It’s another Bob Dylan live album. Nothing more, nothing less.
I realize that maybe it’s pointless to review a record like Real Live when I haven’t even covered Dylan’s 80’s studio records yet. There’s no context! Why would you care??
Well, okay. Here is a little context. Real Live covers bits of Dylan’s ’84 tour, sandwiched between ’83’s Infidels and ’85’s Empire Burlesque. The former is a pretty decent record, the latter I haven’t even heard yet. His backing band consisted of a smattering of FM rock icons (Mick Taylor on guitar, ex-Face Ian McLagan on the keys, Carlos Santana on guitar here and there), and the disc itself was produced by Glyn Johns if that means anything to you.
The negatives: Dylan sounds pretty haggard here. A little more sprightly than At Budokan, but nowhere near his tour-de-force Rolling Thunder performances. But what would you expect? The guy was over 40 at this point. This record captures him in an awkward transitional phase, between his triumphant mid-70’s comeback and his sudden re-emergence in the late 90’s, when his new-found “old man wheeze” suddenly became an asset. Here, it just sounds sad.
Also, despite the talent present in Dylan’s band, almost every Highway 61 song here sounds incredibly dopey. Lame, “rockin'” versions of each one. Too professional. No heart. Why does “Highway 61 Revisited” sound like T. Rex, for God’s sake? Who thought that was a good idea??* And the electrified “Masters of War” robs it of all its haunting allure. Egh.
The positives: “Tangled Up In Blue” is phenomenal. And it’s got new lyrics! Hey!! That should warrant an illegal download for this thing, at the very least. It’s not the best version of the song by a longshot, but it is a lovely experience, and the new third-person lyrics will keep you hooked. Just as good as the Rolling Thunder version, I would say.
The other solo acoustic songs here are good, as well. “It Ain’t Me, Babe” and “Girl From North Country” aren’t anything new, but they are nice. Dylan sounds a lot better here than on the electric songs, if you can believe that. Also, the two Infidels songs here – “License To Kill” and “I And I” – sound pretty good, and work better with this band than the Highway 61 tracks.
Overall: a decent experience, but not essential. Only 52 minutes long, so at least it’s over with quicker than Budokan (which clocked in at 99 ungodly minutes). Check out “Tangled Up In Blue” if you can find it.
Aww, Bob. If only you had stuck with that band of young L.A. punks you cobbled together for that one time you were on Letterman! That would have been so great!!
I mean, come ON.
…more on that for the big 80’s post, I guess. It’s coming!! Mark your calendars. If you can predict the date, that is.
* Nothing against T.Rex. Electric Warrior, that was a good one.