Dylan and the Stones

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In 1995 Bob Dylan played a remarkable, astounding 116 concerts. This topped even 1978 for his most prolific year on the road. He did five distinct tours, and even a couple of, I don’t know, sub-tours? within them. For instance, in June he played as the opening act for five Grateful Dead shows at big arenas on the east coast. He didn’t appear onstage with them – I guess everyone had already figured out that that was a bad idea. More interestingly, on July 27 Dylan opened for The Rolling Stones in Montpellier, France.

This was Dylan’s shortest concert of the year – just nine songs and about an hour long. It is more rock and roll than many of his other shows of the year. I haven’t listened to enough of his shows to say that it was among his worst, but it is certainly not among his best (about which more in a couple of days). I think my enjoyment is at least somewhat hampered by a bootleg where the audience never shuts up – they were clearly there to see the Stones.

About whom. Dylan has interacted with the members of the Stones frequently during the course of this blog. Ron Wood, obviously the most, but also Keith Richards (Live Aid most memorably) and Mick Taylor for an extended period of time as his lead guitarist in the 1980s. Dylan had far less (public) contact with Mick Jagger and Charlie Watts, at least as far as I have noted.

The public collision of the two-1960s forces was, of course, inevitable. The Stones, well known for their covers, probably had to eventually cover “Like A Rolling Stone”, even if it wouldn’t be good. In 1995 they were on one of their many comeback tours, the Voodoo Lounge Tour (which actually began in 1994 but was still going by summer 1995). At the time it was the highest grossing tour in music history (it has subsequently lost that record many times over, including once to themselves). They did 129 shows in 13 months, which is a Dylan-esque pace!

So, in Montpellier the two acts came together. Partly this seems to have been so that they could record a music video. The Stones released an album, Stripped, that included live songs from the tour as well as some new versions of their back catalogue. The album included a cover of Dylan’s song. This was mostly a waste of time. It seems like it is going to be a good idea, but the version is almost totally forgettable. The best thing about it, by far, was the (at the time) highly unusual camera work in the music video (starring Patricia Arquette!), although even that falls into the “seen it once, seen it a thousand times” category.

At the show in Montpellier, Dylan returned to the stage after his short opening set to perform “Like A Rolling Stone” with Jagger and the boys. Jagger and Dylan alternate verses on the song. As is so often the case whenever anyone sings with Dylan, it just doesn’t work out. It is all a bit of a muddle. The best part is Jagger’s French in the introduction, after that it is all downhill.

I don’t have any video of this performance. You can wait a couple of weeks – in 1998 Dylan will open for the Stones again during their tour of South America and there’s video of this duet at that time. Warning: Do not get your hopes up.

To give the Stones some credit, they do the aging rock star thing better than Dylan does. Dylan’s best 1995 shows are the ones where he’s in a smaller venue, and where he is doing the country thing. I think he has some unbelievably great shows in 1995.  But the big stadiums, and the full rock and roll sound generally eludes him. The Stones might have been a fraction of what they were at their peak, but in some moments they can still go.

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