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Bob Dylan 971024 in Starkville, Mississippi
Humphrey Coliseum

Subject: Review of Starkville, MS - October 24, 1997
From: Bill Parr (William_C_Parr/
Date: Sat, 25 Oct 1997 12:22:16 -0400

First, of course, the set list (courtesy of Bill Pagel):

October 24, 1997
 Starkville, Mississippi
 Humphrey Coliseum
   1.   Absolutely Sweet Marie
   2.   If Not For You
   3.   Cold Irons Bound
   4.   You Ain't Goin' Nowhere
   5.   Can't Wait
   6.   Silvio
   7.   Stone Walls and Steel Bars (acoustic)
   8.   Tangled Up In Blue (acoustic)
   9.   Mr. Tambourine Man (acoustic)
  10.  'Til I Fell In Love With You
  11.  Blind Willie McTell
  12.  Highway 61 Revisited
  13.  Like A Rolling Stone
  14.  Don't Think Twice, It's All Right (acoustic)
  15.  Love Sick
  16.  Rainy Day Women #12 & 35

Now, song by song . . .

 October 24, 1997
Bucky comes out early for some last minute tuning, sans hat and jacket(I
think he wasn't wearing the jacket). Nobody seems to take any notice. I'm
still impressed with the guy. He's responsible with an astonishing amount
of the really choice sound which this band produces. Stay healthy, Bucky.
   1.   Absolutely Sweet Marie

Well, I've got pretty good seats. First row, not far from center. (Seat 5,
where 1 is most central. B side (Bucky Baxter side).)

No monitors in front, again. Nice - no view obstruction.

No opener, so at around 8:15 (didn't jot it down - I was too preoccupied -
lots of folks in attendance I knew, some only electronically and for the
first time meeting in person) the lights dimmed, Bob and the guys saunter
on stage (that's right - they didn't walk. They sauntered!) and "Ladies and
Gentlemen, . . . ."

Absolutely Sweet Marie. Haven't tired of this one yet. But, Barbed Wire
Fence would be a nice opener, I'd think. Maybe someday.

The voice (Bob's) is extremely low in the mix. Good energy, guitar work.

   2.   If Not For You

Nicely played. The voice is coming up in the mix. Is it Bob getting the
voice warmed up? Adjustments being made to the sound? Or are my ears just
getting tuned to the show? IN any event, the volume of the voice is
improving. Throughout the entire show, the guitars were VERY STRONG in the
sound mix.

   3.   Cold Irons Bound
Thank you. The first few notes came out, and the amount of recognition was
impressive. Folks from all around obviously knew what this one was, even
after only just a few notes.

Score: 1 live debut (but hold on!!! We're by no means done yet.)

But it wasn't JUST a live debut. The freshness in the performance is
obvious. Dylan is working with this song, smiling at the audiences obvious
recognition and appreciation. Bucky and Tony exchange knowing glances (I
imagine - Yep, the guy's enjoying himself on this one.).

What's the word? Magnificient! The atmospheric sounds may have originally
been partially crafted by Lanois jointly with Dylan, but they're there
tonight. It's not just work done after the musicians leave. They're
creating the sound. And I like it.

   4.   You Ain't Goin' Nowhere
Done well, as always. Very close to the version I heard this summer, I
believe in Wolftrap in August. (Don't have the, er, documentation with me
to verify this right now.) Have to check it when I get back home after
Jackson and Mobile.

By the way - when did Dylan last do the version of this with the McGuinn
reference in it? Anybody know?

   5.   Can't Wait
What! Cold Irons Bound was magnificient, and I was trying to imagine how I
could describe it to you. And decided that it just wasn't possible. And now
I have to talk about TWO LIVE DEBUTS on the same night. The voice was very
close to the version on TOOM. I think they played it a bit faster. Larry
Campbell adds some nice notes here - nothing flashly, just some solid
background. Dylan is definitely into playing lead tonight.

And, finishing up to lots of applause, we hear them crank up

   6.   Silvio
What can be said? This is a great concert song. So much superior to the
studio version. And it continues to evolve. There was some guitar work I'd
never heard them do the likes of before, about two minutes before the end.

   7.   Stone Walls and Steel Bars (acoustic)

Thank you, Bob. GOod work with the setlist. Thus far, selection has been
magnificient! Of course, wouldn't mind a Blind Willie McTell, maybe
Angelina, Caribbean Wind, . . .

   8.   Tangled Up In Blue (acoustic)
Listening to this, I think - the accomplishment of the composing and
performing artist may perhaps be approached by stopping to consider that
TUIB remains new after all these years. And that Dylan could and has
constructed wonderful setlists which have omitted TUIB, My Back Pages,
Tambourine Man, Blowing in the WInd, Times they are A' Changin', . . . And
these songs remain new, constantly being reinvented. To the point that TUIB
is virtually as new, as performed, as Cold Irons Bound was.

   9.   Mr. Tambourine Man (acoustic)
Which makes my point. The CONTROL on this song. Every word enunciated with
painstaking clarity. The controlled timing. This is a performance to
remember. Get the tape!

