The other end of Rolling Thunder….



Historical audio documents and accompanying ephemera have told the first chapter of Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Review of 1975-76.  The second half of this enterprise has never been officially covered in the Dylan Bootleg Series.  There is one officially-released leftover from this period though: the Hard Rain album.  The album is a document of two later Rolling Thunder shows, one of which had an accompanying television special shot in Fort Collins, Colorado on May 23, 1976 (full version way below).

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This is the most ragged and righteous I have heard Dylan.  Check out this motley-looking onslaught of 70’s clowns, outfitted with haggard turbans.  The wet, gray Colorado day makes them look even worse.  I have a special affinity for the Hard Rain record, because it sounds like it looks: sloppy, overworked and worn-out.

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While the full-band rippers encapsulate the spirit of the day, the brief interlude of just Bob and Joan Baez is reason enough for watching.  Joan has an impressively perfect voice which she usually overused to the point of parody.  Here, she avoids her operatic tendencies and morphs with Bob into one succinct song-delivery machine.  They do a perfunctory but interesting Blowin’ in the Wind and then Railroad Bill, which is followed by a spine-tingling rendition of Woody Guthrie’s Deportee.  As far as songs go, this version borders on transmutation….


It is incredible to watch them, mere millimeters apart, without a thought to the previous 12 years of their tangled romantic life.  Here they are one unit, with one purpose, and it is amazing to witness.  As for Joan’s otherworldly outfit, I’m wondering if after the show she sat in a square transparent box and told fortunes

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And speaking of definitive versions, a large part of my adoration of Hard Rain is the incendiary version of Shelter From the Storm.  This Blood on the Tracks stalwart is given over to a churning, complex rhythm that transforms the recorded version into a whirlwind of sound and fury.  I’ve always loved the sloppy slide guitar that punctuates Dylan’s commanding delivery of the lyrics.  As I had never actually seen this footage before, it was a revelation to see Dylan strap on that bizarre National guitar and get busy.  (I had always assumed it was one of the “hot” guitar players like Ronson, etc.)  Definitely one of the top 5 live versions a song I have ever heard, by anyone…..

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There are other VERY interesting versions abound: the calypso-dirge of Pity of the Poor Immigrant ; the fun, mutating warble of the otherwise pedestrian Mozambique, and the spiteful, pissed-off version of Idiot Wind.  The always-awesome Dangerous Minds posted a link to this show as well, with this interesting bit of Dylan mythos :

Rob Stoner would later remark that Dylan had been “hitting the bottle all weekend” and speculated that the album’s sloppy “punk” energy was a result of that bender. The fact that Dylan and his soon-to-be ex-wife, Sara, had been arguing for the entire Colorado stay may have also contributed to what went down onstage.

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The fun thing about Dylan live is that he always re-invents, but he doesn’t always transcend.  This particular show rises above the rest because it appears to be a corker in the making (and some parts are obviously not as good as others) but when the elements align you can understand why Dylanography has such fervent followers, along with a booming cottage industry.

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