- Part 1: Never Ending Tour, 2002,, Seattle Showdown
- Part 2 Tickling the Ivories
- Part 3: Manchester and other outstanding performances
- Part 4: Magnificent performances
- Part 5: Accidentally friends and other strangers
This article below was written as Part 5, with Part 5 being part six. Unfortunately an editorial cock-up meant that Part six was published as part five on Boxing Day, so here is Part five. Now called part six. If you follow my drift.
NET, 2002, Part 6 Atlanta Aftermath and Manchester Moonshine
By Mike Johnson (Kiwipoet)
‘I ain’t no pig without a wig I hope you treat me kind.’
By Mike Johnson (Kiwipoet)
As we have seen in the earlier posts of 2002, this was remarkable year for the NET, as from October Dylan put down his guitar and began playing piano on stage. Two outstanding gigs prior to October were Atlanta and Manchester, both with excellent soundboard recordings, although the sound produced in each concert was very different. And, to my ear, the mature Dylan has rarely sounded better.
In Atlanta, we get a hard, scrubby sound, tight and punkish, while the Manchester sound is a little looser and not so hard-edged. A good way to catch the difference between these performances is to listen to ‘All along the Watchtower’ played at both concerts. So let’s start where the concerts often ended. The Atlanta recording is so clear you can hear each instrument distinctly without the instrumental blurring you find in many performances of this song. If it’s the apocalypse you want, this is as urgent and claustrophobic as it gets. You can hear that wind begin to howl…
That’s great rock music. But is it any greater than this one from Manchester? The bit of echo in the voice gives the song an eerie touch that fits. A bit more spooky. Take your pick.
‘Forever Young’ has always seemed to me to be a song poised between hope and despair, between wistfulness and resolution. The grittiness of the Atlanta performance doesn’t leave much room for pipe dreams, or the hope that we may stay forever young at heart. The youthfulness and power of the album version gives way to the cracked hopes of the old. All the upsinging in the world can’t change that. It’s a desperate prayer.
Yet there are lines here I carry with me in the great confusion of the world:
‘May you have a strong foundation when the winds of changes shift.’
I can feel those winds of changes right now, all our certainties blowin’ in the wind. What else can we do but know the truth and see the light surrounding us?
Fine opening harp solo.
‘High Water’ seems perfectly made for the hard, jangly Atlanta sound. We last heard this in Part 2 of the 2002 posts, the Seattle concert, with Dylan playing piano. You might like to compare that performance with this Atlanta one. While I like the piano version for its uncluttered sound, I’m leaning towards this one for its gritty urgency – ‘Things are breakin’ up out there/high water everywhere.’
‘Just like a rolling stone,’ is a song that always suffers in comparison to the famous 1965 studio version, or the 1966 live shows. There’s nothing quite like that jeering tone. As with ‘Visions of Johanna’ it’s hard to get past the originals. But this blistering attack on bad faith has weathered the weary years and is as cogent as it ever was. There is no sugar coating this bitter pill. Another abrasive Atlanta performance.
Like a Rolling Stone
Before leaving the Atlanta gig we can’t miss our old friend, ‘Tangled Up in Blue.’ It may be closer to the famous 1975 acoustic version so popular on You Tube than others we have heard. It’s the raw acoustic sound that does it, the sense of a life lived ‘on the lam’ as he expressed it in ‘Standing in the Doorway.’ We are driven on, one scene to the next, by our inner demons, but we can never escape our pasts.
In keeping with his practice in 2002, we get the harp solo at the beginning of the song.
Tangled up in blue.
Talking about harp intros and ‘Standing in the Doorway,’ here’s a strong performance of that song from the Summer Tour (date unknown, sorry). Dylan rarely plays the harp on this song. Don’t know that this performance reaches the heights that we found in 2000, but this Time out of Mind song never fails to be a moving experience to listen to. There’s an emotional fragility in these live performances that doesn’t quite come over on the album version for me. As with many of Dylan’s ‘she’s gone and left me’ songs, there is an undertone of vulnerability, a strong thread of hurt.
Standing in the Doorway
‘Don’t think Twice’ may often sound more tender than it is. There’s just enough tartness in it make anybody think twice. A touch of hurt. After all, it’s a song of disappointment, a confession of failure – ‘we never did too much talkin’ anyway.’ A sad commentary, but maybe a lucky escape. Women who want your soul rather than your heart tend to make a mess out of you. I have two performances worth contrasting. The first is from Manchester, with a harp intro and a warm vocal delivery. A crowd pleaser this one.
