More rehearsals followed and on Monday, October 27th, three chartered buses pulled out for Cape Cod. There, the troupe settled into the Seacrest Hotel and ran through three additional days of rehearsal in the hotel's indoor tennis court.
The tour opened October 30th on a cold, damp New England night in Plymouth, advertised only by handbills that included a photo of Dylan and by random radio mentions in Boston. The 1800-seat Plymouth Memorial Auditorium sold out but it took almost 24 hours to do so. But it was evident in the opening moments of the show that this crazy-quilt tour and its music — "the new sound is Plymouth rock," was an often heard comment — was working. It seemed that the pre-tour tensions between Neuwirth's gin-soaked, good-timey camaraderie and musical director Rob Stoner's slick professionalism had been resolved into a balanced mixture of sound.
"Welcome to your living room," Neuwirth announced onstage, and it was true. There was none of the forced ambiance of the last Dylan tour with its sofas and Tiffany lamps onstage. All the tour participants — Elliott, Blakley, McGuinn, Neuwirth, Baez, Dylan — got their moment in the spotlight, in front of the basic band of Mick Ronson, T-Bone Burnette, Stoner and Soles. After Elliott's four-song set, Neuwirth introduced "another old friend" and Dylan ambled onstage in a black leather jacket, jeans and the Pat Garrett hat. The audience gave him a warm welcome, but there was little surprise in the air. Dylan and Neuwirth opened with a slow version of "When I Paint My Masterpiece," Dylan singing harmony and Neuwirth taking the lead.
They harmonized on "It Ain't Me, Babe" and "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall," and then Neuwirth left and Dylan brought out violinist Scarlet Rivera to lead the band through "Durango." Then it was Dylan alone to sing "Isis" — no guitar, no accompaniment, just Dylan at the mike gesturing dramatically as he told the story of the goddess. "See you in a few minutes," he said, and went off to a standing ovation.
After a short intermission, the curtain crawled slowly up to the strains of Dylan and Joan Baez singing "The Times They Are a-Changin'." After "Never Let Me Go" (an old Johnny Ace tune) and "I Shall Be Released," Dylan left, patting Baez on the head and leaving her to do a seven-song set. Roger McGuinn took her place for "Chestnut Mare" and then gave the stage back to Dylan for "Mr. Tambourine Man" and, from the next album, "Oh, Sister."
"This is," said Dylan, "a song about Rubin Carter," and behind him a screen slowly whirred to the floor and the band went into "Hurricane," the single that would be released the next day — October 31st. A huge picture of Carter in boxing gear was projected onto the screen and that was the extent of Dylan's comment on the song. "One More Cup of Coffee" was next and then Dylan broke into "Sara," a bittersweet song to his wife:
I'd taken the cure
And had just gotten through
Staying up for days
In the Chelsea Hotel,
Writing 'Sad-Eyed Lady
of the Lowlands' for you
Sara oh Sara
Wherever we travel
We're never a part
Sara oh Sara
So dear to my heart*
He wound it up with "Just Like a Woman" and then the entire cast gathered for "This Land Is Your Land," with even Allen Ginsberg joining in. The three-hour show was over, the audience responded with a ten-minute standing ovation. The second Plymouth show, again a sellout, drew a quieter crowd, one almost polite toward its elders onstage. The show was virtually the same except for the substitution of "I Don't Believe You" for "Mr. Tambourine Man" and "Mama, You've Been on My Mind" instead of "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll."
From Plymouth, the buses and campers rolled on to North Dartmouth, Massachusetts, to Southeastern Massachusetts University. The crowd of 3000 had been prepped. A week before, an advance party, accompanied by the ever present camera crew, descended on the dorms at 10 p.m. to pass out Rolling Thunder handbills.
The night before the buses rolled, Dylan had been sitting in the bar of the Gramercy Park Hotel, sipping Remy Martin. He was asked by someone on the tour why it was called Rolling Thunder. Dylan thought for a minute. "I was just sitting outside my house one day," he finally replied, "thinking about a name for this tour, when all of a sudden, I look up into the sky and I hear a boom. Then, boom, boom, boom, boom, rolling from west to east" — Dylan punched at the air, like a prizefighter — "then I figured that should be the name."
Dylan got another drink and the questioner asked him: "You know what Rolling Thunder means to the Indians?"
A pause. Dylan shifted his hat and rocked back. "Well, I'm glad to hear that. I'm real glad to hear that, man."
* ©1975 Ram's Horn Music.
This is a story from the December 4, 1975 issue of Rolling Stone.
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