- NET 2008, part 1, Industry Standards and Dallas Delights
- The Never Ending Tour: the full index from the very start.
By Mike Johnson (Kiwipoet)
We finished Part 1 of 2008 with four songs from Modern Times (2006) from the Dallas concert. Indeed, Dylan weighed his setlists heavily with his most recent songs, not just from Modern Times but Love and Theft also. For example, at Salzburg, 11th June, ten out of the 19 songs on the setlist were from those two albums and just one (‘Till I Fell in Love with You’) from Time Out Of Mind. The rest were a scattering of 1960s songs with no songs from the 1970s or 1980s. Exactly the same at Odense (28th May), ten new songs, none from the 70s or 80s.
I surmise from that, and the enthusiasm of these performances, that Dylan related to those songs more strongly than the others. This weighting may be one reason why many Dylan fans fell out of love with the NET – they just weren’t getting enough of the old Bob, the one they knew and expected to see.
‘Nettie Moore’ couldn’t generate the recognition and affection that ‘Mr Tambourine Man’ could. Yet here it is, from Salzburg, a solid, powerful performance. Despite the funereal beat and apparent seriousness of the song, there’s a good deal of absurdity in it, the kind of humour we associate with the two most recent albums.
Don't know why my baby never looked so good before I don't have to wonder no more She been cooking all day, and it’s gonna take me all night I can't eat all that stuff in a single bite
And yet that kind of madcap humour is evident in Dylan’s earliest work.
I gotta woman, she's so mean She sticks my boots in the washing machine Sticks me with buckshot when I'm nude Puts bubblegum in my food
That’s from ‘I Shall Be Free No: 10’ (The Freewheelin Bob Dylan, 1963).
We find the same style of humour in ‘Honest with Me’ (Love and Theft, 2001)
My woman got a face like a teddy bear She's tossin' a baseball bat in the air The meat is so tough, you can't cut it with a sword I'm crashin' my car trunk first into the board
I’m not sure what that last line means, but the implication is clear enough. The blues tradition of men complaining about their women fits Dylan just like a glove. However, this later humour has a darker edge.
I'm here to create the New Imperial Empire I'm gonna do whatever circumstances require I care so much for you, didn't think I could I can't tell my heart that you're no good
Is that even funny, given the current state of global affairs?
Dylan holds nothing back in this raw Salzburg performance.
Honest With Me
Because ‘Beyond the Horizon’ from Modern Times was not performed as often as some of the songs from that album, good live recordings of that song are all the more precious. This recording from Odense (28th May) comes as close as I can find so far to a definitive performance, if there is such a thing, despite the background audience noise.
The dumpty-dum becomes the plinkity-plunk of the Ink Spots of the 1930s, gentle and lilting. I can imagine the Ink Spots singing this song, if it had been around then. I wonder if anyone would have noticed the hidden depths in the apparently straightforward if rather melancholy lyrics.
Beyond the horizon the night winds blow The theme of a melody from many moons ago The bells of St. Mary, how sweetly they chime Beyond the horizon I found you just in time
This is my favourite song from the album after ‘Ain’t Talkin’ and is, I believe, one of Dylan’s most successful ‘retro’ songs.
Beyond the Horizon
In the same gentle vein, we find ‘Moonlight’ also on Love and Theft. This is another song which wouldn’t have sounded too out of place on an Ink Spots album. There’s a wistfulness in this song which makes us wonder if she ever will meet him ‘in the moonlight alone.’ As Christopher Ricks points out in his Dylan’s Visions of Sin, the number of times he has to put the question puts the outcome in doubt. One of the things I like is the song’s evocation of nature. The song’s focus is as much on nature’s ‘turning seasons’ as on the desire for love.
The dusky light, the day is losing Orchids, poppies, black-eyed Susan The earth and sky that melts with flesh and bone Won't you meet me out in the moonlight alone?
This one’s from Salzburg. There’s a welcome and unexpected harp break before the last verse. I wonder what the Ink Spots would have made of it.
Fans of the song might appreciate this performance from Vigo, Spain. Rather than a harp break, there’s some nicely appropriate guitar work. As with Odense, a bit of background audience noise here.
There’s a very contemporary ring to ‘The Levee’s Gonna Break’ for even as I write, flooding has been threatening the Mississippi due to heavy rains. That Dylan was most probably writing about the 1927 floods doesn’t change that. In this age of global heating and its effects this song is just as relevant now, if not more so, than when it was written twenty-one years ago. ‘Some of these people don’t know which road to take.’ This one from Odense.
