Out On The Road (Godfather Records GR646)
(72:04): Technical University, Lowell, MA – November 2nd, 1975: When I Paint My Masterpiece, It Ain’t Me Babe, A Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall, Romance In Durango, Isis, Blowin’ In The Wind, Never Let Me Go, Water Is Wide, I Shall Be Released. Forum De Montreal, Montreal, Quebec, Canada – December 4th, 1975: When I Paint My Masterpiece, It Ain’t Me Babe, The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll, Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You, A Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall
Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Review in 1975 is counted among the greatest rock tours off all time for the level of musicanship and creativity. It was also one of the fullest expression of the Beat ethos in Dylan’s music and art, a triumph of spontaneity over calculation and, what is important for Dylan, following the muse.
And one of the important characteristics of Beat philosophy is idiosyncrasy, which most definitely applies to the RTR. For example, it is idiosyncratic that, instead of playing the hits off of his latest album Blood On The Tracks, unreleased songs such as “Romance In Durango” and “Isis” have most playing time. And, instead of carefully planning the tour, they instead chose more obscure venues with very little publicity.
Very early in the tour the RTR visited Lowell, Massachusetts, the hometown and burial place for Jack Kerouac, the author of On The Road and the one who coined the phrase “Beat.” Several years ago the non-Dylan portion of the show surfaced on soundboard and recently the first two (out of three) Dylan sets surfaced in excellent quality.
The first five songs are Dylan’s first set. According to Scarlet Rivera, Dylan wore a mask during “When I Paint My Masterpiece” and tore it off during “It Ain’t Me, Babe” for the harmonica solo. The recording is very clear and there is almost no crowd noise in the mix. It sounds like a very small venue played before a quiet audience. The band themselves are slightly tentative, sounding as if they need to get to know the arrangements and themselves better.
Dylan dedicates “Hard Rain” to Kerouac, which is played according to a hard walking blues arrangement.
The two defining tunes of the ’75 RTR are “Romance In Durango” and “Isis.” Perhaps for their sheer absurdity, they both also have the most striking narrative images. At this early stage they are played close to the studio recordings on Desire but would change by the end of the tour. Rivera would take a more prominent role in the former, and “Isis” would become one of the heaviest songs known to mankind by the time they played in Montreal.
Dylan’s second set is much more mellow. He sings duet with Joan Baez. “This song is written by Johnny Ace. Does anyone here remember Johnny Ace? Hey Rob, you didn’t get dressed” he says before a heartbreaking rendition of “Never Let Me Go” and follows with the old Scottish aire “The Water Is Wide.” The Lowell tape ends with “I Shall Be Released” which is dedicated to Richard Manuel.
The Montreal fragment is included to pad out the disc and provide an interesting contrast. It is one of Dylan’s most famous concerts due to it being filmed and released in the movie Renaldo And Clara. The songs are the first five of his first set presented in excellent quality.
The sharpness and aggression after being on the road for a month is obvious in the way Dylan attacks the words with all his force. The band have also jelled into a tight unit, playing with none of the tentativeness in Lowell. Of note are the amazing performances of “The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll” and “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You” (the song whose lyrics named the tour).
Out On The Road is packaged in Godfather’s tri-fold gatefold sleeve. The artwork has appropriate photographs from Ken Regan of Dylan and Allan Ginsberg visiting Jack Kerouac’s grave in Edson Cemetery in Lowell on November 3rd, the day after the show.
While this is a good collection of the Dylan fragments, both Lowell and Montreal’s non-Dylan portions have also surfaced and a release with the entire revue would have been a nice touch. It would also have captured the vagabond beat spirit of the times to hear the other artists. Nevertheless, this is a good title worth having.