Wednesday, July 4, 2018

DIY Playlist: Live Essentials, 1971 - 1981

Live Essentials: 1971 - 1981

Volume One

When I Paint My Masterpiece - Rock of Ages - 1972
It Ain't Me Babe - The Bootleg Series Volume 5: The Rolling Thunder Revue - 1975
Romance in Durango - Biograph - 1975
Solid Rock - The Bootleg Series Volume 13: Trouble No More (Disc 6) - 1980
Oh Sister - Hard Rain - 1976
Gotta Serve Somebody - The Bootleg Series Volume 13: Trouble No More (Disc 1) - 1979
Stuck Inside of Mobile - Hard Rain - 1976
Mr. Tambourine Man - The Concert for Bangladesh - 1971
Most Likely You Go You Way (And I Go Mine) - Before the Flood - 1974
One Too Many Mornings - Hard Rain - 1976
Heart of Mine - Biograph - 1981
Don't Think Twice, It's Alright - At Budokan - 1978
Isis - Biograph - 1975
Girl from the North Country - The Bootleg Series Volume 13: Trouble No More - 1981
The Groom's Still Waiting at the Altar - From His Head to His Heart to His Hands - 1980
Pressing On - The Bootleg Series Volume 13: Trouble No More (Disc 2) - 1979

Volume Two

Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You - The Bootleg Series Volume 5: The Rolling Thunder Revue - 1975
Down in the Flood - Rock of Ages - 1972
Love Minus Zero/No Limit - At Budokan - 1978
One More Cup of Coffee - The Bootleg Series Volume 5: The Rolling Thunder Revue - 1975
Seven Days - The Bootleg Series Volume 1-3 - 1976
When You Gonna Wake Up - The Bootleg Series Volume 13: Trouble No More (Disc 1) - 1981
When He Returns - The Bootleg Series Volume 13: Trouble No More (Disc 1) - 1979
Highway 61 - Before the Flood - 1974
It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry - The Concert for Bangladesh - 1971
Slow Train - The Bootleg Series Volume 13: Trouble No More (Disc 1) - 1979
Shelter From The Storm - Hard Rain - 1976
In The Summertime - The Bootleg Series Volume 13: Trouble No More (Disc 2) - 1981
A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall - The Bootleg Series Volume 5: The Rolling Thunder Revue - 1975
Caribbean Wind - The Bootleg Series Volume 13: Trouble No More (Disc 2) - 1980
Idiot Wind - Hard Rain - 1976
It's All Over Now, Baby Blue - The Bootleg Series Volume 5: The Rolling Thunder Revue - 1975

Welcome to a long-delayed DIY Playlist. This time we turn our attention to Bob Dylan's live tours from 1971 to 1981. These tours are, by a significant margin, the most-documented by Sony/Columbia's official releases, so narrowing it down was an exceedingly challenging prospect. Still, I think you'll enjoy the result.

Volume One

01. When I Paint My Masterpiece - Rock of Ages - 1972

By the end of 1972, Bob Dylan had been more or less off the road for six years with a handful of notable exceptions: the Woody Guthrie Memorial Concert in 1968, the Isle of Wight Festival in 1969, and the Concert for Bangladesh in 1971. These shows were oddities in their own right, as Dylan played Guthrie songs backed by The Band at the '68 show and songs in his distinctly country-flavored Nashville Skyline guise during the '69 set. Only the Concert for Bangladesh offered a glimpse of the classic performer fans had come to love during the 1960s, and even that was brief as Dylan played just a few songs.

Following in this fashion, Bob Dylan made a surprise appearance at The Band's New Year's Eve show on December 31, 1972. He and the other musicians seem to have been dipping pretty thoroughly into celebratory beverages, as the night's rendition of "Like A Rolling Stone" is barely coherent. On the other hand, his more recent compositions end up sounding much more effective. Before it would go on to become the opener at every night of 1975's Rolling Thunder Revue, "When I Paint My Masterpiece" was debuted on-stage by Dylan during this 1972 guest appearance. It is perhaps his first newly written piece of the decade, and I thought it a lovely place to begin this look at how he evolved over the following ten years.

