The Best Year of the Never-Ending Tour*
2000-03-10, Sun Theatre, Anaheim, CA
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Shortly after I started this newsletter in January, I created a poll on the Dylan message board Expecting Rain. I wanted to see what people's favorite year of Never-Ending Tour was. 116 votes were cast. Of the 31 years on offer, 24 earned at least one vote. But no year got more votes than 2000. It wasn't even close.
I'll be honest: I was hoping that would happen. I've always loved the 2000 shows I traded for in high school, and wanted to confirm my memory that this year was highly regarded by fans. Now we have scientific* proof** that 2000 is the Best Year of the Never-Ending Tour***
*** according to 116 strangers on the internet
Which brings us to a bit of a programming note. For at least the next week or two, I'll be pressing pause on the jumping-around approach and focusing on the first stretch of the 2000 tour. One thing I enjoy about two of the projects that inspired this one - Rob Mitchum's Phish newsletters and Jesse Jarnow's Grateful Dead Twitter threads - is that, by doing consecutive shows in an anniversary year (25 years ago for Rob, 40 and 50 for Jesse), they can build a sustained narrative. I'd like to try doing the same.
Each installment will still stand alone - it's not a novel; you won't lose the thread if you miss some - but ideally there will be more connective tissue than there has been. And I'm committing to nothing. The fun of this newsletter is following my whims, so as soon I get bored, I will go right back to jumping around.
Dylan's 2000 tour started twenty years ago today, in Anaheim California. To bring us up to that date, let's check in on what's happened with Bob in the first couple months of the year. Though he wasn't on the road, it had been a surprisingly busy period in both his personal and professional life. Here's what happened in the first two months of the year 2000:
• Bob's mother Beatrice Rutman (formerly Zimmerman, and Stone before that) dies at 84. By that point she split her time between St. Paul, Minnesota and Scottsdale, Arizona. An obituary there reported she enjoyed mah-jongg and extremely-on-the-down-low visits from her son. It included this charming quote from a friend: "She rarely mentioned that her son was Bob Dylan, and we never intruded on her by asking about it. The only time I brought it up was when my 12-year-old granddaughter told me she was crazy about Jakob (Dylan's son, also a musician) and I told Beatty about it. She seemed to enjoy that."
• Bob and Lauryn Hill present the Best Album Grammy, for Santana’s comeback Supernatural. Bob doesn't say anything in the only short snippet I can find, but Carlos Santana said this to Rolling Stone just a few weeks ago: "[Bob] kept pointing at me, because before he even opened the envelope, it was kind of like he knew. He just kept looking at me and pointing at me like, 'You’re going to get it.' I’d done a couple of tours before with Bob, one in ’83–’84 and one in ’95, but I never seen that look before that. It was like a divine rascal look with a lot of empathy with me, a lot of oneness with me."
• Bob wins Sweden's Polar Music Prize and, a few months later, actually shows up to accept it. He quickly appears to regret it. A violin quartet literally parades him down the aisle for his grand entrance. He looks like he wants to die.
• Most significantly for our purposes, Bob releases "Things Have Changed" on the Wonderboys soundtrack. This may be Bob's best song of the 21st century. He certainly seems to think so. It is not only the 21st-century song he has played more than any other; it is now one of his most-played songs of all time period. He's played "Things Have Changed" more than "Mr. Tambourine Man," and that had a 35-year head start. More than many other "greatest hits" type songs too: "Forever Young" and "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" and "Desolation Row" and on and on. He has opened nearly every show with it for a few years now, and, notwithstanding a few recent "Beyond Here Lies Nothin'"s to honor that song's deceased co-writer Robert Hunter, shows no signs of stopping.
Which brings us to March 10, 2000. He plays the first-ever "Things Have Changed" here. And the second too, since he had an early and a late show. They were apparently added last-minute as warmup gigs, since the band had spent several days rehearsing in the theater. The opening band for the rest of the tour, Asleep at the Wheel, didn't play.
The two shows differ pretty significantly. The early show boasted the first-ever performance of "Tell Me That It Isn’t True," and the late show the first-ever "Country Pie." Bob must have been on a Nashville Skyline kick (been there!). The late show also features the first "We Better Talk This Over" since 1978 - and the last. He was apparently so unhappy that it looked like he almost aborted the song halfway through. Listening to the recording, it's a little rough, but could have gotten plenty cool with a few more go’s. No luck. He has never played it again.
But setlist statistics aside, the bigger question is of course: Do these first shows sound like it's about to be the best year of the Never-Ending Tour?
Depends which one you pick.
The kickoff show of Bob's Best Year™ sure doesn't sound like it. He lurches through "Love Sick," somehow missing the beat on every other line. More like woozily stumbling through streets that are dead. And this on a song he almost always sings well. No other song rises above mediocrity. The band, some say Bob's best ever (I'll dig into them in a later installment) sounds great throughout, but Bob can't keep up.
A few hours later, it's a different story. Maybe Bob needed a warmup for the warmup. "Dignity," which sounded watery in the early show, gets one of its most impassioned readings here. One of Bob's stupider songs (and I mean that as a compliment), "Country Pie" swings in its first outing like a hopped-up Tom Waits fronting the Texas Playboys. During one line it sounds like Bob's stifling a laugh, perhaps at how wonderfully dumb this song is. He'd go on to play it at practically every show this year. Even "Not Fade Away" - a cover he favored around this time which I've never cared much about - hits harder than usual, with the whole ensemble really leaning into their group vocals with a ragged late-night enthusiasm. It took an entire show to warm up, but by this recording, they're plenty hot.