When the lumberjacks come, watch out! They make up Dylanís eternal triangle together with life and death. The outcome is predictable and savage. Whatever you do in your life think carefully before you do it and avoid the chainsaw of destruction. Tom Verlaine said that he understood all destructive urges Ė I believe that we all do. Some of us control them better than others. That chainsaw can be real or virtual, physical or mental. Either way it is equally destructive. Please walk with tranquillity and dignity. If this is possible for any of us.
Live long and prosper.
A Fistful of Tapes
Each Year is Colour Coded as follows:
This time around we are pleased to say that we can (virtually) finish off the European tour. Only finding the time to listen to recordings prevents a full report. But generally there are some pretty good shows amongst them. A lot of energy, variety and not a little risk-taking. These days the shows are usually at worst OK(and there are a fair few of those) and occasionally brilliant. They are never less than professional Ė how could they be with such a fine band, made even better with the addition of Jim Keltner.
And without further ado, letís roll with it.
Stockholm 5th April
Great start to the tour with an unexpected and fine set list. Watch out for Man of Constant Sorrow done in a choppy electric arrangement. Does not quite work as it comes across as a bit stilted. There is a cautious welcome for the return of Solid Rock done in a very heavy style which tends to overpower the vocal. Dylan canít deliver demanding vocals these days and it shows on this one. Whereas Tweedle Dee benefits from a fresh, very light arrangement, a similar approach to Make You Feel My Love is less successful leaving an impression of too much guitar noodling.
Oslo 7th April
There are a number of highlights in this show. Desolation Row is vibrant and gloriously lovely, Hattie Carroll is refreshing and Visions is simply excellent. These days it is rare to hear Thin Man but here we have it in a pretty good arrangement. Man Of Constant Sorrow moves down the batting order to song 16 but it remains lumpen. A good show.
Copenhagen 8th April
Early on this show is characterised by two songs which represent opposite extremes of the current Dylan touring experience. The second song is Times which these days always sounds like it has had all of the life drained out of it, something way past itís sell-by date. It is usually done in a dreary slow arrangement which drags on forever. This is followed by a song of not dissimilar vintage, Itís Alright Ma which, by contrast, is potent, menacing, desperate and exhilarating. This is how both of these songs are these days Ė every time. Solid Rock is still rough vocally but the crowd really go for a great Masters Of War. Sad to see the set spoiled by the return of Not Fade Away in a routine, insipid performance.
Hamburg 9th April
Continuing to spring the surprises, Dylan gives us Subterranean Homesick Blues at breakneck speed. The wordage overstretches him a little but he gets through it. This is the standout entry (itís being there, rather than the performance) in a largely ordinary show. It is fair to say that the alternating pair of Drifterís Escape (this show) and The Wicked Messenger are now turgid, rock star workouts and it is time for a change. Tonight the vocal on If Dogs Run Free is poor and has the recent affectation of Dylan emphasising the last word of a line by singing it higher than the preceding notes.
Berlin 11th April
This is a pretty good show. Even Times has a nice harp solo at the start. Generally most of this show is worth a careful listen but ignore the lengthy instrumental coda on Rolling Stone.
Leipzig 12th April
One Too Many Mornings is the first highlight but it really does go on far too long Ė nearly eight minutes. Solid Rock is now several shows in but still sounds very raggy vocally. Next up is Canít Wait in a most effective new slow arrangement. Also present is Maggieís Farm in the most recent laid back arrangement and Dylan even tries to ad-lib his way through the closing passage ďHer sister and her father and her cousin too etcĒ Now letís leave that to Van Morrison! Fourth Time Around suffers from a strangely out-of-sync vocal but all is redeemed with a most welcome Not Dark Yet.
Hannover 13th April
The first 16 minutes are missing on our version of this recording but itís not critical as this is a decent but uninspired concert. Certainly It Ainít Me, Babe is worthwhile and this time around If Dogs Run Free is pretty good as is Watchtower.
Frankfurt 15th April
Definitely a few more highs in this show. Nice harp solo to introduce My Back Pages and for once a smooth and understated Mobile. Even Solid Rock is less raucous and more controlled than previously. Listen out for Shelter From The Storm which is ever so laid back and at last Man of Constant Sorrow is beginning to click.
Stuttgart 16th April
Strange show this one. There are a number of strong performances (Hard Rain, Summer Days particularly) but Dylanís vocal idiosyncrasies are at their worst on others. Most notably Every Grain Of Sand sounds like another tune altogether and Tomorrow Is A Long Time is clumsy. Simple Twist suffers the same fate (geddit!). Nice to see Man Of Constant Sorrow bedding in even further and really working now.
