Døn't Yøu Dåre Miss It

1995-06-29, The Spectrum, Oslo, Norway

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Another great guest post today as my paternity leave continues! Tyler Wilcox writes the Invisible Hits column for Pitchfork (the most recent column was a beginner’s guide to the Never Ending Tour). He also contributes to Aquarium Drunkard and Uncut Magazine, and blogs endlessly at Doom & Gloom From The Tomb - including Dylan and Neil Young series that partly inspired this newsletters (he’s doing a new one on Lou Reed this summer).

If you made me choose (don’t make me choose!), I’d probably say that the best Bob Dylan show I’ve yet seen took place in the spring of 1995. I was just 16 years old, but I’d already seen Bob twice — and been a little underwhelmed. They were good shows, but not great shows. The ’95 show, though … it just smoked. He was playing a smaller place: the Hollywood Palladium (the previous concert had been at the much-larger Hollywood Bowl). It was general admission, too, which meant I could get up close to Dylan, actually see his facial expressions, watch his moves. But it was mainly the music that impressed. There was an energy flowing, a real vitality, not to mention what seemed like a genuine connection between the players.

Those attributes are usually present in any 1995 Dylan tape you might happen upon — including this excellent audience recording from Oslo a little over a month after I caught Bob on Hollywood Boulevard. This was the kickoff date of his second European tour of the year, and even though Dylan and co. had been playing virtually nonstop since early March, they sound ready and raring to go. This is one of the more cohesive Never Ending Tour units, I think. Bucky Baxter (who sadly passed away this year) provides interesting textures on pedal steel and slide guitar; Winston Watson is sometimes a little too crash-n-bash, but he’s generally pretty kickass; JJ Jackson isn’t the most distinctive of guitarists, but by this time in his tenure, he seems to have found his footing; and Tony Garnier? Well, he’s Tony Garnier, playin’ the bass tonight, as he’s done for more than 30 years now. This group had been backing Dylan for a few years by ’95, and they really sound like a band that has developed a fresh musical language, their own way of supporting their often-inscrutable leader.

And their often-inscrutable leader seems to be more than comfortable with these guys. Something about Dylan’s vocals in 1995 really appeals to me when compared to previous NET years. There’s a less pinched quality and the phrasing feels more focused. Maybe Bob is actually enjoying singing? Listen to his “Ayyyyyyyy, mama, ain’t you gonna miss your best friend now?!” that comes in the middle of the opening “Down In The Flood.” It’s thrilling. Or in the acoustic set, check out his dialed-in performance on “Tangled Up In Blue,” really telling the story, rather than just going through the motions. “I & I” might be my favorite vocal overall from the Oslo tape. This is such an odd song, with tricky melody lines and lyrics. I’ve heard versions where Dylan is just rambling, pushing against the band. But here he’s locked-in, every word piercing the veil.

Bob also delivers a fairly awesome guitar solo on “I & I,” scratching and skronking his way to a raggedly glorious climax. Dylan’s lead guitar antics are definitely an acquired taste, but he’s mostly pretty on-point here in Oslo. And the band is able to fill in behind his solos very nicely at this point; dig the awesome build-up they provide behind Dylan’s “Man In Me” instrumental, or the way they respond to the idiosyncratic rhythmic shifts of “It Ain’t Me Babe.” Speaking of which, it really helps to have Watson sit out the acoustic numbers. Dylan, Jackson, Garnier and Baxter work up a very nice string band sound, with Bob able to stay on top of the song, whether bringing things to a whisper or a high, lonesome howl.

So yeah — 1995! I think this is one the best NET years. Don’t you dare miss it…  

1995-06-29, The Spectrum, Oslo, Norway

Find the index to all shows covered so far in this newsletter here.