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music friday: bob dylan and the band, 1974

In January of 1974, Bob Dylan released Planet Waves. His recorded output in the 70s had been mixed. In 1970, Self Portrait was released, receiving the worst reviews of Dylan's career (capped off by Greil Marcus famously beginning his review, "What is this shit?"). New Morning came out before the end of 1970 and prompted "he's back" feelings of relief. In late 1971, he put out Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits Vol. II, after which he wasn't heard of until the soundtrack to Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid in 1973 (he also played a small role in the movie). He then left Columbia Records after being with them since the beginning of his career ... perhaps in retaliation, Columbia released Dylan without his participation ... it was an album of outtakes, none written by Dylan, including two from Self Portrait (outtakes from Self Portrait!).

Planet Waves featured The Band in support of Dylan. It was welcomed as his best since ... the 1960s? Meanwhile, Dylan and The Band embarked on a two-month tour that was Dylan's first tour in eight years, accompanied by his old partners from the mid-60s.

We caught the show near the end, on February 11, 1974. They played two shows that day at the Oakland Coliseum ... we attended the afternoon concert, if memory serves. They then finished the tour with three shows in Los Angeles. Almost all of the tracks on the subsequent live album Before the Flood came from the L.A. shows.

The concerts followed an established pattern: an opening set with Dylan and The Band, a set of The Band alone, then Dylan/Band again, followed by an acoustic set by Dylan, another Band alone set, and everyone on stage for the finale. My memories are a bit dim ... it was 48 years ago, after all. I remember at the beginning thinking damn, that's Bob Dylan up there! The Band were the proper backup. I feel like the parts where the two played together were better than their separate sets. But a lot of my memories are smudged by all the times I've played Before the Flood in the ensuing years, even though none of its tracks were recorded in Oakland.

Here is an audio-only mix of songs from the two Oakland shows:

And here is the version of "All Along the Watchtower" from Before the Flood:

Finally, from Planet Waves, here is "Dirge", which I feel has gotten lost in the shuffle over the years. He has never played it in concert, and he only did two takes in the studio (the second, with Dylan on piano and Robbie Robertson on guitar, is what they used for the album). I suppose that means he only ever played it twice. It deserves more. "I hate myself for loving you and the weakness that it showed."

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