The Never Ending Tour episode 126. 2015 Part 2 Bring on the set list

By Mike Johnson (Kiwipoet)

At first glance it might seem that Dylan’s 2015 setlists were a repeat of the 2014 master Setlist, and indeed the first two or three songs in 2015 are a carry-over from the year before, but after those first few songs there is more variation, although some setlists look almost identical to 2014. Here’s what he played in Detroit, 15th May.

Set 1:

  1. Things Have Changed
  2. She Belongs To Me
  3. Beyond Here Lies Nothin’
  4. Workingman’s Blues #2
  5. Duquesne Whistle
  6. Waiting For You
  7. Pay In Blood
  8. Tangled Up In Blue
  9. Love Sick

Set 2:

  1. High Water (For Charley Patton)
  2. Simple Twist Of Fate
  3. Early Roman Kings
  4. Forgetful Heart
  5. Spirit On The Water
  6. Scarlet Town
  7. Soon After Midnight
  8. Long And Wasted Years
  9. Autumn Leaves


  1. Blowin’ In The Wind
  2. Stay With Me

That’s the Setlist as we’ve come to know it. The songs from the newly released Shadows In The Night came only at the end, in this case the last song and encore. As with Tempest, Dylan does not overwhelm his setlist with new material, one or two songs only, except towards the end of the year. By the time we get to the five final concerts in London it looks like this, with seven entries from Shadows In The Night.  (More details of all Dylan’s current and historic set lists can be found here).

Set 1:

  1. Things Have Changed
  2. She Belongs to Me
  3. Beyond Here Lies Nothin’
  4. What’ll I Do   (Irving Berlin cover)
  5. Duquesne Whistle
  6. Melancholy Mood  (Frank Sinatra cover)
  7. Pay in Blood
  8. I’m a Fool to Want You  (Frank Sinatra cover)
  9. Tangled Up in Blue
  10. High Water (For Charley Patton)
  11. Why Try to Change Me Now (Cy Coleman Jazz Trio cover)
  12. Early Roman Kings
  13. The Night We Called It a Day (Frank Sinatra cover)
  14. Spirit on the Water
  15. Scarlet Town
  16. All or Nothing at All  (Jimmy Dorsey and His Orchestra cover)
  17. Long and Wasted Year
  18. Autumn Leaves (Yves Montand cover)
  19. Encore: Blowin’ in the Wind

I began the first posts for 2013 and 2014 with ‘She Belongs to Me.’ Despite my somewhat reckless claim that 2015 just might be the best ever NET year (I should have known better), I think the 2014 performance has the edge on 2015, but this one (Manchester Oct 28th) must run a very close second if it’s not a dead heat. There’s an excitement in Dylan’s voice in 2015, a newfound sense of power. He’s reveling in the maturity of his ‘new’ voice, the voice he’s been working on since 2012, the voice that takes us beyond the circus barker of his organ-grinding days. This one really does power along:

She Belongs to Me

Since the concerts invariably began with ‘Things Have Changed’ it’s there we’d better go now. As an opening song it conveys an immediate message. The Bob Dylan you are about to see is not the old Bob Dylan you have had in your mind. Listening to this, however, one thing that hasn’t changed is Dylan’s defiance. The old fire is still there; he’s all too fervent in his claims not to care.

The opening acoustic chords are by Stu Kimball. You can hear the crowd react when Dylan comes on stage. (Detroit)

Things Have Changed.

Arguably, the influence of Sinatra can still be felt, if subtly. You can hear it in the way Dylan holds the notes and cleverly glides the vocal across the bustling energy of the song. You can feel Sinatra in the phrasing.

You can hear it in the way he swoops through the new verses of ‘Tangled Up in Blue.’ He’s learned, or re-learned, how to bend his notes, how to smooth his voice and roughen it, how to croon one moment and bark the next, all done with the consummate ease that marks the 2015 performances. (Bamberg June 23rd)

Tangled Up in Blue (A)

Equally, I like this recording from Mainz, June 20th. The vocal is right close up. It’s a joyous exercise in celebrating slices of nostalgia, these scenes that are long gone. We have to ‘wipe away the dust’ to see them.

Tangled Up in Blue (B)

And you can hear the Voice as they called Sinatra’s voice, in this sensitively done Simple Twist of Fate.’ You can hear Dylan integrating the Voice with the conversational style he’s evolving for this song. In this performance ruefulness gives way to nostalgia; it’s lit with the same glow as the songs from Shadows in the Night.

Simple Twist of Fate (A)

That one is from Detroit, but I like this one from Bamberg just as much. I couldn’t decide between them.

Simple Twist of Fate (B)

Back to the Setlist and we find ‘Beyond Here Lies Nothin’,’ constant at number 3. I thought the song was nihilistic, but a friend has suggested that maybe a more positive Buddhist conception of the void is what it’s about. Whatever the case, its message that without love there is nothing, ‘nothin’ done, nothin’ said.’ The song keeps its rough edge without any Sinatra smoothness. The influence of the Voice shows in the overall sense of power and command of the song.

