The Never Ending Tour Extended: Duquesne Whistle 2013-2018


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.


From 2013 to 2018 Duquense Whistle got 350 outings from Bob, and from the start, it didn’t really sound like the version on the record.  And I found that very strange, both because I really liked the original and didn’t see why it needed developing, and because I have gradually got used to the notion of songs evolving over time, rather than evolving between the making of the record and the very start of their performances on the tour.

What I find very curious is that the first time I heard the concert versions from 2013 I had the impression that Bob had speeded the song up, but in fact that is not so.  He’s changed the melody and the accompaniment, and it feels faster, but no the tempo is virtually identical.   (Of course it also shows that the old music memory is not as secure as I thought, but I’ll pass over that…)

However what I can say for sure is that the whole song is treated as fun, and that really does come across.

2013: The art of the Dramatic Monologue

The following year we had more mixed-up introduction with everyone doing his own thing, and then this time it really is that bit faster – and the melody has changed in parts too, But to my mind not always for the better.   It feels to me that this slight increase in the tempo has been at the expense of some of the elegance of the song.  And that is strange because the increase in speed is really not that great, and one would hardly notice it if not specifically listening out for it.

Yet it also feels to me as if Bob has to some degree lost touch with the meaning and feel of the song as a whole and is instead just having fun playing the piece as fast as it can go.

There are some benefits though – as for example there are some really interesting new moments in the instrumental breaks.   Yet at the same time the whole meaning of lyrics, along with the fun of the original melody seem to me to have gone.  So while for many of the songs we’ve traced through their developmental stages I’m fascinated by each change, somewhere here I find I’m losing interest – although there are some fun moments in the final instrumental break which rounds off the song.

2014:  2014 part 1: The Setlist, the first half.

But just when it seemed Bob had lost touch with one of his masterpieces there is a significant and indeed successful attempt to reign things in, as the 2015 version which becomes quite a bit less frantic.   Now these changes are once more fairly modest, and of course made as the tour goes on, but to me they are interesting since they show an attention to detail which we may perhaps sometimes feel is lost in the night after night of playing the same song over and over.

They are also changes which, when we go to a concert as a one-off event, can’t fully be appreciated.  And indeed if it were not for Mike’s work in gathering all these recordings together, I most certainly would never have been aware of exactly what Bob was doing.  Of course, I appreciate the major re-wrtes he sometimes does, but these tiny changes to the performance of songs as the tour moves along I had never appreciated before.  And I am not sure any commentator has – because it is only by listening to the recordings one after the other away from the excitement of actually being there, that they become clear.

Moving on, in the 2015 version below there is for me an additional clarity in the song which I welcome

2015:  Bring on the setlist

The changes however had not stopped.  They might be subtle but slowly these changes were actually doing something rather unlikely – they were taking us back to the original album version.  Not completely, but inch by inch we were getting there.

2016:  Embodying American Music

The last recording (below) that we have of the song from the Never Ending Tour has cleaned up the start and made some more subtle changes to that guitar based introduction, and then Bob comes in – in a completely different way.   Bob is now reflective, almost looking back at the history of his own song as much as performing to the audience.

I find this final version quite remarkable: over these six years and 350 performances Bob has nudged this fun, bouncy song along through changes – sometimes small sometimes greater and ended up with what sounds to me like quite a different song from the one we started with.

Indeed after playing the 2018 version below as I write this article, I once more played the album version just to get a final feel of the way the song had moved.  And not for the first time I wondered how these changes came about.  Is it the band rehearsing with Bob, is it Bob saying what they should do, or does it just happen?

When the differences are modest I feel it could easily be either Bob or a member of the band just slipping something extra in and then everyone likes it, it seems to work, so it stays.  But here the changes are more subtle, with elements introduced, removed, re-introduced, developed…

Thus we don’t have the huge re-arrangements that we can find when a song is left on the sidelines for years and then suddenly brought back, but these modifications are still very interesting, illuminating, and yes for me, highly enjoyable.

2018:  Hell bent for leather

So having got to the final recording from Mike’s Never Ending Tour series yes, I did once more play the original recorded version, which just to save you scrolling to the top, I’ll present once again, because… well I like the song and  I find it illuminating.

Other articles in this series…

One comment

  1. Oh I thought I heard that steam boat whistle a-blow
    And she blowed like she never blowed before
    I’m afraid my little lover’s on that boat
    (Shirkey and Harper: Steam Boat Man)

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