The Never Ending Tour Extended: Not Dark Yet 1997 to 2019. Tears to my eyes

 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.

Not Dark Yet began its live performances in 1997 and concluded in 2019 after 166 outings.

We pick it up in 1998; Friends and other strangers

The first thing I notice is the beat which is seems much more emphasised than I recall it from the album.  It’s faster and the key has changed.  The voice has become pleading but beyond everything that strange rhythmic approach of the original recording has gone.   Whereas before we had that unexpected beat before each line (as in Beat “Shadows are falling”) which gave such a sense of unease and uncertainty, that has gone.

That is not to say Bob is singing on the first beat of each bar but the unsettled feel of the recording has gone.  The edge is missing.  And listening to the instrumental section at the end, it feels (to me) that the instruments are falling over each other.

2000: Please heed these words that I speak

Now immediately we feel something gentler – something closer to the original recording.  The instrumentalists are not falling over each other – everything is more gentle as befits the lyrics.  “Still got the scars” now once more makes sense.

The whole point, it seems to me, is in that line that “It’s not dark yet but it’s getting there”, – that feeling of resignation, that it is all over – as explained in “She wrote me a letter”.

The deep resignation that is at the heart of the original is now once more the dominant force in Dylan’s vocals, and I can just sit here and take this in.   I’m not too sure about giving the bass the lead solo in the instrumental section – although the audience give some applause.

“Don’t even hear the murmur of a prayer,” – yes I feel that.

2004:  The best singing audience

Now Bob decides to make his vocals the variations within the piece, and the rest of the band just follow along.  For me this doesn’t help; we know the melody and I am not sure these variations do anything to help.  But we now have the harmonica, played gently and with a deep sympathy for not just the music but also the lyrics, and beyond everything else the feeling of sadness that is at the heart of the piece.    He is after all so far gone he can’t even remember what he came here to get away from.

2009:  Contending forces: Courting Disaster

And now we are back to the thing I really didn’t like – that heavy beat from the percussion.   Bob performs in a true Dylan style of the era, with lots of emphasis on the last word or indeed the last syllable of each line

2019: It’s not dark yet 

Now if you followed Mike’s wonderful 144 episode Never Ending Tour series you will know that the final episode of the series dedicated itself  to this one song, with three amazing performances concluding this vast enterprise.  I won’t repeat all three here because you can simply go to that final 144th article and read and listen.  But I cannot, I absolutely cannot leave out this.

This is the master at work, the master at the top of his game, the master who knows exactly what he has created and what it is worth, and above all exactly how it should sound.

It is as if he is saying, “OK I’ve tried everything else, you’ve heard everything else, and this is really what it is all about.”

In many ways there is nothing else.   There is just “It’s not dark yet” and there is this staggering recording.  It is total.  It is everything.

“It brings tears to my eyes” is a totally overdone phrase.   Except here it is not.

Other articles in this series…

One comment

  1. Extraordinary. The 2019 version reminds me that this was the song one of my closest friends from University days wanted to hear the last time we met, more than 20 years ago when he was dying of cancer. I spoke at his funeral some weeks later – and this was played there, too. The album version is wonderful, this even more so.

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