The Never Ending Tour Extended: Cold Irons Bound 1997-2002 and a coda


I don’t know what it means either: an index to the current series appearing on this website.

The Never Ending Tour Extended: This series uses recordings selected by Mike Johnson in his inestimable masterpiece The Never Ending Tour, and looks at how those performances of individual songs change as time goes by.   The selection of songs from the series, and the commentary below, are by Tony Attwood.

Cold Irons Bound

Cold Irons Bound from Time out of Mind was played 423 times on the tour from October 1997 to October 2011.  And we do indeed come across it in “The Never Ending Tour” series, near its very first appearance in 1997.

1997: The Lonely Graveyards of the Mind

This is quite a challenging song for the performers: there are seven verses, much based on just the one chord – the first four lines having almost identical melody and no chord change.

What keeps the song moving along is the very distinctive rhythm, and the change for the three “chorus” lines after each verse

2000: Master Vocalist – Rock n roil

So we can appreciate from the start that evolving this song into something different, as so many other songs have been evolved, would be a challenge. It has far too fixed a format for that to be possible… or so one might think.   But by 2000 that all-important beat had changed – as had the last three lines of each verse.

Indeed even when we get to the second verse where we might expect the rhythm to be really emphasised, as it was such a key element in the original, no, we are taken aback.  It’s not there.

And I really do want to say this is one of the most unexpected and extraordinary developments of a Dylan song on the Tour that I have found.  Bob has in effect taken out the very heart of the song, but as a result he has not lost the song, instead he has made it even more interesting.

Of course part of this interest comes from the mere change itself, but it is more than that.  The new music of the sung verses contrasts brilliantly with the lack of background in the verses – just one chord and the percussion.  Personally I much prefer this version to the original.   And there is superb ending too.   And if you stay with the recording there’s Bob introducing the band with a fair degree of real affection implied.

2003 part 1  Things come alive or else they fall flat 

The prelude to the piece is still here, but now we are back with the dominant beat.  However we also have the chord from the guitar coming in once more at an unexpected place.   And then as we move along other sounds – I might call the “interruptions” come in.

Suddenly the piece is completely full – until Bob starts the verse again and we have his voice and that one strident chord on an unexpected beat … but then there are other sounds, other oddities, other… otherness.   Just listen to the instrumental break around 3 minutes 30 seconds, there seems to be no central theme – every instrument is falling over each other.   And maybe that is the point.

I find this version incredibly uncomfortable and disturbing.  The 20 miles out of town feels real – there is nothing there; I’m lost and I can’t get back. With the instrumental break on five minutes, this feeling of disturbance and being utterly lost is complete.   I really need to be absolutely full of myself and totally on form to be able to take this.  And a question arises, do I go to a concert to be made to feel uncomfortable?

Actually, the answer for me is no.  But then also I don’t go to watch horror movies either.

2002 part 2: More choice cuts from London and Dublin.

So now we have come full circle from a performance of the music as recorded through that retrospective softer re-interpretation, to a full-on blast.   The percussionist finds a few interesting variations and the descending bass part gets a greater emphasis.

Thus this is a blast: there’s no escape – that chord hitting out over and over again through the verse allows us no way out.  The lyrics have merged into the sound.   The world is wrecked.  Carnage is all that is left.

And if you don’t feel that way, try the instrumental break and the way Bob comes out of it.   This is it, this is how it is and it will never change.  Except, expect, at 4 minutes 52 seconds something new happens, an eight note theme we have not heard before as a coda.    Wow, where did that come from?  But then, that’s Bob for you.

Other articles in this series…

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