Comrades From The NorthWell, we should all have realised by now that there is always room for a surprise or two in the Dylan firmament. Just when it seemed like the live shows were becoming a little staid, perhaps, a trifle predictable maybe or somewhat ordinary possibly Dylan pulled out all of the stops for the Fall tour of North America. Not only did he abandon his guitar in favour of stand-up piano for the bulk of each show, he also shook up the set lists by adding a whole batch of new cover versions and some debut performances of some of his own stuff such as Bye And Bye (that's now all of "Love And Theft" done live) and Yea! Heavy And A Bottle Of Bread, no less. There really was a glittering array of covers including three Warren Zevon songs, an obvious acknowledgement to the singer-songwriter who is terminally ill. Two of these in particular, Accidentally Like A Martyr and Mutineer were never less than excellent. Neil Young's Old Man and the Stones' Brown Sugar became set regulars each faithful to the originals and both perfectly performed. Also creeping in to the list were Something, probably an homage to the late George Harrison and Van Morrison's Carrying A Torch, amongst others.
The introduction of the piano as Dylan's main instrument lent a vibrancy and punch to the shows and also had the added benefit of allowing Larry Campbell and Charlie Sexton more rein thus permitting them to decorate each song with guile and craft, something which was not always possible when Dylan was hogging the 'lead' work. The shows were uniformly excellent.
One negative feature of the shows was the continued use of the lengthy new stage announcement which introduces Dylan. It is really unworthy of Dylan to use this as it seeks to paint a pen portrait of the man - his achievements and difficulties. Dylan has always let his music do the talking on stage - the simple announcement worked and he does not need someone telling us he invented folk-rock or whatever.
Away from the touring there is still plenty of activity Columbia have released the next instalment of the Bootleg Series which plucks out some great performances from the Rolling Thunder Revue of 1975. In addition we were all waiting for two major new tomes to hit the shops. The first, the third edition of Dylan's Lyrics and the other the first volume in the autobiographical Chronicles series. In the event publication has been stalled for some time! Now plans are firming up for the tour to roll on to the Antipodes next February! If that weren't enough, there are plans to release the Halloween Concert 1964 as the Bootleg Series Vol. 6 in 2003!
There is a rumour that Charlie Sexton is about to leave the band at the end of the current tour and be replaced by Dave Alvin who did in fact play on two songs during 31 August show!
We've said it all before but there really is never a dull moment around Dylan these days and this year has been no exception. As we approach the close of it may we wish you all the very best for the festive season and a great New Year.
May you climb on every rung.
Mike and John
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