Bob Dylan’s 1978 world tour is widely derided as one of the lowest moments of the songwriter’s long career, a soulless, 114-date greatest hits revue with a bloated 11-piece band that seemed to be on loan from Neil Diamond or the recently-deceased Elvis Presley. Critics dubbed it the “Alimony Tour” since it followed his nasty (and expensive) divorce from his wife Sara, and many fans saw it as a shocking retreat from the brilliance of the Rolling Thunder Revue of 1975/76.
Perceptions of the tour were forever shaped by Bob Dylan at Budokan, a quickie live album taped just days into the year-long odyssey. Originally released solely in Japan, the set was put out globally after fans began importing it. In hindsight, releasing the album anywhere was probably a mistake since it captured the tour in its infancy, long before the band gelled and the songs from Street Legal were brought into the set.
By the time the tour finally came to America in September, the show had gotten significantly better, even if some of the new arrangements of old favorites like “Mr. Tambourine Man” and “Blowin’ in the Wind” never quite came together. The best moments of the night came when they introduced material from Street Legal. It’s an album packed with horns and backup singers, and it was perfect for this band.
The highlight of the show regularly came at the very end when the band kicked into “Changing of the Guards,” the first song from Street Legal. It’s a seven-minute epic with some of the most perplexing lyrics in Dylan’s catalog, and every night he delivered all of them with fiery passion. Here’s video from a Nashville stop near the very end of the tour. (There’s no sound for the first ten seconds.) It’s absolutely sensational, and in typical Dylan fashion he hasn’t sang a note of the song since the final show of the tour.