‘We’ll figure it out; we’ll wing it': Robbie Robertson remembers thrilling unrehearsed Band set with Bob Dylan

More than two and a half hours into the Band’s New Year’s Eve 1971 show at the Academy of Music in New York City, Bob Dylan strolled out onto the stage — sporting a dark corduroy jacket, a solid-body electric and no idea at all about what they were going to play.

Dylan and the Band proceeded to tear into a tough set, huddling together before each song to work out what would come next. The performance served as a showcase for their shared history, both as musicians and friends.

“We had played with Bob so much, over the years,” Robbie Robertson tells Insight Daily Radio, “that we thought: We’ll figure it out. We’ll wing it. He wasn’t coming into the city until New Year’s Eve day, you know. And we did — we were just winging it.”

This off-the-cuff moment of brotherly brilliance was showcased in last year’s sweeping Live at the Academy of Music box, appearing in two different mixes on discs two and four. Highlights included “Don’t Ya Tell Henry,” a Basement Tapes rarity, and a scruffy take on “Down in the Flood.”

“In there, too, he says: ‘You know, we haven’t played this song in years,'” Robertson adds, referencing their raucous version of “Like a Rolling Stone.” “Some of the songs, we had never played together. But even that fell together, in its own kind of way. He sang his heart out, and it was a lot of fun that night.”

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