By Tony Attwood, delving a little further and comparing some of the recordings from the Never Ending Tour, based on the comprehensive NET series by Mike Johnson (for which there is an index here).
Previously I’ve taken a look at
Today it is the first look at Tangled Up in Blue, (of which there will beyond doubt be more in the future).
This first recording from 1988 appeared in part 3 of that year’s review.
“Tangled up in Blue” was of course originally released in 1975; and thus this earliest NET recording we have therefore, is when the song was already 13 years old
And to me Bob here almost sounds as if he expects that we might not know the song, and he wants to tell us all about it. The instrumentation is bare, all we hear is Bob singing, the lead guitar and the electric bass, plus of course drums keeping the beat
Each verse is the same musically, goes at quite a speed – it rattles along verse after verse. Just how fast can he sing these words – they get lost falling one over the other. Does Bob not realise just how important this song had become to his fans? Maybe, maybe not, one never knows.
What we do know however is just how brilliant the guitar solos are.
Bob now changes keys (which is a unusual) and takes the song faster and as a result the delivery of the vocals is totally different, it is as if the lyrics now once more mean something to Bob. There is more power here too as if he is telling the story for the first time, rather than (as with one year before) just relating a not very important set of events. Altogether there is a dynamism here – at times Bob seems almost breathless.
More changes, and in fact the experimentation with the song was happening throughout 1993, as an earlier recording from this year gives us a far less powerful performance. And indeed it is extraordinary how Bob has changed the key that the song is played in, over and over again. And that is not just a detail – changing the key of a song does make a huge difference to everyone involved. Which makes me aware that I am not sure I have read any commentaries on how Dylan changes the key his songs are played in. (Note to self: pay more attention to the key! If Bob is changing key, he does it for a reason.)
By this performance much of the melody has gone; the song has just become a rapid recital of the lyrics and the lead guitar’s solos are frantically trying to match the energy of the whole arrangement. And we actually get two verses of instrumental next to each other in which they bass and lead guitar seem to be having a battle.
Indeed by the “keep on keeping on” phrase Bob is in fact just calling out the lyrics we know, before handing over once again to the lead guitar to improvise ever more frantically.
But then suddenly we get a pause via the instrumental break consisting of three verses, which become ever more energised although in my view not actually taking us much further on.
As a result, by the end Bob gets to “started from a different point … of view” by being reduced to shouting the phrase out at the top of his vocal range, before we move onto a much more sparse instrumental.
And then we get the harmonica break, one of the oddest harmonica solos ever, I think, with the first verse played at the top of the instrument’s range, and the second verse having nothing much to do with the melody of the song at all. But that is not to say Bob has lost the plot – rather I find he is taking the song to a new place, to that different point of view – although not necessarily a coherent point of view. The guitar then comes in to expand the new viewpoint and the song builds up … and takes us right down again.
I’ve never measured the length of instrumental breaks on the tour (it would seem an awfully artificial thing to do) but my memory (faulty as it is in old age) tells me this must be just about the longest break there is. Although I feel fairly surely I will be corrected.
But still it is not finished, for then if what we have heard was coda, we now have a post-coda, or perhaps a musical epilogue, which makes the point of just how tangled up the music as well as the lyrics can become. It really is quite a performance.
Tangled up? I most certainly am! There is of course a lot more Tangled to be considered, and I will come back to it anon, but quite honestly, after that performance I’m exhausted. Words, as they say, begin to fail me.
But if you are still with me, may I make the suggestion that you now go back to the 1988 recording (the top one above) and play it one more time, just to appreciate the incredible journey that Bob has taken with this song across these five years.