Someone actually asked for my opinion about the best live tapes available from all the tours, so I'm making this available on the WEB since I put a little bit of effort into it and don't want to waste it. I haven't heard EVERY tape in existence, but of those that I have heard these are the ones I consider worth adding to your collection.
I'll start with the '74 tour since I think anything available from the previous tours is worth having. Briefly, though, the best 1964 show is without doubt Philharmonic Hall 10/31/64 (the Halloween concert) which exists in excellent PA quality in various boot formats. The best 1965 live recording that I've heard is the boot "Now Ain't the Time for Your Tears", which is Manchester 1965 PA recording. The BBC broadcast from that same year is perhaps even better, but the sound quality is slightly less. Of course 1966 live shows are sought after and the most popular seems to be the Manchester and London shows, but my favorite 1966 show is Edinburgh. The sound quality is poor, though.
Best tapes (my opinion)
Chicago, IL 1/3/74
The first show of the tour and the most experimental. The only show where Dylan joins the Band for a few of their numbers. Lots of different songs being tried out here, including "Hero Blues" and "Tough Mama". Audience recording.
Philadelphia, PA 1/6/74
The best show of the tour, and one of the best sounding. The early shows were best, I think. The way they play "Ballad of a Thin Man" and "Tom Thumb's Blues" hasn't been equalled since. Audience.
Toronto, Canada 1/10/74
Notable for the only live appearance of "As I Went Out One Morning". The sound is very good too. Audience.
Boston, MA 1/14/74
Great early concert also includes the Band numbers, but ends at 90 minutes just after Dylan finishes his acoustic set, so the rest of the show is missing. PA recording.
New York City 1/31/74
Worth having because it's in such excellent sound. Bob and the Band are getting much tighter, but also getting a little too formulaic. PA.
Providence, RI 11/4/75
I only have an incomplete recording of this show, including songs not performed by Dylan, but I think this is one of his best shows from 1975. Audience.
Waterbury, CT 11/11/75
This is the one to get. The complete concert, including all other acts, and all in excellent PA quality. PA.
Boston, MA 11/21/75
Another PA quality show. Complete as far as Bob's performances. Excellent sound and performance, although the song list is standard ordinary for this tour. Much (or all?) of this appears on the CD "Get Ready! Tonight Bob's Staying Here With You". PA.
Toronto, Canada 12/1/75
Another complete show on 3 tapes. Audience.
New Orleans, LA 5/3/76
A complete 1976 Rolling Thunder show. Sound quality ranges from fair to excellent, probably a problem in dubbing somewhere along the line. Someone, somewhere no doubt has a fully excellent copy. I'd be interested in that! PA.
Fort Worth, TX 5/16/76
Excellent sound quality of the complete (Dylan performances only) show. PA.
Tokyo, Japan 2/20/78
First show of the tour, and consequently very fresh and rough. Much more similar to the 1976 Rolling Thunder shows than the later 1978 concerts in the US. Fair audience recording - incomplete.
Brisbane, Aus 3/15/78
Incomplete PA recording, but early in the tour and featuring very fine performances.
Los Angeles, CA 6/2/78
Excellent performances! One of the best I've heard from this tour. I've never heard the complete version, although I've sure it's available. Audience.
Paris, France 7/3/78 thru 7/8/78
All the Paris shows are well worth having. All are complete audience recordings.
Surrey, England 7/15/78
Another classic complete show, this one from Blackbushe Aerodrome. Audience.
Toronto, Canada 10/12/78
An example of what Dylan wound up sounding like once he got to America. He sings with great energy and enthusiasm and this is the best of the late shows that I've heard. Audience.
late 1979, early 1980
All of the late 1979 gospel shows in San Francisco are worth having, especially:
San Francisco, CA 11/16/79
All of the Santa Monica shows are great too. Recommended:
Santa Monica, CA 11/19/79
Tempe, AZ 11/26/79
Hostile audience gives Dylan a real edge here. He preaches to the crowd and doesn't pay an encore. Audience.
Toronto, Canada 4/19/80
A 45 minute live compilation from this show, it was supposed to be an official live album instead of the studio _Saved_. Excellent sound quality. PA.
Hartford, CT 5/8/80
Great concert from when the show was still purely gospel. Audience.
San Francisco, CA 11/12/80
The 1980 shows mixed up more "secular" songs with the gospel ones. Many old favorites were played, including "Like a Rolling Stone". This particular show features the only live version of "Caribbean Wind". Audience.