At this time, I'm emotionally exhausted. We've already heard two live
debuts, and splendid performances of TUIB and Tambourine Man, . . . How can
he keep this one from sagging toward the end?

  10.  'Til I Fell In Love With You
Well, there's your partial answer. Strongly and very enthusiastically
performed. THe highlight for me - the look on Bob's face as he sings the
very last phrase. (Almost the identical look to his face on Love Sick,
coming later . . .)

Three live debuts.

  11.  Blind Willie McTell
And here's more of the answer. Nicely done. Not enunciating well for the
first two lines, which has me worried. But then he recovers. He's still
doing that bit with taking a pair of lines (is that a couplet???) which
have, say, six words in each and delivering them as two and ten.

  12.  Highway 61 Revisited
Oh, yes - back into "rock concert time." With a vengeance. Attack of the
Killer Guitars is on.

The usual encore drill - Bob and the band leave with some waves to the
audience, the crew immediately comes on and makes some adjustments. Then
Bob and the band return.

  13.  Like A Rolling Stone
And start up again, where they left off. Strong rock. Dylan continuing with
lots of glances at lots of us in the first row (We've all been standing
since the band came on stage before Absolutely Sweet Marie.).

Dylan's enunciation is very good. Precision. Biting of those syllables.

  14.  Don't Think Twice, It's All Right (acoustic)
Nice, nothing special about Don't Think Twice tonight. Nothing wrong, just
nothing which I noted.

  15.  Love Sick
I had thought that surely, after three live debuts and already one acoustic
encore, we would not get Love Sick, even though it showed up across the
Atlantic. But, here it is. ANd that closing verse - Dylan loves it.

  16.  Rainy Day Women #12 & 35


Well, a strong, sturdy start to the fall U.S. tour.  I'm away from my
reference library, and hence am wondering - when did Dylan last debut three
songs live the same night? Surely Toad's Place qualifies. Now, of course
1979 was ALL live debuts on November 1.

So, the question:

What are the top Dylan shows in terms of number of live debuts? Only
counting live concerts - not extended rehearsals, . . .

But, my recommendation: If you haven't planned on catching Dylan on this
tour - repent!  Buy your ticket, book the hotel room, fill up the car with
gas, and catch up with the tour. Bill Pagel's page will, as always, give
you the full itinerary and ticket information. See you there - maybe
Jackson, maybe Mobile, maybe Tuscaloosa, maybe Knoxville.

Bill Pagel's page -

But you did all have that bookmarked, right?

Don't miss this tour.

Bill Parr

William C. Parr
Phone; 423-974-1631, email
Slow Train Coming Home Page

Subject: Starkville View From: DuncanHume ( Date: 26 Oct 1997 00:50:33 GMT Organization: AOL Bob took the stage at 8.15 wearing the silver grey suit and black tie that those of us who have seen recent shows will be familar with. No band changes. Absolutely Sweet Marie sounded sweet with Bob really singing clearly. The band tight and swinging. The house lights were kept up for most of Marie which I guess was not planned. A very smooth If Not For You with Bob pressing the words against the mike. The pre show expectation was of course for some of the TOOM material and third song we got it. Bob turned his back to us, spoke breifly with Kemper and off they went. The intro (that weird reverb) was suddenly in the air with Cambell crouching down, concentrating, Garnier in the with base, drums, and off it went. Cold Irons Bound. I kept trying to take everything in, in some kind of sensory overload. Bob delivered the lyric with what I can only describe as a staggering, swaggering confidence. It was truly breathtaking. You Ain't Going Nowhere followed, very tight, finishing acappella. Next new song. Can't Wait. Again Bob delivered the lyric with such force and clarity.It seems the new sound system they bought last year really helps things. No muddy vocal, but upfront, loud and strong. The songs twist/confession makes me smile.Silvio, pretty similar to the the previous performances. Providing the hard rocker against which Bob paints the acoustic set. Steel Bars seemed to miss a verse I think, bu very nice despite the incompleteness. Tangled built on it's self so by the time we got to "laces of my shoes" Bob was belting it out with gusto, playing with the pronunciation as only he can. Mr Tambourine Man was once again a thing of beauty, crafted, not thrown away. We almost got some harp but I don't think he could see the key letters on the pile of harps balanced on the monitor. He turned back to the guitar and gave us a wonderful solo instead. 'Til I fell in Love next up and again a real treat. No Lanois vocal trickery. Clear as a bell and sweeter for it. Great stuff. Blind Willie now has settled in to a groove which I for one am very happy with. The band seemed to coast through the song following Bob's lead. 61 the usual rocker, not very much pointing or gesturing to get the crowd going however, but everyone around me was having fun. Back after the customary two minutes with Like a Rolling Stone, a crowd pleasing Don't think Twice and back for Love Sick. I saw Love Sick in the UK a couple of times and think the UK versions were slightly better. Bob seemed to try and deliver the vocal more gently here so it was not quite as clear as the other TOOM songs we go tonight. Maybe my ears were playing tricks. Very very nice performance nonetheless. Rainy Day closed. Everybody enjoying it. I even saw a cop tapping his feet in time ! Duncan Hume
Subject: STARKVILLE MS, 24 Oct 97 - Before the Crash (Pt 1) From: Joe Cliburn ( Date: Wed, 29 Oct 1997 08:47:14 -0600 Foreword, forewarned & flameless: This is the 1st of two long IMHOs. If you want to read the setlist, consult the most excellent Bob Links page: (And I hope I got that right for *both* Bills P ;-) If you don't like long IMHOs, just go to the next post. Since one of the Bills P has already written a terrific, well-reasoned review of Starkville (and since I stood only a few feet from him during that show *and* since my opinions are tainted from lengthy discussions afterwards), it's difficult for me to start. But I'll try. Otherwise those who know no better will keep nagging me to death... There are concerts & there are concert experiences. For me, the shows in Starkville & Jackson was sort of an r.m.d. road trip. And some folks really went out of their way to make the parties & gatherings memorable. So... special kudos for the Starkville experience go to Jim T who arranged a pre-pre-concert gathering at a camp outside of Louisville MS. Jim's directions were easy to follow: turn at the 2nd dead possum, go past the graveyard & way down a dirt road. There were new faces to meet & familiar faces to greet, 10-12 folks, I guess: film-makers, musicians, nurses, local losers, refugees from the insane asylum, mathematicians, truckdriver's wives, you name it. Around 6PM the assemblage headed up to Starkville to the pre-concert gathering at an off-campus bar ("Cheers"). It isn't every day that I stroll into a strange bar & smack into the EDLIS Dylan & Christianity agent! Much matching of faces to email sigs was taking place & the bar was well-equipped with Red Stripe & Shiner Bock. After only a few minutes, it was time to follow-the-leader over to Humphrey Coliseum (a basketball arena) for showtime. Being widely known as an infrequent flyer, I became the beneficiary of an upgrade from cabin to 1st class & spent the evening on the rail directly in front of Bucky's little workshop. Thank you ev'rybody :-) In fact, the matchless Mr Baxter was sitting sans hat & coat at the pedal steel trying to tune or fix something before the show. (Later, the steel guitar would be removed temporarily from the stage for work.) To the left of Bucky's "usual" position was a vintage Vox Continental organ. The keys themselves were not visible to me, so I've no idea whether it was original or a hot-rod... Bucky disappeared backstage & the incense was lit. It was starting to smell like a Bob Dylan concert... There was little warning -- the houselights didn't dim until well into the 1st song -- when the announcer began the liturgy: "Ladies & gentlemen, please welcome..." So I don't get to use my favorite line about how the crowd began to stamp its feet. (Oops! I guess I did ;-) And there's the Bard, clad in the most ill-fitting stage suit I believe I have ever seen. I think Bill P described that adequately The band looked sharp: Bucky in a cool red-on-purple (?) suit & hat (Homburg?), Tony in brown suit & leather beret, Larry Campbell in black frock coat, Kemper fronting a great looking (and superbly utilized) kit. Bob enters from the center, moves pretty quickly to get his Strat slung on, steps to the mike, and... ABSOLUTELY SWEET MARIE - This is the 1st time I've heard this as an opener, but it compares with Drifter's Escape & Crash on the Levee for intensity & punch. Bob's voice is not tentative or low in the mix for me, but I'm a little closer to the monitors than Bill. And we're getting mostly monitor mix where we are... "To live outside the law you must be honest." This song is coming from the heart & gut! IF NOT FOR YOU - The #2 slot slow-down song. Done nicely with only a couple of muffed lead licks by Bob (the few I remember of the night). I always feel uneasy when those happen, altho I've never seen him unable to bail himself out. But we get thru the song intact, and Bucky's turning to the Vox organ. What is this? COLD IRONS BOUND - Oh. There are no superlatives sufficient for this! Somehow that "atmospheric" everyone attributes to Lanois studio wizardry is floating around the room, even down in the monitor mix. I begin to suspect Bucky's Vox is "loaded" -- perhaps a Roland or Ensoniq sampler stuffed inside -- but he doesn't play it again... Who knows? YOU AIN'T GOIN' NOWHERE - Bucky & Larry contribute to a 3-part high lonesome harmony & a great a cappella ending. This would translate well to the acoustic set, IMO. But there's barely time to scream & clap before an insistent, loping bass riff cranks up and... CAN'T WAIT - Oh. Oh. *Two* live debuts! Bob has us strolling through the lonely graveyard of his mind. This is better than the studio version. This will be a must-have tape! Until now, I haven't realized that this song is as psychotic as anything from 1965-66. This is a really scary song. Ominous sounding. I love it :-D My chin is in my hands, largely to keep it from hitting the floor. For recovery, the band begins a familiar bouncing... SILVIO - With the exit of John Jackson, this song is much less Dead-like. There is still the obligatory "space" solo break, where everything gets arrhythmic for a few moments, but it seems shorter than of old. Bucky & Larry shout harmonies on the chorus -- much more prominent than in the past. All the Jerry's Kids are be-boppin'. Happy. I, too, base my future on a helluva past :-) And it's time for the acoustic set. Bucky's pedal steel is removed from the stage. STONE WALLS & STEEL BARS - I knew to expect it, but I didn't know what to expect. This one punches out with an opening 3-part harmony! Wow! Nice. TANGLED UP IN BLUE - How come I never get tired of hearing this thing? Tonight doesn't sound much different from other times I've heard it, but it's totally new, fresh. MR TAMBOURINE MAN - Bill P commented on the precise enunciation on this song, the attention to lyric delivery. A perfect recitation but bloodless. Or maybe Bob was delivering emotion in crystalline form. I'll have to think about this. Hmmm... Anyway, you won't hear this done any better -- in Starkville MS on a Friday nite, a least ;-) It's been mentioned that Bob was seriously sweating by now. He was soaking thru that horrible suit & there was an ever-present drop hanging from the tip of his nose. He works his ass off, folks. Bucky's steel is toted back out front, and now it's back to the electric gee-tars... This sounds familiar, what is it? 'TIL I FELL IN LOVE WITH YOU - Oh. Oh. Oh my goodness! Three live debuts! This is an embarrassment of riches! I didn't much care for TIFILWY on TOOM, but this much better. Larry Campbell is stepping up with lead fills & duet riffs. At the end of this, folks are staring at each other in the audience holding up 3 fingers, stunned. And now, what is this thing Campbell is strapping on? A mandola? Oud? Mando-guitar? Uh-oh. BLIND WILLIE MCTELL - Count this as a live debut for Joe. Bobby slurs around the 1st verse but that hoot owl is clear as a bell & I can picture that young squire with his bootleg clear as day. I'm staring out that window along with Bob, it seems. The mandola (oud? mando-guitar?) added a neat texture to the sound -- east Texas lament meets tribes-a-moanin'. Bob's vocal might've been stronger, but heck, it's been a long nite & he's drippin' sweat like a bluesman in a barrelhouse. HIGHWAY 61 REVISITED - Bill called this attack of the killer guitars, which is accurate enough. A good rave-up, but nothing to compare with Birmingham last year, IMO. Tapes will tell. Anyway, Bob has played this at every show I've seen in the past 2 years (all 3 of them ;-) I guess I need to travel more :-D Time for the ritual Zippo break. They're right back out, Bucky insistently smoking while he steels his heart out for the first encore: LIKE A ROLLING STONE - They stand for the national anthem & everyone's standing now. The lead break changes rhythm briefly, it seems, very much unexpected by me & very much enjoyed. Then, another ritual bow, exit & re-entry for the acoustic encore: DON'T THINK TWICE, IT'S ALL RIGHT - Live debuts aside, this is the highlight of the evening for me. I've heard Bob do it before, but he's really enjoying himself with it tonight. The lyrics are delivered clearly & there's even a self-parody (or maybe a parody of Joan Baez doing *her* Bob-sendup? :-) The pickin' is sweet, too. Ritual trot out thru the curtains #3. I'm expecting... LOVE SICK - This was the only TOOM track that I really thought I'd hear. It sounded terrific - Bob certainly knows his songs well before he starts singing. In every case this evening, the new songs appeared to be well-recognized by the audience & superbly rendered by the artist. Bob seems really proud of these songs & it looks at times like the band is getting a real kick out of that. Which ups the performance incredibly. The wierd, slow build-up & fizzle-flop ending are rendered spotlessly. This time there is no ritual exit before they crank up that familiar descending scale. Which can only mean: RAINY DAY WOMEN #12 & 35 - The concert is over. The jokerman has left the arena. Folks scuffle for the cue sheets, scuttle for their cars. A few minutes later, I am leading several cars down Hwy 25 toward Louisville, guiding them to the campsite. I remained there only a few minutes, long enough to realize that I'd just heard the concert now playing on the stereo & that two guys were dousing a bonfire with gasoline near my truck. I dunno if they were planning