Toad’s Place (1990)


Sometimes my wife thinks I’m deliberately torturing her with this project. That was the case this morning when I played, for the second time this week, a single Bob Dylan bootleg from 1990. It wasn’t that the show wasn’t good (actually, it was quite good), but that it was long. How long? More than four hours long. Some people have limits.

Dylan’s first concert of 1990 took place at Toad’s Place, a nightclub in New Haven, CT with a capacity of about 750 people (according to Wikipedia). Dylan and his band, who would do 92 more shows in 1990, were, as Dylan twice told the crowd “just working on the song endings” that night. Essentially, it was a live rehearsal in a bar with a very enthusiastic crowd. The show consisted of four sets totalling almost exactly four hours and fifty songs (the four CD bootleg that I have runs four hours and four minutes). I’m not sure how long the breaks were, but I’m sure that the audience was probably there around five hours or so. They were energetic all the way through.

It’s an interesting show. For one thing, Dylan takes requests. For another, the crowd is super amped (I’m sure the beer helped). When he plays “Stuck Inside of Mobile”, for example, the crowd enthusiastically sings along, even before he himself has started singing the words. He does a large number of traditional songs and covers of Leadbelly and Hank Williams and Kris Kristofferson. It just seemed like a really fun evening, and the type of show that, if you had been there, you would have talked about for a long time.

Dylan isn’t really known for his long shows. He certainly has done some back in the 1970s, but by this time he was also consistently running shows around ninety minutes long, so this was quite the exception. I remember back around this time, and earlier, my non-Dylan friends who were into Bruce Springsteen (someone who I never listened to at all) preaching the gospel of Bruce because his shows were so long and epic. I googled “Longest Springsteen Show” and it turns out that they seem to be citing his effort from Helsinki in 2012, which ran four hours and six minutes (33 songs). I would have guessed that he’d gone longer than that, and it seems like Dylan had him beat for almost twenty-two years. Not sure what to make of that.

Interestingly, Dylan actually covered Springsteen at the Toad’s Place show. If you’re going to go more than three hours, it’s probably obligatory to do Springsteen. He did a not very convincing version of “Dancing in the Dark”, which I’ve included below for its novelty value. There is something more substantial to be written about Dylan and Springsteen. Dylan is clearly a hero to Springsteen, but I’ve always sort of wondered about the relationship in the other direction. You could probably read way too much into Dylan’s half-hearted “Thanks, Bruce” after the man from Jersey inducted him into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and there are great anecdotes of Springsteen overwhelmed at meeting Dylan for the first time on the Rolling Thunder Revue. I dunno. I don’t think I’m the one with the knowledge or interest in Springsteen to write that piece.

Anyway, great show. Very loose and with a chatty version of Dylan. They sound just like a bar band, which was a good thing on this night.

Traveling Wilburys Volume 3



I’m not sure that quickly following Under the Red Sky with Traveling Wiburys v3 was such a good idea. The two albums were released within a month of each other at the end of 1990, and each was, in its own way, a disappointment relative to the album that preceded it. Just as Under the Red Sky paled in comparison to the near masterpiece that was Oh Mercy, Traveling Wilburys v3 was flat in comparison to the Volume 1 (there is, of course, no Volume 2. Some say that this was a George Harrison joke, others claim that Dylan and the band considered the widely circulating bootlegs to be Volume 2).

Traveling Wilburys Volume 3 demonstrates with absolute precision how great Roy Orbison was. Without Orbison there the band is fundamentally changed. As Orbison wasn’t primarily known as a song-writer, you can see that the songs themselves aren’t in decline here, but the presentation of them is. Jeff Lynne’s production tricks are all the same, the musicianship is rock solid, but the whole thing is just missing that one little thing, and that thing is Orbison’s voice. If you concentrate on a song like “Where Were You Last Night?” you can sort of will yourself into hearing where it should have gone.

To my ears, none of the songs on Volume 3 are as good as the best songs (the singles) from Volume 1. Some of the songs are actually pretty dreadful (“Cool Dry Place”) and others use production and musicianship to paper over ridiculously stupid lyrics. Here is the, I don’t know, ecological fable? that is “The Devil’s Been Busy”:

While you’re strolling down the fairway

Showing no remorse

Glowing from the poisons

They’ve sprayed on your golf course

While you’re busy sinking birdies

And keeping your scorecard

The devil’s been busy in your back yard

It’s no “Desolation Row”, that’s for sure. I do think that it’s funny that an album whose largest potential audience segment was middle-aged, middle-class white guys has an anti-golf song, I guess.

In general, this is an inoffensive album. I can’t imagine mustering the energy necessary to deride it, but there aren’t really any high points either. A song like “New Blue Moon” could have probably been amazing with Orbison singing it (it is really good without him). As Rebecca just noted to me, it sounds as if this is the backing track to the great Roy Orbison song that was never sung – it is missing the crucial piece, and when Dylan steps in to handle the lyrics, well, Dylan is no Orbison, as I’m sure he’d be the first to tell you.

It’s just sort of an unremarkable way to call it quits on the Traveling Wilburys idea.

Here’s “New Blue Moon”, which I think is the best thing on the album: