The Never Ending Tour Extended: Gates of Eden. Another all-time best performance


 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.

Bob Dylan has performed Gates of Eden 217 times on the tour between 1964 and 2001.  We pick it up in 1988 and the opening made me wonder if I had picked the wrong musical extract from the tour.  But no, this is Bob emphasising the horror side of the song.  Every aspect of the performance emphasises the decline and destruction of humankind – and there is no relief – it continues to the end in the manner in which it started, making it a very hard listen indeed – although of course that is the idea.

1988: Heroes and Villains

By the following year Bob had decided to take the song back under his own command.  This is one of those recordings that remind us that some people go to a Dylan concert in order to talk all the way through the gigs.   I know what I think of that; I wonder what he thinks of it.

But ignoring the chatter as much as I can this is a fine performance, which to me reclaims the song from the excesses of the full band version from the year before.   There is ever more emphasis put into lyrics without overdoing it – by this date the song was almost a quarter of a century old and everyone would of course know it by heart.

And please do stay with it to the end – it is a remarkable conclusion.

1989: A fire in the sun

Moving on a few more years we are now with the solo version with a slight second guitar accompaniment but the attempt to push out each word and phrase with a much higher energy and tempo level.

I must say I absolutely love this version (although if you stay with me through this piece you’ll see it is ulimately out done).  There is a reflective quality about Bob’s performance here.  We have lost the emphasis on the horrors and now just have reflection – which is managed particularly well given the tempo.  The fact that some of the lyrics are lost matters not, because we know them.   We are rushing headlong to the cliff, and know there’s virtually no chance of stopping.

1992: All the friends I ever had are gone

Jumping forward again we have a confusing introduction.  It sounds darker and deeper but there is something else in there in the introduction – and it turns up again just before the last line of each verse.

The contrast between the pounding beat from the guitar and the third line doesn’t exactly work for me – why is the third line of each verse so different?   It gets more understandable as the song progresses as the vocal part gets clearer, but I am still not sure.   However the instrumental verse after three minutes really is something, and the verse that follows seems to get the third line in a more meaningful setting.

Which really makes the point, each of these modifications is an experiment – as is the second instrumental break.  And this really is a performance that evolves in interesting ways as it continues.  What is happening after six minutes for example in the final  instrumental break which runs on to the end of the song is really unnerving and wonderful at the same time.

1995:  Acoustic wonderland

So we move on to the final performance from our archives and not for the first time I feel that Bob himself knew this was a farewell – or getting close to it.   This is the performance I was waiting for.  The reflection, which tells us it is all over, we’ve wrecked the world, the prophets of eternal salvation and the prophets of doom are just kicking each other down the street.  There is no salvation; just this eternity of our own stupidity.

This is not the only magical performance that is to be found on the Never Ending Tour of course, but if you are not convinced just listen to the instrumental verse after three minutes, and the way Bob takes the whole performance right down.

I can’t say that this is as astonishing as the farewell performance of Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee from 2014 but like that performance, this one is there for me as one of the most extraordinary and amazing moments.  It goes onto my make-believe album of “The Never Ending Tour’s Greatest Hits.”   And if Aaron were still with us I’d be saying, “We must create an album of “The Never Ending Tour’s Greatest Moments”.  Perhaps I can do that on my own at some time in the future as a more lasting tribute to my dear friend’s memory.

2000:  Master Vocalist: Finding voice

Other articles in this series…

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