Real Live

Bob Dylan's return to musical form on 1983's Infidels album stirred hopes that his next LP might bring him all the way into the Eighties. Instead, with one eye on the holiday gift-giving market, Columbia released this live-in-concert stopgap: ten tracks recorded during Dylan's European tour last summer, two of them songs off Infidels but the rest run-throughs of rather ancient oldies, some dating back more than twenty years. These are great songs, of course, but the question is, who really needs an album full of stage versions of such familiar tunes?

There are some heartening developments here. Although cynics may find that Dylan's trademark wheeze is verging on self-parody by this point, his singing is truly spirited throughout. The band he assembled for the tour — including one-time Rolling Stones guitarist Mick Taylor and former Faces keyboardist Ian McLagen — generally serves him well, if without inspiration. Taylor, in particular, solos beautifully on "License to Kill" and adds thick, juicy slide ornamentation on "Maggie's Farm," and the updated band arrangement of "Masters of War" is blessed with an almost punkish instrumental hook. Dylanologists will savor the heavily revised, third-person lyrics for "Tangled Up in Blue" (although they scuttle the original song's compelling intimacy), and some fans may get a giggle out of the rhythm riff — lifted from Ray Charles' "I Believe to My Soul" — that graces "Ballad of a Thin Man." But "Highway 61 Revisited" and "Tombstone Blues" suffer from formless arrangements, and the band simply can't replicate the reggae groove called for on "I and I."

Whatever one may make of the content of Dylan's recent lyrics, his creative powers remain imposing. If his rag-and-roll approach to rock is dated, that's essentially a cosmetic problem. One continues to hope that he'll someday assemble a full-time band he really believes in (and vice versa), a band that will enable him to reassert his brilliance in the modern rock marketplace.

This story is from the February 14th, 1985 issue of Rolling Stone.

From The Archives Issue 441: February 14, 1985
x