02. It Ain't Me Babe - The Bootleg Series Volume 5: The Rolling Thunder Revue - 1975

"It Ain't Me Babe" would be played after "When I Paint My Masterpiece" in every Bob Dylan set on the Rolling Thunder Revue's 1975 tour. It seems only natural that it do so here, even if the preceding song was recorded three years earlier! This peculiar, quasi-calypso arrangement of "It Ain't Me Babe" was a consistent highlight due in no small part to the idiosyncratic instrumental duets anchoring the song's back half. 

With regard to the recording, the performance from Cambridge on November 20, 1975 has been released in two very different mixes: the earlier version appeared on the 4 Songs From Renaldo & Clara LP in 1978 and Live 1961-2000 in 2001, while a remixed version appeared on 2002's The Bootleg Series Volume 5: The Rolling Thunder Revue - 1975. Many fans swear by the earlier mix, finding the latter too bright, but I think both are excellent; given the difficulty in getting a digital copy of the earlier mix, I recommend settling for the remix from 2002.

03. Romance in Durango - Biograph - 1975

As with the preceding song, live performances of "Romance in Durango" have been released several times over the years. In fact, I suspect the song's inclusion on 1985's Biograph is primarily down to the fact that it is a dramatic improvement on the studio rendition featured on Desire. In any case, I think the version from Montreal that appears on Biograph is narrowly superior to the one from Cambridge that appears on The Bootleg Series Volume 5: The Rolling Thunder Revue - 1975. Both are easily accessible in digital form, thank goodness. Whichever way you get it, I think you'll enjoy the live arrangement of this homage to Marty Robbins' "El Paso".

04. Solid Rock - The Bootleg Series Volume 13: Trouble No More (Disc 6) - 1980

At the end of 1978, Bob Dylan converted to Christianity. This had a profound impact on his music, leading him to exclusively play new gospel compositions throughout much of 1979 and 1980. One of the most notable residencies during these tours - indeed the best-recorded one - is a five-night stint in Toronto during April 1980. A compilation of the best performances from this residency makes up Discs 5 and 6 of the singer's 2017 Bootleg Series release, and it's genuinely spectacular. To represent that set, I've picked out "Solid Rock". This song was a consistent high point of Dylan's shows from 1979 to 1981, but I think the one from Toronto might be the best I've heard. Its lyric are derived primarily from the Gospel of Matthew 25:34 and the Book of Isaiah 53:3-5.

05. Oh Sister - Hard Rain - 1976

"Oh Sister" is one of the first songs from 1976's Desire to be played live, as it was debuted alongside "Hurricane" at an abbreviated performance by Bob Dylan on The World Of John Hammond in September 1975 (though this live rendition would not be broadcast until after the first leg of the Rolling Thunder Revue in December 1975). The lyrics of the song are not particularly strong, but Dylan consistently displayed his ability to transform a mediocre composition into an incredible performance piece on-stage. Happily, Columbia Records published a version from the Rolling Thunder Revue's 1976 Tour on that year's Hard Rain. The recording quality, particularly at the song's start, leaves a bit to be desired, but the raw passion shines through nonetheless. Interestingly, the song's acknowledgment of a heavenly Father also seems to unintentionally foreshadow the singer's  conversion several years later.

06. Gotta Serve Somebody - The Bootleg Series Volume 13: Trouble No More (Disc 1) - 1979

Most fans would have first discovered Dylan's newfound faith through the song "Gotta Serve Somebody," as it opened his first gospel LP in 1979. Similarly, the song opened almost every one of his shows between 1979 and 1981, becoming something of an anthem for its writer. Its arrangement would also shift over time, moving from a sprightly uptempo affair to a moodier midtempo piece in the studio and then from a straightforward rock song in 1979 to an arrangement featuring a Bo Diddly-esque beat in 1981. The recording I've selected for this playlist features the singer at the height of his incisive vocal precision during 1979's Fall Tour. The song itself seems to be inspired by Memphis Slim's "Mother Earth," first published in 1951.