Munich 17th April
Another mixed bag. Both Baby Blue and Mobile go on for too long, In The Garden is ponderous and Catís In The Well overstays its welcome. However, Visions is first class and Things Have Changed is pretty tasty.
Ravenna 19th April
This is a good-sounding record of the show. This time around it is Forever Young which gets the extended treatment but itís pretty good so that helps. Unfortunately Dylan meanders through a shambolic I Threw It All Away but redeems himself with an atmospheric Tomorrow Is A Long Time.
Zurich 21st April
There are a few more highlights tonight the first of which is a super One Too Many Mornings replete with an excellent harp intro. Tonight Iíll Be Staying Here With You is very laid back and spacey and it works. Subterranean Homesick Blues is top-notch tonight and Summer Days really jumps even if it is over 8 minutes long. Pity that Not Dark Yet seems to plod along
Innsbruck 23rd April
Nice to hear an acoustic Senor as second song up closely followed by a very nice Sweet Marie and a sublime Sugar Baby (unusually at song seven). I Believe In You is really welcome and is done extremely well too. The weird chopped vocal on My Back Pages completely spoils the song.
Nuremburg 24th April
A good show worth tracking down. A rare appearance for Iíll Remember You, acoustic no less is only adequate but then he nails Itís Alright Ma before treating us to the new slow Canít Wait and a pretty good SHB. Best of all is Standing In The Doorway.
Strasbourg 25th April
The audience is a bit too noisy on this recording which mars the listenerís pleasure. Both I Donít Believe You and Cry Awhile are excellent, the latter being nice and sleazy. However, another of our favourites, Shooting Star, is so dull it barely lifts itself and LARS is just insipid.
Brussels 28th April
Another up and down show. I suppose that we might have expected Masterpiece with its reference to Brussels and here it is and the show is none-the-worse for this unusual acoustic reading. Unusually Itís Alright Ma is a bit ragged vocally with Dylan playing to the audience just a bit too much. Nice to hear If You See Her which is taken at quite a lick and features lyric changes but is just OK really. The two standout performances are Visions and Masters, the latter being strong and strident.
Paris 30th April
The second of two Paris shows (the first is on the to-be-played pile) and itís a goodíun. An acoustic I Want You sets the mood up nicely even though you long for the electric guitar filigrees, and the best performance of the night comes two songs later with a beautifully understated It Ainít Me, Babe even though itís way too long at nine and a half minutes. Simple Twist is incredibly laid back. The rest is not far short.
Brighton 3rd May
The first UK show of the year sees our man in rollicking form. This slightly faulty recording detracts somewhat but look out for a blistering SHB, the claustrophobic hush of Sugar Baby and the now fully functioning Man Of Constant Sorrow.
Cardiff 6th May
Two shows on and itís an OK show only. This is one of the dreariest version of Times. In contrast Itís Alright Ma is positively vibrant before Baby Blue returns us to plod mode. The confident swagger of Lonesome Day Blues is soon followed by another flat performance in Mobile.
Newcastle 8th May
Our ďlocalĒ concert and, like many others, a curateís egg. Sound at the venue was very poor for the early numbers but itís not that bad on disc! Great to hear Song To Woody and lovely guitar work from Campbell on Mr. Tambourine Man. A raunchy Cry Awhile balances out a deeply brooding Standing In The Doorway. If Dogs Run Free is really up there in this jazzy version but Leopard-Skin is simply boring Ė this song needs an extended sabbatical.
Manchester 9th May
Wow! Maggieís Farm as an acoustic opener and in yet another arrangement. Faster than usual, almost bluegrass. This great show features rousing shots at I Donít Believe You, Lonesome Day Blues, Masters of War, Visions and Blind Willie McTell, all of these at the very heart of the show.
Birmingham 10th May
Things kick off with Maggieís Farm once more quickly followed by a decent version of Youíre A Big Girl, Now. Tom Thumbís Blues features a lazy, laid back vocal which is quite gripping somehow. A number of uninspiring cuts litter the show the highlight of which is Sugar Baby.
London 11th May
Itís Alright Ma is taut and tight, Baby Blue is plaintive with that lovely steel guitar sound, Solid Rock is now pretty good and drives along. Blind Willie McTell is a killer even if it is more spoken than sung and Cold Irons Bound is brilliant, dark and gritty. Even LARS scales the heights tonight.
Thatís it for now. Just a few stray shows to be listened to and reported upon and Europe is over. On to the States.
Restless Farewell for now.
Mike and John
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