to sacrifice a virgin or anything, but I certainly didn't want to sacrifice my GMC. (Someone else will have to comment on any social indiscretions & pagan rites that may or may not have transpired up the Highpoint-Weir Road ;-) For me, it's way past midnight & there's people all around... So back I headed to the motel to see what's cooking. What was cooking was snacks & late nite retrospectives with more rmders. What a treat! Those of us who for whatever reason can't travel widely for tours really appreciate those who can & who share their experiences. The soundcheck was playing in one room, when Highlands began -- no vocals & only 10-15 sec worth, but definitely Highlands. Oh my goodness gracious! The perfect ending to the beginning of a memorable weekend. As Rhett's girlfriend once said, tomorrow is another day. A really interesting day. I have no idea how interesting it will turn out to be. Before & after the crash. -- Joe Cliburn "Obviously, I'm not an IBM computer any more than I'm an ashtray." - Dylan
Subject: Review of Starkville (longish) From: Jim McWilliams (jmcwill@TROJAN.TROYST.EDU) Date: Thu, 11 Dec 1997 13:31:50 -0500 Hello, all-- I wrote this review for a few friends and have decided to share it with the list in general. I hope you enjoy it! Bob Dylan at the "Hump" Not long after driving into Lowndes County (yes, I get a thrill from the name), I see the first of many signs advertising palm readings. Should I stop in at one parlor to see if tonight I will hear any songs from Bob Dylan's new record, Time Out of Mind? After all, this show in Starkville, Mississippi, on the 24th day of October in 1997 will mark the first show of a tour following this record's release. I've spent the afternoon driving from Alabama to Starkville to see this year's homecoming concert at Mississippi State University. I decided to take the byways instead of the major highway so that I can listen deliberately to the new record and see the countryside. The unrelenting darkness of Time Out of Mind seems apt given the often bleak landscape rolling past my windshield: An ancient black man, his weathered face as stolid as those on Mt. Rushmore, stands at a crossroads. His half-closed, yellowy eyes peer at me from underneath the brim of his blue ball cap. Signs advertising Jesus surround me. Most are banal, but a few attempt to comfort or threaten, or to do both: LORD JESUS IS COMING. Only one Jesus sign has any sense of humor: CH RCH? WHAT'S MISSING? Cotton fields, looking so beautiful at first with white puffs decorating the low bushy plants, often stretch as far as the eye can see. When my mind turns to who used to pick these fields, however, their beauty sours. This is, after all, the land of Emmett Till. Small, white crosses, usually embellished with flowers or ribbons, occasionally poke from a steep hillside or peek from a culvert to mark where other travelers of the byways have perished. On this autumn day, under leaden skies with rain occasionally sprinkling my car, the countryside seems in black and white, like a television picture that you know ought to be in color. As I drive and listen to Time Out of Mind, my thoughts turn the surprise that I had felt three months earlier when I read that Dylan had a new record of original compositions coming out. I had taken quite seriously his pronouncement a few years back that he didn't intend to write any more songs, that the world already had more than enough songs. And so I thought that the canon was complete, from Bob Dylan to Under the Red Sky, from 1962 to 1990. I felt sorry that other writers didn't have the smarts to stop when they were ahead. Still, though, I savored the tingle of anticipation as I awaited the record's release. What would Dylan have to say? What has happened in his life, or in the world, to inspire him? And, even more on my mind on this day, how will this new record affect his shows? After unintentionally circling the campus once or twice, I finally find Humphrey Coliseum, what Mississippi State University students call "the Hump." Quite bluntly, it's one of the ugliest buildings--inside and out--that I've seen host a Dylan concert. While many of the buildings on campus feature a lovely antebellum style, this red-bricked monstrosity juts up like an inflamed pimple. Granted, its usual function is to host basketball games, and I suppose aesthetics are superfluous when baskets are tallied, but I know that its cavernous interior will be lousy for acoustics. As it turns out, though, my worries about the acoustics are irrelevant since my fourth-row seat is in front of the speakers, stage-left. Still, the appearance of the Hump's interior hardly captures the ambiance desired for a Dylan concert. In St. Louis, for example, Dylan typically plays at the Fox Theater, an old silent-movie house with chandeliers, thick velvet tapestries, and lush carpeting. An atmosphere like that certainly seems more conducive for a good concert than this pimple. The crowd files in rather slowly in the half-hour before 8 p.m., the scheduled show time. As usual, Dylan has attracted a mixed crowd, but many people tonight seem either to be tour veterans (typically, they are over forty and wear t-shirts from Dylan tours in the 1980s or early 1990s) or neo-hippies (they are usually in their colleg-aged and dress in Grateful Dead shirts). The youngest people that I see are thirteen or fourteen, the oldest are in their sixties. Seated to my right are two veterans who speak knowingly about what they expect the setlist to be, while on my left is a flock of neo-hippies. Directly in front of me is a couple who seem to be enjoying an early date in their relationship. Both are college-aged and quite attractive. To their left are a couple of frat boys and their dates. When I see the roadies taping the setlists in front of the microphones, and when I smell the patchouli incense that is always lit at a Dylan concert, I know that the show is about to begin. Sure enough, the house lights go down around 8:20 as shadowy figures take the stage and I hear, "Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Columbia recording artist Bob Dylan!" Vicariously through the internet, I had followed this summer's