San Francisco, CA 11/15/80
Notable for the appearance of Mike Bloomfield. Also of interest for the excellent sound quality. PA.
San Francisco, CA 11/16/80
Jerry Garcia guests. Excellent sound. PA.
Seattle, WA 11/30/80
Fine show. Excellent sound. Audience.
Portland, OR 12/3/80
Fine show. Excellent sound. Audience.
London, England 6/28/81
The 1981 shows were better than both 1979 and 1980. The band was getting tighter and more adventurous. Fewer gospel songs were being played and Dylan was singing better than he ever had. Audience.
Drammen, Norway 7/10/81
Not quite complete, but excellent sound. PA.
New Orleans, LA 11/10/81
The famous Daniel Lanois mix. Planned for an official album? Available as the CD Stadiums of the Damned. PA.
Houston, TX 11/12/81
Complete show in PA quality.
European Tour Rehearsals 5/23/84
Not a concert but the Beverly Theatre rehearsals in Los Angeles. A must have. Studio recording.
Verona Rehearsal tape 5/84
Makes a fine companion to the above. A must. Studio recording.
Barcelona, Spain 6/28/84
Probably the best of the 1984 European shows. Complete with about 45 minutes of encores! Audience.
Paris, France 7/1/84
Partial PA recording. Excellent sound and performances.
The 1986 tour was so poor, in my opinion, that I can only recommend one show:
Saratoga Springs 7/13/86
Complete PA concert, including all songs by Petty as well.
Of the Dylan/Dead shows, I especially recommend:
Foxboro, MA 7/4/87
Philadelphia, PA 7/10/87
Eugene, OR 7/19/87
Oakland, CA 7/24/87
The 1987 European tour with Tom Petty was much better than the 1986 tour. Of the shows I've heard, I like these:
Torino, Italy 9/13/87
Stockholm, Sweden 9/26/87
London, England 10/17/87
1988 was a great year for Dylan concerts and all shows are recommened without hesitation. Some real standouts are:
Berkeley, CA 6/10/88
Neil Young sits in with Dylan for the second electric portion of the show, after the acoustic set. One of his best concerts of all time. Excellent sound. Audience.
Mountain View, CA 6/11/88
Another fine show with Neil Young on guitar. Excellent sound as well. Audience.
Mansfield, MA 7/2/88
Partial PA recording. Some songs garbled.
Los Angeles, CA 8/3/88
A real favorite of mine. Strong show with some truly incredible performances. Best "Rolling Stone" I've heard from the never ending tour. Audience.
George, WA 8/20/88
Another outstanding show. Brutal "Absolutely Sweet Marie" and "Masters of War". Excellent sound. Audience.
Bristol, CT 9/4/88
Complete show in outstanding PA quality. Available as the CD Wanted Man.
Upper Darby, PA 10/13/88
Longest 1988 show - close to 2 hours. A sort of warmup for the extended NYC shows of a few days later. Dylan and band in peak form. Audience.
New York City, NY 10/17/88
Very hot performances! Another favorite. Audience.
New York City, NY 10/18/88
Even better than the previous night. Best of the NYC shows that I have. Excellent sound. Audience.
New York City, NY 10/19/88
Nearly complete PA recording available on the CD Stuck Inside of New York. Excellent sound. Performance only slightly weaker than the previous night.
Shows are a little more erratic, but mostly all recommended with very few exceptions. Here are my favorites:
Stockholm, Sweden 5/28/89
Dylan seems to forget how to play some of these songs. The result is a fresh approach to some old favorites. Audience.
Columbia, MD 7/19/89
The best 1989 show that I've heard. Probably the very best sound I've ever heard from an audience tape.
Berkeley, CA 9/3/89
One of the best 1989 shows. Audience recording.
Los Angeles, CA 9/9/89
Another outstanding show from the fall 1989 tour. Audience.
Toad's, CT 1/12/90
Extended public rehearsal featuring almost 5 hours of one-offs, covers, and debuts. All electric - no acoustic numbers. Available on CD. Sound is very good for an audience recording.
Penn State, PA 1/14/90
All electric show. Many unusual performances. Sound is adequate. Audience.
Princeton, NJ 1/15/90
For a change Bob starts out the show with one electric song followed by several acoustic numbers and then back to electric for the remainder of the show. Good sound. Audience.
