In Prague: Live 1995
Down In The Flood - March 11
Just Like A Woman - March 13
Tangled Up In Blue - March 12
License To Kill - March 13
Boots Of Spanish Leather - March 11
Mr. Tambourine Man - March 13
Desolation Row - March 12
God Knows - March 11
If Not For You - March 11
All Along The Watchtower - March 13
Shelter From The Storm - March 11
It's All Over Now, Baby Blue - March 11
This is one of the keepers! Collected here are what I believe to be the best performances from Bob Dylan’s three-night residency in Prague during the Spring of 1995. This was a legendary series of concerts, as the vocals are even more engaged than usual. After “Tangled Up In Blue,” the singer notes that he has the flu, but that at least Prague is a fine place to recover from this ailment. Clearly, the recovery is working, as all three nights were truly remarkable.
The first song is a debut of the Basement Tapes-era classic “Down In The Flood.” It would go on to become a mainstay of the live set in the years to come, but at the time this was quite a surprise. Following that are a couple of songs very familiar to the collector of Never-Ending Tour tapes: “Just Like A Woman” and “Tangled Up In Blue.” All are exceptional, with the phrasing on each extraordinary, allowing the listener to hear these words anew. Then, of course, comes the first show-stopper – “License To Kill.” This is a song that is virtually always performed well, but it may be at its best on this tape. Unfortunately, the vocals are a bit low in the mix at times, and while I have edited the track to make them a bit more prominent, they remain intermittently indistinct. It’s really no matter, though, since the feeling comes across with every second.
The beautiful tapestry continues in the acoustic set. “Boots Of Spanish Leather” is relatively up-tempo, but the mournful soul of the song is at the forefront. “Mr. Tambourine Man,” on the other hand, is deeply meditative. Many regard this song as rarely sounding better than in Prague, 1995. The acoustic set wraps up with a majestic rendition of “Desolation Row.” The few lyrical misses in these tracks are unable to dim the fire that comes forth with each verse. There were some minor digital distortions in these files that have been carefully excised to present the songs in a fittingly elegant fashion. Hopefully that has been a success.
The final five songs are again backed by Dylan’s band in a fully electric style. “God Knows” propels the listener forward into a lovely “If Not For You.” “All Along The Watchtower,” again a song that has the potential to feel rote, is rendered with the fire and brimstone suggested by the menacing lyrics. A graceful “Shelter From The Storm” completes the electric collection, undoubtedly the best that the song had sounded since 1987. Finally, the set is completed with a track that many consider one of the most beautiful performances of the Never-Ending Tour: "It's All over Now, Baby Blue." Dylan takes the grace of the 1994 arrangement and achieves a perfect reading of the song.
This has taken some time to compile and remaster, but I think the results speak for themselves. It would be reasonable to quibble with the song selection, as a number of other songs played during the residency are not included here. These include “Man In The Long Black Coat,” “I Don’t Believe You,” “Don’t Think Twice (It’s Alright),” and “Maggie’s Farm,” among others. I just didn’t find that those songs were performed as exquisitely as the thirteen here. There has been some work to balance the volume between tracks, and between instruments and vocals; despite the clarity of the recording, Dylan’s voice was fairly quiet on the tapes. I believe that this was largely, if inconsistently, successful.
I hope this collection stands as a worthy companion to Bob Dylan’s 1995 Prague Residency. It was a legendary series of shows, and deserves to be remembered. If you are wondering where you can buy the original studio versions of these songs, look no further:
Next week, we will be skipping ahead to 1999 for an overview of one of the most spectacular years of Bob Dylan's touring career. Until then, keep yourself healthy and listen to some good tunes.