European tour, which culminated just a month earlier with Dylan's three-song set before the Pope, so I don't feel surprised that this first song is a rockabilly "Absolutely Sweet Marie," the song that had recently opened many of his shows. It's a favorite of mine, but tonight I'm struck by its lyrical similarity to the Time Out of Mind songs, even though its fast tempo is antithetical to the world-weary tempo of that album. Like those songs on Time Out of Mind, "Absolutely Sweet Marie" is about betrayed love. Specifically, the singer is left alone after Marie fails to release him, physically from the jail in which he has been imprisoned and, more significantly, from his loneliness. Dylan's line about the "riverboat captain" catches my ear because it very nearly describes his own appearance tonight: Along with a pale shirt and a black ribbon tie, he wears a light blue suit with black piping down the legs. I'm glad that he has forsaken the huge cowboy hat that he so frequently wears anymore since I like to see his bushy hair silhouetted when the lights dim between songs. On his feet he has black cowboy boots. His face is just as craggy as it looks in pictures, and the nose. . . . Well, what can I say about the nose? In profile, it looks just as it always has. Dylan has changed a lot physically over the years, sometimes assuming and shedding personae as neatly as most people change clothing, but that nose, especially in profile under his heavy-lidded eyes, has been a constant, the one feature that will always give him away. As I study the lines of his face, I hear the beautiful opening notes of "If Not for You." I had first heard Olivia Newton-John's version of this song in the early 70s and thought it was sappy, but George Harrison's version on All Things Must Pass (which I discovered in 1977 or thereabouts) I liked much better. I wouldn't hear Dylan's version for another decade, but, when I did, the urgentness of the lyrics got to the heart of the matter. While the song seems optimistic, the obsessiveness of the singer's need for his lady foreshadows terrible despair if she should ever leave:
If not for you, My sky would fall, Rain would gather too. Without your love I'd be nowhere at all, I'd be lost if not for you.
Indeed, on Time Out of Mind the sky has fallen. After these connections flash through my mind, and after Dylan acknowledges the applause with a soft "Thanks, ev'rybody," I hear the first surprise of the night. For eons, it seems, the third song of a Dylan concert has been "All Along the Watchtower," but he had inserted "Tough Mama" (another song about obsessive love) into the third hole earlier in the year. That thick, swampy bass line, along with spooky organ fills and slashing single-note guitarwork, that I hear, however, signals a Time Out of Mind song, one I don't recognize until the first line, "I'm beginnin' to hear voices," tells me that it's "Cold Irons Bound." While its theme is similar to that of "Absolutely Sweet Marie," the sound of "Cold Irons Bound" is much darker. As Dylan moans the lyrics, I recall the most perceptive comment that I've read about Time Out of Mind, a comment made by Dylan himself. He said in a promotional brochure about the album that he wanted to make "a performance record" i.e., a record in which the music complements the lyrics and sets up a mood. Dylan added that he intended to avoid "a poetic literary type of thing," and in this goal he succeeds since the lyrics of Time Out of Mind are as spare as possible. Where "Absolutely Sweet Marie," for example, gives us symbols to puzzle over ("trumpet" and "six white horses"), "Cold Irons Bound" more literally describes the agony that the singer feels following his lover's betrayal. With nothing shielding the pain of the lyrics, the emotional impact of this song is stunning. Immediately dispelling the gloom created by "Cold Irons Bound," though, are the jaunty opening steel-guitar licks of "You Ain't Going Nowhere." I have always loved this song, particularly the acoustic version on Greatest Hits, Vol. II, and so I feel fortunate to hear it tonight. I can't help smiling, both at how good the song sounds live and at how the pure exuberance of the lyrics captures so well the happiness of a blossoming relationship. In stark contrast to "Cold Irons Bound," "You Ain't Going Nowhere" assumes that love will be always be fresh, that lovers can always overcome any obstacles as they forget about wintertime:
We'll climb that hill No matter how steep When we get up to it.
Perhaps the song is unrealistic in its optimism, but people falling in love aren't realistic. For them, misery is but an idea. The next song, "Can't Wait," however, returns us to the misery of failed love. Skies that were blue in "You Ain't Going Nowhere" have now turned gray and portend stormy weather as the singer waits for his love to return. His wait will be futile, though, as he knows all too well. With only a brief pause for the applause to die away, the band then launches into "Silvio," always a crowd-pleaser with its furious pace. Dylan has played this song at nearly every show for a couple of years, and it typically serves as the first-set closer before the acoustic set. Tonight is no different. The first song of the acoustic set is the highlight of the night, an absolutely gorgeous "Stone Walls and Steel Bars." A brief narrative of a death-row inmate walking to the execution chamber, this song fits in well with tonight's theme of obsessive love since it's love for another man's wife that led the inmate to commit murder. Dylan's phrasing is perfect during the song as he softly emphasizes the word "you" near the end of each verse, "and you on my mind," thus indicting the cause of the prisoner's pain. The chorus,
Stone walls and steel bars, a love on my mind I'm a three-time loser, I'm long gone this time,
