Bob Dylan’s The Complete Budokan 1978, reviewed

Expanded and remixed package

Bob Dylan / The Complete Budokan 1978
Dylan photographed by Joel Bernstein

Forty five years ago, in February and March 1978, Bob Dylan played his now historic first concert tour of Japan, which included eight shows at the Nippon Budokan Hall in Tokyo. Two of the gigs from that venue – February 28 and March 1 – were recorded on 24-channel, multi-track analogue tape and 22 performances were released as Bob Dylan at Budokan, a 2LP set which was originally intended for Japan only, but was issued globally in April 1979, due to widespread demand.

This month, Columbia Records and Legacy Recordings have released Bob Dylan – The Complete Budokan 1978 – it’s the first time any of the complete performances from that year’s world tour have been officially available.

Newly remixed and remastered from the original recordings, the collection comes in three physical formats – a deluxe 4CD box set, which has 58 tracks, 36 of which are previously unreleased; 8LP (Japan only) and a 2LP version, featuring 16 previously unreleased tracks from the box set. The master tapes were discovered in 2007 – they’d been stored in a vault in a factory in Shizuoka, Japan, for nearly three decades, wrapped thoroughly in a plastic bag to protect them from moisture.

Mercifully, the tapes were immaculately preserved – in his liner notes, Tetsuya Shiroki, co-producer of the box set, says it “felt like uncovering the Holy Grail”. Interestingly, the tapes were kept under wraps for another 15 years before the project finally got the go-ahead in 2022. 

Commenting on the new mix, chief engineer, Tom Suzuki, says the intention was to make it crisper and clearer than the original 1978 release, and you can’t argue with him on that – it sounds great, adding a new depth and clarity to the performances. Dylan is accompanied on stage by a 12-piece band – nine musicians and three female backing singers.

The box set also includes facsimile memorabilia, such as concert tickets, pamphlets, posters and flyers, as well as a 60-page, full-colour photo book, with previously unpublished pictures. Watch the SDEtv unboxing video for a look at this presentation.

For the new version, the engineers wanted to reproduce the sound the Japanese audience would’ve heard in the concert hall – nothing has been removed or altered in any way, says Shiroki. So, on the first night of the tour, before a reggae-tinged ‘Shelter From The Storm’, we hear the hum of the amps, and the audience laughing, as Dylan struggles with tuning up, and then tells the crowd: “I’ve got a temperamental guitar”.

At the time it was released, Bob Dylan at Budokan polarised fans and critics – the New York Times called it “a challenging listen, but a rewarding one,” and writing for Rolling Stone, Janet Maslin, criticised Dylan’s “sanctimonious, Las Vegas-style bastardization of ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’, adding, “Can it really be that Bob Dylan had to go all the way to Budokan, to Japan, to find an audience with a short memory, a crowd that didn’t think he had anything to prove? In any case, the jig is up: he’s given up trying to outdo himself and begun something new.”

Ouch! Despite some of the discouraging reviews, the record still went platinum in the U.S and peaked at number 4 in the UK. The 1978 world tour, which saw Dylan play to two million fans across 114 shows, found the singer-songwriter at a crossroads.

It was an unsettling period in his personal life and career – his marriage to his first wife, Sara Lownds, had ended in a divorce the year before, and he was also smarting from the failure of his film Renaldo and Clara. On top of that, he hadn’t released an album since 1976’s DesireStreet Legal was recorded and would be released in June 1978 – and he hadn’t performed live since the end of the Rolling Thunder Revue in May 1976.

Dylan has always confounded his fans as well as delighted them, and, on that note, the first CD in the box set opens with the surprising rendition of the first song he played at Budokan on February 28 1978 – a slick and funky instrumental version of ‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.’ 

It’s an odd listen, as at times it wanders dangerously close to sounding like a hotel bar band – there’s a MOR sax break – but it’s powered by some great bass playing from Rob Stoner, and saved by an epic electric guitar solo, colourful country violin and dobro.

We’re in more familiar and agreeable territory with the next track from that night’s set – ‘Repossession Blues’, which is Dylan’s take on a song by Memphis rockabilly act Roland Janes and has some superb honking sax and killer riffing from lead guitarist Billy Cross.

