Never Ending Tour: 1995, Part 4 – Beyond Prague, London Calling

This article is part of our on-going series tracing the Never Ending Tour, with commentary and audios of the performances.

A full index of all the articles tracing the tour from 1988 onward, is available here.  The previous articles about the Prague concerts of 1995 are…

By Mike Johnson (Kiwipoet)

Of course, Dylan’s revelatory three day residency on Prague was not the end of the 1995 story, just the beginning. He went on from there to performances equal to Prague, but not with the same consistency.

His three day residency in London, from the 29th to the 31st of March at the Brixton Academy, is a good example. It may well be that the recording of the London concerts was not as good. Despite their obvious audience source, there is something about the Prague recordings, how they capture the echo of the venue, and the clarity of the sound, that was not sustained in London. Yet there were some outstanding moments in London, such as this ‘Masters of War’, which equals the best of Prague:

Masters of War

For my ear, we have a ‘best ever’ performance of this song, at least in terms of acoustic versions. In my post for Master Harpist 2, I wrote regarding this performance: ‘Dylan can let rip with this song, and turn it into a howling rocker, but this performance is all restraint, a sense of holding back that emotion, which just breaks through the voice here and there, until we get to the harp, where we get a sharper, more trenchant comment. Listen to the way the guitar and harmonica surge back and forward in a syncopated manner, while Dylan’s vocal and harmonica phrasing drive the song forward. Hard to find a better Dylan performance than this.’

Another London performance we can’t overlook is this ‘Senor’, a song that takes us right to the borderlands of spiritual despair. It’s a wonderful moody song from  Street Legal (1978) and never fails to create a spooky atmosphere on stage. There is a pretty good video of this performance, and you see Dylan, once more without guitar, putting on a very Prague-like performance. (I have added the audio link in case the You Tube clip disappears)

Senor

The London concerts are remarkable for a most rare performance of ‘Joey’ off  Desire (1975). ‘Joey’ has never been my favourite Dylan song, as it appears to lionise a mafia figure. How different from ‘The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carol’ (1964) which  presents us with a harrowing tale of how a poor black woman was randomly killed by a rich crook who might have been Joey, or at least a Joey type figure. As a story, this epic failed to move me, but if any performance of the song was going to move me it would be this one. Whatever you think of the song, the power of this performance turns it into a passionate narrative of betrayal. A remarkable vocal.

Joey

‘Dignity’ was written in 1989 for Oh Mercy, but Dylan was dissatisfied with the versions they tried out. He re-recorded it in 1994, and many of us first became aware of the song from the 1994 MTV Unplugged concert. A derisive humour lies behind this song. Dignity can no longer be found no matter where you search:

‘I went down where the vultures feed
I would've got deeper, but there wasn't any need
Heard the tongues of angels and the tongues of men
Wasn't any difference to me’

You can listen to it as if dignity was a person, and the effect is quite odd.  I’ve just added the capital D to dignity.

‘Somebody got murdered on New Year's Eve
Somebody said Dignity was the first to leave
I went into the city, went into the town
Went into the land of the midnight sun’

This 1995 London performance recalls the MTV performance of the year before, but to my mind has the edge on the earlier performance, being a bit sharper and rougher.

Dignity

What I like about Dylan’s 1995 vocals is the understated softness of his voice when he needs it. Yes, he can yell it out, and often the songs build from soft to loud, but in the case of the London performance of ‘She Belongs to Me’ he pretty much keeps it soft and intimate, as if it were a love song instead of a cautionary account of how one can be bewitched and end up ‘peeking through a keyhole down upon your knees.’ The woman in question is a charmer for sure – but what is the cost of getting involved? Serving another’s ego?

She belongs to me.

Feel like kicking back with a bit of rock blues? A song that belts along with a steady rock pace? Something to dance to? Try this London performance of ‘Tombstone Blues’. On the album (Highway 61 Revisited, 1965) the song happens at quite a frantic pace, thirty years later it rollicks along. The lyrics come over nice and clearly too.

Tombstone Blues

Throughout Dylan’s songs there is a resistance to over-educated intellectualism. Dylan loved baiting intellectuals, wanna-be intellectuals and pretenders. In ‘Someone’s Got a Hold of My Heart’ he complains about ‘too much educated rap.’ There is an intellectual force behind his wild whirling words however, but it leans to the anarchic, the chaotic and the revelatory. In ‘Tombstone Blues’ we find this:

‘I wish I could write you a melody so plain
That could hold you, dear lady, from going insane
That could ease you and cool you and cease the pain
Of your useless and pointless knowledge’

And this fucked up world is sure going to make you sick.