is beautifully done as Larry Campbell and Bucky Baxter join in, creating wonderful three-part harmonies. Baxter's mandolin-playing is superb, too, filling in the spaces around the acoustic strumming with a poignant, delicate touch. Quite simply, this song takes my breath away with its heartfelt emotion. My fellow audience members seem equally enraptured as there is a heartbeat of silence between the end of the song and their applause. The chiming guitar chords of the next song keep us applauding since they introduce "Tangled Up in Blue," yet another of my favorites. The song starts out with just the two acoustic guitars strumming and Dylan singing the first verse, but, as he stresses the last word of the chorus, "tangled up in bluuue," David Kemper gives a bass drum beat and Tony Garnier adds a fat bass lick. Then another half-second of strumming, followed by handful of snare taps and a thudding bass drum beat, and then we're off into another story of obsessive love, prodded along by a boogie rhythm set up by Kemper and Garnier. When I first heard the songs of Time Out of Mind, I immediately thought of my favorite Dylan record, Blood on the Tracks. I felt surprised, though, at the depth of the pain expressed by Dylan on his new record. I could understand his anguish on Blood on the Tracks (after all, Dylan had been married to Sara Lowndes for a dozen years), but what woman could have caused the anguish so evident on Time Out of Mind? After much reflection on my drive through the Alabama and Mississippi countryside, I finally decided these new songs must not be addressed to one specific person. Instead, I argued to myself, the new record uses the conceit of a man jilted by his lover to express how Dylan feels jilted by a world gone wrong, a world in which all is corrupt. Dylan's mature vision, then, is identical to that expressed by one of his forebears, Blind Willie McTell, whose unsparing visions also condemned this world. In a sense, Dylan's canvas has grown larger over the years as his songs have become less personal and more universal. Tonight, for example, in "Tangled Up in Blue," I not only recognize the song as a personal metaphor for Dylan's relationship with Sara, but I also hear a parable about the futility of finding happiness. Up next is "Mr. Tambourine Man," which, quite frankly, I'd hoped not to hear tonight since I've heard it so many times before. Many of my fellow audience members, though, are more casual fans and would probably be disappointed to see Dylan and hear neither of the acoustic chestnuts, "Mr. Tambourine Man" or "Blowin' in the Wind." I understand their feelings since, after all, I had seen John Fogerty's show just a few weeks earlier and would have felt very disappointed if he hadn't played "Born on the Bayou" or "Proud Mary" (he made me happy by playing both). Tonight's "Mr. Tambourine Man" is a good one, however, a slow version where Dylan seems to savor each line. Even though he has slowed its pace, the images still dart one after the other and, before long, my mind is filled by those phrases that I love so much: "your magic swirlin' ship," "vague traces of skippin' reels of rhyme," "just a ragged clown behind." Some in the crowd obviously know the song well, for, as Dylan delivers the line "to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free," they raise one hand, as their bodies sway and their voices echo Dylan's words. As always when I hear this song, I'm reminded that Dylan has become the character that he created in his song, that he is now our Tambourine Man who lets us "forget about today until tomorrow" as he sings onstage. Although I had inwardly groaned when the song started, by its end I feel it's one of the highlights of the show. The lights dim as the band puts away their acoustic instruments. Then I hear the swampy sounds of "'Til I Fell in Love with You," the third song tonight from Time Out of Mind. Garnier's bass pumps through the song, giving it a tough feel. The song's funky rhythm, however, is ironic given the lyric about betrayal and loss. In time, as the pessimistic images accumulate (houses afire, girls like birds flying away), the bass begins to sound ominous, like a predator stalking its prey. Again, as I have throughout this show, and as I had throughout the day when I listened to Time Out of Mind, I get a feeling that Dylan has a sense of mortality that he never had before. While his new songs were written before his heart trouble earlier in the year, I can't help but believe that he knows that his time may be running short. As these gloomy thoughts cross my mind, I hear a thin, otherworldly sound and realize that it's coming from Campbell's instrument, a bouzouki. I don't recognize the song for a line or two, but then I realize that it's "Blind Willie McTell." While I liked the cut on The Bootleg Series well enough, the starkness of tonight's version, emphasized by Dylan's broken voice, sends chills up my spine. Further accentuating the desolate mood are the bouzouki's high-pitched, sorrowful notes. Each individual line of the song stands out in my mind, the sum of each verse painting a picture of a fallen world too ignorant to see its rapidly approaching doom. While man wants to be successful, Dylan sings with resignation that
Power and greed and corruptible seed Seem to be all that there is.
As he sings the last few lines, his head slightly lowered, I see drops of sweat fall from his face, and I think back to the liner notes of Freewheelin', where a youthful Dylan somewhat dejectedly says that he can't "carry" himself like the blues singers that he admires so much. Tonight, I find myself wishing that that young man could have known how he would turn out. Indeed, Dylan now "carries" himself with the same authority that any of his idols had expressed. The stinging slide guitar intro of the next song gets the crowd excited, and I laugh as I realize that it's "Highway 61 Revisited," a song that could very easily be about the Mississippi and its people that I saw earlier today. The real Highway 61, in fact, runs through the Delta country just 100 miles or so to the west of here. The home of Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson, and all those blues giants that Dylan heard on the radio as a boy, the Delta might as well be Dylan's home, too, given his songs on Time Out of Mind. Tonight, "Highway 61" is the hardest rocker of the evening, its pace even more furious than that of "Silvio." After the deliberate pacing of "'Til I Fell in Love with You" and "Blind Willie McTell," "Highway 