A little postscript to the Supper Club shows. At each of those four shows, Dylan and his band did “Forever Young”. Two nights after the last of those shows they turned up on Late Night with David Letterman for Dylan’s third appearance on that show playing this new version. If Dylan’s first appearance had been one of his most interesting ever performances, and his second was an absolute disappointment, this was a triumph.
You may have to be on Facebook to be able to click through to watch this, but it is totally worth it. Dylan sings beautifully, and the instrumentation is lovely. The slide guitar (by Bucky Baxter) works wonderfully, and about three minutes in Dylan plays a great solo. You can see Paul Schaeffer playing organ in the background, but it’s tough to make it out. For the most part, this is another tease of how Dylan might have sounded had he opted to tour his old material with a toned down band and acoustic guitars. Sadly, it was not to be. But this is a great performance of this song.
I spent most of this week listening to the same four recordings. I missed out on listening to any of Dylan’s 1993 US tour with Carlos Santana (some days Dylan headlined, some days he opened; they never played during each other’s sets) and the European tour and everything else. Instead I became somewhat fixated on November 16 and 17, when Dylan performed four short concerts at New York’s Supper Club.
These shows took place just after the release of World Gone Wrong (which came out in October). Dylan performed with his touring band (Bucky Baxter, John Jackson, Tony Garnier and Winston Watson) for an intimate series of acoustic sets that were professionally recorded and filmed at Dylan’s expense for a television special that never happened. There are countless bootlegs of this material. The ones that I have are the “Genuine Supper Club Shows” and they seem excellent to me. Given how well these shows were recorded I would expect most of the bootlegs are pretty comparable. I also would not be at all surprised if they eventually show up as part of the Bootleg Series. They probably should.
Over the course of four one hour long shows, Dylan performed nineteen different songs. Three of these, “Ring Them Bells”, “Forever Young” and “Queen Jane Approximately”, appeared in each of the four sets. The last of these was somewhat surprising, because Dylan had only performed this song a couple of dozen times in his life before this – it was not at all a common song in his rotation. He does a beautiful version of it here:
Other songs from the shows included some of the recently released traditional pieces (“Jack-A-Roe”, “Jim Jones”, “Delia”, “Ragged and Dirty”, “Blood in My Eyes”) and classics like “One More Cup of Coffee” and “My Back Pages”. Not everything works – I don’t like the phrasing on “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” – but some things are fascinating (“Tight Connection to my Heart” from Empire Burlesque is stripped of all the bullshit). If you’re the type of person who likes Good As I Been To You and World Gone Wrong, these are very tantalizing shows, suggesting a direction that the touring Dylan might have taken in 1994. Sadly, it’s not to be – he tours relentlessly in 1994 (most shows since 1979) – but is back to a full band sound.
These would have been tremendous shows to have attended live. I don’t know how many people the Supper Club holds, but I’m guessing it is not that many. These shows seems to be one of the real high points for Dylan in the 1990s, and they are the shows that I had been most looking forward to since the beginning of summer. They’re a sort of frustrating tease of a Dylan era that might have been.
Dylan will sort of return to this terrain with his MTV Unplugged show in 1995, although I do think that these shows were stronger. Hopefully they will get a full-fledged official release, although they’re easy to find on the web. Here, for example, are both November 16th shows as a single stream.
These four shows have been my favourite Dylan thing in weeks and weeks. I love these shows.
The problem with writing about Bob Dylan is that I can’t write as well as Bob Dylan. When you pause to consider what you might say about an album like World Gone Wrong, don’t make the mistake of reading the liner notes, because it will freeze you dead in your tracks. These liner notes can’t be topped by way of explanation.
World Gone Wrong, released in 1993, was a sort of sequel to Good As I Been To You. Recorded in a very similar fashion in his garage, without any over-dubbing or accompaniment, the album was the last on his then current contract with Columbia, and after it he was a free agent. Although it didn’t do much business (peaking at #70), it did win Dylan another Grammy for Best Traditional Folk Album in 1995 (neither Wikipedia nor the Grammys website lists the other nominees, which is pathetic when you think about it – it was the big year for Alanis Morissette and Hootie and the Blowfish won Best New Group. Yikes!).
World Gone Wrong is actually more of a blues album than a folk album. It is considerably darker in its song selection than was Good As I Been To You. I like it considerably better than its predecessor, particularly “Blood in My Eyes”, “Jack-A-Roe” and the title track. It is a tired sounding album, deliberately so. The rumour is that all the songs were recorded without even a single change in guitar strings. It isn’t polished (it is an anti-Jeff Lynne album), and there are even some bum notes that most people would have cleaned up and polished off. The album is probably all the better for those minor miscues. Dylan is starting to sound like he’s being recorded in the fields by Alan Lomax, which may be what he wanted.
Dylan had been criticized on Good As I Been to You for not properly citing his arrangements of traditional songs, and a series of disputes arose. That album had very little information, but this one has epic liner notes written in a style that would have been at home in Dylan’s records from the 1960s. “Broke Down Engine”, he says is about “the fortunes of the privileged elite, flood control”. “Stack A Lee” is “not some egotistical degraded existentialist dionysian idiot, neither does he represent any alternative lifestyle scam”. “Blood in My Eyes” and “World Gone Wrong” are credited to the Mississippi Sheiks (who also did “Sitting on Top of the World”, which Dylan recorded on Good As I Been To You).
After this album came out Dylan was without a recording contract for a few months,and explored some options before eventually signing a new ten album deal with Columbia (which he is presumably still on, because he hasn’t released ten albums since this one). He won’t release a new studio for four more years, when he gets back together with Daniel Lanois for his next career reviving album, Time Out of Mind.
I think that this may be my favourite Dylan album cover, by the way. What a photo!