Thursday, March 1, 2018

The Things That Remain: Unreleased Live Recordings, Early 1980

The Things That Remain
Live: Early 1980

Gotta Serve Somebody - Live - Los Angeles - February 27, 1980
Covenant Woman - Live - Seattle - January 15, 1980
When You Gonna Wake Up - Live - Knoxville - February 5, 1980
Monologue: Ronnie Hawkins As Bob Dylan - Live - Toronto - April 20, 1980
Ain't Gonna Go To Hell For Anybody - Live - Toronto - April 20, 1980
Cover Down, Pray Through - Live - Toronto - April 20, 1980
Saving Grace - Live - Seattle - January 15, 1980
Do Right To Me Baby (Do Unto Others) - Live - Knoxville - February 5, 1980
Monologue: The End Times - Live - Toronto - April 20, 1980
Solid Rock - Live - Portland - January 16, 1980 *
What Can I Do For You - Live - Portland - January 16, 1980
Saved - Live - Toronto - April 20, 1980
Pressing On - Live - Seattle - January 15, 1980
Are You Ready? - Live - Toronto - April 20, 1980
I Will Sing - Live - Akron - May 18, 1980

* Introduction from April 20, 1980

Link: Mediafire

After the shock of 1979's radical reinvention, Bob Dylan fans could be forgiven for imagining he'd return to a more typical setlist when playing concerts in 1980. Unfortunately for the folks who hoped he'd get back to secular material ASAP, he continued to play the same gospel songs, more or less, that he'd taken on the road the preceding Autumn.

There were some changes. Personnel in the band shifted, as he added Regina Peeples to his backing vocal roster, then brought in Gwen Evans and Mary Elizabeth Bridges. The setlist for January to February remained similar to the year before, but the April and May shows included "Are You Ready?" from Saved, along with a few songs never played in a studio - "Ain't Gonna Go To Hell For Anybody," "Cover Down, Pray Through," and "I Will Sing." The last was a song by Max Dyer, who had developed the song in a largely improvisational live setting and was surprised to hear (twenty years later) that Bob Dylan had covered it at an Ohio show in 1980; "I Will Sing" is also notable for having been the only song played at a concert between 1979 and May 1980 that was not included on The Bootleg Series Volume 13: Trouble No More.

With regard to the nuances of the performances themselves, Dylan's on-stage style in 1980 differed little from 1979. In my personal experience of the recordings, particularly in the Winter months, the bass and drums stand out more prominently than the keyboards. Spooner Oldham and Terry Young remain important players, but Tim Drummond and Jim Keltner are more clearly felt than they had been at the 1979 concerts. Certain songs here highlight that more than others - "Do Right To Me Baby," "Solid Rock" and "Are You Ready" are fantastic vehicles for Bob Dylan's rhythm section.

I find myself in a rare disagreement with noted author Paul Williams, in that I'm not convinced Dylan's early 1980 shows are in any way inferior to his 1979 concerts. Williams claims that there's a falling off of energy, but if that's true, the singer more than makes up for it in the genuinely experimental spirit with which he wove his vocal lines. Check out "Covenant Woman," "What Can I Do For You," or especially "Saving Grace" to discover what happens when Dylan wants to play around with a song without altering its arrangement. I do wish he'd continued playing more of these songs, as he discarded quite a few after the early 1980 shows - "Covenant Woman," "Are You Ready," "Pressing On," and "Cover Down, Pray Through" would never again resurface after May 1980; "Do Right To Me Baby" would be played once on that year's Musical Retrospective Tour, "When He Returns" would appear once in a surprising and unsuccessful full-band arrangement in 1981, and "Saving Grace" wouldn't appear again until the new millennium. Happily, "Gotta Serve Somebody," "Solid Rock," "When You Gonna Wake Up" and "What Can I Do For You" still had some developing to do throughout 1980 and 1981.

The concerts themselves were extraordinary, as was Bob Dylan's appearance at the 1980 Grammy Awards. He played "Gotta Serve Somebody," and even managed to add some new lyrics and a smoky harmonica solo. His raps continued in 1980, though they were comparatively limited according to the extant tapes. We are lucky to have a record of his comments at a Toronto concert in April 1980, and these makes up the bulk of his prose commentary here. This, surprisingly, includes something of a reflection on his notoriously poor reception by a college crowd in Arizona during the preceding year's tour. Dylan weaves that experience together with his expectation of a forthcoming apocalypse, but manages to make the entire story compelling through his uniquely engaging stage voice. Additionally, he ruminates humorously upon Ronnie Hawkins role as Bob Dylan in the poorly received film Renaldo & Clara; it really makes you wish he spoke a bit more often, eh?

