Not as revelatory as the 58 tracks on Volumes 1-3, not as revolutionary as the 14 spread across Volume 4, but more rewarding than its predecessors nonetheless since this marks the spot separating Essential Dylan and Disposable Zimmerman. Before Bobby Z. hooked up with his Rolling Thunder Revue, an all-star and small-star hootenanny hodgepodge ranging from Joan Baez and Roger McGuinn and Ramblin' Jack Elliott (the folkies) to Mick Ronson and Scarlet Rivera and T Bone Burnett (the what-the-fuckers), he was suffocated by self-made myth, of which he claimed he wanted no part. The tours suffered, especially a 1974 reunion with The Band, and the artist suffered more; after he'd spilled his Blood on the Tracks, what was there left to sacrifice for an audience that craved martyr over musician? Nothing, which is how he ended up cobbling together this traveling band--Rivera, the violinist, was invited to the limo after Dylan saw her walking the NYC streets with her fiddle in tow--and taking them into the studio and on the road, where they'd bend some new stuff and break some old stuff till all the legends lie shattered on the stage like Granny's porcelain dolls.
The old cuts, which date back all the way to when he was but a Freewheelin' folk singer, would never again sound so brand-new; the versions of "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" and "Love Minus Zero/No Limit" and "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll," among others, sting like fresh slaps on a cold cheek. They're more alive than ever, more resonant, more relevant and more vibrant when played by a man who knows their value but insists on presenting them like thrift-store purchases nonetheless. Band and bard turn then-standards, just then beginning to yellow, into fresh plaints with furious purpose; even the love songs, his lost-love letter to wife "Sara" or dream of a mythological "Isis," taste better when injected with a little bile.
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Those who'd dismiss this as a snapshot of a party to which they weren't invited, those who prefer the studio calm of Desire (from which many of these songs, among them "Hurricane," "One More Cup of Coffee," "Oh, Sister" and "Isis," were taken), miss the point and pleasures of Live 1975. It isn't the best live Dylan (that's Volume 4, where he and the Hawks were buried alive in boos and labeled heretics), but the most alive live Dylan; even behind painted face, which made him look like a living corpse of Al Jolson in reverse, his cockeyed grin and bright eyes give such a spark you can feel it every time Ronson takes a solo or Rivera cuts the tension with her bow. He let others play and got out of the way, so willing was Dylan to torch the history books in his efforts to start all over again. He was rejuvenated or maybe entirely reborn: Soon after the '75 tour Dylan would find God, get Saved and, subsequently, end up crucified. Think of this double-disc comp, then, as Dylan's Last Supper, served up with an open bar; never before, and never again, would he sound so rough and rambunctious, so into it and so out of it.