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Two Riders Approaching

 



by The Two Riders

A Fistful of Tapes

 

This time around we can begin reviewing the August/September tour of USA/Canada. Maybe itís familiarity, maybe not but these shows sound lack-lustre. Positively dull at times. As always with Dylan there is something there in every show which grabs you, and Dylan is varying things, moving them around, trying new arrangements and so forth. Strangely enough this may not be borne out by the reviews below since there are many performances in a number of shows which work well. I guess that the whole is less than the sum of the parts in the case of this tour. Oh well, I expect that you will completely disagree but it may be time for a break from the road.

But first a previously missing show has turned up:

Salt Lake City          9th June 1999

We have waited a while for this show from the city whence shows never emerge. This is from the joint Paul Simon tour youíll recall and the show starts with the Dylan/Simon duets. They were ordinary then and the passage of time has done nothing to enhance them. This is followed by the Dylan show proper and, to be frank, itís not much cop. A largely unadventurous set is salvaged by a decent shot at Masters Of War, a driving version of All Along The Watchtower and a truly excellent Not Dark Yet. Forget the rest and move on.

Worcester          2nd August

This first show of the tour was probably a decent one but itís hard to tell from the sound quality of this CD-R. The sound is dull and distorted. It is worth highlighting the return of Never Gonna Be The Same Again after a very lengthy absence. Now many people will see this as a backward step but I may be the only person in the world who likes this song. Anyway, Dylan has worked up a new arrangement for it which really does it no favours at all. Though I may well get to like it, this very slow, stop-start version drags on first hearing.

Newport          3rd August

Next night it is a journey back to the (bitter?) past with a show at Newport. Bizarrely, Dylan wore a disguise throughout the show to foil the camera wielding audience. However he did put on a half decent show. After a dull opening, particularly the lifeless and listless Times things began to improve with Desolation Row, got better again on Mama and finally took off with a rousing Down In The Flood. The following mid-section of the show maintained this high quality Ė 4th Street at its stately best, a very energetic Subterranean Homesick Blues, a version of Cry Awhile where Dylan simply attacks the song and a very delicate Girl Of The North Country. Sadly Dylan then breaks the spell when he decorates Tangled Up In Blue with some god-awful guitar plucking. Apart from Summer Days which swings like mad, the rest of the show is dull even though he throws in a rare You Ainít Goiní Nowhere which cries out for more Dylan vocal and less of a big backing chorus.

Augusta          4th August

This recording features a noisy audience, always a distraction. Nice to hear a confident, driving If You See Her Say Hello though this time the lyric changes are quite inferior. Anyone agree? A pity to hear such a strained vocal on Tears Of Rage, this following a stab at Tombstone Blues which does not work. Dylan unveils a new arrangement for High Water which features a prominent backbeat, thus changing the nature of the song. Sounds good though. Probably the best performance of the show is Cold Irons Bound featuring a great vocal Ė he really puts something into this.

Halifax, NS          6th August

An up and down show in which Dylan never quite manages to sustain his performance. There is much that is pleasant without being spine-tingling which does not really make for a good show. The undoubted high-spot is Masters Of War.

Moncton          8th August

Another in and out show but certainly better than the previous one. Very nice to hear Tom Thumbís Blues but it is not terribly well sung. Once again Masters Of War is spritely, this time as song number 4 rather than in the song 10 slot. Cry Awhile is really funky, again a strong vocal effort. High Water succeeds once more and there is a lovely version of Tomorrow Is A Long Time. The take on Itís Alright Ma returns much of the tension to the song rendering it much better. It is followed by a very nicely played My Back Pages albeit with a quite fraught vocal. Nice harp coda mind.

St. John          9th August

Once more Masters of War takes the biscuit but is also joined by a few other stunners most prominently, Visions of Johanna. Both Cold Irons Bound and Moonlight are worthy features but is it sad to hear the mess Dylan makes of Lay Lady Lay (clumsy guitar work) and to a lesser extent Man In The Long Black Coat (disappointing vocal).

Quebec          10th August

Nice show, nice sound, Dylan sounds like he is in control and quite relaxed. Once again it is an iffy start with Man In The Long Black Coat which comes over as lifeless but then he picks things up with a quite restrained and very nice rendition of Love Minus Zero/No Limit. The momentum continues with an excellent, tight, inventive go at Tweedle Dee followed by a surprisingly reasonable effort on Just Like A Woman even if it is too protracted. Once again Moonlight and Masters Of War are well done but both are surpassed by a very laid back Baby Blue which swings unbelievably. Shame about the now very, very boring heavy rock of Drifterís Escape.

Montreal          12th August

Neither here nor there, pretty much your average show this one. Listen out for another relaxed and confident Baby Blue, perhaps just too long and another rumbling Tweedle Dee. Probably the performance highlight is Hard Rain.

Kanata          13th August

The very next night and pretty much the same sort of show. It takes until the fifth song for the concert to really begin to gel when Dylan unleashes the madly-swinging ĎTil I Fell In Love With You then an unusually groovy Stuck Inside of Mobile. The rest is pleasant but, to these ears, ordinary.

Hamburg, NY           15th August

Back to the USA, this is the first show weíve heard with the new opening announcement which attempts to paint Dylanís career and place in music history in a few sentences. It really is not worthy of the man to sanction such ego-caressing stuff when the simple previous, factual announcement is good enough. Bad move, bad move, bad move. The show starts with a new opener, A Voice From On High, a Bill Monroe song in the mould of all of the other openers he has been using lately. A reasonable show then ensues. Iíll Be Your Baby Tonight features a nice harp solo but the following song, Itís Alright Ma sounds sadly very routine. However, things pick up immediately with a spirited Forever Young ďshowcasing ď crap Dylan guitar work and then yet another rolling Tweedle Dee. This song is really beginning to shape up on stage now. Under The Red Sky which follows is good to hear and very well played and the comes Subterranean Homesick Blues which is so tight, this one really does hit the mark now. After that the show settles into a routine groove with few highlights or wrinkles.

Omaha          21st August

Oh dear, yet another curateís egg. Early on we get a very ragged vocal effort on Senor which does not bode well for the remainder of the set. However, by song 4, Girl Of The North Country, Dylan has managed to get going and this is a much better performance. Sadly it is followed by Solid Rock (competent, no more than that) and Just Like A Woman (dreary). High Water, in the current hard arrangement restores things and later on Standing In The Doorway comes over superbly (menacing, slow). On this recording Watchtower is incomplete, fading out after the first verse.

Edmonton          22nd August

Not much to say about this one. Another routine effort lit by an extremely delicate, almost disappearing Boots Of Spanish Leather and a well-nailed Subterranean Homesick Blues. Also Cry Awhile is very mean which makes it work.

Saskatoon          26th August

Still Canada and still the Mounties do not get their man. Another ordinary show full of workmanlike performances. Those that rise above are Itís Alright Ma and This World Canít Stand Long. But will Dylan ever be able to breathe life into Lay, Lady, Lay again? He certainly does not succeed this time around.

Restless Farewell for now.

Mike and John

 
 
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