Bob Dylan At Budokan

Bob Dylan

Columbia, 1979

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


For some reason, Bob Dylan doesn't translate that well to live albums. I know, astute readers will note that I've said that before, but with two previous efforts under his belt, Dylan and his Street Legal band stepped up and released what would become his third live album in a span of five years, Bob Dylan At Budokan.

It has been argued whether Dylan really wanted to perform these particular shows. His film Renaldo And Clara had tanked, and the promoters of these shows (from which two were recorded and used on the album) had all but demanded that Dylan play nothing but his hits. So, one could understand if Dylan's heart wasn't completely into these performances.

That being said, it has to be noted that Dylan sounds like he's in excellent spirits. Admittedly, I've never seen Dylan in concert, but during the course of these 22 songs, he takes the time to communicate with the audience, and it hardly sounds like he's merely going through the motions. The problem I have – and it could well just be a mental block I have – is that anyone expecting to hear faithful reproductions of some of Dylan's classics will be in for a severe letdown. (Of course, anyone who listened to my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Before The Flood or Hard Rain should be used to this fact.)

If anything, I'll concede that some of these arrangements are a little easier on the ears, and this particular band suited Dylan well. The disc's closer “The Times They Are A-Changin'” actually gels well with the larger band arrangement. Similarly, “Blowin' In The Wind” is listenable in a larger scale.

Too bad this can't be said about shifting many of the arrangements from angry folk singer to pop balladeer, which is what Dylan had been trying to become for the better part of the mid to late '70s. Turning “All Along The Watchtower” into an all-out rocker – well, it worked for Jimi Hendrix, I know, and U2 would do something similar over a decade later on Rattle And Hum. But this time around, it just doesn't fly that well. Likewise, I'd love to know what Dylan did to “Maggie's Farm,” because this version is just terrible. And turning “Don't Think Twice, It's All Right” into a pseudo-reggae number? Are you kidding?!? Yes, I know music is supposed to evolve and not necessarily always sound like what one can hear on the record… but these arrangements are just too over-the-top.

That being said, I would disagree with many of the critics who called this the worst rock album ever to be released. In fact, of the three live discs that Dylan had out to this point, this is surprisingly the most listenable of the batch. Is it a great effort? God, no… but it's far more listenable than Hard Rain was. And, taken as a whole, the set is more cohesive than one might have expected, especially because Dylan was being kept from changing the set lists up and performing more obscure numbers as he has been wont to do over the years. Oh, he still had the room to mix things up with the arrangements, and there are times that the larger band suits Dylan well. I guess, though, there will always be a part of me that wants to hear the rawness of a song like “Maggie's Farm” like he recorded it back in 1965 again.

Rating: C+

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