By Mike Johnson (Kiwipoet)
By the end of the last post we’d reached halfway through Dylan’s 2014 Setlist; he pretty much delivered the same concert at every venue, same songs in the same order: the Concert. Number 9 on the Setlist was ‘Love Sick,’ covered in the previous post, and now we move on to number 10: ‘High Water (for Charlie Patton).’ We’ve had some rocking versions of this Love and Theft song and this is no exception. I’ve always loved Herron’s banjo work on this one. It gives the song its driving force and country feel.
We’re back in Minneapolis (Nov 5th) for this one. I believe the opening slow guitar section is by Stu Kimball. It’s there, not as part of the song, but to signal the beginning of the second half of the Concert.
High Water (A)
Wind back the clock to the beginning of the year and we land in Tokyo (31st March) for this one. It feels a little softer, Dylan’s voice smoother, but really there’s hardly any difference. I’m including these second performances just for the hell of it.
High Water (B)
With ten songs down and only one from the 1970s, the audiences must have been happy to hear ‘Simple Twist of Fate’ at slot eleven. I’m always in awe at the subtlety of this song, how it captures the feeling of being caught between desire and fate. ‘Another blind man at the gate,’ that’s us whatever gender we might be.
This marvelous version, with Dylan’s voice soft and rich with warmth and sadness, is from Zwickau (Germany), 3rd July. I don’t know about ‘best ever’ any more, I’ve lost count, but I do know this one is hard to match. And it’s good to hear the harp lending its sharp edge to this gentle reminiscence. While the album performance suggests that this incident has recently happened, the singer still stung by it, here in 2014 it could have happened many years in the past, it might be buried deep in layers of memory. Quite sumptuous. And note the lyrics change as I can best make it out.
…a note she’d left behind What’d it say? ‘You should have met me back in ‘58 And we’d have avoided that simple twist of fate.’
There’s humour in that, and reinforces the sense that this might now be a distant memory.
Simple Twist of Fate (A)
Hard to match or not, here’s the Tokyo version. Yes, exactly the same.
Simple Twist of Fate (B)
At slot 12 we find ‘Early Roman Kings’ driven by a Muddy Waters style urban blues riff. On the musical level, the song comes over as a tribute to Chicago blues.
These early Roman kings however are a conundrum. Nobody’s quite sure what he’s referring to. Our Editor Tony Attwood gets a mention in the Wikipedia entry on this song: ‘Dylan scholar Tony Attwood has observed that the song seems to simultaneously reference the Roman Kings, who were a Bronx-based street gang in the 1960s and 1970s, as well as the Kings of Ancient Rome (who preceded the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire).’
I’m not sure where this takes us. We know how Dylan loves to subvert the literal mind. I see these early Roman kings as a metaphor for arbitrary and absolute power. On one hand they ‘come down the mountain, distributing the corn’ and on the other ‘they’ll destroy your city, they’ll destroy you as well.’
Here’s Wikipedia again: ‘ Lyrically, (Lloyd) Fonvielle sees the song as “a kind of road map to the apocalyptic landscape of the album as a whole. The ‘early Roman kings’ seem to be symbols of the wicked men ruling America today. They are vicious, supernaturally powerful, bent on domination and horrific violence.”
Like the narrator of ‘Pay In Blood’ in fact. By the way, eminent Dylan writer Greil Marcus sees the song as ‘hilarious.’
Here’s Dylan belting it out at the first of a five-night gig in New York City with which he finished the year. (28th Nov)
Early Roman Kings
Let’s move right along to number 13 on the Setlist, ‘Forgetful Heart.’ I’m glad to see the song still there. 2015 will be its final year. When writing about 2011, I looked at five different performances of this song, all with different nuances. This performance from Washington (25th Nov) matches the passion of those 2011 performances. It’s a wonderful mood piece, with some of the most piercingly sad harp Dylan ever blew.
Forgetful Heart (A)
Here’s how it sounds in Tokyo. A little dreamier, methinks.
Forgetful Heart (B)
Number 14 on the Setlist is ‘Spirit on the Water’ that gentle-sounding ballad, one of those long, wide-ranging songs from Modern Times. There are religious tints here,
Now your sweet voice Calls out from some old familiar shrine
but the overall mood is regretful. In a fallen world, the whore and murderer are not likely to find redemption.
This swinging performance is from Tokyo, the backing sounding suitably archaic, the sound of the 1930s. This one’s a real pleasure.
Spirit on the Water
Next up, number 15 on the Setlist, comes that brooding ballad ‘Scarlet Town’ with its resonances in both English and American folk music history. Critics speculate that the Scarlet Town, the subject of the song, is located in both an imaginary early America and the Rome of classical times, but efforts to tame the song into expository prose leave its essential mystery untouched. I find in the last verse a vision of compassion and racial harmony, but I seem to be alone in that one. Here is what Greil Marcus says, ‘He’s talking about what it would be like to grow up in a town where that horror overshadows absolutely everything. It has an allure, maybe a kind of beckoning toward your own annihilation, or an allure of romance that, along with the ugliness and fear and terror, makes it a place that’s impossible ever to forget.’
This is my best-ever performance of the song, and I’m annoyed that I’ve lost the date of such a close and intimate performance. What a spellbinder!
Scarlet Town (A)
But this one from Denver is almost as good:
Scarlet Town (B)
That’s followed, at number 16 on the Setlist, by ‘Soon After Midnight’ also from Tempest, a song which misdirects us with its gentleness until we hit the killing floor. A beauty here from Minneapolis (6th Nov)
Soon After Midnight
Third in a row from Tempest we have that great monologue ‘Long and Wasted Years,’ a beautifully assertive and angry vocal; there’s a touch of hysteria in the rendering of this unpleasant character in a blistering performance in New York City, Nov 28th. There is a sharp, cutting edge here. Note some lyrical changes. As with ‘Scarlet Town,’ this song breaks new ground for Dylan; before Tempest he’d never written anything like this.
What a way to finish a concert!
Long and Wasted Years
Now we get one or two encores. Mostly just ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ but sometimes ‘All Along the Watchtower’ as well.
Here’s ‘Watchtower’ from Tokyo, a solid beatey version, Dylan’s voice rich with insinuation. Pity about those determined hand-clappers.
And here’s ‘Blowin’ in the Wind,’ the last song of the night and a blast of the ‘original’ Dylan, the young acoustic, protest Bob from the early 1960s, still there, somewhere, waving us goodbye for the night. We’re back in Minneapolis for this little swing back through the years. And aren’t the crowd ecstatic! It’s a touch too dumpty-dum for me in the instrumental break, but then I must be getting hard to please.
Blowin in the wind
But wait! It’s not quite over. Towards the end of the year, and after the shared nostalgia of ‘Blowin in the Wind,’ something strange begins to happen. What’s Dylan doing? He’s come back for another song, but what is it? Only a few, I suspect, recognize it. It’s another kind of nostalgia, an American Standard called ‘Stay With Me,’ written by Carolyn Leigh and Jerome Moross – and was first recorded in 1963 by a Mister Frank Sinatra.
Ol’ Blue Eyes had arrived on Bob Dylan’s stage. (Toronto Nov 17th )
Stay With Me
That would be it for me for 2014 except for one concert in which Dylan threw the Setlist to the winds and treated his audience to a set of golden oldies. We’ll look at that next time.