There are those who face challenges and others that shrink from the fray. There are no certainties in life except death and we should be wary of judging the bold or the meek. In truth few of us have had to meet real challenge in our lives and it would therefore be unwise to assume a position which later one would find personally difficult to defend. The slow train is still coming but the bend it is negotiating is long. It will get here. Indeed, everyday that train arrives for someone, somewhere. And itís got nothing to do with religion. The train represents your own personal challenge. Hope that you survive it. But choose your means of addressing that challenge well.
Live long and prosper.
A Fistful of Tapes
Each Year is Colour Coded as follows:
Well there is a bumper bundle of shows which are being worked through steadily. Some weíll talk about today and some will have to wait until next time.
First up is a relic from the past. Hartford 30.10.1965 is a poorish audience recording of what seems like a lively enough show. The recording is incomplete in the strangest of ways. There are thirteen songs but some of them are the merest fragments, only one or two lines at best. One story identifies the reason that the taper only recorded those songs which he wanted to preserve, that is the ones he liked, and ditched the ones he didnít like! Another likely explanation is that it was a battery saving measure (we are talking 1965 when battery technology was limited). Who knows? Anyway the tracklist is:
She Belongs To Me (complete but sound fades to nothing for a while during verse 2) / To Ramona(two lines)/Gates Of Eden(two lines) / Itís All Over Now Baby Blue (complete) / Desolation Row (one line) / Love Minus Zero (half a verse) / Mr. Tambourine Man (complete)
Tombstone Blues (complete and given a very enthusiastic reception) / Baby Let Me Follow You Down (complete) / Just Like Tom Thumbís Blues(one line) / Maggieís Farm (complete but weird. It starts off very quietly, just Dylan and acoustic and then the band crashes in seemingly out-of≠synch.) / It Ainít Me Babe (complete) / Ballad of a Thin Man (one verse) / Positively 4th Street (complete and a very good version) / Like A Rolling Stone (incomplete with many jumps and cuts, lasts about 3 minutes).
And now letís catch up with the remnants of the 2001 tour. These are the last three shows which were needed to complete the year.
Nashville 3rd November
This one was worth waiting for as it is a good recording of a decent show. There are many good performances but the stand-out is Visions of Johanna. It is an extremely confident performance which glows with late-evening, film noir-like flourishes. Lonesome Day Blues is less dirty and low-down this time out and much more jaunty. I Threw It All Away is a personal favourite but this version is more spoken than sung, taking the edge off it somewhat. Even John Brown, which can be ultra dirge-like with its tuneless approach, is pretty good. It sound doomy and forlorn, as it is meant to but rarely is. Having been less than convinced about Summer Days at first, it must be said that it is turning into a concert favourite. The performance is now very assured, upbeat and inspiring. Better yet, it is followed by Mississippi. Also included is a driving Watchtower, extremely Hendrix-like.
Cincinnatti 4th November
The very next night and a very different show. Perhaps it is the poorer sound quality of this recording but the whole show sounds flat and dull. There is little which grips the imagination except perhaps a spritely nod at Country Pie. Tangled Up In Blue goes on forever.
Morgantown 14th November
A nice-sounding recording, a reasonable show. Look out for a well-crafted It Ainít Me Babe followed by a stirring Itís Alright Ma, very carefully sung. A raunchy Honest With Me is another worth listening for.
That takes us to the first tour of 2002 in the southern states of America. These shows retained a similar structure to the previous year, revealing few surprises but featuring a lot of different songs and some good performances. Dylan played around with the setlist order a fair bit, swapping songs around sometimes. In general terms one could describe these shows as professional (mostly) rather than inspiring. There are, of course, a couple of individual shows of great worth and many excellent individual song performances, as well as some clunkers. One unusual feature is the number of songs which have gained a harmonica intro ( something continued in the subsequent European tour). Sometimes this is highly effective, occasionally it is distracting. Once again Dylan peddles the awful Rainy Day Women as the main set-closet in a bar-band version that lasts forever. Why, I donít know. Maybe he thinks that a hefty portion of basic boogie is the ultimate crowd-pleaser Ė the crowd usually do go would so you probably canít blame him. But you know my views on the critical faculties of rock crowds. The pity is that he has extended this approach to Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat and Highway 61 Revisited. For Peteís sake bring back the subtlety. The other constant irritant is Dylanís idiosyncratic and, frankly, poor lead guitar work. With two great players flanking him why does Dylan need to pluck away from page 3 of the lead guitar primer? And what must Campbell and Sexton think of it all? Oh and there was the little matter of a new drummer (since replaced again) who took some time to find his feet but got there before too long. On the positive side Itís Alright Ma was never less than good, often soaring, Sugar Baby was usually excellent as was High Water. Biggest improvement was Soldierís Grave which had a new harp intro and was taken at a slightly slower pace making it much more effective.
