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Extended Analysis

Bob Dylan and the Band: Before the Flood

By Published: April 21, 2012
Bob Dylan and the Band

Before the Flood

Original: Asylum Records

CD release: Columbia


Opinions are funny things, particularly music opinions. Regarding Bob Dylan and the Band's Before the Flood, here is my opinion.

Of all of his live recordings, Before the Flood remains Bob Dylan's best. Perhaps it is not the most (in)famous; that might be the "Albert Hall" show recorded at the Manchester Free Trade Hall in 1966 (The Bootleg Series Vol. 4: Bob Dylan Live 1966, The "Royal Albert Hall" Concert (Columbia, 1998). It might not be the most daring; that might be the failed Bob Dylan at Budakon (Columbia, 1979). It is not really the most interesting as Hard Rain (Columbia, 1976) is and not as pedestrian as Real Live (Columbia, 1984). It was not blatantly commercial as was his brief union with the Grateful Dead and his flirtation with Tom Petty. Yes, this set is his best. Before the Flood is the most complete and least compromised of Dylan live recordings.

For this tour, Dylan elected to do a major retooling of some of his better known songs, giving them a taut, serrated edge. This is most manifested in "Don't Think Twice," "Lay Lady Lay" (further transmogrified on Hard Rain ), and "Knockin' on Heaven's Door." He full reclaims "All Along the Watchtower" from Jimi Hendrix with the incandescent performance here, which is further super-heated by some of Robbie Robertson's best guitar playing. "Highway 61 Revisited," transformed into an electric blues pilgrimage by Johnny Winter, is transformed back into the mutant bastard child of Biblical prophecy and 1960s American politics Dylan originally intended it to be.

As far as the Band is concerned, their execution is tighter than Rock of Ages (Capitol, 1972) (and lacking the superb horns and Allen Toussaint charts) but without the conviction of that great New Testament of American Popular Music. "Up on Cripple Creek" is superb, perhaps only surpassed by The Last Waltz performance. "Just Like A Woman" and "Stage Fright" are vintage, but the performance overall lacks the honest reckless determination of Rock of Ages.

Like Waiting for Columbus (Warner Brothers, 1978), Before the Flood is not without its boners. Aside from the uninspired perfection of the Band's pieces, the disc closer, "Blowin' in the Wind" could have not sucked more had it been hooked to a nuclear vacuum. But these trifles in no way take away from the quickening fire of "Ballad of a Thin Man," "Most Likely Your Go Your Way (And I'll Go Mine," or "It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)." These songs find Dylan at his angst-ridden, spitting best— just how any respectable revolutionary should be.

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