- NET 2007 Part 1: The light is never dying.
- Never Ending Tour, 2007, part 2: Your servant both night and day.
By Mike Johnson (Kiwipoet)
It is not surprising that in 2007 Dylan sang ‘House of the Rising Sun’ in Newcastle, home of The Animals, a band even harder and gutsier than the Rolling Stones. Dylan did the song on his first album, and was reportedly very excited on hearing The Animals now famous version.
Dylan doesn’t play any tricks with the song, which is suited to his harsh tones, and we get another reminder of the roots of Dylan’s music.
House of the Rising Sun
Dylan didn’t do a lot of covers in 2007, but one song he returned to is Robert Hunter’s ‘Friend to the Devil’ (1970). Another no-frills performance (Orilla,19th July)
Friend to the Devil
I think that much of the reaction to the 2006/7 tours lies not so much with the music but the stage performances. Never one to bound up to the mic and yell, ‘Hello New York, we love you,’ Dylan nevertheless unnerved audiences with his silence, and how, at the end of a concert, before leaving the stage, the band would stand in a row and stare back at the people who had been staring at them. Perhaps more importantly, the way the band arranged itself on stage, in a semi-circle, left the centre stage unoccupied, with Dylan hunched over his keyboard, often playing with a portion of the audience behind him. (Which one is Dylan…?)
While his contemporaries, particularly Bowie and Jagger, grasped that a rock concert is a spectacle and a performance, Dylan’s anti-performance performances and anti-spectacle spectacles left audiences bemused and sometimes disappointed. It just wasn’t such a fun night out.
Dylan’s performances are all in the sounds he makes. He performs with his voice, his instruments and his band. He doesn’t act out his songs, but his voice does.
However, if you’re looking for some failed renditions of the songs, I think I’ve found something for you. Despite my traitorous tapping foot, I did not enjoy this performance of ‘It Ain’t Me, Babe’ from Birmingham. The lack of flow, the dumpty-dum, the dissonance, the effort to turn this into a mid-tempo rock song (as Dylan did more successfully with ‘You Belong to Me’ – See NET, 2007, part 1) adds up to a less than thrilling experience for those who know the song and some of the wonderful performances from the 1990s. It just ain’t him, babe. I do appreciate that this is a very personal response. Others may enjoy where I have not.
It Ain’t Me Babe
To set my mood a-right, I turn to this bleak, minimal and powerful performance of ‘The Ballad of Hollis Brown.’ This is more like it. There’s some brilliant slide guitar and a stark vocal performance from Dylan. He doesn’t let the ball drop for a second, and there are no instrumental fillers. All hail the blues!
With the same stark tones and minimal backing, Dylan delivers another compelling performance of ‘Masters of War’ (Florence). I still prefer the 2005 performance with piano (see NET 2005, part 5), and this one is marked by a little of the rinky-dink, dumpty dum, but there is no escaping the power of the song.
Masters of War (A)
While I enjoy the more muted Florence performance, it’s probably this one from Birmingham that takes the prize for the year. Rougher and more forceful than the Florence performance, it’s full of power and menace.
Masters of War (B)
As early songs go, ‘Don’t Think Twice’ fares a lot better than ‘It Ain’t Me Babe.’ The simple guitar picking takes us back to the earliest versions while Dylan’s vocal is unaffected and full of feeling. This one from Stockholm is a tender reminiscence.
Don’t Think Twice (A)
However, I rather like this half spoken version from Orilla. I miss the harmonica in both of these performances. Neither of them become the rousing celebration we have heard in previous years. Keep it simple, keep it plain, works fine for this song.
Don’t Think Twice (B)
While most of these early songs survive the years well enough, it is in the later songs that we find Dylan at his most inspired in 2007. I covered most of these songs in the last post. The contrast is evident in this complex and fascinating performance of ‘Things have Changed’ from Florence. Dylan’s vocal is in line with previous performances, that is excellent, but it is the backing that provides the real interest. Both baroque and jazzy, with a bit of a swing, the song’s never been done quite this way before. One thing that hasn’t changed is Dylan’s commitment to this song. He used to care and still does.