07. Stuck Inside of Mobile - Hard Rain - 1976

The metallic, jangly sound of 1976's ramshackle Rolling Thunder Revue Tour is captured nowhere better than this reckless take on Blonde on Blonde's "Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again." The arrangement is as far from that studio take as can be, seemingly influenced by cantina bands in the American Southwest. This was actually the version of the song that I first heard, and indeed remains my favorite performance. Surprisingly, the drums and some backing vocals seem to have been dubbed in later due to a problem with the recording - according to Sid Griffin in Shelter From the Storm: Bob Dylan's Rolling Thunder Years, tour drummer Howie Wyeth and engineer Don Meehan overdubbed drums and backing vocals, respectively, as the album was mixed.

08. Mr. Tambourine Man - The Concert for Bangladesh - 1971

"Mr. Tambourine Man" is one of two songs on this DIY Playlist to be drawn from the singer's surprise appearance at George Harrison's Concert for Bangladesh in 1971. The titular country was in the midst of a horrifying combination of civil war and drought, and former Beatle George Harrison organized the world's first large-scale benefit concert to route much-needed money to Bangladeshis. Though Bob Dylan had turned up at the soundcheck as a favor to Harrison, he expressed trepidation at the crush of press and was unwilling to commit to an on-stage appearance. To Harrison's great relief, however, Dylan overcame his anxiety and helped the cause with a five-song set at both benefit shows on August 1, 1971.

09. Most Likely You Go You Way (And I Go Mine) - Before the Flood - 1974

Bob Dylan had appeared at two shows between 1969's Isle of Wight Festival and the beginning of 1974, but these collectively amounted to less than a single complete concert. Al Kooper, the keyboardist from Blonde on Blonde and New Morning, claims that a tour was planned and even rehearsed for in 1970 but was abandoned prior to scheduling dates. By the middle of the decade, though, Dylan was ready to go out on the road with The Band. These musicians had backed him on tour in 1966 as The Hawks and at all of his special appearances from 1968 to 1972, but their sound had evolved by 1974. Dylan's singing style had also evolved, and the combination of propulsive backing music with an over-emphatic singer was disappointing for fans who had been awaiting a new tour for much of the preceding decade. The tour's least-effective later dates were extensively documented by Columbia on 1974's Before the Flood, and a handful of tracks stand up to scrutiny - the first of these is actually the first track from that album, an intense arrangement of Blonde on Blonde's "Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I Go Mine)".

10. One Too Many Mornings - Hard Rain - 1976

"One Too Many Mornings" represents one of the rare occasions when Bob Dylan has altered the lyrics to one of his 1960s songs. This practice would become common with compositions written from 1971 to the 2010s, but lyrics drafted in the singer's first decade have generally been sung as recorded in-studio. Partway through Dylan's 1976 tour, however, he would add half of a verse to The Times They are a-Changin's "One Too Many Mornings." The other half of the verse remained instrumental, and the rewritten lyrics would never appear again after 1976.

11. Heart of Mine - Biograph - 1981

In Fall 1980, Bob Dylan reintroduced covers and pre-1979 compositions back into his setlist. New tracks were also debuted, and the singer was writing entirely secular songs by the following year. "Heart of Mine" is one of these songs devoid of any apparent spiritual character. During the Summer 1981 Tour, the song often featured Dylan on organ; by the Fall 1981 Tour, however, it had reverted to an arrangement reminiscent of the one which had appeared on Shot of Love. The song was rarely a concert highlight, but a noteworthy exception was selected by Columbia for 1985's Biograph retrospective. This performance originates at a New Orleans show from November 10, 1981, which was also the source for a version of "Dead Man Dead Man" released as the b-side to 1989's "Everything is Broken" single and re-released on Live 1961-2000 in 2001.

12. Don't Think Twice, It's Alright - At Budokan - 1978

As in 1974, Bob Dylan's 1978 Tour of Japan ended up less effective than the shows that preceded or followed it. The concerts from the early part of 1978, which were cataloged on At Budokan, were characterized by stilted over-embellished arrangements, and fans are still awaiting a release covering the year's later dates. "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright" is one of the album's successes, though - the 1962 classic had only been performed previously as an acoustic solo track, but it's inexplicably reinvented here as a reggae song. Interestingly, At Budokan was originally intended only for Japanese audiences as a souvenir of the tour; it was only after requests by Western fans that Columbia released the album outside of Asia.

