Initially intended for the Japanese market, the Live at Budokan, in Tokyo, shows Zim in full transformation. A few months before his conversion to Christianity, the box set relating this atypical episode of Bob Dylan remains a real curiosity, a snapshot of an era.
The most unloved live album of Bob Dylan in turn experienced an unexpected rehabilitation with the publication of a complete set (4 CDs, 8 LPs) of two concerts recorded shortly after an earthquake, at the Nippon Budokan in Tokyo, on February 28 and March 1, 1978, including thirty-six unpublished titles or versions are added to the twenty-two initially published. In full punk and new wave explosion, this tracklist in the form of greatest hits and these arrangements loaded in the style of a rhythm’n’blues group from Memphis with a bold sound, with strong female gospel choirs, keyboards and – sacrilege – saxophone and flute, made the critic Jimmy Guterman write – very excessively, anyway – that it was “the worst live album of all time”.
Bob Dylan is then accused of retraining as an entertainer, as Elvis had done, who had disappeared a few months earlier, in Vegas. In a word, to have sold his soul. For the first time in concert, it’s true, Dylan, shaken by the death of the “King”, undermined by the implosion of his family life as well as by the bad reviews – and entries – of Renaldo and Clara, no longer seeks to surpass himself, to summon spirit and fire, but approaches his pieces from a distance, as if he were trying to perform covers of them himself. The Japanese promoter had imposed the choice of titles: Dylan, in need of income to finance his costly divorce from Sara (36 million dollars in cash, plus half of all his future income from the period 1965-1977), the deficit of his film and the work of his spectacular house in Point Dume, in Malibu, thus undertakes “not to improvise, nor to embark on musical research or to play new pieces”.
The Band is no longer there, Robbie Robertson is busy with Martin Scorsese, Dylan has his mind elsewhere, is fighting not to completely lose custody of his five children whom he suspects Sara of wanting to settle in Hawaii, is finally equipped with a new showbiz manager, Jerry Weintraub, promoter of Elvis and Sinatra, producer of John Denver. In December 1977, Bob Dylan and bassist Rob Stoner rework the repertoire to keep it accessible, the musicians offer different options, tempo, instrumentation, which he rejects or not. It works more or less well depending on the songs, these different reinventions not being to everyone’s taste, as will also be the studio album recorded quickly in four days in April 1978, between the Oceanian and European portions of the global journey, the underestimated Street-Legal, where Dylan nevertheless comes closer than ever to revealing his mystery of identity in “Where Are You Tonight? (Journey Through Dark Heat)”.
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The Complete Budokan 1978 is available