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


  1. Thank you so much - always enjoy your compilations enormously.

  2. Thank you!

    Has this collection replaced all of the following?

    - Serve Somebody: Live, 1979 - 1980
    - Still The Same Man (Volume 1): Live, Fall 1980
    - Still The Same Man (Volume 2): Live, 1981
    - Testament: Live, 1979 - 1981
    - Every Grain of Sand: Live & Studio Performances, 1980 - 1981

    1. Nope! In fact, here is my plan for replacing those:

      - Live 1979 (February 2018)
      - Live 1980 Winter/Spring (March 2018)
      - Live 1980 Fall (April 2018)
      - Studio 1980-1981 (May 2018)
      - Live 1981 (June 2018)

      So these albums will be trickling out over the next few months, and in the end will entirely replace the ones I needed to take down following the publication of Trouble No More. I think they will be even better than the original compilations, to be honest, as I'm better at editing/compiling now and the content will be more consistent (i.e. no large date spans like 1979-1980 or 1979-1981).

    2. That's great news, thank you for still working on these! Heroic stuff.

      I agree that your proposed replacements look more focused. I’d love it if you did something similar for the two ‘Series of Dreams’ comps one day. I don’t think they’re as cohesive as your others. It would be interesting to see one that focuses on the studio recordings from that period, with the live tracks being dropped or redistributed across other compilations.

      Similarly the Rehearsal Tapes comp maybe deserves to be several volumes focusing on shorter periods.

      Anyway, this is just me trying to give you more work to do! As ever, Ben/Arkady

    3. You're absolutely right. The Series of Dreams discs are kind of a vestige from an earlier time where the collection's scope was more limited; I saw the 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, and Supper Club discs as 'correcting' that with expanded, more focused compilations. I'm always scared to actually discontinue an earlier release (except in cases where an official release has occurred), because it's conceivable that people liked the original set more than the more focused ones. Hm... I'll work something out.

      As for the rehearsals, I agree in general with your assessment - it's less focused - but I don't have more content from those various sessions that I'd want to publish as more era-specific CDs. There's a lot there, of course; the 1976 and 1978 rehearsals in particular have tons of stuff. I just don't like most of it!

    4. I think the '78 rehearsals might be one of the few 'famous' things I haven't got around to hearing yet.

      I love your various '89-93 sets - really opened up that era for me after previously hating it - I think I listened to Toads Place once a bit to early in my Dylan-loving career and just wrote off the whole period. But you've given me a whole new appreciation for it and I'm ever-grateful!

      What I'm really hankering for is an official Bootleg Series release dedicated to the Oh Mercy Sessions, and in the absence of that it would be interesting to see you do something along the lines of 'Faithful' - maybe my favourite of your compilations - for the Oh Mercy sessions. A more comprehensive exploration of the outtakes, supported by some live renditions of those songs from say 88-89, unpolluted by any of the Under the Red Sky nonsense... except maybe the songs that he re-did during those sessions for comparison (though the singing and production is so inferior I'd be tempted not to bother). But maybe there aren't enough outtakes from Oh Mercy that haven't been officially released to make it worthwhile.

  3. Excellent stuff. TNM made me need to hear these 'sermons'. Thanks!

  4. Thanks for all that you do here,...You make my day every time I see your new post...Bob inspires all of us,...but you go the extra mile...Thank You so much!

  5. Firstly I want to thank you so much for your effort, very appreciated. The quality of these performaces is not new for me, I waited a long time for some official material and I love the TNM boxset, I think the only low point is the complete omission of some of the backing vocalist set, as you know every gig of the "gospel tours" of 79 and 80 began with the girls singing and I would have give to them some recognition, do you agree?

    1. I do agree, and had considered creating a set of their songs for my site specifically because of this. It's a bit complicated, though, since I look to other periods of onstage collaboration and I don't tend to include the others' content - The Band in 1974, the Rolling Thunder Revue in 1975/1976, Tom Petty in 1986.

    2. Thanks again... you have a really good taste.

  6. Many thanks - always enjoy your uploads

  7. Great stuff usual. Great you back. Many thanks

  8. Thanks for another great unreleased recordings.