On 24 May Bob Dylan turns 80 and that gives fans like me the perfect excuse to celebrate our love of the great man (not that we ever really need one, of course). As well as regularly listening to the records, I spend far more time than is probably healthy trawling YouTube for videos of Dylan in action. So, if you fancy joining me down a freewheelin’ wormhole, here is a small sample of my favourite live performances from across his career.
Boots of Spanish Leather, 1963
This is a YouTube video to listen to rather than watch. It’s an absolute wonder, not only because it is a lovely version of one of Dylan’s great ballads, but also because we hear him at ease, perhaps even enjoying himself, in an interview that bookends the performance. Often in this period, interviewers would irritate Dylan by asking him to speak as the voice of his generation, but as he chats to Studs Terkel, he seems relaxed, offering to play the song almost as an afterthought. He also gently corrects Terkel when the DJ asks to hear a ‘boy meets girl’ song. Dylan chuckles and replies: ‘This is girl leaves boy’, before unfolding the tune to stunning effect.
Idiot Wind, 1976
The key break up song from Dylan’s legendary breakup album Blood on the Tracks, Idiot Wind comes in a few distinct guises, and every Dylan fan will have their own favourite. Both the heartbroken New York version that preceded the more polished album recording are spine-tingling in their own ways, but for me the finest reading of the song comes from this concert at Hughes Stadium, Colorado (the same version that’s on the febrile live album Hard Rain). Dylan rips through Idiot Wind, unleashing all of the song’s pent up bile. It’s disturbing and exhilarating in equal measure.