Real Live

Bob Dylan

Columbia, 1984

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Ladies and gentlemen, the winner of the 1984 Bob Dylan imitator contest is… Bob Dylan!

Everyone has heard that one person at the party who could do Dylan's nasal sing-song twang almost better than Dylan himself. Robin Williams had it down perfectly. Hell, even I've done it among mixed company.

But Dylan himself seemed to embrace that sound on Real Live, his fourth live disc over the span of ten years. The resulting sound is worse than fingernails on a blackboard – which is a shame, because Dylan does finally seem to try to keep to the original styles of some of his songs. Now, if he had only sung them.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Over his other live discs from that time period, Dylan toyed with the song structure and tempos, but at least he seemed like he was somewhat invested in what he was singing. Bob Dylan At Budokan was proof enough of that. But this time, it honestly feels like Dylan's attitude is, “Let's whip through these one more time just to get them out of my system.” And that, kids, is a bad thing.

What makes it all the worse for Real Live is that it's the first concert recording in a long time which actually captures the songs closer to the versions that were initially recorded than any other effort. So, one would have thought it would behoove Mr. Dylan to at least appear somewhat interested when performing “Maggie's Farm,” “It Ain't Me, Babe” and “Masters Of War,” among the ten songs featured on this disc.

Instead, he plows through them, and the vocals that he intones onto the performances actually makes it sound like he's annoyed that he has to play them yet again. At least, that's how it translates through the speakers from the little aluminum disc (or, for old-schoolers, the platter of wax and the stylus).

In fact, the only saving grace of this disc is the fact that the music itself is a close facsimile of the songs Dylan fans know and love. Without that one aspect, this disc would be absolutely worthless – and even there, one has to ask whether it's worth hearing the over-exaggerated nasal tones that Dylan bleats out through the course of this disc.

Real Live is, honestly, the most unnecessary live disc to this point in Dylan's career, and is well worth skipping. Trust me: someone else at the party could do a Dylan impression better than Dylan himself on this album.

Rating: D-

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