NET: The absolute highlights: Silvio (1998)


Silvio is one of those songs Bob wrote with Robert Hunter, and performed with Grateful Dead – this recording comes from the year of the song’s release.  By my reckoning it is the 25th most played song by Dylan with getting on for 600 outings.  And why not, it is just a great piece of fun.

This performance comes from the early days, so is not the result of a reworking of an old favourite.  But it has already been re-worked from the album version.

And what I really love here is that Bob’s voice really is in keeping with the melody and lyrics – he is singing it rather than resorting to just saying the lyrics.  He’s playing, yes, but he is playing musically with the extended lines, and the simple but nevertheless very entertaining harmonies.

And then there is that guitar work which shines through what we realise is, musically, a very simple song with a complex instrumental arrangement.

Plus (and this is not something one can always say) it is perfectly rehearsed.   Everyone in the band knows exactly what Bob is going to do – and he remembers to do exactly what they did in rehearsal.  Quite often with a song like this which is based around just three chords repeated over and over, that is not the case.

Plus the two guitars playing together are indeed playing together and not fighting each other, or (just as bad) having each instrumentalist wondering what the other is going to do next.

And then three-quarters of the way through we get that pull back so we can have three guitars intertwining in one of the best instrumental breaks from the whole tour, which takes us to the end of the piece.

But that’s not all, for if one goes back to the start and to play the song again, we can appreciate there is a real contrast but also a perfect link between the start and the end of the song, which I really enjoy.

One more thing – if you have the time – go back to the opening, and play that again with the lyrics in front of you

Stake my future on a hell of a pastLooks like tomorrow is a coming on fastAin't complaining about what I gotSeen better times but who has not

Rarely, in my opinion, have lyrics and music in a Dylan performance with the full band, ever been so much in harmony.

My only regret is that one of my all-time favourite verses of Dylan when he is having fun and just messing about with the genre, is missing

I can snap my fingers and require the rainFrom a clear blue sky and turn it off againI can stroke your body and relieve your painAnd charm the whistle off an evening train

I just listen to that and think, “Is he really claiming to be God” and then, “What on earth does that last line actually mean?” and then I always have to smile because it fits in so much with the whole song.   And then, and then… I smile some more, because, well, most of these critics who analyse everything Bob does (which I know I do sometimes) don’t get round to smiling very much.   Which is a shame.

So we don’t get my favourite verse, but we get a lot of the original fun, with the band perfectly rehearsed having an absolutely great time.

It’s one of the best, for sure.

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