Why Bob Dylan is a must-see live performer

by mr tambourine

When it comes to Bob Dylan, there always has to be some kind of hype involved – and for good reason.

There’s probably a lot of people who will never understand – but when you do understand, the man cannot stop surprising you, be sure of that.

The only live performer that can be introduced as a Nobel laureate.  Which means, his lyrics are life-changing.

Some people will doubt his voice, doubt the musical arrangements during the concert, saying how he butchered it, it sounds nothing like on the record.

I am not against people who choose certain periods of his career over other periods, or people who think he’s not as good as he was before or stuff like that. People who politely express their honest opinion. I’m not against those people at all.

I’m against people who flat-out insult the man without any reason. Like it’s Bob Dylan’s fault why certain people cannot keep cool for at least 30 seconds in a single day.

I have friends who love artists like Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits and Nick Cave – but none of them like Bob Dylan. And I’m like – why?

Any of those kind of artists would give anything to have the catalogue and the reputation of Bob Dylan.

I think Dylan really shows what a performer and, yes, you hear that right, entertainer, should do!

I think the audience has changed more than Bob Dylan has changed and are demanding very different things from those which they used to.

Going to a Bob Dylan show is cool simply because you’re in for a treat in any kind of way. First of all, there is this aura of a genius, of course, and the mystique. And it really never disappoints.

Whether he’s 20 or 78, doesn’t matter; I haven’t found too many flaws in any Dylan period I’ve ever listened to, that can drive me away.

In any year ever you can find a performance that’s different than any other.

The most intriguing thing that’s always existed is the setlists. You really never know when Dylan is going to add a new song to the set.

Stockholm experienced that in 2019, when Can’t Wait and Girl From The North Country got added instead of Cry A While and Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright, just when we thought the set would never change.

2019 has had one of the steadier setlists in Bob’s entire live career, but even in that kind of year we witnessed some unexpected additions.

Other than the two already mentioned, Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues got a couple of closing instrumental versions in Europe. Dignity, of all songs, got 6 attempts.

Who would’ve thought Lenny Bruce would be back?

Or Not Dark Yet with what seems to be the first arrangement change ever (at least melody wise)?

Let’s not forget Bob suddenly playing the guitar every single night on the Fall Tour!   That hasn’t happened since 2012 at least, but maybe even more.

What I have learned by uploading many different performances throughout the years is that there is no end and you will never know.

Playing a song like Saving Grace for example, for the first time since 1980, in 2003, 23 years later.  Then playing it in 2004 and 2005 and then not playing it until once in 2012!? I mean, who would’ve predicted that??

Who would’ve predicted a song like Waiting For You, a Dylan original song from 2002, to be played twice in 2005 and then 150 times in 2013, 2014 and 2015. I heard that it was even rehearsed or soundchecked before a show in 2018.

What about two songs like Shooting Star and Under The Red Sky for example, one from 1989 and one from 1990.

Both played every year (except Under The Red Sky was skipped in 2011) from 1990 to 2013 and then suddenly he stopped playing them?

Or the one outing for Billy 4, in 2009?!! 36 years after being released on Par Garrett And Billy The Kid?

As you see, it might depend on the location.

Stockholm has had many surprises in the set throughout the years. Stockholm is also I think the city where Olof Bjorner lives, a great Dylan researcher. And ultimately, the city of the Nobel Prize commitee.

I can give you a few examples about Stockholm:

  1. 1981 only performance of She Belongs To Me that year, played as an opener and played for the first time since 1976 and would not be played again until 1988.
  2. 1991 last ever performance of Man Gave Names To All The Animals
  3. 1998 rare performance of Watchtower as an opener and with a very unusual arrangement only used in ’98
  4. 2002 first Solid Rock performance since 1981
  5. 2005 last performance of Bye and Bye
  6. 2007 two nights, both nights had Country Pie performed, first time since 2004 and last two times ever
  7. 2009 Billy 4 as mentioned already, live debut
  8. 2013 Stockholm featured an already mentioned Waiting For You being played for the very first time since 2005 and was the beginning of a 2013-2015 streak. Also, the so far last ever performance of It’s Alright Ma with a very rare arrangement only used twice (previously in Oslo).
  9. 2017 Standing In The Doorway first performance since 2005 and last ever so far.
  10. 2019 Stockholm, already mentioned earlier in this post.