Rio De Janeiro, Brazil 1/25/90
Partial soundboard starts out with a poor mix and then quickly settles down to some serious rock and roll with excellent sound. PA recording.
London, England 2/8/90
Some people consider this his best show ever. It's pretty good. Audience.
Montreal, Canada 5/29/90
Excellent show in good sound quality. Audience.
La Crosse, WI 6/12/90
Another great show from Spring of 1990. Audience.
West Point, NY 10/13/90
One of his best shows of all time. Excellent sound to boot! Audience.
His worst year by far. I can recommend very few shows from this year.
Zurich, Switzerland 1/28/91
Only because it was the first with his new band. Very rough going, but unusual and worthwhile I suppose. Audience.
Williamsport, PA 2/21/91
I think this is the best of the early '91 shows and the one to have if you only need one show to represent this period. Strong performances overall. Audience.
Ringe, Denmark 6/29/91
Even though the performances are mostly awful, it is a PA recording which may make it worth getting.
Vienna, VA 7/19/91
An incomplete soundboard recording. Only fair performances.
Tulsa, OK 10/30/91
Complete soundboard recording and much better than previous shows in the year. The band is starting to improve. PA.
Evanston, IL 11/4/91
More like it! Excellent show in excellent sound. Audience.
Madison, WI 11/5/91
This is only a partial recording taken from a CD. The sound is so good that it's hard to tell if it's PA or audience.
The year that Dylan got his shit together. Starts out in Australia with some of the best shows of his entire career, with a newly revitalized band that now includes Bucky Baxter on pedal steel and dobro.
Recommended, all in excellent audience recordings:
Canberra, Australia 3/29/92
Melbourne, Australia 4/3/92
Melbourne, Australia 4/5/92
Sydney, Australia 4/15/92
The early part of the US tour proved a little disappointing. I can only recommend the following:
Seattle, WA 4/28/92
San Francisco, CA 5/5/92
San Jose, CA 5/9/92
The late '92 shows were truly incredible, mostly thanks to the new drummer Winston Watson. The best:
Binghampton, NY 10/12/92
Providence, RI 10/25/92
Wilkes-Barre, PA 11/1/92
Youngstown, OH 11/2/92
Sarasota, FL 11/9/92
Clearwater, FL 11/11/92
Things fell apart in 1993, although many people will no doubt disagree. I can recommend only a very few from this year:
Marseilles, France 6/29/93
Barcelona, Spain 7/1/93
Gijon, Spain 7/8/93
Vienna, VA 9/8/93
First appearance of "Series of Dreams". Audience.
Vienna, VA 9/9/93
PA recording fades in and out.
All the Supper Club shows are very good. The best are the final two. All are audience recordings and all are available on CD.
New York, NY 11/16/93
New York, NY 11/16/93
New York, NY 11/17/93
New York, NY 11/17/93
A very good year for Dylan shows. Recommended:
Nagoya, Japan 2/11/94
Hiroshima, Japan 2/16/94
Woodstock, NY 8/14/94
Dylan's appearance at Woodstock was great! PA recording, both mono and stereo available.
Lewiston, NY 8/16/94
Nice PA recording.
Roseland, NY 10/20/94
MTV Unplugged, NY 11/17-18/94
Dylan took his touring band into Sony Music Studios in New York City to tape two sessions for what would become MTV Unplugged. The resulting video and album were great but the entire sessions are a must.
Not as good as the 1994 shows. For some reason, odd numbered years seem weaker than the even numbers. The band, although tighter than ever, are starting to get a little tired sounding. Winston Watson is especially irritating and John Jackson just seems to get worse. Still, some interesting shows and a new approach - Dylan dispenses with guitar for the beginning of many shows at the start of the European leg of the tour. Of special note are two shows where Dylan opened for the Grateful Dead. Not only where they strong shows for Dylan, and in excellent sound quality, but they were some of Jerry Garcia's final shows and the last time Jerry and Bob played together live.
Prague, Chech Republic 3/11/95
First show to feature Dylan's new guitar-free style.
London, England 3/30/95
A favorite of many. This show best represents the early '95 shows.
Dublin, Ireland 4/11/95
Of special interest for the presence of Carole King on piano throughout most of the show.
Laguna Seca, CA 5/27/95
One of the best soundboards ever to emerge from the recent tours. Appears to be professionally mixed.
