Robbie Robertson on a thrilling, unrehearsed New Year’s Eve set with Bob Dylan: ‘We were just winging it’

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 first on 1972’s Rock of Ages and then as part of a sweeping multi-CD set in 2013, arriving with 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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  • paul walmark

    So great to hear Rich Manuel’s magnificent piano ringing out on this one!!