There’s a sprightly reworking of ‘Mr Tambourine Man’ with Steve Douglas on flute (he played sax as part of Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound crew) and a neat organ solo from Alan Pasqua, while a truly lovely, impassioned rendition of ‘I Threw It All Away’ adds female gospel backing vocals and sax.

The slow, tender and soulful version of ‘Girl From The North Country’ is stunning, ‘To Ramona’ is heartfelt and moving, and the vitriolic ‘Ballad Of A Thin Man’ is a dramatic showstopper, but it’s not all good… ‘Maggie’s Farm’ gets a full-on, ‘70s power-rock overhaul, with howling guitar and even some dubious disco stylings, and no one needs a cod-reggae reworking of ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right.’

One of the highlights of the 1 March Budokan concert – on CDs 3 and 4 – is a magnificent, warm and organ-soaked ‘The Man In Me’ with a sax solo – it was only the sixth time the song had been played live.

The Complete Budokan 1978 may at times be “Dylan going Vegas,” – Maslin was right, the version of ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’ is very  cabaret  – but to be able to hear two these two full performances from 1978 is a wonderful thing. Dylan is in fine form vocally and from the playful band introductions he sounds like he’s enjoying himself. 

There are some genuinely brilliant, fascinating and radical reinterpretations, which, thanks to the impressive remixing and remastering, sound superb, even if some of the versions might be too MOR and Vegas-like for some listeners to handle, Dylanologists and diehard fans will be delighted that what happened at those two full concerts in Budokan didn’t stay in that vault in Japan.

Review by Sean Hannam for SDE. The Complete Budokan 1978 is out now.


The Complete Budokan 1978 Bob Dylan /

    • CD 1
      Live at Nippon Budokan Hall, Tokyo, Japan – February 28, 1978   
      1. A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall*  
      2. Repossession Blues* 
      3. Mr. Tambourine Man*  
      4. I Threw It All Away*  
      5. Shelter From The Storm  
      6. Love Minus Zero/No Limit  
      7. Girl From The North Country*  
      8. Ballad Of A Thin Man*  
      9. Maggie’s Farm*  
      10. To Ramona*  
      11. Like A Rolling Stone*  
      12. I Shall Be Released*  
      13. Is Your Love In Vain? *  
      14. Going, Going, Gone*  
       *previously unreleased
    • CD 2
      Live at Nippon Budokan Hall, Tokyo, Japan – February 28, 1978   
      1. One Of Us Must Know (Sooner Or Later) *  
      2. Blowin’ In The Wind*  
      3. Just Like A Woman*  
      4. Oh, Sister*  
      5. Simple Twist Of Fate  
      6. You’re A Big Girl Now*  
      7. All Along The Watchtower*  
      8. I Want You*  
      9. All I Really Want To Do*  
      10. Tomorrow Is A Long Time*  
      11. Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right 
      12. Band introductions*  
      13. It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)  
      14. Forever Young  
      15. The Times They Are A-Changin’  
      *Previously Unreleased 
    • CD 3
      Live at Nippon Budokan Hall, Tokyo, Japan – March 1, 1978        
      1. A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall*  
      2. Love Her With A Feeling* 
      3. Mr. Tambourine Man 
      4. I Threw It All Away*  
      5. Love Minus Zero/No Limit*  
      6. Shelter From The Storm*
      7. Girl From The North Country*  
      8. Ballad Of A Thin Man  
      9. Maggie’s Farm  
      10. One More Cup Of Coffee (Valley Below)  
      11. Like A Rolling Stone  
      12. I Shall Be Released  
      13. Is Your Love In Vain?  
      14. Going, Going, Gone  
      *Previously Unreleased 
    • CD 4
      Live at Nippon Budokan Hall, Tokyo, Japan – March 1, 1978        
      1. One Of Us Must Know (Sooner Or Later) *  
      2. Blowin’ In The Wind  
      3. Just Like A Woman  
      4. Oh, Sister  
      5. I Don’t Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met) *  
      6. You’re A Big Girl Now*  
      7. All Along The Watchtower  
      8. I Want You  
      9. All I Really Want To Do  
      10. Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door  
      11. The Man In Me*  
      12. Band introductions*  
      13. It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)*  
      14. Forever Young*  
      15. The Times They Are A-Changin’* 
      *Previously Unreleased 

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