This article is part of the Never Ending Tour series, the full index to which is here. Because of the number of musical examples in this episode it has been divided into two. The first part (NET 2010 Part 4.1: Stay Dylan Stay) can be found through that link.
By Mike Johnson (Kiwipoet)
‘Watching the River Flow’ is no protest song, in fact it appears to leave all that angst behind, but it doesn’t quite work out that way, and the song is a complaint of a different kind – ‘I don’t have much to say.’ The singer is still in the ‘all-night café’ of his earlier songs, and while he professes to ‘sit here so contentedly and watch the river flow’ it’s still the same old bad world out there:
People disagreeing on all just about everything, yeah Makes you stop and all wonder why Why only yesterday I saw somebody on the street Who just couldn’t help but cry
This is another brisk song with which Dylan would open a concert and use as a warm-up. This kicks off the Kansas City concert. I miss the scintillating harp breaks we heard in 2005, but I have no complaints with this:
Watching the River Flow
If you sit around doing nothing long enough you might start wondering what you’re waiting for: salvation? death? some good drugs? for the rest of your life to arrive? That’s what the world of ‘Senor’ feels like. The gypsy ‘with a broken flag and a flashing ring’ has shaken you out of your dream and now it’s time to ‘disconnect these cables/overturn these tables’ and get out of Dodge before it’s too late.
Despite its slow tempo, the song is packed with tension and quiet desperation. Dylan loses nothing of the nexus of feeling that drives the song in this Kansas City performance. I’m not sure about ‘best ever,’ there have been so many great performances, but it must come close. A magnificent vocal performance, and anguished harp breaks. The song is on the way out, however, and won’t be heard after 2011.
Lovers of ‘Senor’ might like to compare that to the 2003 performance (2003 part 2: Pounding pianos and hectic harps) which is another candidate for ‘best ever.’
One of the most successful adaptions of a Blonde on Blonde song would have to be this hard-hitting take of ‘Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I’ll Go Mine)’ from Kansas City, not because it captures the ambience of the album version (it doesn’t), but because it puts a new, tough energy into the emotion of the song. Most of us will know what it feels like to have to pass up a possible relationship with more hurt than a shrug of the shoulders. Sometimes we just have to let someone go – but not without a twinge of regret or a bit of grudge. Not without a parting shot.
The song suits this gutsy, thumpy treatment, with minimal backing and dramatic pauses. And of course the triumphant harp.
The song was also fading from Dylan’s setlists, but would undertake a remarkable revival in 2021/22.
You go your way
Almost as successful is this Parma (June 18th) performance of that great Blonde on Blonde surrealist, world weary epic ‘Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again.’ To my mind Dylan has struggled to bring this song to life on stage, but, despite some ragged vocals that get a bit lost, this one pulls it off.
Stuck inside of mobile (A)
You might, however, prefer this one from Tokyo, with harmonica to finish. The vocal is stronger and the recording a bit better.
Stuck inside of mobile (B)
We can do a similar comparison with ‘Honest With Me from Love and Theft. This performance from Lintz (12th June) gives this uncompromising rocker a good go. There is a desperate edge to this song. Look at how it kicks off:
Well, I’m stranded in the city that never sleeps Some of these women they just give me the creeps I’m avoidin’ the Southside the best I can These memories I got, they can strangle a man Well, I came ashore in the dead of the night Lot of things can get in the way when you’re tryin’ to do what’s right
The impossibility of living with our memories is a major thread in Dylan’s later work. Our memories tend to come back to haunt us; some we can live with, some we can’t.
Honest with me (A)
However good that is, I prefer this one from Tokyo. It’s faster and harder. The increased tempo suits the song. I do like these minimal arrangements that foreground the vocal. When he falls into emphasizing the rhythm and splitting up the words, around 2.45 mins, the effect is strange and powerful rather than awkward; it’s fine line he’s walking here in terms of the vocal.
Honest with me (B)
Dylan was to perform ‘Just Like a Woman’ a whopping seventy times in 2010, but never again, at least not so far. Mostly songs fade slowly from the setlists before disappearing, but not his one. Although it’s a contentious song, I regret seeing it go, and have fond memories of the audience singing performance from 2004. So, let’s sit back and enjoy one last performance a song that falls somewhat uncomfortably between an accusation and a plea. This performance from Mashumtucket is the song’s final airing.
Just like a woman
Another song that vanishes for good in 2010 is that wonderful song of lust ‘Lay Lady Lay,’ a regular NET stalwart. Again, a final performance ever from Mashumtucket. I can’t help but wonder as I listen to this if Dylan knew he’d never sing it again. Am I just imagining that he’s singing it with a particular, valedictory relish? Some farewell blasts from the harp?
Lay Lady Lay
Although not a part of the NET, Dylan’s bleak, stripped back performance of ‘The Times They Are A-Changing’ at the White House for Barak Obama’s inauguration is notable. I can’t help thinking he chose that song to remind Obama to ‘Please heed the call’ (for equity and social justice). If you haven’t seen it, check it out here:
That’s it for this post and 2010. Next up, 2011, a year in which new things begin to happen. Catch you there.