Washington DC 6/24/95 and Washington DC 6/25/95
Excellent audience DATs from the two shows Dylan opened for the Dead. By all accounts, Bob blew away the Dead. The 6/25 show has an appearance by Jerry Garcia during the encores. He died not long after.
Ft. Lauderdale, FL 9/23/95
Open rehearsal in a small club in Ft. Lauderdale. Featured an almost entirely different setlist than before or since. The choice of songs could almost be seen as a tribute to Jerry Garcia. The show is fresh and full of energy, something that was lacking in most other shows the same year.
Not much better than the 1995 tour. The band is getting old and a change is needed. That would happen by the end of the year with the departure of Winston Watson and the arrival of David Kemper.
Liverpool, England 6/26/96
Liverpool, England 6/27/96
These shows are notable for the inclusion of Al Kooper on keyboards. Essentially a warmup for the Prince's Trust concert a few days later. Outstanding "Memphis Blues Again" with Kooper recreating his organ part on the original record.
John Jackson leaves the group after the Japanese part of the tour early in the year and is replaced by the amazing Larry Campbell. The combination of new drummer Kemper and new guitarist Campbell sparks the sound and the result is some of the best shows since 1988! Dylan and Campbell play well together and Kemper displays great versatility. Recommended shows:
Hershey, PA 8-13-97
Dylan is in exceptionally fine voice for this show and he performs some great versions of One of Us Must Know, Tough Mama, Simple Twist of Fate, and in fact the entire show is on from start to finish.
Vienna, VA 8/23/97 and Vienna, VA 8/24/97
Two excellent line recordings from Wolf Trap.
San Jose, CA 11/14/97
This unusual gig was for a private party thrown by Applied Materials at the San Jose Arena. They threw a similar party in Texas with Stevie Wonder as the headliner. The Wallflowers were also on the bill with Bob, but they didn't play together. Free tickets to this were given away to employees of Applied Materials, but many non-employees managed to gain admittance. Fortunately, one of them supplied this great sounding tape.
New York City, NY 12/8/97
Excellent soundboard from an outstanding show featuring energetic performances all the way through, proving that 1997 was a career highlight for Dylan. Available on two different bootleg CDs: Tonight I'll be Playing Here For You and White Dove.
Los Angeles 12/16/97 - 12/20/97
The entire run of shows at the El Rey Theatre in Los Angeles is worth hearing. All tapes are good to excellent quality. The best of the lot is 12/19/97, which was booted as Don't Be Late and features Sheryl Crow on Highway 61 Revisited and Knockin' on Heaven's Door.
Dylan's run of outstanding shows continues this year with some of the best of his entire career. There was no doubt that 1998 found an increasingly energized Dylan enjoying the comeback of his career. A sold out series of shows with Van Morrison at Madison Square Garden continued the roll he was on after the El Rey engagement. After winning three Grammy awards for Time Out of Mind, including Album of the Year, he did a short West Coast tour of arenas on a triple bill with Van Morrison and Joni Mitchell. The shows all sold out very quickly and were some of the best he's ever done. Then it was off to Europe for more amazing shows, including some that featured extended acoustic segments. Recommended shows:
New York City, NY 1/20/98
One of the best of the Madison Square Garden shows. A compliation CD called Bob Dylan Does the Big Apple combines some of the best performances of this series of shows.
San Jose, CA 5/19/98
A line recording from the San Jose Arena. Not only is it an excellent recording, but it's also one of Dylan's greatest shows ever!
Anaheim, CA 5/23/98
A great sounding recording from the final night of the Bob/Van/Joni tour.
Newcastle, England 6/20/98
One of the best sounding tapes from the 1998 European tour. Features six acoustic songs in a row.
Highlights include a joint tour with Paul Simon where they traded off headlining and joined each other for a mini-set. This year also saw big changes in the touring band with the departure of Bucky Baxter and the arrival of Charlie Sexton. Larry Campbell took over Baxter's pedal steel chores as well as playing acoustic and electric six-string guitar, plus the occasional fiddle. The result is one of the more interesting and versatile of Bob's recent bands.
Denver, CO 6/5/99
The first show with the new band lineup. A little tentative, but very fresh sounding for the most part.
Eugene, OR 6/14/99
This show featured a most unusual setlist compared to others on this tour, the most interesting variation being the live debut of "Down Along the Cove"! Also featured: "Most Likely You'll Go Your Way..." and "Blind Wille McTell". A soundboard version of this show is now in circulation.
