Before The Flood

Not Rated

Throughout Bob Dylan's performances on this in-concert album there is evident an effort to match the material — nearly all from much earlier in his career — with a suitable style of delivery, a vocal stance which can express in a later year the brilliant and sometimes malevolent energy contained by these pieces when they were first created. Dylan's principal solution is to sing in aggressive, uptempo fashion, borrowing voltage from the Band's rock backing to substitute for the hungry power both he and the Band have outgrown. Sometimes, as on the opening "Most Likely You Go Your Way," the emphasis is effectively placed. More often, singer and band display an unseemly awkwardness.

"Knockin' on Heaven's Door" becomes melodramatic, as Dylan breaks single syllables in two, his voice throbbing with artificial emotion a la Eddie Cochran. "It Ain't Me, Babe" is a stiff country march, glomphing along to an unk-cha! beat. "Ballad of a Thin Man," despite some spooky organ, is dispirited.

"Lay, Lady, Lay," with funky guitar fills, is attractive, even though the altered bridge with its ascending end note gives a jarring feel. "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35" no longer has a cutting edge, is now more of a consolation.

The Band, costars of this concert production, have similar difficulties in finding the proper feel for their own numbers, the arrangements of which are generally over-busy in a laconic way. They do seven familiar vehicles and the previously unrecorded "Endless Highway."

An acoustic Dylan segment includes "Don't Think Twice," an entertaining modern rendition of a decade-old folk song. "Just like a Woman" has not the wasted lovely quality of Blonde On Blonde nor the gorgeous richness of the Bangladesh concert reworking; it is a harsh, ungainly thing. "It's All Right, Ma" is taken at blistering speed, and here the lyrics are well served by the rush of notes as Dylan spews out the words with a sentiment absent from the original recording. Here, for nearly the first time in the concert, he seems to have a personal stake in a song; the effect is relatively thrilling.

Back with the Band, he scores on "All Along the Watchtower," an unqualified treat which gains from becoming a real rock vehicle, the sort of inspired transformation we have come to expect from Dylan's revampings.

The indisputable highlight of these four sides, "Like a Rolling Stone," is kicked along by the Band in a twostep, a cakewalk, a triumph. The vocalist, with approximately Alice Cooper melismas, shouts his message as an affirmation, not a putdown. The performers (and the audience) are singing about themselves, and the reply implicit to the refrain of "How does it feel?" is: Good. What was once a sentence of banishment has become an invitation to self-dependence, and the regeneration is exciting and meaningful.

From The Archives Issue 168: August 29, 1974
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