Beyond Here Lies Nothin’

At number 4 on the Setlist we begin to get some variation. ‘Workingman’s Blues #2’ is the default setting for this slot, brought over from 2014, but, for example, we get ‘Don’t Think Twice’ at Locarno. A lovely blast from the past.

Don’t Think Twice

That’s a brilliant example of Dylan’s ‘conversational’ vocal style, a somewhat hushed delivery, intimate as if we are hearing a confession of sorts. The arrangement is bouncy. Back in the late 1990s, Dylan would turn it into a celebration; not so here but there is a resilience and bubbliness in it which sweeps along the darker tints of the song.

That same conversational style is also a good fit for ‘Workingman’s Blues #2.’ It’s taken me a while to warm to this song. I’ve found the lyrics a bit contrived, but that’s a difficult judgement to make when, in the world of song and poetry, it is all contrivance. I guess the trick is to make it sound natural, and the conversational style goes a long way to achieving that.  It could be a preachy song, but not when we’re being sung to and not at.

Workingman’s Blues #2

‘Duquesne Whistle’ is a regular at number 5, good to follow a slow thoughtful number. It sounds upbeat but it’s about the uprooting power of the wind, and whenever we get the wind in a Dylan song we are never far from a symbol, the meaning of which may be blowing in the wind, even an idiot wind. In ‘Duquesne Whistle’ it’s an apocalyptic wind, ‘blowing like it never did before.’ (Manchester) Another triumphant vocal. What’s dissonant is that there is a jubilation in Dylan’s voice, as if he’s celebrating that destructive force. It gives the song a strange edge.

Duquesne Whistle

Further variations follow, with the first American Standard slotting in at number 6 later in the year. Earlier in the year we would get the unremarkable ‘Waiting for You.’ So let’s take the opportunity to listen to another Sinatra rendition, another uncovering of an old song. ‘All Or Nothing at All,’ written by Arthur Altman and Jack Lawrence in 1939  (Saarbrücken, Oct 17th).

All or Nothing at All

How lightly and easily Dylan navigates this gentle-sounding song, the airy way he handles the high notes, a touch of wistfulness in his voice.

‘Pay in Blood’ invariably comes in at number 7 on the Setlist. I think it’s fair to say that Sinatra never got this dark. Melancholy, wistful, rueful and regretful yes, but never with such sinister implications. Again, there is no obvious influence here other than the practiced, Sinatra-like ease with which Dylan draws us through the song. It’s not as abrasive as some performances in previous years, but all the more chilling for that.

Dylan hasn’t made it easy for me to choose, as all the performances are top notch. I’m putting in two. The first, from Locarno, is a little softer than the second, from Detroit, but they are both compelling performances.

Pay In Blood (A)

Pay In Blood (B)

Often ‘Tangled Up in Blue’ would follow ‘Pay in Blood’ to finish off the first half of the concert but there is some variation. In Locarno we get ‘Levee’s Gonna Break,’ another song far from Sinatra territory. In this understated performance Dylan strips the song back to its boogie bones. It gets pushed along by the bass.

Levee’s Gonna Break

While in Detroit we find ‘Love Sick’ as the final song before the break. This is a song which is never going to change much, except for the occasional lyrical variation, (Here he sings, ‘‘You emptied my pockets while I was sleeping.’) and it’s never going to be a Sinatra sounding song, but there’s something in this performance that drives the audience wild and I think it may be that it has a lilt or swing which ameliorates the inherent rigidity of it. It never lumbers. It becomes hypnotic.

This is a good opportunity to say something about the band. They now have two precision albums behind them, Tempest and Shadows; the performances are faultless and sensitively attuned to Dylan’s vocals. They do an inventive job with ‘Love Sick’ adding some chords, neatly and discreetly picking their way through the melody. They find ways to keep it interesting. A pleasure to listen to.


Or, Dylan did ‘I’m a Fool to Want You’ near the end of the first set, as he did in Manchester. Sinatra did not write his own songs, but in this case he had a hand in the lyrics, which are said to be written for Ava Gardner. The music was written by Joel Herron and Jack Wolf, and the song was released in 1951. In Dylan’s hands, this is melancholy grown ripe and sumptuous. I don’t think it’s at all fruitful to compare Dylan and Sinatra to see which one is ‘best’ but to hear how Sinatra handled the song back in 1951 you can find it here:

This is the ‘mountain’ Dylan said he had to climb each time he faced one of these American Standards. Sinatra’s voice is younger, and vibrant with passion, whereas Dylan takes advantage of his age to lead us into a weary but haunting sadness. There’s no fool like an old fool.

I’m a Fool to Want You

My time’s up for now. I’ll be back soon to see how the second set fared during this exciting year, 2015.

Until then

Kia Ora

A full index of all 125 previous episodes of “The Never Ending Tour” can be found here.

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