There's not much else to say - early 1980 presented something of an expansion and refinement of Bob Dylan's 1979 shows. Audiences were treated to new songs, though no radical reinventions of his gospel tracks. A cover managed to work its way into the set, briefly, but was then dropped again. It seems that this particular style of performance had run its course; by Fall 1980, the singer would be incorporating secular covers and older compositions with his post-1978 catalog in concert.

I hope you enjoy this set! Until next time, keep yourself healthy and listen to some good tunes.


Thursday, February 1, 2018

Pressing On: Unreleased Live Recordings, 1979

Pressing On
Live 1979

Gotta Serve Somebody - Live - Santa Monica - November 18, 1979
I Believe In You - Live - San Francisco - November 7, 1979
When You Gonna Wake Up - Live - Santa Monica - November 18, 1979 *
When He Returns - Live - San Francisco - November 16, 1979
Slow Train - Live - San Francisco - November 7, 1979 **
Covenant Woman - Live - Santa Monica - November 19, 1979
Sermon: End Times - Live - Albuquerque - December 5, 1979
Solid Rock - Live - San Francisco - November 16, 1979
Saving Grace - Live - San Francisco - November 16, 1979
Precious Angel - Live - Santa Monica - November 18, 1979
Sermon: Every Knee Shall Bow - Live - Tempe - November 26, 1979
Gonna Change My Way Of Thinking - Live - San Francisco - November 16, 1979
What Can I Do For You - Live - Santa Monica - November 18, 1979
Blessed Is The Name - Live - San Francisco - November 16, 1979
Pressing On - Live - San Francisco - November 4, 1979

* Introduction: Santa Monica - November 19, 1979
** Introduction: San Francisco - November 16, 1979

In November 2017, Sony finally published a significant portion of Bob Dylan's unreleased live and studio performances spanning 1979 to 1981 as The Bootleg Series Volume 13: Trouble No More. This period had gone almost entirely untouched by Dylan's record company outside of the contemporary studio albums (Slow Train Coming, Saved, and Shot of Love) and a handful of live tracks recorded at 1981's noteworthy New Orleans concert - "Heart of Mine" on 1985's Biograph and "Dead Man, Dead Man" on 1989's "Everything Is Broken" single. 

While the new Bootleg Series addition is a welcome addition to any collection (and perhaps my favorite Bootleg Series entry so far), there is always another side to the story. In the case of 1979, the other side is perhaps less important than usual; Dylan didn't significantly alter arrangements or setlists on his first Gospel Tour, so the average fan would likely be perfectly happy listening to the excellent versions chosen and presented in exquisite sound quality for the official compilation. The more enthusiastic fan of Bob Dylan's gospel period, though, might be interested in hearing alternate versions of songs.

More importantly, the official CD set entirely omitted the between-song commentary offered by the singer at these concerts. 1979 and 1980 were genuine rarities in Dylan's career, as the typically reserved performer opened his heart up to audiences. He spoke at times in clearly rehearsed phrases and at other times spontaneously. He had recently converted to Christianity and felt a sense of responsibility to preach the gospel using the two methods most readily available to him - his albums and his concerts. Given the outsized role of Dylan's preaching at shows and its absence from the official Bootleg Series entry, I emphasized it on Pressing On: Live 1979.

Two songs here have extended introductions, while two more lengthy sermons have been isolated as discrete tracks. Many, myself included, find the omission of between-song prose on Trouble No More to be a bit more conducive to repeat listens, so I wanted listeners to have the same option on this unofficial compilation. The first of the two sermons, which I've arbitrarily titled "End Times," is a lengthier explication of the apocalyptic biblical reading that informs songs like "Slow Train Coming" and "Are You Ready?" The second sermon represents the most confrontational moment in the singer's career since feuding with his audience on-stage in Britain on the 1966 tour; he is heckled relentlessly while telling a story about 'false deceivers' and has the lights turned on in the hall, telling his hecklers to go see a KISS concert and 'rock and roll down to the pit' if they don't care for his message.

