By Tony Attwood, with recordings presented by Mike Johnson in the Never Ending Tour Series.
In this series we look at the way Bob has transformed certain songs over time in his live performances, in particular looking for the progression in his feelings about, and his understanding of, what the song offers, what the song says, and where it can be taken next.
So far we’ve looked at
- Frankie Lee and Judas Priest
- Visions of Johanna
- The Hard Rain of 1988, 2003 and 2015
- Tangled up in Blue 1988 to 1993
- Blowing in the Wind. 1991-2001
- Blind Willie McTell. 1997-2006
- It Ain’t me Babe from 1994-1998.
Here I’m taking a look at the early versions of Things Have Changed
“Things have changed” was released on 1 May 2000, (2000 was also the year the movie was released) so here we are at the very start of the performances of the song.
And what is interesting is that already in this earliest recording we have from the Never Ending Tour series, Bob is playing with the delivery of the lyrics, emphasising the world-weary nature of those lyrics. He’s also using the trick he has often utilised in the past of emphasising different words almost at random. The world-weariness comes across utterly clearly but there is also a hint of softness in the way Bob sings. The singer is in despair but also accepts that it’s all gone wrong, that’s why he doesn’t care. And that’s the point: he doesn’t care – things have changed. Personally, I love this rendition…
Into its second year, this world-weary approach is emphasised even more, and the melody is reduced a little further with the emphasis on the lyrical delivery being used ever more to emphasise the central message that he really did care in the past.
In essence, we have ever more declamation – the performer knows the song, we know the song, he knows we know and so he is taking this feeling of not caring to its ultimate position.
This works because we all know the song so well, but imagine if this is how it had sounded when we first heard it… I don’t think the rendition would have worked at all. In short, appreciating this version is dependent on our knowing the song well, which of course everyone at the concert would do. Just listen to the lines around “the next sixty seconds could be like an eternity” and what happens thereafter.
Everything is poured into the hopelessness of the singer’s desperation, nothing else matters.
In 2002, once more nothing is really changing in the music – it is the vocal delivery that is changing, and although there is a little bit of a return to the original melody there’s not much. The question is how much further can this go, or perhaps how much longer will Bob be giving us this sort of delivery? We’re in danger of losing the song and collapsing into utter despair.
And I think at this point, having listened to the 2002 rendition above, it is worth going back to the originally released recording here just to remind ourselves of what it sounded like at the start. The melody is sublime, and in my view it needs to be retained – it won the Oscar because of the melody as much as anything. Even if you want to go on to hear how Dylan changed the music thereafter I would ask that you spare a moment or two to listen to the song’s original stance…
So the question arises, has Bob’s ever-greater emphasis on the emotions that are expressed through his vocal delivery, actually helped the song? I am unsure, because for me one of the many great attractions of the original recording is the way the song is delivered with a sense of detachment. He puts the emotion in with lines like “Just for a second there I thought I saw something move” but that emotion is still pure detachment. In these live recordings Bob now changes the song by finding more emotions (particularly desperation and despair, as opposed to his original detachment) into the song. That makes the “I used to care” line now have a sense of much greater detachment, and I think that because of these changes that is by now being lost in the live versions.
So moving on…
Bob has now changed the song again, and regained a semblance of melody, but now has brought in an overwhelming sense of desperation rather than of detachment. I find that a very interesting development.
So now we have moved on two years and the percussion is notably more aggressive, the introduction is slightly longer. Obviously, I have no idea how Bob prepares for these concerts, but I suspect that he doesn’t go back and listen to recordings of what he did last year. But we can do that, and so I’ve just gone back to that initial 2000 version, which now seems worlds away.
And I find this so interesting because I think this gives an insight into the way Bob works – or at the very least the way he worked with this song. He’s not going back to his own recording but rather developing from where he got to in the last outing.
Here we are now seven years on from its composition, and after taking the song on a journey into despair and desperation I feel Bob has now had a chance to review what he’s done, to re-think in fact… and here I feel he is now taking the song in a slightly different direction. The band feel this too, I think, as the short instrumental break is quite unlike what has gone before. A spaciousness appears within the song that wasn’t really there before. There’s thus more emphasis on the singer being alone, looking out onto this strange world – the ultimate outsider.
I also think the guitar instrumental break emphasizes this disconnect even more. Where before the lyrics were enough to express this, now we all know the lyrics too well, so the song has lost its initial power. Hence the extended instrumental break followed by verses in which Dylan is barking out simple comments on the state of the world around him.
In fact, in the latter part of this 2007 recording, the music seems to portray the world going on as it always does while the singer stands beyond the music barking out short commentaries. It reminds me of the sad, lost old-timer on the street corner shouting at the traffic, for now things have not only changed, he’s changed too; he’s totally lost.
Now I am not arguing that Bob goes through thought processes like those I have tried to set out above, but rather that he continues to feel his way through each song, reflecting on it, and finding new ways to use the song, and finding new things to express within it. That is what he always does, and that is what makes the Never Ending Tour such an exciting concept. It is also what makes Mike’s collection of recordings such an utterly amazing resource.
And of course, you don’t have to take my word for any of this. All the recordings are on this site. You can, obviously, do your own comparisons and draw your own conclusions. It’s all here for you to use as you wish.