There are periods of Bob Dylan’s career that captured his true power as a performer. An early example was documented in the Royal Albert Hall concert, released previously in the official Bootleg series. A fire of creative passion seemed to burn within him then, spilling out on album in song after brilliant song, and on that particular evening it was fueled all the more by the close-minded reaction of some of his fans to the possibilities of an electric guitar.
Fast-forward a decade. After the searing wounds of Watergate, after the painful breakup of his marriage, with the Vietnam War still stinging the American consciousness, Dylan embarked on a remarkably ambitious tour. With a huge entourage of musicians, writers, poets, medicine men and a film crew in tow, the favorite son of Duluth, Minn., began his Rolling Thunder Revue. This two-CD set is the first official release of these performances (though some snippets appeared on earlier Bootleg sets, as well as recordings of a similar line-up on the underrated Hard Rain disc).
The tracks are taken from different concerts, but they are structured to evoke a representative show. And what shows they must have been. While he has always been known to reinvent his catalog in performance, for Rolling Thunder the arrangements are consistently inspired. The once staid "Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You" from Nashville Skyline opens the first disc. But here it sounds like the declaration of a lusty, lovesick fool, backed by stinging lap steel, thundering guitars, and a killer rhythm section. Throughout the electric portion of the set Dylan is a man on a mission, attacking his back catalog with a passion that sometimes borders on fury, particularly on a scorching electric "A Hard Rain’s a Gonna Fall." The acoustic material is equally fine, including several duets with Joan Baez. The initial pressing also features a DVD with performances from the legendary and unreleased feature film Renaldo and Clara, making this set a real treasure trove for Dylan fans.