The Bob Dylan and the Band 1974 Tour – often referred to as Tour '74 – was a two-month concert tour in early 1974 that featured Bob Dylan, in his first real tour in eight years, performing with the Band. As the Hawks, the then little-known group had backed him on his previous tour, the exhaustive 1966 world tour, between the releases of Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde.
The 30-date, 21 city tour began on January 3, 1974 and ended on February 14, 1974. The show reunited Dylan with the Band on stage after the release of Dylan's Band-backed Planet Waves album. This was a high-profile comeback for both acts. While virtually all the songs here were familiar and might be considered "hits", few of them sound similar to their original versions; Dylan's songs in particular are re-arranged and sung with a ferocity not found on the originals, while Garth Hudson's experiments with the Lowery String Symphonizer (an early synthesizer embedded in the Lowrey H25-3 organ that was adapted from the Freeman string symphonizer) greatly enriched the Band's timbral palette. A live double album, Before the Flood, was recorded during the tour.
The first show took place at Chicago Stadium in Chicago, and it was witnessed by a capacity audience of 18,500. The first song performed was "Hero Blues", a previously unreleased song that Dylan recorded back in 1962. Over the course of two hours, Dylan and the Band performed alternating sets broken down into three categories: Dylan performing his own songs backed by the Band, Dylan's solo acoustic set, and the Band's performances of their own songs. Although Dylan played harmonica during a cover of Bobby "Blue" Bland's "Share Your Love with Me" sung by Richard Manuel, the Band elected not to include Dylan in their subsequent group performances in a meeting after the show.
Beginning with the next concert, the tour took on a standard formula: an opening six-song Dylan/Band set, a five-song Band set, three more Dylan/Band performances, a five-song Dylan acoustic set, a three to four song Band set, and a joint finale.
At the beginning of the tour, a few songs from Planet Waves were performed in concert, but as the tour wore on, these songs gradually disappeared from the setlist. By the end, only "Forever Young" would remain. Songs like "Hero Blues" and "Nobody 'Cept You" were also performed at some of the earlier shows, but such idiosyncratic choices would eventually disappear as well. Dylan's older, celebrated compositions were already heavily favored, but as the tour wore on, they would completely dominate the shows. As Nat Hentoff would write, "Dylan's sound and beat are of the past... the gestalt is anachronistic."
Dylan and the Band were very aware of the nostalgic atmosphere surrounding the tour, even as they recast Dylan's back catalog in dramatic, new arrangements. However, there were moments where contemporary events did connect with the proceedings. When the tour first began, the Watergate scandal was dominating the headlines. One of the most popular songs on the tour was "It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)". Performed during Dylan's solo acoustic sets, it never failed to elicit cheers when Dylan got to the words, "Even the President of the United States sometimes must have to stand naked." This reaction can be heard very explicitly on the recording of the song that appears on the album.
Towards the end of the tour, Dylan and the Band made a stop at Oakland Coliseum in Oakland, California. Dylan would write in his tour diary that, though he felt the Oakland shows went fairly well, he had done them on little sleep. Meanwhile, Dylan's performances became less and less restrained, and Dylan would later acknowledge this in an interview taken in 1980. "When Elvis did 'That's All Right, Mama' in 1955, it was sensitivity and power. In 1969, it was just full-out power. There was nothing other than just force behind that. I've fallen into that trap, too. Take the 1974 tour. It's a very fine line you have to walk to stay in touch with something once you've created it ... Either it holds up for you or it doesn't."
Dylan's wife, Sara, was present at those final shows. During the final show of the tour (which took place on Valentine's Day), Dylan broke from the standard setlist to play Sara's favorite song, "Mr. Tambourine Man". Accompanied by Garth Hudson on accordion, it was only the song's second appearance on the entire tour, and would not be included on Before the Flood.
Dylan's first full-fledged tour since 1966, it received an enormous amount of coverage from the music press, and it would prove to be very profitable. Top-dollar tickets were $9.50, an extravagant sum in 1974. The tour received 5.5 million pieces of mail applying for up to four tickets each. Sold by mail-order only, promoter Bill Graham claimed there were mail-order requests for more than twelve million tickets for the approximately half-million seats available for the shows. According to Clinton Heylin, it's estimated that $92 million worth of checks and money orders were sent in by close to 4% of the American population.
While the shows were received with great enthusiasm, Dylan would later claim to have hated every minute, though most evidence suggests this to be an exaggerated claim. Regardless, Levon Helm echoed those sentiments, writing in his autobiography that "the tour was damn good for our pocketbooks, but it just wasn't a very passionate trip for any of us."
The live album Before the Flood was released in June 1974, and contained a representative sample of the tour, drawn from shows in New York City and Inglewood.
Tour ticket sales proved to Dylan that his commercial prospects were still strong on the road. Furthermore, his critical status was once again growing after years of minimal activity; it would bound far higher with the next year's release of Blood on the Tracks.Bob Dylan – acoustic guitar, rhythm guitar, harmonica, piano, vocals
Rick Danko – bass, vocals
Levon Helm – drums, vocals
Garth Hudson – organ, piano, synthesizer, clavinet
Richard Manuel – acoustic and electric pianos, organ, drums, vocals
Robbie Robertson – lead guitar