This is episode 122 of a comprehensive series of articles and recordings from the Never Ending Tour. An index to the entire series can be found here.
By Mike Johnson (Kiwipoet)
Just as Dylan’s performances in 2013 were a distinct improvement on 2012, especially his vocals, Dylan continued to build confidence and power in 2014, often giving these performances an edge on 2013.
Take ‘She Belongs to Me.’ You might like to flick back to the first 2013 post and take in that performance and then compare it to this one (Prague July 2nd).
She Belongs to Me (A)
Good as the 2013 performance is, it’s not as outstanding as in Prague. For me that’s a ‘best ever’, the one I play when I want to hear the song. A measured vocal delivery, full of power and assurance. Carefully orchestrated for a climax. Beautifully sad, insistent harp continued over two choruses. But that quality was not untypical of 2014. Here’s another from Chicago (Nov 10th), slightly harder-edged and maybe a little wilder but another superlative performance.
She Belongs to Me (B)
What was happening here is that Dylan was shedding songs and honing his setlists to essentially one Setlist with some minor variations, a process he began in 2012. As a result, there are no messy or under-rehearsed performances. He’s doing the songs almost note for note across the concerts, not typical of Dylan up to this point. In other words, not only was he evolving a single Setlist but an unvarying arrangement for each song. Gone are the heady days of 2011 where you never knew what he might sing or how he might sing it or even what key it would be in.
Nearly all the concerts begin with ‘Things Have Changed’ with ‘She Belongs to Me’ at number 2 on the Setlist.
Here’s ‘Things Have Changed’ from Minneapolis, Nov 5th:
Things Have Changed (A)
And here’s the same song from Prague:
Things Have Changed (B)
Except for variations in the recordings, there’s not much to choose between them. So it goes on. Number 3 on the Setlist was invariably ‘Beyond Here Lies Nothin,’ a Dylan/Hunter song from Together Through Life. This song has had some pretty rough and rowdy treatments since 2009. The piano playing, although vigorous, has softened the effect of this one from Minneapolis (Nov 6th – there were three concerts in Minneapolis, running from the 5th to the 7th).
It’s a bleak nihilistic song:
Beyond here lies nothin’ Nothin’ we can call our own
Beyond Here Lies Nothin
There is little point in me continuing to add further performances of each song as they’re pretty much all the same.
For number 4 on the Setlist we get a little variation. Early in the year, in the first, Asian leg of the tour, the gentle, humble ‘What Good am I?’ put in an appearance at Setlist number 4. Here’s how it sounds in Tokyo, April 4th.
What Good Am I?
It was soon displaced however by ‘Working Man’s Blues #2,’ another quiet number which, incidentally, has grown on me as I’ve listened to these 2014 performances. Political melancholy is perhaps the ruling emotion here. This Minneapolis recording may be the best.
Working Man’s Blues
When he had hundreds of wonderful songs to choose from, why he would choose the forgettable ‘Waiting for You’ for number 5 on the Setlist must remain a mystery. The song is pleasant enough but has no bite. This one’s from Chicago (Nov 10th)
Waiting for You
‘Duquesne Whistle’ invariably comes in at 7 on the Setlist, the first song from Tempest to make an appearance. Once more, we can’t be fooled by the bright and breezy melody stolen from Jelly Roll Morton. The lyrics are about an evil wind or a disaster heralding train or both. It’s a great foot-tapper. We’re back in Minneapolis for this one.
Number 7 on the Setlist is the ferocious ‘Pay In Blood.’ This one’s from Denver (Nov 1st) and is an utterly compelling performance. A best ever to best all the other best evers. How beautifully Sexton backs this one. The whole performance is faultless, which is the upside of having a well worn Setlist. A highlight of the Concert.
Pay in Blood (A)
Wanna hear another one, just for the hell of it? Any excuse to listen to such a magnificent song twice. Try this one from Chicago.
Pay in Blood (B)
We’re approaching half-way through the setlist and we’re really into the good stuff now. ‘Pay in Blood’ is followed with our old friend ‘Tangled Up in Blue’ at number 8 in the Setlist.
You might recall that in 2013 Dylan abandoned the harmonica to play piano on this one, and he clearly relished his piano embellishments. By 2014 he had found the balance he was looking for. He’d do most of the song centre stage, blast on the harp then move to finish the song behind the piano. It gave the performance something of a musical journey to accompany the lyrical journey.
Another from Minneapolis (Nov 5th), beautifully assured, the vocal a thrilling mix of crooning and barking, the emotional nuances coming over loud and clear. The harp solo is equally poignant. Pity it’s been reduced to three verses, but with the new lyrics it’s like a new song; we have to accept it on its own terms.
Tangled up in Blue (A)
Again, let’s do another one because we can. Chicago once more. Is it possible to listen to ‘Tangled’ too many times? My excuse is that the harp solo is a good deal sharper. What’s yours?
Tangled up in Blue (B)
‘Lovesick’ (or ‘Love Sick’) comes in at number 9 and we are exactly half-way though the concert. I miss the harp break he put into the song in 2011 which ups the emotional ante, but I can’t fault the vocal. It may be slow, but there’s nothing sedate about this Denver performance. It’s seething with emotion.
Love Sick (A)
So is this one from Prague. I can hear the new lyrics more clearly on this recording.
You were young and wild You looked at me and smiled I felt my whole life I’d been sleeping
Love Sick (B)
What stands out at this point is that there is only one song from the 1960s, ‘She Belongs to Me’ and ‘Tangled’ from the 70s. All the rest are from 1997 (Time out of Mind) on.
This seems like a good place to pause. I am only half way through my usual word count, but have already included fifteen songs. My patient editor has asked me not to let the song count grow much over fifteen, so I doubt he’d be happy if I piled on more songs now. I’ll be back soon to do the second half of the Setlist.