The Levee’s Gonna Break
As in 2007, ‘Summer Days’ is one of Dylan’s firm favourites. This is an exuberant, celebratory song from the jump jazz tradition of the 1930s. My preference is for this jaunty performance from Odense.
Summer Days (A)
But it’s also hard to resist this high-spirited performance from Salzburg.
Summer Days (B)
‘High Water (For Charlie Patton)’ is another regular, and another prescient extreme weather event song, regularly but wrongly interpreted as being about Hurricane Katrina. It was written before then. At best the song has a heavy, apocalyptic fury to it. I think the 2006 performance is the best so far (see NET 2006 part 3) but this one from Odense is close to it.
However, the way Dylan emphasizes the second half of the line means that the first half of the line gets gabbled. If you don’t know the words you won’t be able to make them out. This is an experiment in terms of the phrasing, and I’ll leave the reader to decide how successful that is.
High Water (A)
The same issue is evident in the Salzburg performance, maybe a little more pronounced.
High Water (B)
‘Tweedle Dee, Tweedle Dum’ was the opening song at Odense as ‘Maggie’s Farm’ began to fade as Dylan’s favourite opener. It’s also the opening song on Love and Theft. As I’ve said before, I find it hard to work my way into this song. It’s not so much that I don’t know what the song is really about, many of the later Dylan songs are not necessarily about any one identifiable thing, but what the affective centre of the song is. That is, the emotion that’s driving it. That it’s about betrayal and backstabbing is clear enough, and, it has its own intrigue.
Well, a childish dream is a deathless need And a noble truth is a sacred creed My pretty baby, she's lookin' around She's wearin' a multi-thousand dollar gown
Tweedle Dee, Tweedle Dum
‘Rollin and Tumblin’ sounds just the way the title reads. It rolls and tumbles like a sleepless man, and is a darker song than the frenetic tempo might suggest. It’s the agonies of a love gone sour that drive this song. Another urban blues, solidly in the complaints-about-love genre. The touch of hope at the end, before the final chorus, may well be tinged with sarcasm. Going ‘down to the greenwood glen’ to make amends sounds too bucolic to be real:
Let's forgive each other darlin', let's go down to the greenwood glen Let's forgive each other darlin', let's go down to the greenwood glen Let's put our heads together, let's put old matters to an end
Why do I think that’s just not going to happen?
This first one is from Odense.
Rollin and Tumblin (A)
That kicks it along, but so does this one from Salzburg.
Rollin and Tumblin (B)
‘Sugar Baby’ was not performed as often as the faster-paced songs from the last two albums I’ve focused on here. Because of the chorus, and the line ‘you ain’t got no brains no how,’ it might seem like an attack song like ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ but it’s much softer than it at first appears, or maybe more contemplative.
‘Love’s not an evil thing,’ he sings, but the prospects of success in love are not bright. Fate can play some dirty tricks on us, and happiness can vanish in the blink of an eye. In addition, our good intentions may be counterproductive.
Every moment of existence seems like some dirty trick Happiness can come suddenly and leave just as quick Any minute of the day the bubble could burst Try to make things better For someone, sometimes you just end up making it a thousand times worse
The mood is one of sad resignation rather than anger or bitterness. This is well captured by this Salzburg performance.
I had to go back to Dallas to find this performance of ‘Mississippi,’ perhaps Dylan’s greatest early 21st Century song. I have it sitting right beside ‘Ain’t Talkin.’ Once more I can only recommend Jochen Markhorst’s massive study found on Untold Dylan here https://bob-dylan.org.uk/mississippi. Markhorst has said it all.
‘The emptiness is endless,’ Dylan sings, and the song certainly makes us feel it. This is a good recording, and Dylan is in excellent voice, but I find the performance less than compelling because of the dumpty-dum which, to my ear, trivializes the song, turning it into a stilted waltz. The effect is quite peculiar and unsettling. It just doesn’t do the song justice. The album version and the 2001/2002 performances have a touch of grandeur, an epic feel befitting the scope of the song. That’s all gone here. We have this weird, childlike tempo. Something’s out of whack. Make of it what you will.
I’m going to stay in Dallas to quickly catch ‘Blind Willie McTell.’ It’s got a bit of a lilt but otherwise is played straight. Enthusiastically played and received.
Blind Willie McTell
That’s it for now. I’ll be back shortly to see what else we can uncover in 2008.