Hard Rain in concert: 1988 to 1999


 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 primarily 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.   A list of all the songs covered in the series is given at the end.

A Hard Rain’s a gonna Fall, comes of course from Freewheelin, and was performed live 457 times by Dylan according to the official site, starting in 1962 and concluding in 2017.


We first hear it in the Never Ending Tour series in 1988: The Sixties Revisited.  The recording level is low but the quality of Dylan’s singing is excellently picked up.   There is an extra emphasis that he is adding to the first of each set of the three beats that is the fundamental of the song (technically it is in 6/8 time).   The implication is that 26 years after the song was composed, still no one is listening, no matter how often the message is put across.

There is also a strange effect of singing off the key in the “who did you meet” verse – which Dylan does all the way through that verse – along with a similar effect in the following chorus.  There are elements of the same off-key singing in the next verse too; I’m not sure why, as I don’t find it very attractive, but of course that’s just me.

But that is not all.  We get a chorus change around the 6’30” mark which is followed by an instrumental verse which rounds the performance off.

Songs of love, songs of betrayal takes us to 1990, and the performance now is much more strident both in terms of the guitar playing and the singing, and Dylan once more uses his voice to hold our attention through the ceaselessly repeated musical lines, but with the chorus more spaced out.

This time it seems that there is no pleading at all, but a strident announcement of what has been seen and what is to come.  (Just listening to the “starve” and “laughing” lines).  And subsequently, we get some lines where the first note (oft-repeated) is constantly off-pitch.  And now sometimes so is “It’s a hard”.  It is a strong way of reminding the audience that there is a message here, not just a song everyone wants Dylan to perform.

And around the 6 minutes 20-second mark there is that extension of the chorus that announces that we are going to get the instrumental verse


We are now at the 30th anniversary of the song and we now have a gentle percussion behind Dylan and the guitars.  The melody changes too, and very effectively it seems to me after the two-minute mark.  Indeed this is quite a considerable re-working while keeping the original essence of the song, although I get the feeling that Bob just can’t quite find what he wants to do with a song he’s been performing for far longer than the lifetime of the average rock music band.

The reworking of the melody in the latter part of the song is in my view more successful than previous attempts, and I feel there is a battle going on between the fact that everyone in the audience wants to hear the song while Bob was wondering what more he can do with it.  There is however a very enjoyable if short musical epilogue.

 The epic adventures of Mr Guitar Man

By 1999 Bob had done pretty much everything he could without actually re-writing the whole piece, and of course by now every single member of the audience will know the song forward, backward and inside out.

Bob’s response is interesting, for here he strips the song back as far as he can to its plaintive essence, without actually just standing there with an acoustic guitar and no other accompanying instruments.

And this recognises that really, to keep the meaning of the song, it has to be a much more gentle piece than it had become in recent years.

Here we can hear almost whole verses sung on one note, before the soaring chorus.  Indeed if you listen to the verse starting around 4 minutes 20 seconds, it is hard to think of more delicate performances than this.  Bob is doing nothing in such verses to distract from the power of the lyrics.

The instrumental break too is now stripped back, so that we have no escape from the message, which is what the song is, in essence.  A delicate plaintive message of farewell to all we have known.   For me the instrumental verse at the end is not one of the most successful of moments, but overall this is superb.

And this is one of those performances where yet again I am so grateful to the people who made these recordings and of course to Mike for curating them for us to be able to enjoy and appreciate all these years later.

Acoustic wonderland

Other articles in this series…

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