We are dipping into the Far Out Magazine vault to look back at one of the more curious moments in Bob Dylan’s long-running touring career.
In 1980 Bob Dylan took his level of onstage antagonism to a whole new level. Having turned crowds into booing masses capable of murder in 1965 by ‘going electric’ he was back to his old ways and up to no good in 1980. But this time he was in trouble for loudly spreading the Christian message.
Dylan was firmly in his gospel phase when he began touring in 1979. The singer had spent much of 1978 delivering the greatest hits tour to packed out stadiums. However, the next year he was finding inspiration in The Good Book and he wasn’t shy about sharing it or the recent reaffirming of his encompassing faith.
Dylan has never really played by the rulebook when it comes to touring. Usually, the deal is, especially when you’re a legacy act, that you come out wave hello, sing the greatest hits, and mosey on home. On this tour, however, the provocative troubadour was dedicating each night exclusively to selections from his new gospel records. If that wasn’t enough to antagonise the rock and roll crowd, whom you’d imagine were there for the older records, he also paused during performances to give rambling sermons on the wickedness of man and the imminent return of Jesus Christ.
It was a procedure only made tolerable by the quality of music interspersed between the sermons. On the tour Dylan was playing with one of the best backing bands of Dylan’s immeasurably long live career with Jim Keltner on drums, Tim Drummond on bass, Spooner Oldham on keyboards and Fred Tackett on guitar. With a rotating crew of unstoppable gospel singers to back him up, Dylan’s own vocal was a powerful and impassioned affair. A breath of fresh air in Dylan’s sometimes questionable singing voice.
On April 20th, 1980, at Toronto’s Massey Hall a professional camera crew arrived at the show to capture the proceedings. Before jumping into a powerful performance of ‘Solid Rock’, Dylan provided the baying crowd with a nearly seven-minute sermon on the antichrist and the demise of humankind.
“We’ve had a lot of previews of what the Anti-Christ could be like,” he said. “We had that Jim Jones, he’s like a preview. We had Adolf Hitler, a preview. Anyway, the Anti-Christ is gonna be a little bit different than that. He’s gonna bring peace to the world for a certain length of time. But he will eventually be defeated too. Supernaturally defeated. And God will intervene.”
It’s a massive speech and one that will ring out across the ages as some of the most Dylan has ever shared on stage since. But if you’re just interested in the music then skip to 6:50.
If you’re keen to hear Rev. Dylan deliver one of his now-iconic sermons then buckle up and hit play below.