Thursday, October 8, 2015

Hard Rain: The End of the Tour

Released September 10, 1976
The live album Hard Rain captures a different Dylan from the one on Before the Flood a few years earlier.  If Before the Flood felt like a victory lap for Dylan and The Band, on Hard Rain we get an angrier, more fragile performance.  

Most of the selections come from the penultimate show of The Rolling Thunder Revue performed in May 23, 1976 Fort Collins, Colorado, while the rest were taken from a May 17, 1976 show at Fort Worth.  If the first leg of The Rolling Thunder Revue brought theatricality and spontaneity to the 70s rock concert, the second wing of the tour during the spring of '76 seemed tired and met with less than enthusiastic reviews (also aired as a TV special on NBC to kick off their fall season).

Despite the rickety nature of Hard Rain, there's an endearing desperation to it. "Maggie's Farm" goes all over the place.  Then a weary version of "One Too Many Mornings."  With "Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again", the hip poetry from Blonde on Blonde gets shredded into hallucinogenic paranoia. Then the tenderness of "Oh Sister" and "Lay Lady Lay" gets replaced with rage and impatience. 

The second side included three reworkings from Blood on the Tracks. The homespun ease of "Shelter from the Storm" is transformed into an emotive farewell. "Idiot Wind" takes no prisoners as the venom builds with each verse.  "You're A Big Girl Now" sounds like a dirge with the horns in the background.

Fans of Blood on the Tracks and Desire will dig Hard Rain. Dylan sounds raw. honest, almost punk in his delivery.  One of his best live albums.