Dylan returned to regular touring after an eight year absence. For this
tour he decided to use The Band - a very wise decision! The tour started
out great, if a little shaky, and finished up tight and slick but too predictable.
After the first several shows where he tried out new and interesting material,
and wonderful arrangements of little performed songs, he soon settled into
a formulaic show that found him singing with the wrong emphasis in all the
wrong places and generally sticking to a safe tried and true setlist. The
Band, on the other hand, just got better and better as the tour progressed,
and they are really the only reason to listen to any of the later shows.
Dylan's acoustic sets, except for the first half dozen shows or so, are
completely wasted and, to these ears, unlistenable.
Every show was recorded, either by the audience or the stage crew - or both. Two complete (or very nearly complete) soundboard tapes are in circulation: Oakland 2/11/74 evening and Los Angeles 2/14/74 afternoon (missing the first song). In both cases, it's obvious that the source is from 90 minute cassette, because the Band songs that happen to be playing at the end of the 45 minute mark where the tape would run out are suddenly cut. These are very small flaws to compensate for outstanding sound and performance quality. Two partial soundboard tapes are also circulating: Boston 1/14/74 (afternoon show) and New York City at Madison Square Garden 1/31/74 (evening concert). In both cases the tapes are the first 90 minutes only and include the astounding Band sets as well. In addition, there is a Before the Flood outtake tape that has been recently bootlegged as Stem the Tide (notice the similarity in titles!). The majority of the songs on the BtF outtake tape are from the final Los Angeles shows in mid February. Musically these shows were very powerful, but artistically pretty drab. My recommendations would be for the early shows only, in particular the first Chicago 1/3/74, the incredible Philadelphia 1/6/74 afternoon show, and Toronto 1/10/74 - all decent audience tapes. Until the complete soundboards for ALL 1974 shows are circulated, these will have to do.
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