in ways one would expect. At the time, the performances were seen as his attempt to return to his folk-hootenanny roots, yet this Dylan does not appear to be having the tour of his life. His delivery is newly, strikingly aggressive and surly, and he allows his sprawling gang of musicians (including a young T-Bone Burnett) to transform cautionary sermons like ”A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” into woozy shout-alongs. None of this connotes a delighted or relaxed man. If anything, one gets the sense of someone deeply unhappy with where he is, wanting to obliterate his old material and his past. Far from a renewal, Rolling Thunder was the beginning of a dark, unpleasant phase of Dylan’s career that would engulf his next decade.

That impression is reinforced by the comparative verve with which Dylan attacks brand-new (at the time) songs like ”Romance in Durango” and ”Hurricane,” which are better suited to the ensemble’s happy-shambles arrangements. When he works through ”Love Minus Zero/No Limit” or ”Mr. Tambourine Man” by himself — his voice cigarette-stained and weary, yet mesmerizing all the same — he embodies the ragged disillusionment of what was left of the ’60s counterculture by the ’70s. On this least essential of the ”Bootleg Series” albums — an album for the scholars more than the casual fans — Dylan takes his show on the road, but it will be a road to nowhere for a long time to come.

The Bootleg Series Volume 5: Live 1975--The Rolling Thunder Revue
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