The Rolling Thunder Revue
If you ever attempt to watch Renaldo & Clara, Bob Dylan's unfathomable, four-hour film that lacks any real plot or direction, you might wonder if the music was deliberately meant to take a backseat to reinstated paramours like Joan Baez and Allen Ginsberg fluttering in a spotlight marred by cigarette smoke and wretched decadence. Such were the deceptive tactics the star and director so coyly ingested to liberate himself from actually being Bob Dylan (in the movie, Ronnie Hawkins partly assumes the role). Then again, a motorcycle accident and less-than-satisfactory tour with the Band might well have led to some cataclysmic desire for reinvention. Riding high with Blood On The Tracks and banking tracks for Desire, Dylan assembled a montage of musicians and cronies for a whirlwind tour of New England. Even though performance snippets run amok throughout Renaldo & Clara, Bob Dylan's time with the first edition of the Rolling Thunder Revue has never been properly documented until now. Live 1975: The Rolling Thunder Revue, Volume 5 of the ongoing Bootleg Series, is taken from five shows that accurately depict this legendary tour.
The first thing you notice about Live 1975 in comparison to other Dylan live offerings is its unbridled tightness and energy. While guests like Baez, Roger McGuinn, and Ramblin' Jack Eliot, as well as walk-ons like Joni Mitchell and Gordon Lightfoot, certainly gave the shows a varied cornucopia of musical flourishes — the core band of Bobby Neuwirth (guitar, vocal), Scarlet Rivera (violin), T-Bone Burnett (guitar), Steven Soles (guitar, vocal), Mick Ronson (guitar), David Mansfield (steel-guitar, mandolin, violin, dobro), Rob Stoner (bass), Howie Wyeth (piano, drams), Luther Rix (drums, percussion, congas) and Ronee Blakely (vocal) capably fill in the gaps and then some. Add to the fact that Dylan himself belts out each lyric with pure ferocity and steady cadence, and hard-bitten classics like "Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" and "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll" burn with vitality and drive. "Romance In Durango," "Isis," "Oh, Sister," "Hurricane," "One More Cup Of Coffee (Valley Below)" and "Sara" — all unreleased at the time — simply catapult the whole ensemble beyond the threshold, and, for the most part, surpass their studio counterparts.
If duets with Baez on "Blowin' In The Wind," "Mama, You Been On My Mind," "I Shall Be Released" and "The Water Is Wide" show Dylan's propensity for appropriately aligning his wheeze with a more congenial voice, then his solo turns on "Simple Twist of Fate, "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" and "Tangled Up In Blue" call attention to an ability to sound just as essential unaccompanied. There's no mistaking that alone or in combination, Dylan is the consummate bard, minstrel and white-faced "tornado" of this traveling circus. In the clean and crisp Renaldo & Clara clips of "Tangled Up In Blue" and "Isis" that comprise the bonus DVD, Dylan commandeers the proceedings with unrefined authority. The never-ending tour continues to roll on unabated with the sixty something Dylan at the helm. But it's unlikely the will and intensity that filled the clubs, gymnasiums and small halls in 1975 with Dylan and the Rolling Thunder Revue will ever be replicated. This 22-track, 2-CD set does a damn respectable job of keeping the memory alive.
~ Shawn Perry