Bob Dylan – Real Live

Real Live

Bob DylanReal Live Columbia CK 39944 (1984)

Most listeners look back on Bob Dylan’s 1980s output with regret, pondering what might have been.  Now most people look right past Saved and Shot of Love (possibly a mistake; they are okay).  They then look on Infidels with bemused sadness, wishing that “Blind Willie McTell” and other great songs hadn’t been excluded from it.  Dylan had frequented some punk concerts around that time due to his son’s interest, and in support of Infidels he appeared on the TV show “Late Night with David Letterman” in early 1984 with The Plugz as his backing band.  He captured a lot of punk energy on great renditions of “Jokerman” and “License to Kill.”  But that proved to be the only appearance of Dylan with that particular backing band.  Touring Europe later that year he instead enlisted Mick Taylor (who played on Infidels) and Ian McLagan.  He did not bring along the bass/drums rhythm section of Sly & Robbie from the Infidels sessions.  Real Live was culled from three July dates in England and Ireland.  Carlos Santana makes a guest appearance on “Tombstone Blues” from one of the English dates.  This touring band plays professionally, but largely without much personality.  The results are at best a kind of traipse through pub rock versions of mostly old Dylan standards (had Dylan been inspired by his pal Johnny Cash‘s Rockabilly Blues with its similar pub-rock influence?).  The general effect is one of aging rockers trying and failing to sound relevant to newer tastes.  It does sound a hell of a lot more modern than maybe anything in Dylan’s catalog, though.  It may not be the disaster that some make it out to be, but it’s still a pretty middling effort.  Most listeners can skip past it.  Now, if those Letterman recordings were released, those would be worth seeking out.