Hear Bob Dylan Perform ‘Isis’ At Madison Square Garden In 1975

The MSG audio features footage from Dylan's Rolling Thunder Revue concert in Montreal.

By Nate Todd May 5, 2022 10:25 am PDT

“I married Isis on the fifth day of May”: The immortal opening line of Bob Dylan’s allusion-filled cosmic cowboy epic “Isis.” As such, JamBase takes a look at the song and a performance from a famed concert at Madison Square Garden 1975 with footage from Montreal for this edition of Throwback Thursday.

Dylan co-wrote “Isis” with the songwriter and theatre director Jacques Levy. Here’s what Jacques’ son Julien told Dylan biographer Ian Bell from the latter’s Time Out Of Mind via Don’t Forget The Songs 365:

Dylan invited my dad over to work on some songs. Dylan said he had a little piano thing he had been working on and he started banging out those first piano chords to “Isis.” My dad [Jacques Levy] just spat out, “I married Isis on the fifth day of May…” and Dylan loved it, so they just kept on going with it like that, creating this story until it reached a conclusion. By the time it was done, Dylan loved it and was so excited he ran downstairs to the local bar and read the lyrics out to whoever was just sitting there. My dad always talked about there was no special symbolic meaning behind any of the images in “Isis,” that it was just a fun, adventurous kind of cowboy story.

While the song appeared on Dylan’s landmark January 1976 album, Desire, along with another famed collaboration with Levy, “Hurricane,” Bob and his Rolling Thunder Revue band began performing it in Fall 1975. Dylan unveiled the song on October 30, 1975 during the Rolling Thunder Revue two-night tour opening run in Plymouth, Massachusetts, as per Bob Dylan’s official website. Bob closed out the ‘75 leg of the tour at Madison Square Garden on December 8 with a show billed as “The Night of The Hurricane” as a benefit for Rubin Carter, the falsely imprisoned boxer who inspired “Hurricane.”

The penultimate show of the ’75 tour, however, took place in Montreal, which is where the performance footage from the video below comes from, while the audio is from the MSG concert, posted by Youtuber Swingin’ Pig. Here’s an excerpt from the notes that accompany the video:

I could not upload the Montreal concert’s audio due to copyright but decided to overdub it with the Madison Square Garden audio. With a little editing magic, it worked out pretty well…

I believe this footage is superior to what was used in Scorsese’s documentary. I dare say it’s one of Dylan’s best-filmed performances of the tour. The way he moves his arms and hands makes you feel like you’re looking into another dimension.

Dylan, with his face painted white, does indeed look like a shaman existing in two worlds at once: One perhaps our world and one where towns are divided by “darkness and light” and one with “pyramids all embedded in ice.” Dylan brings the listener/viewer into both worlds, as any good shaman does. The band — including guitarist Bob Neuwirth, bassist Rob Stoner, drummer Howie Wyeth and Bowie collaborator Mick Ronson on guitar among others — is also stellar, especially the work of violinist Scarlet Rivera whose phased out fiddle gives the song an extra psychedelic sheen. It’s amazing to think that the cosmic ride all started with “I married Isis on the fifth day of May.” Bob Dylan last performed “Isis” on May 26, 1976.

In honor of the fifth day of May, hear Bob Dylan on “Isis” from MSG in 1975 below with footage from the Rolling Thunder Revue Montreal concert:

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