New York & Oakland 1974 (Mid Valley Sampler)
A common assessment of Bob Dylan and The Band’s 1974 tour is that, despite the commercial success, it was an artistic failure. Instead of being a time of renewed creativity, it was more of a nostalgic trip for both artists and audience.
Writer Nat Hentoff would later claim that “Dylan’s sound and beat are of the past…the gestalt is anachronistic.” Levon Helm stated in his autobiography that “the tour was damn good for our pocketbooks, but it just wasn’t a very passionate trip for any of us.” Even Dylan himself confirmed this six years later in 1980 when he stated in an interview: “When Elvis did ‘That’s All Right, Mama’ in 1955, it was sensitivity and power. In 1969, it was just full-out power. There was nothing other than just force behind that. I’ve fallen into that trap, too. Take the 1974 tour. It’s a very fine line you have to walk to stay in touch with something once you’ve created it … Either it holds up for you or it doesn’t.”
Part of the problem seems to be that all involved with Planet Waves lost faith in the project. “Tough Mama,” “Forever Young,” “Something There Is About You,” “Wedding Song” and “Nobody ‘Cept You” (recorded for the album but left off, only to appear on The Bootleg Series 1-3 in 1991) were part of the regular set for the first week and a half. But by the time the tour hit New York only “Forever Young” remained.
It’s legacy remains as one of the most obscure and almost forgotten tours in Dylan’s career. Despite the media blitz that attended the tour no video tape or films are in circulation and very few still photographs exist. The souvenir live album Before The Flood reached the charts and was hailed as one of the best live albums ever, but has never been treated to a remaster-deluxe treatment on CD.
While there is some truth to this assessment, this is still an important milestone in the history of rock and popular music. It not only enabled millions who caught onto Dylan after 1966 to see him live, it served as the beginning of Dylan’s attempt to re-interpret himself to the audience through various arrangements and permutations of live touring bands. The Rolling Thunder Revue in 1975, Hard Rain in 1976 and the Street Legal tours in 1978 all can be seen as reactions to this. 1974 also marks the live debuts of such classics as “All Along The Watchtower,” “Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I’ll Go Mine)” and “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door.”
There are many documents from in excellent sound quality. Mid Valley presents two soundboard recordings. The New York recording, although was out before for many years, come out with a vastly improved generagion several years ago. And the entire Oakland show was posted online for the first time.
Madison Square Garden, New York, NY – January 31th 1974 (late show)
Disc 1 (54:52): Most Likely You Go Your Way, Lay Lady Lay, Just Like Tom Thumbs Blues, Rainy Day Women #12 & 35, It Ain’t Me Babe, Ballad Of A Thin Man, Stage Fright, The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, King Harvest, When You Awake, Up On Cripple Creek, All Along The Watchtower, Ballad Of Hollis Brown, Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door
Disc 2 (58:51): The Times They Are A Changin’, Don’t Think Twice It’s All Right, Gates Of Eden, Just Like A Woman, It’s Alright Ma, Rag Mama Rag, This Wheel’s On Fire, The Shape I’m In, The Weight, Forever Young, Highway 61 Revisited, Like A Rolling Stone, Most Likely You Go Your Way, Blowin’ In The Wind
Bob Dylan and The Band’s soundboard recording of the evening show at Madison Square Garden on January 31 has been released before. Among the earliest releases is Before and After the Flood (Unbelievable UM 017/018) along with some 1965 material released in 1992. New York City ‘74 (Red Sky 1001) contains fourteen songs from this show and is filled out with tracks from the Oakland soundboard from the same tour.
Forever Young (Cool Daddy 103323) contains a bulk of this show including from The Band, and finally the no label Poet And The Playersalso documents this tape. The soundboard recording on these releases comes from a high generation, muffled and hissy tape that is good for being a document of the show.
Several years ago a low generation tape was posted online and quickly pressed on It’s Great To Be Back In New York (Vintage Masters Premium Series VM-011A/B), a title unique on that label for not being sourced from Wolfgang’s Vault. This recording is a significant upgrade over all of the other titles that have been released with this tape. It is very clear, balanced and detailed and can be considered to be one of the best sounding soundboard recordings from Bob Dylan and The Band’s 1974 tour across North America.
However, there are several imperfections on the tape. There is a cut after “Up On Cripple Creek” and the first couple lines of “All Along The Watchtower” are missing. There is also a cut after “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door.” “The Shape I’m In” fades out and “The Weight” fades in just before the first chorus, and there is a tape crinkle sixteen seconds into “Forever Young” eliminating several lines.