13. Isis - Biograph - 1975

"Isis" is one of fans' favorite songs from Desire and the Rolling Thunder Revue tours. A version would be included on The Bootleg Series Volume 5: The Rolling Thunder Revue - 1975, but the best rendition published by Sony/Columbia appeared on 1985's Biograph. A film of that performance, from a 1975 Montreal concert, also appeared in 1978's Renaldo & Clara and as a bonus DVD included in 2002's The Bootleg Series Volume 5.

14. Girl from the North Country - The Bootleg Series Volume 13: Trouble No More - 1981

Many songs were reimagined by Bob Dylan and his band throughout the 1981 tour, but few were as profoundly successful as "Girl from the North Country." The song had typically been performed as a solo acoustic track in the 1960s and 1970s, but an organ-oriented arrangement had debuted in 1978. Once the song returned to Dylan's setlist in 1981, it had become a fusion of these two styles.

15. The Groom's Still Waiting at the Altar - From His Head to His Heart to His Hands - 1980

"The Groom's Still Waiting at the Altar" was written in 1980 and performed five times on the Fall 1980 tour, after which it would never again be played live. The arrangement from 1980 is slower than the one eventually released on a re-release of Shot of Love in 1985, and has a largely unique set of lyrics; even the chorus is different! Dylan frequently featured guest guitarists on his 1980 live performances of the song, including Carlos Santana, Jerry Garcia and Michael Bloomfield. The latter recording was released on a 2014 Michael Bloomfield retrospective, and is the one I've decided to include on this DIY Playlist. Bloomfield's powerful guitar improvisation manages to elevate the already-exceptional song to incredible new heights.

16. Pressing On - The Bootleg Series Volume 13: Trouble No More (Disc 2) - 1979

Bob Dylan has never sounded more like a traditional gospel performer than in "Pressing On," which closed most of his concerts from 1979 to early 1980. Unlike the version that would be released on 1980's Saved, the live arrangement builds gradually and is largely a duet of piano and vocals. The lyrics are inspired by the Gospel of John 6:30 and the Gospel of Mark 6:11.

Volume Two

01. Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You - The Bootleg Series Volume 5: The Rolling Thunder Revue - 1975

This song opened he Bootleg Series Volume 5: The Rolling Thunder Revue, but never actually opened a show on the 1975 tour represented by that album. It was instead performed about halfway through Dylan's first set. In fact, according to Clinton Heylin, the cheers from the audience when the words "rolling thunder" are sung have been overdubbed as well. Despite being something of an artificial construction, the song is outstanding as an introduction to what comes after.

02. Down in the Flood - Rock of Ages - 1972

This is another of the four songs played by Bob Dylan and The Band at their New Year's Eve 1972 show, and is every bit as good as "When I Paint My Masterpiece." Unlike that recently written song, it's a funky rearrangement of a Basement Tapes track from 1968. The horn section is a lovely addition, and makes the song's appearance here one of its most effective outings despite Dylan and The Band not being entirely in sync on their harmonies.

03. Love Minus Zero/No Limit - At Budokan - 1978

"Love Minus Zero/No Limit" received a jarring, flute-oriented arrangement on the 1978 tour. It would end up being played primarily in the Spring, disappearing from the setlist later in the year, and I suspect much of this is down to the constricting of the singer's vocal capacity as the long tour went on. This weird arrangement would prove to be something of a one-off, and the song would return to being played as a more stately ballad in later years.

04. One More Cup of Coffee - The Bootleg Series Volume 5: The Rolling Thunder Revue - 1975

The studio version of "One More Cup Of Coffee" that was released on Desire is one of that album's highlights, but the song would only grow in stature throughout the 1975 Rolling Thunder Revue tour. In particular, Scarlett Riviera has the opportunity to improvise extensively with her violin and Dylan renders his vocals more adventurously on-stage than he had when laying down tracks for Desire. The song would go on to be rearranged with bongo accompaniment in 1978 and occasionally as a dark rock ballad on the Never-Ending Tour, but the strangest rearrangement would be the song's appearance in 1976 as an acoustic guitar/violin duet.

