Not everything Bob Dylan
touches turns to gold
. Dylan was riding a creative high during the mid-1970s, but an acrimonious divorce
from his wife Sara seemed to stall his momentum. After the successes of the Rolling Thunder Revue
, Dylan spent most of 1977 in a losing custody
battle for his children, and neither tour
ed nor made any new recordings
In 1978, Dylan planned a 115-date tour with stops in Japan, Australia, Europe, and the United States. He intended to use most of the Rolling Thunder band, and Rob Stoner, Steven Soles, and David Mansfield all did sign on again, but the chemistry of the band was dealt a severe blow when drummer Howie Wyeth quit. According to Wyeth, he did not want to go to Japan because of the difficulty of obtaining drugs there.
Dylan was forced to cast about for an emergency replacement, and picked former King Crimson drummer Ian Wallace. By all accounts, the substitution of Wyeth for Wallace was a disadvantageous one to Dylan, and bassist Rob Stoner even left the tour midway through because of his inability to play with Wallace.
Dylan also added a saxophonist and a chorus of female vocalists, and in February of 1978, began his tour of Japan. "At Budokan" is taken from two shows, February 28th and March 1st, 1978. At this early date, the band was still under-rehearsed, and Dylan was also forced by his management company to perform considerably more "Greatest Hits" than he would have liked. The result is a debacle. Dylan and the band both sound very disinterested, and the attempts at new arrangements, which worked so well on "Hard Rain", tend to fall on their overambitious faces.
For example, "Shelter From The Storm", "Don't Think Twice It's All Right", and "The Times They Are A-Changin'" are all given reggae-inflected arrangements. Bob Marley had no need to be looking over his shoulder for Dylan, believe me. Other horrors include a sped-up "Ballad of a Thin Man" with the female chorus in full wail.
Some of the arrangements almost work, "Mr. Tambourine Man", which opens the record, is as energetic as the band ever gets, and features a decent flute solo from Steve Douglas. "Maggie's Farm" is easily the loudest song on the record, given a lumbering glam-metal riff. The best thing you can say about songs such as "Love Minus Zero/No Limit" is that he didn't butcher them too badly.
"At Budokan" was only intended for a Japanese release, but Columbia Records went over Dylan's head and gave it stateside distribution. Dylan concluded the 1978 tour to disastrous critical reviews, being accused, somewhat unjustly, of playing a Las Vegas lounge act, or of imitating Bruce Springsteen. What immediately followed the tour is perhaps the most inexplicable phase of Dylan's career: his conversion to Fundamentalist Christianity. The failure of his marriage and of his 1978 tour may have driven him into the arms of the Lord, but only Bob knows, and he ain't tellin'.
1. Mr. Tambourine Man
2. Shelter From the Storm
3. Love Minus Zero/No Limit
4. Ballad Of a Thin Man
5. Don't Think Twice It's All Right
6. Maggie's Farm
7. One More Cup of Coffee
8. Like A Rolling Stone
9. I Shall Be Released
10. Is Your Love in Vain?
11. Going Going Gone
12. Blowin' in the Wind
13. Just Like a Woman
14. Oh Sister
15. Simple Twist of Fate
16. All Along The Watchtower
17. I Want You
18. All I Really Want To Do
19. Knockin' on Heaven's Door
20. It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)
21. Forever Young
22. The Times They Are A-Changin'
Bob Dylan--Vocals, Harmonica and Guitar
Billy Cross--Lead Guitar
Steven Soles--Acoustic Guitar and Vocals
David Mansfield--Violin, Pedal Steel, Guitar, Mandolin, Dobro
Steve Douglas--Saxophone, Flute, Recorder
Rob Stoner--Bass and Vocals
Helena Springs, Jo Ann Harris, Debi Dye--Vocals