Things have changed (A)
Good as that is, fans of the St Louis concert will enjoy this one. I thought they were both equally good.
Things have changed (B)
Similarly, ‘Love Sick’ provides an interesting instrumental backing. Here Dylan’s ‘one-finger’ organ playing can be heard at its most effective. The heaviness of the backing has been complemented by a sound more whimsical and dreamlike. The song walks and doesn’t drag its feet. Once more Dylan is in excellent voice. This one’s from St Louis.
‘Blind Willy McTell’ came to prominence along with the songs from Time Out of Mind. In a few years this song will undergo a major overhaul, and be re-presented as a jazzy, swing number. But in the meantime, here it is, pretty much the same as we heard in 2006 (See NET, 2006, part 3). This is from London, 15th April.
Blind Willy McTell
In Part 3 of my Master Harpist series I included this performance of ‘Under the Red Sky.’ I’m repeating it here, not just for the wonderful opening harp break, but Dylan’s vocal performance, which is dark and chilling. Despite the rather aimless instrumental break in the middle, this one has become my ‘best ever’ performance of the song. (Sorry, lost the date of this one.) The song points us towards the dream world of childhood, and its inevitable end. And it reminds us of the inherent violence of some of those old fairy tales and rhymes in which children might be baked in a pie, and we might be deceived by unreal promises of wealth. Whimsical, sad, provocative, a neglected song from a neglected album.
Under the Red Sky
The other song from Under the Red Sky to persist is ‘Cat’s in the Well.’ Dylan would sometimes use it as an opening song to replace ‘Maggie’s Farm.’ This performance from Stockholm isn’t anything special. It bumpity-bumps along but to my mind it sounds very much like a warm-up. There are better performances of this one.
Cat’s in the Well
two songs from Oh Mercy that have survived the attrition of the years are ‘Man In the Long Black Coat’ and ‘Shooting Star.’ The former was played only once in 2007, in Copenhagen 2nd April, but the recording is too poor for us to enjoy here. Not so with ‘Shooting Star.’ We have an excellent recording from Morrison (19th July) which does full justice to the song. I got hooked on the 2000 versions which generate much intensity, and at first thought that this 2007 performance was a bit too laid back. I was wrong. It starts gently enough, with a soft, nostalgic backing, but Dylan soon ups the ante with his vocal performance, piling on the lines. My only complaint is that the instrumental interludes don’t add much and have the feel of fillers.
‘Serve Somebody’ disappeared between 2002 and 2008 and I thought it might have gone forever. It has had a remarkable revival in 2021/22, but in 2007 the only surviving song from the gospel era is ‘Every Grain of Sand.’ This song is still evolving and is becoming a showcase for Dylan’s harmonica. This gentle performance, again from Morrison, is a pleasure to listen to. My favourite lines:
I hear the ancient footsteps like the motion of the sea Sometimes I turn there’s someone there, at times it’s only me
Every Grain of Sand (A)
There is an equally beguiling performance from Florence, without harmonica.
Every Grain of Sand (B)
This brings us to our old friend ‘Tangled up in Blue,’ a song which never fails to get our feet tapping. Note the lyrical variation: ‘She was working at the Tropicana…’ The Birmingham performance is top notch in terms of Dylan’s vocal performance, but I find the Crystal Cat recording a little harsh with this one, and the closing harp break pretty perfunctory. Still, no complaints.
Tangled up in Blue (A)
Those who prefer the song in a softer, gentler vein will enjoy this one from Orilla. The bootlegger at Orilla had some problem with his mic, so there is a little scratching here. Not enough, however, to spoil our enjoyment of the performance. I prefer this one to Birmingham, but that’s a personal choice.
Tangled up in Blue (B)
This brings us back to the 1960s again and those songs that are never too far from Dylan’s setlist. I’d like to finish this post with a relaxed rendition of ‘I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight’ from Florence, and a ‘Tears of Rage’ from St Louis in which Dylan fan Elvis Costello joins Dylan onstage to do the singing. I don’t hear much of Bob at all, but that could be him joining in the chorus.
I’ll Be your Baby Tonight.
Tears of Rage
That’s all for now. I’ll be back soon to wrap up our account of 2007.