Bob Dylan - vocals, harmonica, guitar; John Jackson - guitar, backing vocals; Bucky Baxter - guitar, pedal steel, dobro, electric mandolin; Tony Garnier - bass; Winston Watson - drums
Recordings of the 13th concert of Bob Dylan's 1995 Spring Tour of the United States have been held in high esteem among Dylan collectors ever since the performance occurred, with direct line feed recordings rapidly making the rounds and eventually appearing under numerous illegitimate bootleg titles. Performing outdoors on the first night of the annual Laguna Seca Daze music festival on the beautiful Monterey peninsula, Dylan headlined an impressively diverse quadruple bill that featured opener Beth Hart followed by te Black Crows and George Clinton & te P-Funk All-Stars (also available here in the Concert Vault). Here we present the unedited Bill Graham Presents soundboard master recording of Bob Dylan on May 27, 1995, performing before a highly charged up general admission audience.
At this point in time, Dylan's "Never Ending Tour" band was in its ninth permutation, and featured John Jackson, Bucky Baxter and Dylan himself as the primary soloists backed the agile rhythm section of Tony Garnier and Winston Watson. This particular lineup had become Dylan's most enduring band to date, with well over 200 performances to their credit. Their unique seasoned chemistry had provided Dylan the opportunity to further pursue his electric guitar work more than any previous group. As a result, his musicianship and resonance as a guitarist became another integral facet of his live performances.
This performance is a prime example of Dylan's wide awakening as an electric guitarist, and while he never strived to be a virtuoso, he was proving to be a creative player with plenty of emotional resonance. Even though this tour featured a framework set list and basic format of electric set/acoustic set/electric set, Dylan was featuring a wide array of material, spanning nearly every era of his career. Yet nothing sounds dated, as Dylan's songs were continually evolving and that air of unpredictability was, and remains, an important part of the "Dylan in concert" equation—right up to the present day.
Following the introduction, Dylan and his band present a highly charged electric set with Dylan's vocals clear and focused. It begins with Dylan sans guitar, just standing at the microphone with harmonica in hand, as the group kicks it off with the Basement Tapes-era gem, "Crash On The Levee (Down In The Flood)." This is an attention-grabbing opener, with Dylan biting into the lyrics and the band providing muscular backing. The remainder of this first electric sequence vacillates between the blues and rockers, with a slow evocative reading of "Simple Twist Of Fate," breaking things up midway. For the rockers, Dylan delivers a searing take on "All Along The Watchtower," as well as his collaboration with Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter, "Silvio." On the latter, Dylan is quite obviously engaged in singing these lyrics and his enjoyment is palpable. "Silvio" eventually builds to a veritable frenzy, surpassing the studio recording in every conceivable way. The blues-based number, "It Takes A Lot To Laugh," is more forceful than it's ever been, with a deep seductive sway to it. The "Tombstone Blues," which closes the first electric sequence, may be a bit sloppy but it seethes with an energy that can only be achieved when musicians are engaged and spontaneously creating. On all of these numbers, the guitar interplay between Dylan, Jackson, and Baxter is rarely less than exciting and often extraordinary.
A three-song acoustic set featuring early 1960s material exclusively quiets things down midway. Dylan begins with a nearly droning read on "Mr. Tambourine Man." Stripped of its bouncy melody and with a somewhat monotone vocal delivery, this is a challenging arrangement that is difficult to appreciate on first listen. However, repeated listening reveals interesting things going on here, particularly in Dylan's understated harmonica work and his lyrical imagery is as compelling as ever. Venturing way back in his catalogue, "Masters Of War" remains a chilling statement, but the most delightful song of this acoustic set is last, with a beautiful rendering of "To Ramona," here played in waltz time.
Following the only Bob banter of the evening, where he introduces his bandmates, the group continues in full electric mode with some fine newer material. First up is the rootsy rocker, "Seeing The Real You At Last," with Dylan again fully engaged, followed by an outstanding performance of "Every Grain Of Sand," one of Dylan's most lyrically significant songs. The clarity and instrumental balance on this exceptional recording allow listeners to enjoy all the nuances of Dylan's vocal in addition to the thoughtful interplay between the musicians. Less successful, yet still enjoyable is Dylan's set closer, a lilting read of the classic, "Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again." This doesn't stray too far from the original Blonde On Blonde arrangement and features particularly great work from Baxter, who skillfully recreates Garth Hudson-like organ washes using his pedal steel guitar. Dylan's almost non-stop guitar playing has been undeniably solid all night and he, Baxter and Jackson spark each other here as well, but overall it is an uneven performance of a much beloved song.
Not surprisingly, the audience roars its approval, giving Dylan a standing ovation and demands an encore. The group returns for a relaxed reading of "Knockin' On Heavens Door" that sways the set to a close, but not before two extended instrumental breaks that provide Dylan, Jackson, and Baxter one more opportunity to trade licks.
-Written by Alan Bershaw