The Never Ending Tour Extended: Thunder on the Mountain

The Never Ending Tour Extended: Comparing recordings of Dylan performing his own compositions across the years.  This series uses by recordings selected by Mike Johnson in his inestimable series The Never Ending Tour, and looks at how those performances change as time goes by.   The selection of songs from the series, and the commentary is by Tony Attwood.

Thunder on the Mountain was performed 739 times by Dylan between 2006 and 2019 – making it the 21st most popular song in terms of live performances.   Here we pick it up in 2006:  Enter Modern Times

This is a straight performance of the song from its singular introduction through to the verses, changing only when we get to the short guitar solos between verses. It is a real rocker where the lyrics don’t seem to matter that much – which is a shame because there really are some strange but interesting concepts in this song…

Gonna raise me an army, some tough sons of bitchesI'll recruit my army from the orphanagesI been to St. Herman's church, said my religious vowsI've sucked the milk out of a thousand cows

By 2009 – Foundations: the raw and the real

Yes the introduction is still the same but the pace has been taken up a bit, and Bob sounds  little more excited by the whole event.   There’s energy everywhere, and the instrumental breaks now have much more impact – they sound like they are there for a real reason, rather than just being fillers.

In fact, I get the feeling Bob is wanting us to realise that this is far more than a 12 bar blues – it is a fast rocker with some really freaky lyrics and indeed it is now impossible to sit still while this is playing.   If there were to be a single word for this performance it would have to be “enthusiasm”.   Or a second word: “gusto”.

And when have we ever heard Bob sing a line and drop his voice by an octave for the follow up line (if that actually is him and not a member of the band with lines like “Go up north).   Plus I am not sure how many times I have heard the Dylan band rock like it does in the last couple of minutes of that performance.

2012: The Ivory Revolution Continues

Amazingly Bob and the guys were then able to build on the 2012 version, and so now we really get to somewhere else.  Bob meets boogie-woogie… well, almost.

The whole introduction is gentler, with subtle differences from the recorded original.  And the thing we recognise is the double bass playing a really interesting boogie-woogie set of patterns.   Thus this is now totally different from what we heard in 2009.

And just listen to that instrumental break!  After that Bob changes the tune too – we are half way into contemporary jazz.   OK it’s not the Modern Jazz Quartet, but I can almost imagine Bob having listened to them while thinking up this arrangement.

What strikes me at this moment is that having the luxury of listening to the same song played across the years we can appreciate the enormous leaps Bob makes.   There is even a simple piano solo after four minutes which really is unexpected.

So by the time we get to “Make a lot of money” I’m really buying into this big time.  As we approach six minutes I think I’m in a sophisticated jazz cafe, and I mean if you suddenly came in at around 6 minutes 25 seconds, would you think this was a Bob Dylan band performance?

To finish this episode here is a recording from 2014: The survivors

We now take the 2012 version, and take the essence of that approach and yet reign it in somewhat to take us back into the rock edition, but without losing all the smooth jazz elements of that earlier version.

What I really love here is the enthusiasm.  There is no need to push us into rock n roll, we know what that’s about.  This is a smoother reflection without going totally into the night club.   Indeed if I was going to make a film of this I’d have the band outside the nightclub in daytime, on the street, as people walk by just glancing at the band as they walk on.

And that works for me because this is about the different elements that there always are in life, each colliding with each other.  People going about their own lives, the band playing its music, Dylan providing his often disconnected lyrics.

Indeed I love this version – if I could make an album of my favourite recordings from the Never Ending Tour series, this recording would be there, most certainly.   Just listen to that final verse, and what then follows after the five minute marker.

Gonna make a lot of money, gonna go up northI'll plant and I'll harvest what the earth brings forthThe hammer's on the table, the pitchfork's on the shelfFor the love of God, you ought to take pity on yourself

Never has that song made more sense to me than in this wonderful performance.  Indeed “gonna take this performance and play it all day” seems about right.

Other articles in this series…

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