New collection catches spirit of Dylan's '76 stop in Hattiesburg

By MIK DAVIS,

As rock ‘n’ roll grew into a worldwide sensation, artists added spectacle to their albums.

After The Beatles established themselves as film stars with "A Hard Day's Night" and "Help," they got ambitious with the TV special "Magical Mystery Tour."

In December 1968, their "rivals," The Rolling Stones, hired revolutionary TV director Michael Lindsay-Hogg to direct a special that would vault them to superstardom.

"Rock ‘n’ Roll Circus" is significant for a number of reasons. First, Michael Lindsay-Hogg used both film and video simultaneously to capture everything he possibly could surrounding the nearly 14-hour shoot. "Rock ‘n’ Roll Circus" carries an intimacy that most other TV performances lost. Hogg, the director of "Ready Steady Go!" sought to make it as close as a document of the event as possible without losing the structure imposed by inviting Jethro Tull, Taj Mahal, John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Eric Clapton, The Who, and The Stones to merely play for the camera.

As a concert, early Jethro Tull (then including future Sabbath founder Tony Iommi) is bluesy and strange, Taj Mahal is at the peak of his game with sizzling guitarist Jesse Ed Davis and The Dirty Mac is a supergroup in the making from Lennon with Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, and Mitch Mitchell.

The main events from the Who and The Stones are revelatory. This December 1968 set from the Stones would mark the final live performance for the band with Brian Jones.

The concert is everything you would want in a show.

They preserve all the circus music and announcements, while the organization makes it mostly a repeat listen. The Who's "A Quick One While He's Away" is the best you will ever hear it.

As they race through it, the disparate parts hold together perfectly and the true fire of The Who is ever present. (Supposedly, after seeing the footage of the Who playing in 1969 while editing, The Stones shelved the film knowing their performance was better).

The Lennon-led supergroup burns through "Yer Blues" and The Stones give thrilling life to the songs of "Beggars Banquet," especially a choir-less benedictory reading of "You Can't Always Get What You Want."

In league with the upcoming Netflix documentary from Martin Scorsese, Legacy has compiled a massive 14-disc set of all the available recordings from Bob Dylan's legendary Rolling Thunder Revue, which stopped right here in Hattiesburg on May 1, 1976.

Much like The Stones, Dylan envisioned a traveling circus with a rotating cast of 70 musicians and Dylan as the ringmaster.

Having just completed "Desire," he took the band on the road to play for people who did not normally get shows of this magnitude.

Forty-three years later, "Rolling Thunder" is more multi-textured than one remembers. David Mansfield's pedal steel battles with Mick Ronson's slashing electric. Dylan is reunited with fellow folkies like Joan Baez and Ramblin' Jack Elliott. However, when he still brings out Robbie Robertson and even Roberta Flack, who were stars at the time, they are humbled and reverent to the group dynamic in play.

These discs are mostly culled from the first leg of the tour: one hundred  songs that have never been heard, including the rehearsals, where you have the unique opportunity to hear Dylan putting everything together.

Once the live songs begin, Dylan feels wild and inspired. His ability to tell a story in song ("Joey" or "Isis" - take your pick) remains unchallenged. As he tackles older, lesser-known cuts, they gather new life. 

As he updates favorites with the "Desire" band, they often portray an uncontainable joy ("A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall" sounds like it emerges from "Highway 61 Revisited").

While you may be no Dylanologist, these recordings sound like an unearthed history of Americana. While 1973's "Before The Flood" represents Dylan's return, the post-"Blood on the Tracks" Dylan is Dylan at his most electrifying.

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