By Mike Johnson (Kiwipoet)
Before rounding up a few strays we haven’t already covered, Dylan songs that didn’t regularly make it onto the Setlist, I’d like to offer two covers. While Dylan dropped singing American Standards after the first leg of the 2018 tour, some of the final performances of these songs were loving renditions indeed. No more so than ‘Come Rain or Come Shine,’ first sung, just twice, in 2015 and reappearing in 2018 for six performances between April 13th and April 18th. Dylan’s ‘uncover’ has a lovely, slow, lazy, post-coital feeling to it despite giving voice to a jilted lover. This one is from Salzburg April 13th, and is heart-breakingly gentle and tender.
Come Rain or Come Shine
The other rarity is ‘It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World’ written by James Brown and Betty Jean Newsome. The song is not as chauvinistic as the title suggests, since Newsome wrote the lyrics based on some sharp observations of the relationship between the sexes (Newsome also said that James was sometimes lax in paying her royalties), and it can be cogently sung by a woman. I don’t know if you’d call it an American Standard; as far as I know Sinatra didn’t sing it, although Dean Martin did. There were plenty of cover versions. Dylan only sang it twice, both times in 2018. This recording is from Charlotte, Nov 10th and is clearly a powerful performance. It’s a pity the sound quality of the vocal wasn’t better.
It’s a Man’s World
‘Duquesne Whistle’ had been pretty much a fixture in the Setlist, often coming in at number five, after ‘A Simple Twist of Fate.’ It was powering along in 2018, only to be abruptly dropped in August never to be heard again – at least up till now – being replaced by the mighty drama of ‘Cry A While’ (See NET 2018 part 1).
This bright and breezy number is, frighteningly, about a huge and implacable force that can tear things up and destroy them. Despite the shuffle-shuffle, and boogie-woogie and the flavour of the jump jazz of the 1930’s, you don’t really want to be hearing that Duquesne whistle blow; it’s a bad sign. Only the music is bright and breezy. Note once more that odd ‘fooling around’ before the song begins, a feature of the 2018 performances. It’s not really fooling around as it’s building towards the song. This is another from Brno.
‘High Water (For Charlie Patton)’ which has delighted us in its various guises over the years since Love and Theft in 2005, saw its final performance in Oct 2018. Editor Tony Attwood and I both have our favourite performances, but share an enthusiasm for the song. My latest best ever is the kick-arse rock version of 2016 (See NET 2016 part 1), but we need to return to 2012 for the most riotous version, with the audience whooping along (See NET 2012 part 3 first version of two). It had been dropping away, sharing slot five with ‘Duquesne Whistle.’ I’m sorry to see it vanish; the way the lyrics mix environmental, social and moral chaos is perfect for the times.
Nevertheless, Dylan’s given the song another makeover, even as he abandons it. I’m not sure that the new chord riffs that now propel the song are urgent enough, but once he settles into it, and starts to groove with that jazzy piano sound, the song works just fine.
Another song from Love and Theft which saw its last performance (in Christchurch, New Zealand in October) is ‘Summer Days.’ Like ‘High Water,’ this song had become a fixture in the Setlist up to 2014 when it disappeared, only to return again for fifty odd performances in 2017 and a mere half-dozen in 2018. Fast paced and full of zest, early performances of this song took us back to the big band era of the the 1940’s (See NET 2005 part 2) but it was later honed down to more of a bass and drums driven arrangement. ‘Everybody get ready to lift up your glasses and sing/ well I’m standing on the table, I’m proposing a toast to the king’ are the lyrics that seem to sum up the exuberant spirit of the song. It is not as happy a song as it may at first appear however, being full of defiance and Dylan’s rebellious spirit – but the wounds of love and heartbreak cut deep, as does the desire for vengeance and mayhem:
Well, I’m leaving in the morning as soon as the dark clouds lift Yes, I’m leaving in the morning just as soon as the dark clouds lift Gonna break in the roof—set fire to the place as a parting gift
He has to really babble that last line to get it to fit the melody, and it’s a far cry from the young Dylan who slips away unseen at dawn down ‘the dark side of the road’ with the advice to ‘don’t think twice.’
When the rooster crows at the break of dawn Look out your window and I’ll be gone
Never let it be said that Dylan softened with age!
This recording (March 22nd) is from the first concert of the year in Lisbon, and once more we find Dylan reaching for innovative ways to present the song, even these last performances. Rather than an urban, big-band sound, we get an upbeat countrified square-dance version complete with fiddle. Grab yer pardners and circle to the left!
The magnificent dramatic monologue, ‘Long and Wasted Years’ off Tempest all but disappeared in 2018. It would be played once only in 2019. Its wheedling, self-justifying narrator is a study in belligerent grief. While I return to the incomparable performances of 2015 as my touchstone for this song (see NET 2015 part 3), this recording, from Bielefeld, Germany (April 21st), where it comes as the last song of the night before the two encores, is gentler with a somewhat faster tempo. Belligerence has been tempered by regret.
Long and Wasted Years
‘Soon After Midnight’ did not fade away, and was even played once in 2021 in the Rough and Rowdy Ways tour. It’s a little gem, this song, mixing beauty and horror in equal measure, both tender and murderous, another brilliant character creation from Tempest.
I’m going to do what I did in previous posts and compare two performances from Waterbury and Macon, where it appears as number seventeen on the Setlist. First, Waterbury:
Soon After Midnight (A)
The simple, minimal arrangement and 1950’s feel suits the song well. Now to Macon, for a fuller richer sound and equally effective vocal:
Soon After Midnight (B)
Similarly, ‘Early Roman Kings’ survived through to 2021. I would be happy to declare these performances from Waterbury and Macon best evers if I didn’t know that an even better performance was coming up in 2019 – that will have to wait for the next post. This song has grown on me, particularly since the powerful 2015 performance that knocked me on my ear (see NET 2015 part 3). If anything, the song has grown in stature as a distempered blues, with a talking vocal line, and increasingly I’m seeing it as a protest song of sorts. You really don’t want to mess with those early Roman kings who lord it over the rest of us, exercising their arbitrary power. They’ll ‘destroy your city’ and ‘they’ll destroy you as well.’ First Waterbury
Early Roman Kings (A)
After a nice bit of ‘fooling around’ Dylan kicks into another insinuating performance at Macon.
Early Roman Kings (B)
That brings to a close this post and our study of 2018. We have seen that the innovative spirit that has been driving Dylan’s shows since 2015, when the American Standards arrived, is still running hot, and, remarkable as it is, Dylan’s voice seems to have gained in power and authority. All this he will carry unabated through to 2019 which would, unexpectedly, turn out to be the last year of the NET.
I’ll be back soon to dig into that year and finish off this exploration. In the meantime, I wish all my readers a happy festive season, however you might celebrate it, and keep your compassion strong.