Live 1981



Were I not traveling this week and in day-long meetings, I might have broken my comments on Dylan’s 1981 tour of Europe and the United States into a series of posts, but I’m going to amalgamate a few things in order to produce a bit of a scatter-shot assessment of the 54-show tour. First off, this seems to be a pretty strong tour. Most of the European tours were recorded by Dylan’s own crew, which means that there are an awful lot of high quality bootlegs out there to choose from. The set list itself is not that much changed from late 1981 – opening with some gospel material before segueing into older material. By mid-July Dylan dropped the show’s opening with the back-up singers performing gospel music on their own. But the singing is still strong and the band is pretty consistently good for the most part.

A few shows seem particularly noteworthy here.

“I’m gonna try to play this”, Dylan tells his Boston audience.

On October 19, in Merriville, IN, Dylan replaced the typical finale (“Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door”) by inviting his childhood friend, Larry Kegan, onto the stage. Kegan, who was in a wheelchair from the age of seventeen on, sang Chuck Berry’s “No Money Down”. If that weren’t unusual enough, Dylan accompanied the performance on the saxophone. He does not play that instrument very well at all. Still, it was such a hit that they repeated it at the next show, two nights later, in Boston. The whole thing is sort of surreal. Dylan and Kegan were apparently friends from summer camp in Minnesota in the 1950s, and Dylan dedicated the album Street Legal to him. That’s a loyal friend. Here they are in Merriville:


At the November 10 show in New Orleans, from which the live version of “Heart of Mine” on Biograph is taken, Dylan plays his final (?) gospel song, “Thief on the Cross”. This is a song that he performs only this once, and which he never seemingly recorded. Clearly the born again phase is winding down by the end of the year. It’s actually a pretty good song.

Sadly, the last show of the European tour, in Avignon, France, is the most tragic of Dylan’s career. While the band plays the opening song, “Saved”, a fan falls into electrical cables and is electrocuted. With the stadium blacked out, Dylan and the band jam acoustically for a while, but in the darkness a second fan falls from a wall, and she also dies. Dylan apparently was not aware of any of this, as he and the band played a lengthy show after power was restored.

The final show of the tour, in Lakeland, FL on November 21, was one of Dylan’s longest up to that date: 27 songs, six of which were explicitly religious in tone. This would mark the end of Dylan’s touring for more than two years. He would play only one concert in 1982 and one in 1983, both times as guests of other musicians. He returned to the stage with a European tour in 1984 with Carlos Santana, but this is the end of the live bootlegs for a few weeks. Too bad. There are some real good ones here. I sort of became a little obsessed with them, frankly, hence the trivia dump that has been this post….

Here’s four home videos from the tour strung together seemingly randomly. I think the “Mr. Tambourine Man” is from Avignon based on the shirt. I know that the cover of Dave Mason’s “We Just Disagree” is from Merriville, since that was the only time he played it on that tour. I don’t know where the “Watered-Down Love” or “In the Summertime” are from, but I do know that the latter sounds a lot better here than it does on the album.