Bob Dylan famously pissed off crowds on his 1965/’66 tour by playing electric music, but in 1979 he took audience provocation to the next level by presenting a night of music devoted exclusively to selections from his new gospel records, often pausing for long, rambling sermons about Christ’s imminent return and the wickedness of man.
It was a shocking move for a man who spent 1978 playing a greatest-hits set at arenas all over the globe, though looking back, it’s clear to most everybody the gospel shows of 1979/’80 were infinitely better than the tired nostalgia of the Street Legal tour. He was also playing with one of the best backing bands of his long career, with Jim Keltner on drums, Tim Drummond on bass, Spooner Oldham on keyboards and Fred Tackett on guitar. A rotating crew of gospel singers handled background vocals and Dylan sang with a fiery passion unmatched on any tour before or since.
A professional camera crew captured a stop at Toronto’s Massey Hall on April 20th, 1980. Before launching into a stunningly powerful “Solid Rock,” Dylan delivered a nearly seven-minute sermon. It’s almost more than he’s said onstage at every show of last decade of the Never Ending Tour combined.
“We’ve had a lot of previews of what the Anti-Christ could be like,” he said. “We had that Jim Jones, he’s like a preview. We had Adolf Hitler, a preview. Anyway, the Anti-Christ is gonna be a little bit different than that. He’s gonna bring peace to the world for a certain length of time. But he will eventually be defeated too. Supernaturally defeated. And God will intervene.”
It’s a pretty amazing speech, but if you wanna just see the music, skip forward to 6:50. The sound quality is pretty incredible. Hopefully, the complete film of this show will appear on a future volume of The Bootleg Series.