Orlando 31st January
First show of the tour was a bit raggy as you might expect but was a worthy effort. A gentle, restrained Girl Of the North Country led the way with a very good shot at Just Like A Woman (for once) and a greasy Lonesome Day Blues. Summer Days perky and jaunty and actually goes on to become a show-stopper in the rest of the tour. Even the hard rock version of Drifterís Escape is quite sprightly tonight.
Sunrise 1st February
Not bad at all. After a few recent throwaway renditions, Tell Me That It Isnít True does the business tonight. Itís not perfect but very passable. The old chestnut of It Ainít Me Babe proves to be a vote-winner with its tuneful, restrained beauty. Sugar Baby is really focussed and well sung, or at least well sung/spoken.
Tampa 2nd February
A moderate show of few lows and highs. Lay Lady Lay is distinguished by a very tasty steel guitar backing. Boots Of Spanish Leather is excellent from its harp intro through the controlled and understated vocal. This is immediately followed by a hard-hitting Masters Of War, which is well worth the entrance fee.
Jacksonville 5th February
This is a treble-laden recording with a very sharp sound making it a less pleasant aural experience than weíve become used to. The show makes a poor start with Times as the second song. It is quite amazing how much of a drag this song is in its current concert arrangement. A little slimming down and a more urgent vocal would add lustre rather the slow waltz of this sing-along-by-numbers version. Now Floater is another matter. OK it is a fresh song but it drips vitality. A great version. Unfortunately, Mississippi, up for the first time this tour is beginning to pale. Not the song you understand but the vocal. This is a bit of a spoken version sometimes rushing at it. It just feels like he has lost some control of this powerful song.
Charleston 6th February
Another fairly ordinary show. There is a mid-show trio of powerful performances (Cry Awhile, High Water, Masters) but little else to make it special.
Winston-Salem 8th February
Dylan is back on form tonight. This show sparkles throughout. Yet another good Just Like A Woman(two this tour so far!), a very mean and dirty Lonesome Day Blues followed by a bluesy High Water and later a lengthy but highly dramatic Hard Rain. A sublime Sugar Baby adds to the highlights.
Atlanta 9th February
Dylan keeps up the pace as he delivers again. There are many good songs but particular favourites are My Back Pages, It Ainít Me Babe and Summer Days. Sugar Baby is simply excellent once more. Lay Lady Lay appears once more but is marred a tad by a sort of spoken vocal.
Charlotte 10th February
For the third night in a row the fruit machine comes up with three cherries, if that is an appropriate analogy. Nice to hear a playful Tweedle Dee and a magnificent Positively 4th Street. The undoubted highlight is Visions of Johanna with Dylan wrenching meaning from each line to a lovely acoustic guitar backing. He really is trying on this one. Also Country Pie makes for a pleasant, bouncy inclusion.
Charleston 11th February
Fourth consecutive night and its slowing down a bit but not too much. The ever-reliable Itís Alright Ma is excellent once more and there is a tasty stab at Tell Me That It Isnít True. Nice to see Most Likely back on the list but it is spoiled by going on for far too long. Listen for Cold Irons Bound which is spot-on.
Greenville 13th February
Things have slowe down quite a bit by the time of this show. Dylan has had a night off but there is little happening tonight. The most disappointing feature is Mississippi which has a poor vocal and is just lacklustre and tired. Like A Rolling Stone is just boring.
Augusta 15th February
This next show sees a bit of a return to form but itís nothing special. Very strained vocal spoil Mr. Tambourine Man whilst it is a noisy audience that ruins Girl of the North Country. You wait till the very end to hear an excellent Watchtower which Dylan then proceeds to murder with his incessant plucking.
Birmingham 16th February
Not much of a show. Some good moments, of course (Itís Alright Ma, Sugar Baby, Cold Irons Bound) but many weak ones. Scrappy or reticent vocalising spoils a number of songs, the rest are just so ordinary, going-through-the-motions affairs.
More on the 2002 tour