The Supper Club Shows

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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.

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