Vintage Masters compensated by including those songs from the afternoon show plus “Maggie’s Farm” as bonus tracks. Mid Valley use the exact same tape as Vintage Masters and has the exact same sound quality. The flaws were left as is.
This show occurs about a month into the tour, and by this time the set list has pretty much been solidified. Rehearsed and slickly produced, this is a highly polished, professional show in what one author says was the already profitable sixties nostalgia movement. In contrast the tone of the production, Dylan barks, shouts, and snarls out the lyrics in a mixture of ferocity and irony. Concerts earlier on the tour began with the ultra obscure “Hero’s Blues,” but by New York they had settled on “Most Likely You’ll Go Your Own Way” as both opener and often as closer.
“It’s great to be back here in New York. It is a rare privilege to be here,” Dylan says before “Lay Lady Lay.” Hudson favors a modern sounding (at the time) synthesizer accompaniment on Dylan’s songs throughout the show. Of the first six songs, the more interesting is the arrangement of “It Ain’t Me Babe.” With The Band behind him, the song is transformed into a joyous honky tonk completely at odds with the meaning of the words themselves.
The Band play five songs including the classic “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” They bring their expected gravitas to the show. Dylan and The Band play three more songs together, “All Along The Watchtower,” a bouncing arrangement of “Ballad Of Hollis Brown,” and the previous year’s hit “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door.” The following five songs are a real nostalgia trip with Dylan alone on stage with only his acoustic guitar and harp.
The Band follow with four more of their own songs before Dylan joins them again for the final three songs of the set and two encores. “Forever Young” is the only song from the Planet Waves album played in this show, the one they were ostensibly promoting.
The final song of the set “Like A Rolling Stone” is of course a watershed track from the last time Dylan toured with The Band behind him. “Most Likely You Go Your Own Way” receives a reprise as the first encore and the show ends with a full band version of “Blowin’ In The Wind.”
Alameda County Coliseum, Oakland, CA – February 11th, 1974 (late show)
Disc 3 (56:57): Most Likely You Go Your Way, Lay Lady Lay, Just Like Tom Thumbs Blues, Rainy Day Women #12 & 35, It Ain’t Me Babe, Ballad Of A Thin Man, Stage Fright, The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, King Harvest, When You Awake, Up On Cripple Creek, All Along The Watchtower, Ballad Of Hollis Brown, Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door
Disc 4 (63:52): The Times They Are A Changin’, Just Like A Woman, Gates Of Eden, Don’t Think Twice It’s All Right, It’s Alright Ma, Rag Mama Rag, This Wheel’s On Fire, The Shape I’m In, The Weight, Forever Young, Highway 61 Revisited, Like A Rolling Stone, Maggie’s Farm, Blowin’ In The Wind
For the February 11th evening show in Oakland, an incomplete soundboard was in circulation and contained the latter part of the show including “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding),” “Rag Mama Rag,” “This Wheel’s On Fire,” “The Shape I’m In,” “The Weight,” “Forever Young,” “Highway 61 Revisited,” “Like A Rolling Stone,” “Maggie’s Farm” and “Blowin’ In The Wind.” The only previous pressing was on Oakland Flood (Mainstream MSBR 0016/17) along with the tape for the afternoon show.
Wolfgang’s Vault posted the entire show on their site and it remains one of the nicest surprises in their Bob Dylan collection. The sound is very clear. The only imperfections really worth noting are the mix in “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door,” where Levon Helm’s vocals are louder than Dylan’s, and Danko is barely audible in the first verse of “This Wheel’s On Fire.”
The setlist is virtually identical to New York two weeks before. But the performance is much tighter. The Band in particular are locked into the arrangements and deliver a sizzling set. “Most Likely You Go Your Way” starts the show and Dylan sounds excited in greeting the audience when he says that it’s great to be “back in San Francisco at last!”
There is a small change in sequence in Dylan’s acoustic set in the middle where he swaps “Just Like A Woman” with “Don’t Think Twice.” And the final encore isn’t a reprise of “Most Likely You Go Your Way” but a heavy, electric version of “Blowin’ In The Wind.”
Mid Valley package New York & Oakland 1974in a fatboy jewel case with the TMoQ cover on the front and rear. The discs themselves have no mention of the contents, and the only point of reference is the insert with band, title, and setlist. Again, Mid Valley have gone the extra mile to produce a putrid, pathetic looking title (something Empress Valley have honed into an art-form). Even at the price offered it’s not really appropriate. However, the music all does sound really good and is worth having.