Never Ending Tour, 1994, Part 4: I’d give you the sky high above

This is part of the ongoing series on the Never Ending Tour.  A full index to the articles can be found here.

By Mike Johnson (Kiwipoet)

In the previous three blogs for 1994, I considered Dylan’s loving and adventurous treatment of his 1960 foundation songs. He brings that same inventiveness and passion to the 1970s material, which I’ll look at in this blog.

As we have seen, 1994 was a strong year for the NET, perhaps the strongest yet, at least since 1990, and his treatment of his 1970s songs doesn’t disappoint. We don’t often hear much of the songs from Planet Waves (1974) as those songs were somewhat cast into the shade by the grandeur of Blood on the Tracks (1974), but we can find love songs on Planet Waves that come very close to the songs on the later album, and may prefigure them.

‘Hazel’ is a good example. It lacks the cutting edge of the Blood on the Tracks songs, but has a warmth and expresses desire without the ambivalences of the later songs. This is another outtake from Dylan Unplugged, and has a rich, sumptuous sound. If the Dylan Unplugged album had only included such wonderful performances as this, it would have been a real treat. Remember that Dylan added an organ to the lineup for these performances, which helps create that ‘orchestral’ effect.

Hazel

Of course Blood on the Tracks provides most of the seventies songs performed that year, with the old favourites leading the charge. ‘Tangled Up In Blue’ gets a brisk airing. I think the 1993 performances of this song might have the edge (see NET, 1993, part 1), but who’s complaining? Dylan knows how to kick this song along, and gives a fine, spirited performance, using his guitar to drive the pace and his harmonica to add restraint and tension. A nine and half minute epic delivered with verve. The fast paced delivery makes the stories told in the song sound very exciting.

Special mention should be made to the long, slow ending, lasting almost as long as some pop songs. These slow endings have become a feature of the performances of many of the songs since 1992 and work to bring the songs to a crashing climax.

Tangled up in Blue

We have three more favourites from Blood on the Tracks, including the ever popular ‘Simple Twist of Fate’. This song evokes a brief but haunting love affair, a one night stand perhaps that lingers in the mind. Such an encounter can leave a particular kind of desolation.

‘He woke up; the room was bare
He didn't see her anywhere
He told himself he didn't care
pushed the window open wide
Felt an emptiness inside
to which he just could not relate’

In this nearly ten minute electric version, Dylan slows the pace and delivers a heart-ripping vocal to an appreciative audience that cheer at every nuance. This performance follows the pattern that has been evolving with these epic versions, with the last verse being sung about half way through, the remainder devoted to Dylan’s guttural guitar work and sensitive harmonica. Dylan’s harp work is often at its best when it brings an element of poignancy and whimsicality to the emotion driving the song. In this case, regret, and the harmonica is good at regret. The harp solo on this performance is not to be missed. (Columbus, Ohio, 21/8/94)

Simple Twist of Fate

Lovers of Dylan’s album performance of ‘Shelter from the Storm’, or those who might prefer the fast, hard edged 1976 performance, won’t be disappointed by this 1994 version. All hyperbole aside, this could well be the best ever performance of this song.

Readers will know that I’m pretty wary of these ‘best ever’ claims. Often performances may be the ‘best ever’ for that year, or that tour. Or two different interpretations of a song may both be ‘best’. However it’s hard to imagine a more powerful and convincing performance than this one. The vocals have a soundboard clarity to them, Mr Guitar Man drives the song along with his dark, subterranean sounds, and the harp brings that note of reflection.

Shelter from the Storm

This song may well be the best song on the album in terms of the lyrics. I find myself savouring every line. Maybe that’s because it’s Dylan’s finest female worship song (We’ll get another one with ‘Golden Loom’). A song that celebrates women, or the divine female aspect, without any spite or ironical undercutting, and in which wry self-deprecation marks the song’s humour.

‘She came up to me so gracefully
And took my crown of thorns’

However, I’m sure there are Blood on the Track fans who might well favour ‘If You See Her Say Hello’, for its bitter sweetness. I find the sentiment a little too magnanimous to be entirely convincing.

‘If you’re makin’ love to her
Kiss her once for me
I always have respected her
For doin' what she did and gettin' free’

That’s very noble. I prefer the harder edged sentiment from the ‘rogue’ 1976 performance.

‘If you’re makin’ love to her
Watch it from the rear
You’ll never know when I’ll be back
Or liable to appear’

Ah, yes, that makes more sense to me. However this 1994 powerhouse of a performance, with its driving beat, lifts the song above any mawkishness and even convinces me. What helps is that some of the lyrics have been toughened up. In the original he sings:

‘And though our separation
It pierced me to the heart
She still lives inside of me
We've never been apart’

In this performance he sings:

‘And though our separation
pierced me to the bone
she still lives inside of me
I’ve never been alone’

There may not be a big shift in meaning, but there is a significant change in tone.

And if you want bitter-sweet, I’m sold on the change to the last line:

‘Tell her she can look me up
if I’m still on her mind.’

Get ready for another ‘best ever’ performance.

If you see her say hello

 

With its slow, sonorous beat and spooky atmosphere, ‘Senor’ is one of the most powerful songs on Street Legal. It captures that ‘end of the line’ feeling Dylan is so good at. The desire to escape meaninglessness and suffocation. When writing about this song in my Master Harpist series, I said that the song reminded me of Thoreau’s observation, ‘the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation, and what is taken for resignation is confirmed desperation’.

It’s a song that suits heavy treatment, and that’s what it gets here. Dylan throws himself into the vocal and drives it forward with that insistent guitar.

Senor

 

I want to finish this post with a couple of rarities. In this series I haven’t always allowed space for Dylan’s treatment of other writer’s songs. There just seemed to be too many good Dylan songs to cover. However in September 1994 Dylan did a studio recording of some Elvis Presley songs, perhaps with the view to doing a tribute album. Only three songs were recorded, it seems, among which this ‘Any Way You Want Me’ stands out. Dylan’s broken voiced rendition gives the song a whole new and much rawer feeling. Quite a gem, this one.

Any Way You Want Me

 

As well as Presley, Dylan took part in a Jimmy Rogers tribute session. This performance of ‘Blue-Eyed Jane’ reminds us of the strong influence Country and Western had on Dylan, and the role played by the great Jimmy Rogers in shaping that music and filling the radio airways with his sad ballads. Dylan sings it naturally and with obvious affection. Here he is accompanied by Emmylou Harris.

Blue-Eyed Jane

That’s it for now. Soon I’ll be back with the final instalment of Dylan’s 1994 performances that will include ‘Jokerman’, ‘Lenny Bruce’, and ‘Born in Time’.

Until then, stay safe!

Kia Ora

If you are enjoying this series you may well also enjoy Mike’s series “Bob Dylan Master Harpist”

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