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.