Bob Dylan & the Rolling Thunder Revue

Reissues

Phases and Stages

Bob Dylan & the Rolling Thunder Revue

The Bootleg Series Vol. 5: Live 1975

(Columbia Legacy)

Coming off what many consider -- wrongly -- the best album of his career (Blood on the Tracks) and prepping the release of what remains one of his most popular (Desire), Bob Dylan's incendiary confidence at these concerts -- recorded throughout Massachusetts and in Montreal -- comes as no surprise. Neither does the fact that the 2-CD/1-DVD Live 1975 showcases Dylan onstage with just the right mix of élan and exhaustion amid the bell-ringing gypsy chaos of a caravan on the run from some dark plague: He's nearing the conclusion of a drunkenly conceived jaunt across greater New England and parts of Canada with little publicity and a couple of buses. At armories. On college campuses. In jails. In pancake make-up and a hat with flowers. With cameras filming what would become Renaldo and Clara, a bloated attempt at Bardic cinema, briefly excerpted on the set's DVD. Making ancillary stops at Kerouac's grave, Leonard Cohen's house, and Native American sunrise ceremonies. Backed up by the likes of Mick Ronson, Roger McGuinn, Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, David Mansfield, and Allen Ginsberg. He's at his electric best on the opening "Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You," which transforms him from Nashville Skyline's humble country squire into a sex maniac screaming at the depot, and on the defiant honky-tonk harmonica stomps of "It Ain't Me, Babe" and "Isis." The tour that culminated in a Madison Square Garden benefit for Rubin "Hurricane" Carter here, finds Dylan as the protest singer a decade later reloading "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" and "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll," both savagely eloquent and full of weird counter-rhythms and biting tribal backbeats. But at 34 years old, he could also be tender: His "Mama, You Been on My Mind" duet with Baez and his solo acoustic spots on "Simple Twist of Fate," "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue," and "Sara" are reminders that wicked messengers have feelings, too. Lots of them.

****

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