40 Years Ago: Bob Dylan Returns to the Road With the Band
During the first week of January 1974, Bob Dylan went on tour with members of the Band for the first time since 1966, when their controversial shows heralded Dylan’s move from folk music to rock. This new collaboration would prove to be no less volcanic.
The Jan. 3 debut appearance in Chicago arrived with some details still to be worked out. Dylan sat in with the Band for their Richard Manuel-sung cover of Bobby “Blue” Bland’s ‘Share Your Love With Me,’ but after that, and until the end of the 21-city tour in February, the shows featured a more formalized format.
But the set list continued to evolve night after night. At first, several songs from Dylan and the Band’s recently released studio collaboration ‘Planet Waves’ were prominently featured, but as the tour continued, ‘Forever Young’ was the only one played consistently, as the artists favored more familiar songs from their catalogs. Even though the numbers dated back to the ’60s, their arrangements and ferocious new approach were brand new, as evident on the subsequent live album ‘Before the Flood.’
The shows were met with cult-like praise from fans and critics. “Together they cut loose with music that made the Rolling Stones‘ live show sound polite, and yet within the storm was an emotional complexity that went beyond Dylan’s lyrics,” Griel Marcus wrote in his book ‘Mystery Train.’ “Roaring with fury and wit, riding [drummer] Levon [Helm]‘s enormous beat, and fusing all parts into a collective momentum, this was rock ‘n’ roll at its limits.” Likewise, Robert Christgau summed up ‘Before the Flood’ in Creem: “Without qualification, this is the craziest and strongest rock ‘n’ roll ever recorded.”
In time, however, the ever-mercurial Dylan came to distance himself from this sound and fury, stating in the liner notes to his 1985 ‘Biograph’ box set, “I think I was just playing a role on that tour. I was playing Bob Dylan, and the Band were playing the Band. It was all sort of mindless. The only thing people talked about was energy this, energy that. The highest compliments were things like, ‘Wow, lotta energy, man.’ It had become absurd.”
With the exception of Dylan’s appearance at the Band’s ‘Last Waltz’ farewell concert, the 1974 tour would be the last major collaboration between these two music titans.