Sunday, March 16, 2014

Center Stage: Unreleased Live Recordings, 2008 - 2012

Center Stage
Unreleased Live Recordings, 2008 - 2012

Gotta Serve Somebody - November 21, 2008
Shooting Star - October 13, 2009
Things Have Changed - July 30, 2011
Every Grain Of Sand - March 19, 2010
John Brown - October 9, 2012
This Dream Of You - October 15, 2009
Can't Wait - June 15, 2010
The Man In Me - June 12, 2010
Beyond Here Lies Nothing - October 13, 2009
Forgetful Heart - June 20, 2011
Cold Irons Bound - November 11, 2009
I Dreamed I Saw Saint Augustine - June 16, 2011
This Wheel's On Fire - March 16, 2010
Not Dark Yet - June 12, 2010
Ballad Of A Thin Man - July 6, 2012


This release consist of center stage performances by Bob Dylan from Autumn 2008 to Autumn 2012. Though this style of performing would continue past that point, it was especially novel and unique during these years. You won't catch the onstage visual idiosyncrasies that increased the concert-goer's delight, but I think the sound of these tracks provide enough of a picture.

I don't think it unfair to note that the singer is especially in control during these performances when he is able to focus entirely on his primary instrument - the voice. Though Dylan's quite growly at this point, nowhere more than the opening song, he communicates both power and vulnerability through the phrasing. From the smoking condemnation of "John Brown" to the reverie of "This Dream Of You," this release runs the spectrum of themes and poetry. Those of us who enjoy Bob Dylan's gospel side will appreciate "Gotta Serve Somebody," "Every Grain of Sand," and a particularly moving "I Dreamed I Saw Saint Augustine," its only airing since 2005. Those who enjoy his bluesier, raunchier side will enjoy the dark heat of "Things Have Changed," "Can't Wait," "Beyond Here Lies Nothing," (with trumpet!) "Cold Irons Bound" and "This Wheel's On Fire." Those who enjoy his introspective pieces will no doubt be moved by "This Dream of You," Forgetful Heart" and "Not Dark Yet." Those who are just looking for a good time will get a kick out of this delightful, airy performance of "The Man In Me."

As a confession of bias, I have to note that several recordings on here rank among my favorites: "Gotta Serve Somebody" is one of only a small number of performances of that song from 2002 to present, and it is actually my favorite rendition of that song in Dylan's career so far. It is at times incoherent, as much of the content is ad-libbed, but there's just some kind of late-night preacher vibe to it, and a truly unique sound to the vocals, that just makes it a home-run; Dylan does something to the end of many lines, like adding an extra half-silent syllable for emphasis ("out[t]," "in[n]"), that enhances it so well. "Can't Wait" is also extraordinary, and makes me grin ear to ear each time I hear it; the last verse, in particular, stands out for the deep notes - "I thought somehow" being the highlight of the track, or perhaps "I'm strolling through the lonely graveyard of my mind," with the final word being strung along powerfully. The following year (2011), Dylan would again perform a memorable version of this song, but the overall effect was less rewarding to me. Lastly, the recording of "This Wheel's On Fire" found herein is the finest performance of it that I've heard - in full disclosure, I don't find the original track very interesting. It's one that's improved in concert, and peaked (for me, of course) in 2010.

Perhaps most notable to me is the texture of the vocals and harmonica. I'm not a technician, but I suspect a new set of equipment was in use from 2008 to 2012, since their is an almost metallic tone to the vocals and harmonica in the opening song and a handful of others - listen to the way "alive with fiery breath" sounds in "Saint Augustine." There's a strange aura to the recordings that only serves to reinforce the notion that you've stepped through to another world.

Along those lines, I believe that this collection is one of the more coherent documents in the series. The songs share a sensibility, and a common aural environment, without sounding too similar. I hope you find the same to be true.

If you enjoy this, don't forget to purchase the original studio recordings of these tracks from the following albums, available on

The Bootleg Series Volume 9: The Witmark Demos
Highway 61 Revisited
The Basement Tapes
John Wesley Harding
New Morning
Slow Train Coming
Shot of Love
Oh Mercy
The Essential Bob Dylan
Time Out of Mind
Together Through Life

Next week we will move away from general retrospectives with a focus on one specific tour: the Spring 2011 Tour of Asia. Until then, keep yourself healthy and listen to some good tunes.


Note: The date was originally incorrect on "Gotta Serve Somebody." Though it was listed as 11-12-08, it should have been listed as 11-21-08. An astute viewer on Expecting Rain pointed this out, and it's been altered. Re-edited notes, artwork, and link have replaced the original material

February 2, 2016 Update: Another date was incorrect on this one. "I Dreamed I Saw Saint Augustine" was from June 16, not June 11, 2010. The location was Cork. My editable version of the art is long gone, so you'll just have to make do with the inaccurate rear insert, haha.


  1. Great job, as always. Many thanks!

    One question -- Thin Man features an echo. Was this intentional, or just an artifact of how it was recorded?

  2. Intentional! It was a regular thing for a while, though I don't know if he still uses the effect.

  3. Been looking forward to this one, ever since you trailed it last week (love that you do that, by the way !) ... Asia 2011 next week ? Great ... I live in Singapore and was at that concert. Nothing very memorable about it to my ears, but it was a tiny show (outdoor festival) and I got right down the front with my wife ... so it was special for me !

    1. That's really cool that you were at the Singapore show. I'm sorry to say that none of the tracks from Singapore are on next week's CD. This is one that I've not looked back to it since originally publishing it in 2011, and from reviewing the notes it seems that the majority of songs are from Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong, with scattered others, including Ho Chi Minh City and Taipei. Don't let that get you down though: the setlists were fairly similar, so you'll still have a good document of the tour.

      On a related note, did you see the open letter Dylan published on his website in response to criticism of that tour's setlists? It's truly a gem. Maybe I'll include it with the notes next week.

    2. yep - the Singapore concert was fairly unremarkable, but it was the closest I have ever been at a Dylan concert, so it will always hold a special place in my heart. Didnt convert my wife, but what can you do ? ;)
      I do remember that letter ...I was quite surprised that he felt the need to reply .. the accusations must have touched a nerve ...

  4. By the way, I have now uploaded all your work onto my ipod and my latest game is to stick it on shuffle and see if I can match the selected song with its' parent CD ! Not doing too well, so far :(

  5. Fantastic compilation, you are really good at this game ! I do some comp for my self year by year and i used too some shows from 2010 you've included. Linz or Padova for example. Thanks again for your incredible work

    1. Thanks for the praise. I wasn't thrilled by the 2010 recordings at the time they came out, but warmed to them quite a bit since then. They seemed to repeat 2009, but looking back it's clear that they were an evolution of the sound rather than a rehash. How foolish we are, sometimes :)

  6. Many thanks for you efforts. Excellent, first-class, wonderful ... all of these and more beside. Cheers.