Journey back to 1974 and Bob Dylan's return to the stage following a seven-and-a-half year touring hiatus. As Dylan and The Band made their way across North America during the first two months of that year, expectations were tremendous. The tour was the hottest ticket in town, so much so that the US post office had to set up extra mailboxes for ticket orders in many of the major cities. Over five million paid mail orders were reportedly sent in for the 650,000 tickets available over the course of the tour, making them the most in-demand ticket in the history of rock music. Forty concerts were performed in forty-three days, culminating in three performances at The Forum in Inglewood, California, where the bulk of the live album, Before The Flood, was recorded. From the start, a live album was planned; it was the first of Dylan's career and his new label (he left Columbia for David Geffen's Asylum label the previous year) had high expectations. These pressures were likely insignificant compared to Dylan knowing he must transcend his legendary status and the expectations of his audience which, despite his absence from touring, had only grown stronger in the intervening years.
Also contributing to the nearly rabid anticipation for this tour was Dylan teaming back up with The Band who, with the exception of drummer Levon Helm, had backed Dylan on the infamous tour of Europe in 1966 and played on the Basement Tapes. Indeed, with the exception of his first electric performance at Newport in 1965 and his guest appearance at the Concerts For Bangla Desh in 1970, The Band were the only group to back Dylan publicly up to this point in time. Through the bourgeoning underground network of bootleg recordings, Dylan and The Band's musical relationship had taken on a near mythical and legendary status, despite having never been released or even heard by the vast majority of fans at the time. Since Dylan's touring hiatus began in 1966, The Band had become one of the most respected and influential groups on the planet, having released a series of albums that remain some of the most compelling and distinctly original of the late 1960s. Performing less frequently, The Band were a considerable draw on their own by this point and with their 1971 Cahoots LP being their last to contain new original music (1973's Moondog Matinee was an album of covers), they too were faced with daunting expectations.
At this moment in time, this tour would stand as one of the most successful ever and it certainly went a long way toward rejuvenating interest in both Dylan and The Band. In his second volume of Performing Artist books on the subject, Crawdaddy founder, Paul Williams, put this tour in context most succinctly when he stated, "The performances that resulted are not the among the best of his career; but they are frequently very moving and represent a crucial transition: Dylan's reclaiming of the stage after a long and stifling silence, his rediscovery and reassertion of himself as a performing artist.