December 6, 2002

Ed's Underground

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Perhaps no artist has been more thoroughly canonized than Bob Dylan. As a recording artist, as a performer, and as a man, his entire oeuvre and life have been transformed into a legend of unsurpassed proportions. Any other artist, under the weight of such scrutiny, would surely crumble. However, Dylan’s catalogue and history is of such unflinching artistic truthfulness that he has only become even more admirable as more spotlights have been thrown on his career.

The fifth volume in the ongoing Bootleg Series is just one more of those spotlights, casting new light on the man and the music. Capturing some key performances from Dylan’s 1975 tour with the Rolling Thunder Revue — a loose band of superstar musicians that included Roger McGuinn, Joni Mitchell, and Joan Baez — this is a document of Dylan at his very best. Unlike the blistering Live 1966 (the fourth in the Bootleg Series), which captured Dylan at his most rockin’ and ferocious, these performances display a more nuanced, eclectic Dylan.

The most fascinating aspect of this set is hearing Dylan reinterpret some of his older songs. Tracks like “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” which had originally been recorded in the folky, one-man-and-his-acoustic-guitar style of his early albums, are reworked with the more full-bodied and ethnic arrangements of Desire, which Dylan was touring to support. Elsewhere, more rocking songs like “Love Minus Zero/No Limit” are revisited as haunting acoustic ballads.

The man himself always sounds involved, despite the fact that he must have been playing them night after night for months. His voice is alive with emotion; his deliberate inflection grants new life to his oblique poetry. The band is always tight, too, providing all these songs with a more improvisatory tone than they were ever able to capture on record. This is the rare live document that casts a new light on the artist’s career, in addition to being an incredibly enjoyable listen.

Archived article by Ed Howard