Don’t think twice. (A)
Equally crowd pleasing is this performance from 15th November (Philadelphia). As he has done before Dylan turns the song into a celebration. A jubilant performance, urged on by the enthusiasm of the crowd.
Don’t think twice. (B)
A song I often associate with ‘Don’t Think Twice’ is ‘One too many mornings’ as they both seems to come from the same place. A quiet performance from Manchester, tenderly delivered, the melody given a gentle lilt with Larry’s steel guitar. Dylan no longer has to try to sound old and wise – he is old and wise.
One too many mornings
The Manchester performance of ‘It’s all right Ma’ is driven by a fast, skipping little riff. It’s all here and works well, but I wonder if the bouncy tempo suits the gravity of the song. Arguably this is Dylan’s most comprehensive and powerful protest song. A protest song that transcends protest to become a proclamation of resilience. Even in cold irons you may be free if you walk upside-down. Those false gods can’t touch you.
My eyes collide head-on with stuffed graveyards, false gods, I scuff at pettiness which plays so rough walk upside-down inside handcuffs kick my legs to crash it off say okay, I have had enough what else can you show me?
Larry’s playing the cittern once more, giving the performance that tinkly sound.
It’s all right ma
The jokiness and humour in many of the “Love and Theft” songs seem new but that may be because the humour stands out in comparison to the overriding seriousness of Time out of Mind. If we go back to the early 1960s we find seriously funny songs like ‘Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream’ and ‘Talking WW3 Blues.’ That satirical humour survives through to the mid 1960s and underlies ‘Stuck inside of Mobile,’ another madcap tale of Dylan’s adventures in America. This could be Dylan’s 116th dream. Bizarre events still rule:
When Ruthie says come see her In her honky-tonk lagoon Where I could watch her waltz for free 'Neath her Panamanian moon I said, "Oh, come on now You must know about my debutante" She said, "Your debutante knows what you need But I know what you want"
The focus of the humour here is not so much political madness but love, sex, and seduction; the satirical drive is the same. Only at the end of the song is the humour dropped, for a more desperate, claustrophobic edge. The real horror of the situation is having to ‘go through all these things twice.’ A groundhog nightmare from which we cannot awaken:
Now the bricks they fall on Grand Street Where the neon madmen climb They all fall there so perfectly It all seems so well timed And here I sit so patiently Waiting to find out what price You have to pay to get out of Going through all these things twice
The album performance has a kind of smoothness that Dylan doesn’t try to capture in his NET performances. This 2002 performance is rough in the best sense. The events in the song are not just strange and funny, they are dangerous and threatening. Stolen post offices and locked mailboxes are not just oddities in Dylan’s crazy, circus world, but indicators of the human condition. (And oddly prophetic given the shutting down of post offices in much of the western world in the last thirty years. Our local post office was stolen some years back.)
Larry plays the acoustic guitar on this Manchester performance, taking a bit of the jangly edge out of the song.
Stuck inside of Mobile
It’s not a completely wild leap to go from ‘Mobile’ to ‘Cold Irons Bound,’ just a step further into the darkness where the pain of lost love and the claustrophobia of the world is amped up. We go from ‘deep inside my heart, I know I can’t escape’ to ‘I’m waist deep, waist deep in the mist/ It’s almost like, almost like I don’t exist.’
Dylan hasn’t changed the format of the song, that will come later, but it’s rewarding to hear Dylan singing the verses with just the drums clicking in behind. The song sure does suit a more minimal treatment. Notice that once again the crackle seems to have vanished from Dylan voice which is sharp enough to cut like those Chicago winds. (Summer Tour, date not known sorry.)
Cold irons bound
‘Love’s no evil thing,’ Dylan sings ‘Sugar Baby’ but it can be a bruising experience, and appearances can be deceptive. Even a gorgeous, magical hippy chick might turn into a tyrant demanding tributes, which is what happens in ‘She belongs to Me.’ You don’t want to ‘wind up peeking through her keyhole down upon your knees.’
Knowing what a powerful, throbbing song this will become in the post 2012 period, I find it fascinating to watch Dylan slowly evolving the song. Getting the beat behind it in place, inching towards a more bluesy vocal performance, and discovering how the harmonical might work with the song.
She belongs to me.
Let’s finish with ‘Tell me it isn’t true;’ more love and betrayal. I find this performance more compelling emotionally than the album version, which is just a little too smooth. In this one from 1st February, Fort Lauderdale, the pain of it all is to the fore. A masterful performance.
Tell me it isn’t true
That’s it for now. Don’t forget if you have not already seen and heard them the previous episode contained some of the non-Dylan songs covered in 2002 for, like 1999 and 2000, the year was rich in cover songs.
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