Music Review: Bob Dylan's 'The Complete Budokan 1978' box set is a welcomed release, flute and all

This cover image released by Sony Legacy Recordings shows "The Complete Budokan 1978" by Bob Dylan. (Sony Legacy Recordings via AP)

Bob Dylan with flute and saxophone isn't for everyone.

But that's what you get with “The Complete Budokan 1978," a deluxe box set presenting two live shows at Tokyo’s Nippon Budokan Hall, from a tour that has been derided in some corners as “Dylan going Vegas.”

The extravagantly packaged four-disc set expands upon the 1979 “Bob Dylan at Budokan” live record that caught Dylan in Japan on just the second week of his 1978 world tour that would run for 10 months.

The tour started after the widely acclaimed Rolling Thunder guerilla tours across the United States in 1975 and 1976, and just before Dylan's conversion to Christianity in 1979.

In fact, Dylan has pointed to a fan throwing a small silver cross on stage in November 1978 as helping to spur his conversion. But that's a story for another time, and one that was explored deeply in the “Trouble No More” box set released in 2017.

“The Complete Budokan 1978” includes full concerts from Feb. 28 and March 1, 1978 with Dylan breaking out dramatically reworked versions of his well-known songs complete with backing singers, violin, flute and saxophone. Even today, 45 years later, the arrangements are striking for how far afield they are from the recorded versions.

A chipper, violin-heavy instrumental version of “A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall” opens both concerts and sets the mood.

On “Mr. Tambourine Man,” Dylan speeds up the tempo with the flute front and center. And on “I Threw it All Away,” the backing singers are given a prominent role as Dylan tinkers with the lyrics. If you ever wanted to hear “All Along the Watchtower” with flute, now is your chance.

It can be jarring for those not already well-versed with the original 1979 live release. But for Dylan fans who have eschewed this period of his career, there are hidden gems here worth uncovering.

“The Man in Me,” in just its sixth time played live and with new lyrics, is beautifully delivered, complete with a saxophone solo. “One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)," from 1966's ”Blonde on Blonde" also shines under a dramatic reworking, with the backing singers and sax giving the song new dimensions.

The packaging is top notch, with an expansive 12-by-12 inch photo book, liner notes and a box of memorabilia that includes two posters, replicated tour program, tickets and flyers.


AP music reviews: