Dylan and Danko and Helm

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Dylan only performed live one time in 1982 and it was a bit of a disaster at the Peace Concert with Joan Baez. In 1983, he similarly only played live on one occasion and, I’m sad to have to report, it was no better.

On February 16, 1983 showed up at the Lone Star Cafe in New York for a concert by Levon Helm and Rick Danko, both now ex- of The Band. Helm and Danko did about ten old tunes by The Band (“The Weight”, “Don’t Ya Tell Henry”) and then welcomed their friend Bob onto the stage. For some reason this takes absolutely forever – I think Dylan was probably lost backstage somewhere. From the time that he is introduced to the time they begin to play, five long minutes pass.

Let me say one thing about the crowd at this show before I go any further: I hate, hate, HATE this crowd. It basically sounds like a bunch of drunk assholes. They yell, they hoot, they holler, one woman just starts shrieking uncontrollably for what seems to be an eternity. They yell out the names of songs. Boy, these people will make you never want to spend any time at all with anyone who likes the music of The Band. What I’m trying to say is: the tape is really awful, because these people are really awful.

Yet the tape is really awful for other reasons as well. Dylan joins Danko and Helm for five songs. It seems perfectly clear that none of these were rehearsed, or, indeed, even discussed beforehand. They start with “Your Cheatin’ Heart”, which actually sounds mostly like the crowd is singing along to because none of the three of them will take the lead on it. After some more screaming from the crowd they start “Willie and the Hand Jive”. This is a mistake, because it is a request from the crowd and that only emboldens the crowd, who now start yelling out the name of every song The Band ever performed, and many others besides. “Blues Stay Away from Me” is then given the same butcher’s treatment. I’m not one hundred per cent convinced all three of them are playing in the same key, but it hardly matters.

Right now you’re thinking, “Oh, he’s exaggerating for effect”. How bad could it be? Well, listen to this. It’s “Ain’t No More Cane” (ostensibly). This is the best song of the five that they did that night, if you use the standard of “does it actually sort of sound like a song?”. You listen to it, I can’t any more.

For the record, the final song is “Going Down”. From the photos it looks like everyone had a good time. I’m sure that there are people who were there who still tell the story about that epic night in 1983 when Bob Dylan walked onstage at a small bar in New York, and they’ve convinced their friends and neighbours that it was a highlight of their lives. They’re all lying. It was a crap set. And the people who try to tell you otherwise are probably the same ones who spent the whole time screaming “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down!”

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