New Pony Records
Title for nov2403
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  • July 26, 1999 Tramps, NYC, NY
  • November 24, 2003 Hammersmith Apollo, London, UK
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Liner Notes

We’re near the end of Dylan’s October – November 2003 European Tour, concluding another year of nearly 100 concerts. Dylan stays close to his electric piano as George Recile and Freddy Koella, replacing David Kemper and Charlie Sexton on drums and guitar respectively, bring distinctly different tones to the band’s sound. Dylan was forced to cancel a concert in Ireland on November 18th due to viral laryngitis, throwing the last five concerts into doubt. However, Dylan was back on stage two days later and, as may be heard on this recording, concluded the tour in strong voice; the three final shows in smaller London venues widely regarded as stellar concerts combining intimate venues with wildly variable set lists. This evening, the program alternates neatly between ballads and rockers with superb performances throughout, including a number of rare performances which make compelling listening for the uninitiated and die-hards alike.

The only two “acoustic” performances, Girl From The North Country and The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll, receive similar arrangements with understated instrumentation highlighting Dylan’s vocals. Dylan’s performances on these two songs are simply remarkable. His phrasing reappropriates songs he has written forty years earlier, sung with the experience and wisdom of the intervening years — deepening the power of the songs — testimony to Dylan’s total commitment to his art over an extraordinary period of time. Between these two acoustic performances, Dylan and the band unfold an eight-song set which defies easy description.

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Romance in Durango, a fiery staple of his 1975-76 Rolling Thunder Revue tours, has aged tremendously in the interim. Dylan’s voice and phrasing make no attempt to recapture the reckless abandon which characterized those concerts and form the spirit of the song itself. Instead, we hear a slower, retrospective recounting, Dylan’s deepened register recreating the terrific melismata at the end of each phrase, no longer with the immediacy of a participant swept up in the tale, but rather as one looking back on a vivid memory one was lucky to survive. It’s worth noting in this regard how the Rolling Thunder version of the song ended on an unresolved note with the phrase, “We might not make it through the night,” whereas this version reprises the chorus and resolves with a repetition of the first stanza, “hot chile peppers in the blistering sun; dust on my face and my cape.”

Dylan’s piano playing takes center stage with a wonderful rendition of Dear Landlord from John Wesley Harding, the entire band leaning into the delicious three-chord riff between stanzas. George Recile kicks the band right into High Water (for Charley Patton) which has matured on tour into a regular showstopper, the rolling cadences and low roar expressing a tense, frightening existence in the shadow of doom, the song’s title placing Dylan rightly among peers of another era entirely.

Pausing for breath, the band launches into one of Dylan’s great come-on’s, Tough Mama from Planet Waves, with a tight, fluid performance by the band, stomping through its equally compelling three-chord riff, a near-mirror image of the riff in Dear Landlord.

Dylan begins Floater, the carefree shuffle from Love and Theft, with a lilting harp solo, echoed by Freddy Koella’s violin. Yet the music belies the substance of the song — a series of epigrams which Dylan unwinds with inscrutable phrasing – reminiscent of old men trading anecdotes on a front porch somewhere, concluding with a sober recognition of one’s own price when, despite the tears, another’s expectations have become too much to ask.

A swampy, restless, Million Miles follows, Dylan tossing off interstitial phrases — at one point cackling between lines – and featuring a great guitar duet between Koella and Campbell. The mood and tone of Dylan and the band are in perfect harmony. The tremendous level of sympathy among the players is even more apparent on Jokerman, propelled by Garnier’s bass phrases and a masterful jangling of chattering guitars around that bass, as the drums swell and ebb with Dylan’s stream of words — a mythic web of images which mesmerize the listener.

While highly professional, the sound of this band is hardly seamless. Listen to Larry Campbell’s biting slide guitar on Honest With Me or any of Freddy Koella’s iconoclastic guitar solos in the last four songs as the band exercises their chops. Koella, in particular, combines a meticulous minimalism with a brazen attack on the meter and phrasing of a song, almost mimicking Dylan’s own style on electric guitar. There are times it sounds as though Koella is listening to a different track entirely, yet just as often he emerges in surprising places with lyrical, even breathtaking, phrases which stretch the songs and our own expectations of what is possible within them. Koella’s tenure with the band would be little more than a year and a number of fans were persistent critics throughout. These things are always a matter of taste, however, one can only appreciate Dylan’s desire to mix things up and continue discovering the music within his songs.

Another stop in a journey for the ages; yet further reason to look to the future with high expectations. Thanks to the tapers who helped it reach our ears.

Disc One
drifter’s escape
you ain’t goin nowhere
cry a while
girl of the north country
romance in durango
dear landlord
high water
tough mama
floater
million miles
Disc Two
jokerman
honest with me
lonesome death of hattie carroll
summer days
cat’s in the well
like a rolling stone
all along the watchtower

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