When Bob Dylan and The Band announced their joint tour of 1974, the newspaper ad simply stated Bob Dylan/The Band. No further explanation, details, or hype was needed. The group (sometimes with drummer Levon Helm) had backed Dylan on previous tours, shows and albums in the 1960s and early 1970s. The tour, though, would be Dylan’s first full-scale tour since he suffered his mythical motorcycle accident in Woodstock in 1966. The relationship that Dylan and The Band had at various stages of Dylan’s career represents the best working relationship he had with any set of musicians. Now, nearly 40 years since that legendary tour, come two major reissue projects, one from Dylan (Another Self Portrait (1969-71): The Bootleg Series, Vol. 10) from Columbia/Legacy and one from The Band (Live At The Academy Of Music 1971: The Rock of Ages Concerts) from Capitol/UME from roughly the same period (primarily the early 70s) with Dylan appearing on the release from The Band and The Band appearing on the release from Dylan.
That, in many respects, is where the similarities end. The original album that contained some of the material on The Band set, entitled Rock of Ages, released in 1972, is perhaps the group’s best loved album, although critics will cite Music From Big Pink as its best work. The music that made up the original release that the Dylan set is based on, Self-Portrait, released in 1970, was not viewed very positively when it was first released and that’s putting it mildly. Greil Marcus, in his infamous Rolling Stone review (quoted in his liner notes included with the box set), opened his review with, “What is this shit?” His review of the original album reflected what many people felt at the time: that Dylan, the great songwriter, had released a double album of mostly uninspired covers.
This new Dylan reissue boasts a box set that contains four CDs of music that offer a different perspective on the original release. The first two CDs (which can be purchased separately) include 35 rarities and previously unreleased recordings that draw from almost all of the albums that Dylan released on Columbia after his motorcycle accident and the music that would appear on the Basement Tapes, before signing with Asylum Records. In light of his more recent country-tinged recordings and the folk cover albums he recorded just before those albums, Good As I Been To You and World Gone Wrong, one can view the music here in a more favorable light. There is quite a lot of music taken from New Morning period, an album of original material that far outshines the covers.
The real treat of the four-CD set, that also includes the original album, is a live disc of Dylan and The Band’s complete 19-song performance at the Isle of Wight from August 31st, 1969, Dylan’s first full concert since his motorcycle accident. These historic and infamous recordings are another chapter in the authorized bootleg series that scholars, critics and fans can pour over, analyze and critique and which simultaneously demystify and add to the myth of Dylan.
The Band reissue is easier to understand and in fact requires no secret decoder ring to comprehend. While rock critics (Greil Marcus again) and rock musicians (namely Eric Clapton) rhapsodize over Music From Big Pink, the group’s fans most likely fell head over heels in love with the group through the original Rock of Ages live double-album released in 1972. This new box set (four CDs and one DVD) contains 19 previously unreleased recordings drawn from the four-night run that culminated in the now legendary New Year’s Eve performance of 1971 that included Bob Dylan. Disc one and two includes one performance of every one of the songs performed over the four nights, including four with Dylan (which can be purchased separately). Discs three and four include a complete, unedited performance of the New Year’s Eve show. The DVD includes a surround-sound mix of the New Year’s Eve show and two filmed performances from December 30th. Assuming at least one of the shows were filmed, it would have been off the charts if a full filmed concert DVD had been included.
These live Band recordings represent a zenith in live rock concert performances from that period that also include Mad Dogs & Englishmen, The Allman Brothers’ Live At The Fillmore East, Live At Leeds from The Who, Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out from the Rolling Stones, Performance: Rockin’ the Fillmore from Humble Pie, and Full House from The J. Geils Band.