61" feels like a release. Even Dylan grins a few times, the only real changes in his expression that I've seen tonight, and does a half-shuffle dance step or two during the instrumental break. The back of his blue suit is now soaked through. When the song ends, Dylan bows once or twice before walking off-stage. And I hear one of the frat boys in the row in front of me turn to his friend and say, "This kicks ass." He adds a moment later that tonight's show is the second-best concert that he's ever seen, second only to Kiss earlier in the year. An image of Dylan in his kabuki face paint from Rolling Thunder days pops into my mind, but I shake it away as the interval is brief between "Highway 61" and the first encore song. Dylan could play just about any song in his vast repertoire in this spot, so I don't know what to expect. The lights are still down as Campbell strums his electric guitar idly once or twice, but then I hear the snare beat that introduces "Like a Rolling Stone." Most of the audience is happy to hear this song, although--like usual--their attempts to sing along quickly become frustrated. Tonight's version is slow, more self-reflective than bitter, and, quite honestly, I find it disappointing. Similarly, when I heard "Positively 4th Street" in St. Louis a few years back, I feel disappointed by its slow pace and lack of vitriol. While I certainly don't resent Dylan's reworkings of his songs in concerts (indeed, I often love his experiments in phrasing and tempo), I don't care for this revision of "Like a Rolling Stone." As the next song, a spirited acoustic version of "Don't Think Twice," begins, I see the young couple in front of me sway back and forth as they hold hands. Every so often they look at each other and smile; their affection for each other is obvious. And it takes me a minute before I realize the incongruity of this image with the lyrics that Dylan sings. Will one of them say "fare thee well" to the other some morning in the future? It seems inevitable, given Dylan's theme tonight. I wonder if they are even listening to the lyrics, or if they are so wrapped up in each other (and in the joy of seeing Bob Dylan perform) that they don't hear the pessimism about love running throughout tonight's show. Surely they know that the exuberance expressed in "You Ain't Going Nowhere" wears off, that springtime will end? During the instrumental break, my mind returns to the song's assured lyrics, and I'm struck by the thematic switch from the Time Out of Mind songs to "Don't Think Twice." In each of the former songs, a woman (the same woman?) has spurned the singer, leaving him with a feeling that his world has come to an end. To him, streets are dead, houses are burning, skies are weeping. This mood of intense loneliness and despair is relentless. But in "Don't Think Twice" the singer does the spurning. While it's clear that the break in the relationship has left him bitter, still this song reflects his self-confidence as he strolls out the door, a self-confidence that is lacking in the singer of Time Out of Mind. Both singers are strong characters (otherwise the Time Out of Mind singer would put a bullet in his head), but the singer of the earlier song has a carefree air about him, as do the singers of "It Ain't Me, Babe" and so many of Dylan's other early songs. Of course, if my idea that the "woman" in the Time Out of Mind songs is a metaphor for a fallen world, then the despair is certainly not misplaced. Still, it's an immense switch tonight from a world-weary, older man on the road "feelin' bad" to a high-spirited, young man unafraid to walk "down that long, lonesome road." After a five-minute break following "Don't Think Twice," the band returns with their electric guitars, and I hear the unmistakable "clock ticking" opening guitar notes of "Love Sick," the fourth song tonight from Time Out of Mind. Any doubt that I have had about Dylan's own opinion of his new record are dispelled as I search in my mind for the last time that he's played so many new songs at the first concert following a record's release. 1979 and Slow Train Coming? In any case, he is clearly happy with his new songs, eager to show them off to an appreciative audience. With "Love Sick," as with the other Time Out of Mind songs tonight, he seems to sing with an added intensity, his phrasing completing the emotion that the lyrics only begin to suggest. Whenever he sings "I'm love sick," for instance, his voice cracks a bit on the word "sick." Moreover, after the song makes clear the frustration and despair that the singer feels by his lover's betrayal, Dylan delivers the last line of the song with a softness that undercuts the bitterness of the previous lines and makes my heart go out to the singer:
I'm sick of love, I wish I'd never met you. I'm sick of love, I'm tryin' to forget you. I just don't know what to do. I'd give anything to be with you.
The guitars slowly fade with this last line, highlighting the singer's loss of hope. Dylan's masterful performance gets the standing ovation that it deserves. Again, Dylan and his band leave the stage, but they are back within minutes for a rollicking "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35." As usual in the past two years or so, the ringing steel guitar is a sign for the house lights to come up and for the audience to clap, dance, and sing along. Few of them understand the pun in the phrase "everybody must get stoned," and so they miss the point of the lyrics, but it doesn't matter since the song is the perfect way for Dylan to end a show, for now everyone will leave with a racing heart and a smiling face. Unlike some Dylan concerts that I saw a year or two earlier, however, security is tight and none of the college students are allowed to dance on-stage, which is just fine with me. When I saw Dylan mobbed in Louisville in May of 1996, I worried that the crush might hurt him. Tonight, the ending jam goes on for six or seven minutes, and then Dylan puts down his guitar and bows. After nearly two hours of majesty, this show has come to an end and it's time for Dylan to head on down the road to another joint--Jackson, Mississippi, in this case. Jim McWilliams
Fall Setlists