Bob Dylan: Real Live

Recorded: July 5-8, 1984

Released: November 29, 1984

In honor of Bob Dylan’s 80th birthday, I decided to listen to all of his “official” recordings in order. I’ve now reached “Real Live”. 

Huh… I’d actually forgotten about this album, and had to double back to it. I can see why.

First, the good: the rewritten “Tangled Up in Blue”. The same stories, but told from a different point of view. Definitely essential. “Girl from the North Country” also is quite good. 

But generally, I just feel like the versions here are just not quite right. There’s a set of adjectives that come to mind: “rushed”, “strained”, “unsubtle”, “rote”, “unimaginative”. None of these are definitive descriptions of the performances, but they all lean in those directions. 

I confess that I haven’t been able to strictly keep to my plan to just listen to Dylan’s official albums in order. Instead, this process has reinvigorated my long dormant immersion in Dylan’s unofficial live recordings, and I’ve mostly been listening to recordings from 1993 to 2003. By this time, Dylan’s voice was much “worse” than it was in 1984. And yet, his singing is generally much more expressive than it was in 1984 – sometimes astonishingly so – and the band also is generally much more flexible and creative. I’m sure this affects my response to “Real Live”, maybe that’s not fair, but there it is.

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