Dylan Live (1991)

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Bob Dylan performed 101 shows in 1991. I don’t think that many of them were particularly acclaimed. He did tours of Europe twice, of the US three times, and of South America (his second trip to that continent). I didn’t listen to an awful lot of this music but I did want to highlight two things.

First, on 17 October he played at the “Leyendas de la Guitarra” shows in Seville, Spain. These were a series of five shows intended to hype Seville’s Expo 1992 the next year. The shows were held over five consecutive nights, and featured the talents of BB King, Les Paul, Robbie Robertson, Steve Jones and many others. The idea of Bob Dylan playing this show, particularly after that performance with Kinky Friedman, is utterly bizarre. Dylan was always a competent to good guitarist. He can get things done, but he clearly knows his own limitations. If you watch him play live, he doesn’t do an awful lot, and he leaves things to Mick Taylor or Robertson or GE Smith to carry the heavy load on guitar. By 1991, it seems, his skills seemed to be in decline.

It is clear that Dylan was actually invited note as a guitar legend, which he is not, but to play with those legends. Joe Cocker and Rickie Lee Jones also appeared as vocalists. I guess most people can’t handle all that guitar without some singing.

The show itself was odd. It was done in a relay fashion, with people moving on and off the stage. Dylan played “All Along the Watchtower” with Phil Manzanera and Richard Thompson, then Manzanera left. Dylan and Thompson played “Boots of Spanish Leather” (terrible), “Across the Borderline”, and “Answer Me” (none too good), before Thompson left the stage and was replaced by Keith Richards. They did “Shake, Rattle, and Roll” (you don’t want to know) and then Dylan left and Richards continued.

It’s not a show worth catching (for the Dylan part, at least). Apparently it was broadcast in hundreds of countries, but I don’t think that I ever heard anything about it.

Second, Dylan performed eight shows at the Hammersmith Odeon in London in February. This was the second year in a row that Dylan had done a residency in London, and it was one time too many. He had a new band this year, and the shows were not well received. I have an interesting single CD bootleg that contains a selection of the songs that Dylan performed acoustically during those shows (mostly not solo, acoustic with a backing band). These aren’t so bad, for the most part – there are a couple of real clangers. Listening to it I found myself wishing that Dylan would just have gone in this direction. It is the acoustic material that gets the best reaction, and, to my ears, they were the strongest performances. He never did that, really, though. There will be some gestures in that direction to come – including MTV Unplugged – that will win him some acclaim, but he never gives up the idea that he should be leading a big, raucous rock band. Too bad.

Here’s a live acoustic “It Ain’t Me, Babe” from Linz in 1991. It’s pretty good.

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