With regard to the music, there will be few surprises here for those who own Trouble No More. The arrangements and performances are more or less the same, though the sound quality is appreciably worse on these recordings. That said, a handful of tracks benefit from the reduced instrument separation: "Gotta Serve Somebody" is more full here than on Disc One of Trouble No More, "Covenant Woman" is more compressed so the song's first verse isn't unreasonably quiet, the blown bass of "Slow Train" hammers home the sense of smoke and brimstone, and the organ on "Precious Angel" offers a warmth that can be lacking on crisper recordings of the song's 1979 arrangement.

All of this being said, the most significant musical inclusion on this compilation is "Pressing On." When played on November 4, 1979, the song featured an additional third verse that was rapidly dropped and (seemingly) never even made it to the studio when the song was recorded at Muscle Shoals in 1980. The rare verse doubles down on the second verse's references to an internal battle with Satan, so perhaps it was dropped for de-emphasizing the song's broader, more inspirational message. It's hard to say, but I'm glad that the song was recorded in a reasonably clear manner before the verse disappeared permanently.

The next installment in The Thousand Highways Collection will document Bob Dylan's tours of early 1980, including unreleased tracks from the much-beloved Toronto residency. Until next time, keep yourself healthy and listen to some good tunes.

- CS

Monday, January 1, 2018

Once Upon A Time: Unreleased Live Recordings, 2017

Once Upon A Time: Live 2017
Volume One

Things Have Changed - Live - Washington, DC - November 14, 2017
It Ain't Me BabeLive - Washington, DC - November 14, 2017
Highway 61 RevisitedLive - Syracuse - June 25, 2017
Why Try To Change Me NowLive - New York - November 24, 2017
Summer DaysLive - New York - November 24, 2017
Melancholy MoodLive - Washington, DC - November 14, 2017
Honest With MeLive - Uniondale - November 8, 2017
Tryin' To Get To HeavenLive - Uniondale - November 8, 2017
Once Upon A TimeLive - Washington, DC - November 14, 2017
Pay In BloodLive - Washington, DC - November 14, 2017
Tangled Up In BlueLive - Washington, DC - November 14, 2017
Soon After MidnightLive - New York - November 24, 2017
Early Roman KingsLive - Saskatoon - July 14, 2017
Desolation RowLive - Winnipeg - July 12, 2017
Thunder On The MountainLive - Washington, DC - November 14, 2017
Autumn LeavesLive - Upper Darby - November 12, 2017

Once Upon A Time: Live 2017
Volume Two

Things Have Changed - Live - Syracuse - June 25, 2017
Don't Think Twice, It's All Right - Live - 
Esch-sur-Alzette - April 22, 2017
Beyond Here Lies Nothing - Live - 
Esch-sur-Alzette - April 22, 2017
Standing In The Doorway - Live - 
Stockholm - April 1, 2017
Lonesome Day Blues - Live - 
Dover - June 17, 2017
Make You Feel My Love - Live - 
Saskatoon - July 14, 2017
Blind Willie McTell - Live - 
Dover - June 17, 2017
Full Moon & Empty Arms - Live - 
New York - November 22, 2017
It's All Over Now Baby Blue - Live - 
Dover - June 17, 2017
Tangled Up In Blue - Live - 
Bournemouth - May 4, 2017
Stormy Weather - Live - 
Calgary - July 16, 2017
Scarlet Town - Live - 
Buffalo - November 18, 2017
Early Roman Kings - Live - 
Upper Darby - November 12, 2017
Love Sick - Live - 
Bournemouth - May 4, 2017
Learning To Fly - Live - 
Broomfield - October 21, 2017

2017 was a good year for Bob Dylan's live performances. He managed to play intimate club shows and fun festival sets throughout the year in North America and Europe, developing his setlist significantly from the more static days of the last few years. There were some negative consequences, as the performances are perhaps not quite so tight as they were in 2014 or 2015, but the change overall was one that made a more exciting experience for fans in person and following along at home.

Happily, the tapers also came through in much more challenging conditions than have been faced in recent memory. Terrorism at concert venues has become a sadly common headline, and security has been tightened accordingly; smuggling in recording gear is harder than it used to be, of course. A number of dedicated individuals persevered, though, and we've been graced with extraordinary recordings from Spot, Soomlos, Mike Beerley, John Johnson, JF, Big Daddy Buffalo, EBR, Imperfect Gravy, and Alex Leary.

I have compiled the most consistently strong tracks onto Volume One. This tracklist is less exciting than Volume Two, perhaps, but is the more compelling listening experience. Alex Leary's Washington, DC tape is my favorite combination of performance and recording quality, and is well-represented here. Listeners will notice that the bulk of content on this first volume comes from the Fall Tour of North America - this is because Bob Dylan played and sang in a more adventurous fashion on the final tour of the year, altering a number of arrangements quite significantly.

In particular, the arrangements for "Things Have Changed," "Summer Days," "Honest With Me," Tryin' To Get To Heaven," "Tangled Up In Blue," and "Thunder On The Mountain" have been dramatically altered. The changes to "Things Have Changed" and "Summer Days" occurred earlier in the year, but the others were largely altered by the Autumn concerts. "Honest With Me" and "Thunder On The Mountain" were the most significant of the alterations, as both unexpectedly became infused with a kind of surf rock aesthetic; "Summer Days" was only marginally less altered, becoming a violin-oriented up-tempo folk song more akin to "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere" than its former swing sound.

One major change to Bob Dylan's own on-stage work in 2017 was his move to piano for virtually all non-cover performances. While he had been singing many songs center-stage without accompanying himself instrumentally for much of 2013 to 2016, he had moved back to playing piano on "Things Have Changed," "Pay In Blood," "Love Sick," and others. The cover songs were still performed almost exclusively without piano accompaniment.

With regard to Volume Two, the recordings vary much more in quality and ambiance. Crystal Cat turned in a few of the year's more interesting tapes, but their work on delivering clarity came at the consequence of a warmer room sound. Interesting rare performances like "Standing in The Doorway" and "It's All Over Now Baby Blue" are unfortunately a bit thin. The performances are still excellent, though, and I can't imagine its anything that couldn't be overlooked by dedicated fans.

Three of the songs on Volume Two also appear on Volume One, but this is no error or the result of a lack of song diversity. In fact, the three songs are curiosities that should not be missed. "Things Have Changed" is played with a much more intense, dark country flair here. "Tangled Up In Blue" is an intriguing arrangement that exists halfway between the way it had been played from 2013 to 2016 and the new, more easygoing treatment it would receive at 2017's Fall shows. "Early Roman Kings," finally, is representative of the way that the song was played throughout the Autumn Tour - softer in tone than the pounding electric blues of early 2017 but with brief, jazzy instrumental interludes between verses; it also features some new lyrics.

Some other interesting rearrangements are present on Volume Two as well. "Love Sick" is performed in a soft, moody style that recalls its sound on 1997's Time Out of Mind. "Scarlet Town," one of my favorite songs from 2012's Tempest, has been rearranged to a slightly more dramatic, mid-tempo ballad; it happily retains its minor-key menace. "It's All Over Now Baby Blue" is perhaps not a major alteration, but it does sound strangely like the composer combined its lyrics with the more rollicking music of "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues." "Blind Willie McTell" is quite similar to the way it was played at the 2012 Critics Choice Awards, though the piano's prominence lends it a sound even more reminiscent of New Orleans in the early Twentieth Century.

Finally, the second volume ends on a bittersweet note. Bob Dylan's old touring partner and friend, Tom Petty, died on October 2, 2017, and received an on-stage musical tribute at the end of Dylan's show in Broomfield, Colorado. This song had not ever been publicly played by Bob Dylan before, but his delivery and the band's performance is as tight as if they'd been playing it nightly. The only capture of this performance circulating as of December 31, 2017 was a lossy recording from a cell phone. Listeners ought not criticize the sound quality, though, as without the work of this taper we'd not have any document of the night at all; I'm making an exception to my typical lossless-sourced rule to present the moving performance, and I suspect listeners will agree with the decision.

With that, I hope you all enjoyed the year's Bob Dylan performances as much as I did. These are challenging times, and we are lucky to have a musician as talented as this to help us muddle through; similarly, we are eternally blessed that the tapers spend their time and hard-earned money getting these recordings out to the wider world. Until we meet again, keep yourself healthy and listen to some good tunes.

- CS