05. Seven Days - The Bootleg Series Volume 1-3 - 1976

"Seven Days" was never recorded for an album, but was instead used as a performance piece at several shows in 1976 before being offered to Ron Wood for the 1979 album Gimme Some Neck. It was played by Wood at the Bob Dylan's 1992 30th Anniversary Concert and was revived again on the Never-Ending Tour in 1996. The lyrics never seem to have been completely nailed down, humorously enough.

06. When You Gonna Wake Up - The Bootleg Series Volume 13: Trouble No More (Disc 1) - 1981

"When You Gonna Wake Up" is not a particularly appealing song in its studio guise on Slow Train Coming, but would become a centerpiece of the singer's concert setlists throughout 1979 to 1981 and then again in 1984. During that time, it would evolve from a heavy gospel track to a percussive arrangement in 1981 (included here) to a rock ballad in 1984. Its lyrics would also be revised, though only the 1984 version features a significant overhaul. The song made its final appearance in 1989 as an inexplicably piano-oriented one-off but the lyrics to that performance are unclear.

07. When He Returns - The Bootleg Series Volume 13: Trouble No More (Disc 1) - 1979

Though many of Bob Dylan's gospel compositions feature backing vocals and a loud band, a handful are quieter. The core ballad of this period is Slow Train Coming's closing track, "When He Returns." The song was intended to be recorded by Dylan's backing vocalists without his participation before being attempted as a full-band arrangement and then finally captured as a vocal/piano duet. Fans are lucky that it was not abandoned, given that it underwent such a radical evolution in the studio, and it the song would go on to become a major showpiece for Dylan's vocals throughout 1979 and early 1980.

08. Highway 61 - Before the Flood - 1974

The song is a title track to one of Bob Dylan's most significant albums, but "Highway 61" would very rarely be performed on-stage prior to 1984. Indeed, the only tour on which it regularly appeared was 1974's tour with The Band. The arrangement plays to that tour's strengths, featuring a powerful rock sound and expressive, energetic vocals. Unlike its debut at 1969's Isle of Wight, this rendition features God's request for Abraham to "kill [him] a son" rather than "give [him] a son".

09. It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry - The Concert for Bangladesh - 1971

From one Highway 61 Revisited track to another! This one is toned-down, however, rather than being blown up as its predecessor had. Dylan is backed here by George Harrison and Leon Redbone at the Concert for Bangladesh. The song is a stripped-down take on the arrangement featured on the published Highway 61 Revisited rather than the energetic arrangement that the song would have on-stage at Newport in 1965 or in its early studio rehearsals.

10. Slow Train - The Bootleg Series Volume 13: Trouble No More (Disc 1) - 1979

"Slow Train" is the title track from Bob Dylan's 1979 album, and would be played in concerts regularly from his first show in 1979 until 1989. It would undergo a number of major rearrangements during that time, if not rewrites like "When You Gonna Wake Up," but the version I've included here is very similar to the studio version. Improving on the basic studio take, it features appropriately apocalyptic vocals and blazing lead guitar by the characteristically-reserved Fred Tackett.

11. Shelter From The Storm - Hard Rain - 1976

Bob Dylan tried playing slide guitar on-stage for the first time in 1976. The results could have been disastrous, but Dylan's messy style befits the reckless approach to Blood on the Tracks' beloved "Shelter from the Storm." Like "Oh Sister," this song includes some biblical allusions that perhaps unintentionally point towards the gospel tracks recorded in 1979 and 1980. It is arguably closer to the singer's compositions from late 1980 and 1981, in which the secular has begun to blend with more overt religious references. Whatever the case may be, Bob Dylan's vocals when playing this song on his 1976 tour are among the very best in his long career.

