“We haven’t played this in, we haven’t played this in how many years? six years?”, Bob Dylan tells the crowd at New York’s Academy of Music. Even though I’m ending the week with this, it was, technically, the first thing that Dylan did in 1972 – his set with The Band was recorded just after midnight on New Year’s Eve. I saved it for the end because it is the only major output from Dylan in 1972, and it was, undoubtedly, the highlight of the year.
Dylan performed live only twice in 1972 – four songs at The Band’s fourth and final show at the Academy of Music from December 28 – 31 (and crossing over into the early minutes of the new year, January 1), and he played harmonica on three songs with John Prine at The Bitter End on September 9. To the best of my knowledge, none of the Prine set exists on tape. Guess you should’ve been there.
The shows with The Band were compiled into a live album, Rock of Ages, that featured music from each of The Band’s first four studio albums. It is a great double album. Recently, though, it was re-released as Live at the Academy of Music 1971: The Rock of Ages Concerts, a four CD box set. Some criticism that I have read notes that release as an over-priced rip-off because it has so much duplicate material that a true fan would already have. As I am not a true fan of The Band, I had none of it, so I’m here to tell you that it is truly great. This is really The Band at the peak of their powers, and it is a remarkable live album. The addition of horns to The Band’s music adds a great deal, and doesn’t overdo it.
Dylan appeared only at the final show, and only for the encore. They did four songs. The first two, “Down in the Flood” and “When I Paint My Masterpiece” were Basement Tapes material that may have been familiar to Dylan aficionados from Greatest Hits v2 (although in non-Band versions), and the third “Don’t You Tell Henry” wouldn’t be released officially for another three years. These are all really good versions of these songs.
The culmination was the song that they hadn’t performed live since the Isle of Wight in 1969, “Like a Rolling Stone”. Not six years ago, but about two and a half. Apparently Dylan forgot about that performance, since he seems to think that the last time these men had played this song someone had yelled “Judas” at him, and they had then absolutely crushed this song. That’s okay, they nail it again here. It’s funny – again, the crowd doesn’t really seem to hear it coming until Dylan sings “Once upon a time”. There’s no applause for the opening chords or the piano part. Anyway, it’s a much better version that the Isle of Wight version, but it’s also a lot closer to the way that it was recorded, except that Robbie Robertson sings along to the chorus.
Before I started this project I was never that much of a fan of The Band. Not sure why. I’d seen The Last Waltz, I’d heard most of their hits and could sing along to many of them, but I had no real love in my heart for them. I have to tell you, my eyes have been opened – maybe even more than they have been by Dylan. This four CD set is the real deal.
Here’s a YouTube playlist claiming to have the whole album, but a number of tracks have been deleted – probably Dylan related deletions: