Beyond Here: Spring Tour of Japan - 2016
Things Have Changed - Live - Tokyo - April 25, 2016
She Belongs To Me - Live - Yokohama - April 28, 2016
Beyond Here Lies Nothing - Live - Yokohama - April 28, 2016
What'll I Do - Live - Miyagi - April 9, 2016
Duquesne Whistle - Live - Miyagi - April 9, 2016
Melancholy Mood - Live - Tokyo - April 6, 2016
Pay In Blood - Live - Osaka - April 12, 2016
I'm A Fool To Want You - Live - Tokyo - April 6, 2016
That Old Black Magic - Live - Tokyo - April 19, 2016
Tangled Up In Blue - Live - Tokyo - April 25, 2016
High Water (For Charley Patton) - Live - Tokyo - April 22, 2016
Why Try To Change Me Now - Live - Miyagi - April 9, 2016
Early Roman Kings - Live - Tokyo - April 23, 2016
The Night We Called It A Day - Live - Tokyo - April 18, 2016
Spirit On The Water - Live - Osaka - April 12, 2016
Scarlet Town - Live - Tokyo - April 6, 2016
All Or Nothing At All - Live - Tokyo - April 23, 2016
Long & Wasted Years - Live - Tokyo - April 22, 2016
Autumn Leaves - Live - Tokyo - April 23, 2016
Blowin' In The Wind - Live - Tokyo - April 6, 2016
Love Sick - Live - Yokohama - April 28, 2016
What'll I Do - Live - Osaka - April 12, 2016
Pay In Blood - Live - Yokohama - April 28, 2016
Tangled Up In Blue - Live - Tokyo - April 22, 2016
Spirit On The Water - Live - Tokyo - April 19, 2016
Spirit On The Water - Live - Tokyo - April 23, 2016
Scarlet Town - Live - Tokyo - April 22, 2016
Long & Wasted Years - Live - Tokyo - April 19, 2016
Lucky Old Sun - Live - Tokyo - April 4, 2016
As ever, we've been blessed with the arrival of a new handful of lovely recordings from Bob Dylan's most recent tour. In this case, we are in the debt of tapers Spot, Hiroyuki Soto, catpochi, mk4 robert, izumiblue, SFY, and Saulsaul. In most cases, I used the Spot recordings for my collection, as they were the most impressive to my ears. These things are always a bit arbitrary, of course, so I hope you'll bear with my selections - I am deeply grateful to all tapers, even when their recording was not used for this compilation.
During the month of April, 2016, Bob Dylan toured Japan. He stopped in Miyagi, Osaka, and Yokohama, though much of the time was spent in Tokyo at the beginning and middle of the tour. His last stop in Japan, in the Spring of 2014, produced one of the best recordings of that year, so I was excited for the tapes even ahead of hearing them; Dylan often performs beautifully in Japan, and seems to have a special relationship with the region as far back as his 1978 tour, documented on At Budokan. Happily, the tapes themselves were even better than I'd hoped - the recordings were clean, though not overly crisp, and preserved a sense of what Dylan and the band were doing nightly.
As for the performances, they were almost uniformly excellent. From night to night, certain portions would be played better, but overall, it was a quality run. As the deluge of tapes began in late April, I realized that I had the opportunity to hear each night of the tour, and opportunity that I had not taken previously. Listening to the entire tour leg, mostly in sequence, was an exciting experience, though I'd be lying if I said I didn't suffer from a bit of burn-out; these concerts are performed for the people in the audience, not some person listening along at home, and they shouldn't be expected to offer a coherent or compelling narrative over the span of an entire month. Still, I'm happy I had the opportunity. In listening, I thought that a compilation of the finest performance of each song would form a nice souvenir for those who had attended, and a pleasant vicarious experience for those of us who'd not had that blessing.
I've included my rambling notes alongside the recordings, as I actually listened to every extant lossless tape, excluding portions of April 11, April 25, and April 26; you'll note that two recordings from the middle date are included in my compilation, though, as I took a brief browse towards the end of my project. As a brief summary here, I'd like to offer my overall thoughts, since we are in an unprecedented position of hearing the long-term development of a setlist that Dylan's been modifying only slightly over the past three years:
"Things Have Changed" is more dramatic than it once was, functioning as a more apparent performance piece to open the night. The band has more room to play between verses than they did in previous years. This song offers the first appearance of a greater presence for Tony Garnier - whether this is a function of the arrangements, the sound in the halls, or the recording technology, I cannot say.
"She Belongs To Me" is very similar to preceding tours, though the harmonica is one of the better solos I've heard for this song.
"Beyond Here Lies Nothing" is a song that developed significantly over the course of the tour. At the start, it sounded very similar to 2015, but by the end Dylan had developed an apparently new piano line that cycles and is integrated better with the band, particularly Charlie Sexton's guitar. The recording included comes from the final tour date.
"What'll I Do" is haunting, and was consistently excellent. The vocals were regularly a standout on this one, particularly as Dylan seems to get two distinct tones in the midst of the first line (on the word "you"), and Donnie Herron has the opportunity to present some lovely steel guitar.
"Duquesne Whistle" is as excellent a version as you'll ever hear. Much as we'll hear with "High Water" later in the set, the entire band has the opportunity to shine here. Of particular importance on this one are the vocals, the piano, and Charlie Sexton's lead guitar. The audience gets in on the fun, and you can hear them repeatedly shout "woo" in time with the music during the last guitar break of the song.
"Melancholy Mood" is no better or worse than it was in 2015, which is to say that it's utterly mesmerizing. This is one of those songs that you're surprised hadn't been performed earlier in the man's career, since it's incredible every night. April 6 took the nod, largely due to the clarity and elegance of the recording.
"Pay In Blood" was challenging, since it was performed well on many of the nights, but it differed fairly radically in the recording quality and the performance emphases (at least within the bounds of a single tour and arrangement). Overall, it sped up over the course of the month, a la "Isis" in 1975, and some of the later offerings were comparatively perfunctory. The recordings offered some nights where the bass or distorted guitar were at the fore, and others where the acoustic guitar was more prominent - I favored the former, since the latter added more of a folky sound than I like on this song. In the end, I added some bass and reverb to the April 12 recording and called it a day.
"I'm A Fool To Want You" is great, though Dylan misses an early note - I don't recall which at the moment, as I type these comments. Regardless of that minor quibble, the emotion in the performance is palpable. This one's on par with the one recorded in Spain last year.
"That Old Black Magic" was a fascinating study, as each performance had a wide range of pros and cons. One minor, humorous detail (discovered when listening to more performances than one ought to) is that Dylan regularly started to say "got me in a trance" in the opening lines, rather than the intended "got me in a spell." There's not much to say about this one - it was regularly delightful, if not remarkable.
"Tangled Up In Blue" was another challenging selection, since many of the performances were excellent in some respects and disappointing in others. In the latter category, I could find no rendition where the singer's voice didn't crack on the word "avenue" in the second chorus. This seems a minor complaint, though, as many of the recordings featured both highly expressive vocals and lovely piano in the final verse. While I heard from others that April 22 was a favorite version, I ended up selecting the April 25 performance; both are great, of course.
After the intermission, the band kicks into "High Water." This was not a tour highlight overall, but the version played on April 22 is absolutely superlative. Unlike some nights, it builds in intensity as the song moves on, somehow feeling like a whole orchestra's playing on it by the end. Every player is emphasized, which contributes to the feeling that Dylan's assembled a truly inspiring band for his live shows.
"Why Try To Change Me Now" is one of many great performances, though others tend to fall short of the magnificent version played on April 9.
"Early Roman Kings" was played with vim and vigor throughout the tour, though I'll admit that my final choice was an easy one. This is a song that can fall narrowly short of the ideal, whether through a (paradoxically) smooth vocal delivery or a recording that fails to emphasize the drums and crunchy guitar. Luckily, Spot perfectly captured the performance from April 23, in which Dylan and the band unleash a riff midway through that pulls you into the song from a different direction and doesn't let go.
Like "Why Try To Change Me Now," "The Night We Called It A Day" is not particularly notable, which says more about the consistently high level of Dylan's recent performing than it does anything negative about this song. It is the lovely, heartbreaking, poetic vision that it ought to be, and that it is nightly.
"Spirit On The Water" is worth a few lines, since this song differed more than any other from night to night. From the tour's earliest days, Bob Dylan had largely abandoned the song's central lilting piano melody in favor of experimentation. Some nights were more successful than others - on April 6, the band fails to follow the leading piano riff, while on April 12, they capture a uniquely melancholy version of the track. On April 23, a brighter outlook prevailed, while on April 19, an impressionistic jazz experiment was the result; most bizarrely, one of the versions featured an instrumental final verse, as the vocals were abandoned halfway through - I wish I'd noted which one this was! I ended up selecting April 12, since the vocals were superior, but any of these is worth a listen.
"Scarlet Town" was pretty consistently played, and I almost selected the version from April 22 purely on the strength of its ending. but the one performed on April 6 was stronger overall. Interestingly, I found that the quality of this song hinged largely on George Receli's drumming. It's not a song that is evidently centered on the percussion, but an inventive drum fill made all the difference in listening to multiple iterations.
"All Or Nothing At All" was lovely on multiple nights, and you pretty well have to take your pick based upon the overall ambiance of the recording and the quality of the guitar work. In the case of Spot's capture of April 23, both were superlative.
The penultimate song of the main set, "Long & Wasted Years," is regularly a concert highlight. As he has done on previous tours, Bob Dylan seems to have added some new lyrics. In this case, he's shifted the song to a more apparently gunfighter aesthetic, as his enemy "bled to death and lost his lust / He was too blind to see / I didn't notice until later that he'd wounded me." There's a variation on the middle line, there, but I can't recall at the moment what it is. In any case, I almost picked the version from April 19, as it features the best ending for the song that I've ever heard, but the band and the singer get a bit lost at the start of one of the verses; I attempted a splice, but it sounded clumsy. As a result, you get the version from April 22, which is stronger overall than the performance from the 19th anyway.
"Autumn Years" was regularly played to a high standard, but never moreso than the haunting, understated performance featured on this compilation. The final drum flourish can come across as abrupt on some nights, but here it is the perfect stunning close to a compelling second act.
In the encore, Donnie Herron shines again on "Blowin' In The Wind." It becomes effectively a duet between piano and violin, though the guitars are quite lovely as well. Dylan's vocals are also quite moving on this song.
The final track, "Love Sick," is a rock masterpiece. In that sense, it stands apart from the preceding songs, but the rich vocals and sense of melancholy tie it into what came before. I increased the bass a bit, since the Yokohama recording lacked a bit of low end, but otherwise it's a perfect version of this staple song.
I hope you enjoy reading about the songs. If you want more details, check out the miniature tour notes diary I created as I listened through the entire run of shows. It's really just a reflection of what I was hearing on first impression, so don't look for anything especially enlightening.
Of particular note is the absence of both the lone performance of "Lucky Old Sun" from this tour, and any recordings from the excellent recording of Nagoya on April 15. Concerning the former, I was only able to track down a lossy copy, which would compromise the lossless aspect of the compilation; even steering clear of that potentially misguided concern, I wanted to represent the set as it existed overall - an exception would make it less representative. You can find an MP3 edit of that song in the bonus materials accompanying this compilation. Concerning the Nagoya show, I found that, while it was a great listen, individual songs didn't exceed the quality of those on preceding or subsequent nights. I suggest seeking out a copy of that concert to complement the material on Beyond Here.
As always, thanks for listening. Next month will feature the concluding "miscellaneous" chapter of the blog, in which I compile the odds and ends that didn't make it onto earlier collections. Until then, keep yourself healthy and listen to some good tunes!