12. In The Summertime - The Bootleg Series Volume 13: Trouble No More (Disc 2) - 1981

This song is something of a brief, apparently throwaway track on 1981's Shot of Love, but I'm quite fond of its live performances. The harmonica from the album version is absent, but the vocal passion is palpable in every line. Dylan unfortunately flubbed a few lyrics in the version included on Trouble No More, but his vibrato performance is an uncharacteristic vocal flourish that would not often be replicated. More than almost any other song aside from "Caribbean Wind," "In The Summertime" represents the coalescence of sacred and secular that formed the identity of Dylan's 1981 output. Surprisingly, the song would briefly be revived on tour in 2002 with backing vocals by Larry Campbell and Charlie Sexton

13. A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall - The Bootleg Series Volume 5: The Rolling Thunder Revue - 1975

Contrary to its origins as an apocalyptic poem set to an acoustic guitar, Bob Dylan played this song as a Muddy Waters-influenced blues-rock track with the Rolling Thunder Revue in 1975. It would revert to a more standard arrangement in 1976, but its versatility had been established. By 1981 it had been rearranged again, though it would never be played in as idiosyncratic a style as it was in 1975.

14. Caribbean Wind - The Bootleg Series Volume 13: Trouble No More (Disc 2) - 1980

"Caribbean Wind" is often seen as the singer's great lost masterpiece. It faced an odyssey in the recording studio, being rearranged multiple times before being abandoned entirely. In the midst of this transition, it was played a single time on-stage at the request of author Paul Williams in Fall 1980 after Dylan showed him the lyrics backstage. Fans were blessed with the most effective version (of the four circulating as of Summer 2018), though the singer appears to have been less happy with it - he mused afterwards that "I don't know if we did that any good. I don't know if we got off or not." In spite of Dylan's reservations about the performance quality, the song is absolutely transcendent in its single live appearance. As a bonus, please listen to the song's fascinating introduction in which the singer muses about Leadbelly and fan response to musicians' changing styles; this was not included on Trouble No More due to an error in the soundboard recording.

15. Idiot Wind - Hard Rain - 1976

The brutality of "Idiot Wind," originally recorded in both acoustic and electric arrangements for 1974's Blood on the Tracks, was most clearly conveyed by the versions played on tour in 1976. The acoustic version had foregrounded the song's sadness more than its anger, while the electric studio version lacked the raw power that could be produced by a large band on-stage. At the same time, the lyrics have been re-written to lean into the singer's rage at the song's target. The live track closed out 1976's Hard Rain, and I can think of no way better to close out the main portion of this DIY Playlist. It's a ten minute roller-coaster ride that's worth every moment.

16. It's All Over Now, Baby Blue - The Bootleg Series Volume 5: The Rolling Thunder Revue - 1975

Finally, this acoustic track functions as something of a palette-cleanser after the intensity of what came before. Dylan's shows throughout the '70s tended to be characterized by power and aggression, but a couple of songs were played most nights in an acoustic guise. These were often intensely expressive, featuring some of the singer's warmest vocals since his early folk days in New York City. In many cases, they come across as more naked and honest than even those early recordings. This performance of "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" manages to convey a very different sense of weary meaning than the wild, experimental renditions played in 1966 - it's incredible that a singer can totally reinvent the sound of a song while still only using his voice and a guitar.

That bold sense of reinvention is, of course, the key through-line in Bob Dylan's career from 1971 to 1981. There would be experimental period before and after, but these ten years feature the singer at his most adventurous, exploring various genres and arrangements without regard for what came before. I hope you enjoy listening to the resulting live performances as much as I do!

With regard to fades and volume, this one is something of a mess. Several of these albums feature songs that flow from one into the next, as if it was a complete concert - consequently, the transitions on the playlist will be jarring. Additionally, some songs are louder or quieter than others: "The Groom's Still Waiting at the Altar" and the Bootleg Series Volume 5 & Hard Rain tracks are quite loud, while the Biograph recordings and the Bootleg Series Volume 13 tracks are quieter. You can alter these in a sound editor (I use Audacity), or simply keep one hand on the volume button. Until next time, keep yourself healthy and listen to some good tunes.


PS: Happy Independence Day to American readers! Happy Wednesday to everybody else :)