One of those other specific places I could think about are Oslo and Rome.

Everyone might remember the two crazy Rome nights in 2013 with some of the last performances of many songs and many first and only performances of all songs in 2013. Completely different set!

How about Oslo?

Oslo was the beginning of the Sinatra phase live! First time multiple standards were played was in Oslo 2015.

Oslo 2019 had one of only two performances of Boots Of Spanish Leather, first since 2013 Rome. Oslo-Rome, Oslo-Rome… Do you see what I mean?

Is it an accident that, after playing What Was It You Wanted in 1990 pretty frequently, Bob would play it only once in 1991 in Glasgow, and then not play it until 1995 in Edinburgh of all places and burying it?

Is it an accident that I Dreamed I Saw St Augustine gets played in Dublin 2005 and then not played again until 2011 in Cork of all places before burying it.

Is it an accident that Down Along The Cove gets played in Rome 2006 for the last time so far?

Also, how does Dylan decide when it’s over for a certain song and stops playing it?

He usually likes to stick to some songs for some time before burying them (temporarily at least).

Many of Dylan’s extremely long songs get refused for example to be played live. Yet again, Highlands got 9 attempts in 1999, 2000 and 2001.

Brownsville Girl got only one attempt in 1986 with only the chorus spinning around for 4 minutes. I also heard it was rehearsed or soundchecked in 1995.

Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands, no live performances.  Desolation Row, of course, has had multiple ones, but not as much as it probably should have.

So, the moral of the story is, is it fair to write off any Dylan song and consider it buried forever?

Absolutely not!  Some songs seem unlikely of course, but never count any song off!

Remember Romance in Durango being played in London 2003, first time since 1976. Now that I mentioned it, London is one of those occasions where Bob delivers rarities. Waiting For You was debuted there in 2005.

Remember Hazel being played in 2004 and 2005.   Remember We Better Talk This Over being played in 2000, for the first time since 1978.

Even the best songs like Blowin’ In The Wind, Like A Rolling Stone, Times They Are A-Changin’ and Mr Tambourine Man get left out for a few years even.   It’s been a decade since Times They Are A-Changin and Mr Tambourine were played.

Don’t you know that Watered Down Love, although buried in 1981, was actually rehearsed in 1984 and even soundchecked in 1998?

Don’t you know that Angelina, although not played live ever, was soundchecked multiple times. At least twice in 1999 and 2000.   There’s also a version included in Masked And Anonymous Outtakes from 2003.

That’s why I can never count out any song. Not even Changing Of The Guards and Caribbean Wind. None.

Remember Handy Dandy being debuted in 2008, 18 years after the release of Under The Red Sky.

Remember that even the great Basement Tapes weren’t immediately played live. Dylan had to wait many years to play all those songs.   Remember that even a great album like New Morning hasn’t been played live that much.

Know that Mississippi was soundchecked in 2017 (last played in 2012), know that Emotionally Yours was soundchecked in 2002 (last played in 1993).

Know that Shooting Star was soundchecked in 2014 (last played in 2013) or that I Want You was soundchecked in 2008 (last played in 2005).

I think after this pandemic is over, Bob has something to surprise us with as soon as touring gets allowed and concerts and events get approved all over the world.

What else is on the site?

We have a very lively discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook with over 4200 active members.  (Try imagining a place where it is always safe and warm).  Just type the phrase “Untold Dylan” in, on your Facebook page or follow this link 

You’ll find some notes about our latest posts arranged by themes and subjects on the home page of this site.  You can also see details of our main sections on this site at the top of this page under the picture.

The index to all the 603 Dylan compositions and co-compositions that we have found on the A to Z page.

If you are interested in Dylan’s work from a particular year or era, your best place to start is Bob Dylan year by year.

On the other hand if you would like to write for this website, or indeed have an idea for a series of articles that the regular writers might want to have a go at, please do drop a line with details of your idea, or if you prefer, a whole article to Tony@schools.co.uk

And please do note our friends at  The Bob Dylan Project, which lists every Dylan song in alphabetical order, and has links to licensed recordings and performances by Dylan and by other artists, plus links back to our reviews (which we do appreciate).





  1. Boots Of Spanish Leather… all photos speaks it. I see, I hear.
    I only wish pandemia would recede as soon as possible.

  2. Wow, I am very happy that mr tambourine´s channel is back on youtube. Thank you, it´s great!

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