‘Well, John the Baptist after torturing a thief
Looks up at his hero, the Commander-in-Chief
Saying, "Tell me great hero, but please, make it brief
Is there a hole for me to get sick in?"’

A regular on Dylan’s set list, ‘If You See Her Say Hello’ wasn’t played at Prague, so it’s a pleasure to pick it up here, in London. These London performances make a nice complement to Prague.

The vocal is restrained, the harmonica sharp-edged and guitarist John Jackson gives the song a country twist. Again we get that easy, mid-tempo, catchy rhythm that makes these songs fun to listen to. It is less wrought than the album version (Blood on the Tracks, 1974), but no less nostalgic for that.

If you see her say hello

Before leaving the London concerts behind, here’s an unusual performance. On the last night, the 31st of March, Dylan is joined onstage by Elvis Costello for a rousing performance of ‘I Shall Be Released.’ Dylan’s distinctive voice and vocal phrasing do not make him an easy partner in any duet. But here they take turns and sing together only on the chorus and it turns out pretty okay. The video of this one is pretty cool too.

I shall be released.

We now move from London to Edinburgh, 7th April, for another rarity, the last ever performance of ‘What Was It You Wanted?’ (Oh Mercy 1989)

I have always admired this song for its portrayal of devastating emotional disconnection. Imagine two people sitting at a table. They are apparently having a conversation but what we hear is what just one of them is saying, or perhaps thinking. Are you listening to me? Are you there at all? It’s the ultimate disconnect.

‘Whatever you wanted
Slipped out of my mind
Would you remind me again
If you'd be so kind
Has the record been breaking
Did the needle just skip
Is there somebody waitin'
Was there a slip of the lip?’

This verse is obsessively repetitive, the same notes repeated eight times before a chord change, making it sound as if the needle really is skipping on the track itself. Very clever. Structurally it’s relentless, as is the alienation it portrays. Do we even know whom we’re talking to or what about?

‘What was it you wanted
I ain't keepin' score
Are you the same person
That was here before?
Is it something important
Maybe not
What was it you wanted?
Tell me again I forgot’

Of course people want something, even if they don’t come out and say it. So what’s their angle?

‘Whatever you wanted
What can it be
Did somebody tell you
That you could get it from me
Is it something that comes natural
Is it easy to say
Why do you want it
Who are you anyway?’

This kind of hidden agenda makes us suspicious. ‘Are you talking to me?’ Do these two people even know each other? Self doubt intervenes.

‘Is the scenery changing
Am I getting it wrong
Is the whole thing going backwards
Are they playing our song?
Where were you when it started
Do you want it for free
What was it you wanted
Are you talking to me?’

I don’t know why he left it behind after 1995, for by the sound of this performance Dylan is fully engaged with the song. It’s a great performance although Dylan’s voice is a bit soft or under-recorded at the beginning.

What was it you wanted?

While on the subject of songs from Oh Mercy, and still in Edinburgh, we find an equally committed performance of ‘Disease of Conceit.’ In 1996 this song too would be dropped from Dylan’s repertoire. It’s a very explicit song. There is nothing elusive in its imagery. It’s almost embarrassingly direct, and so suits Dylan’s understated, 1995 style.

The disease of conceit

That’s it for now. Next time we’ll be looking at some more compelling sounds from 1995. Until then, stay safe and happy listening.

Kia Ora

And elsewhere

There are details of some of our more recent articles listed on our home page.  You’ll also find, at the top of the page, and index to some of our series established over the years.

If you have an article or an idea for an article which could be published on Untold Dylan, please do write to Tony@schools.co.uk with the details – or indeed the article itself.

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(I shall be released)

 

Senor

 

 

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2 Responses to Never Ending Tour: 1995, Part 4 – Beyond Prague, London Calling

  1. Larry fyffe says:

    Dylan certainly plays down what he considers to be academic intellectualism, and puts on “I’m just an ordiny guy” mask with songs like I Left Home When I Was Young .

    But he certainly was not unlearned about traditional music and songs, he knew his songs well before he sings’em, and especially later on appears to be well read in art and literary matters – high and low.

    And then there’s that darn Nobel Prize for such ‘useless and pointless knowledge”.

  2. Kiwipoet says:

    Good point, Larry. In the Sixties many of us were what an academic friend of mine later described as, “anti intellectual intellectuals”, a paradox we didn’t appreciate at the time. We co-opted Dylan as a weapon against stultified learning and oppressive intellectualism. I saw a t-short recently that said, ‘Stop Talking and Start Kissing,’ and that seems to sum it up…

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