Chula Vista, CA 6/26/99
Live debut of "Highlands"! Unfortunately, I don't believe a complete tape of this show circulates. The first three songs are missing.
Tramps - New York, NY 7/26/99
Soon to be known as "The Legendary Tramps Show", this show took place in the small club Tramps and featured the most unusual setlist of the entire 1999 tour: "Visions of Johanna", "John Brown", "Seeing the Real You At Last", "Most Likely...", "Every Grain of Sand", "Tombstone Blues", and more. Just an incredible show all around. To top it all off, it ends with a duet with Elvis Costello on "I Shall Be Released"!
Madison Square Garden - New York, NY 7/27/99
As a followup to the Tramps show, Dylan plays Madison Square Garden and puts on a solid show which features the second live rendition of "Highlands".
The 2000 tour saw the new band lineup getting tighter and more accomplished. Charlie Sexton and Larry Campbell blended nicely and presented some fine guitar interplay, especially on songs like "Country Pie" and "Things Have Changed". Overall, 2000 was a very good tour and probably the best (so far) of the Campbell/Sexton lineup.
Santa Cruz, CA 3/15/00
Santa Cruz, CA 3/16/00
Both of these shows were great, and in a small venue. First time ever for Dylan in Santa Cruz. The live "Highlands" that appears on the "Things Have Changed" single was taken from one of these shows.
Portsmouth, England 9/25/00
Fine show overall, and some of the material that appears on the Japanese import "Live 1961-2000" comes from this show.
Towson, MD 11/19/00
Another fine show, often referred to as the "talking kid" tape because of the presence of a youngster whining throughout the show, however the version I have doesn't seem to have anything like this at all.
A disastrous year. Something happened between the end of the 2000 tour and the beginning of 2001 (or maybe I just didn't notice a distinct lack of vitality toward the end of the previous tour?), but this year's performances are mostly bad, in fact some of the worst since 1991. Dylan had just released the critically acclaimed "Love and Theft" album and the tour was set to showcase the album in some of the largest venues he'd played in a long time, but for whatever reason Dylan had taken to singing practically every sing in an annoying "sing song" voice that made every song sound the same. To top it off, he insisted on playing way too much lead guitar on each and every song, giving his excellent guitar team no room to do anything. The result is a series of mostly unlistenable tapes, but there are a few bright spots just the same.
Sioux City, IA 10/23/01
St. Paul, MN 10/25/01
Two very good shows of consistent quality and a decent mix that downplays his annoying habit of playing inappropriate lead guitar on every song. Highlights include "Summer Days", "Highwater", and "Mississippi".
Dylan continued playing awful, mostly unlistenable shows, with an increasing use of the "sing song" voice and overplaying of lead guitar, leading me to want to hear less and less of his live performances than ever before. But suddenly, in the fall of 2002, after a brief break he began a series of shows that were completely different from what he had been doing for the past several years and the results were interesting, to say the least. Dylan shocked everyone by playing mostly piano - and pretty good piano at that - and singing several songs by Warren Zevon, who had recently been diagnosed with cancer - thus giving speculation that this series of shows was intended to be a tribute to him. The new format, with Dylan on piano, allowed the Campbell/Sexton guitar team to play some nice stuff. Also, new drummer George Recili played some pretty hot stuff too!
Red Bluff, CA 10/7/02
A fantastic show from beginning to end, and a very fine recording as well. This is the one to hear from this leg of the tour. Others that I've heard have not been so impressive. This one, though, is one of the very best shows of his entire career. Truly awesome.
For the first time since 1990, Dylan began playing all-electric shows without the acoustic sets that had characterized his shows. Not all of the shows were all-electric, though. He still occasionally threw in an acoustic number, but they were now rare. Dylan is also spending a lot more time on piano, with only occasional forays on guitar. The result is the opportunity to hear unusual piano-based versions of songs like Mr. Tambourine Man and Memphis Blues Again. The "sing-song" voice, while somewhat restrained and muted, is still in evidence.
Dallas, TX 4/23/03
Austin, TX 4/20/03
Houston, TX 4/23/03
As I write this, it's still fairly early in the tour, but these three Texas shows (the first in quite a long long while) are all pretty typical of the new format. Unfortunately, Bob's singing is somewhat lackluster at times and he seems confused and unfocused. Still, some interesting performances here and there.
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