Monday, July 31, 2017

Concert for Bangladesh Revisited

An excerpt from Dylan and the Grateful Dead: A Tale of Twisted Fate on Amazon 
 August 1, 1971
In the early ’70s, the parade of iconic albums continued unabated. Abraxas, Santana; Bitches Brew, Miles Davis; Live at the Fillmore East, Allman Brothers; Tapestry, Carole King; Blue, Joni Mitchell; Who’s Next, The Who; What’s Going On, Marvin Gaye; Sticky Fingers, Rolling Stones; Moondance, Van Morrison. The individual who kicked off the golden age of album making, Bob Dylan, was no longer a force, or so it seemed. He wasn’t writing or recording anything monumental, and he wasn’t touring. Separating himself from his past accomplishments seemed to be his professional priority, but Dylan Nation held out hope that their hero still had something to say. On Sunday August 1, 1971, in Madison Square Garden, Dylan put on two brilliant performances, and proved that the old inspiration still burned within.
Spurred on by Indian musician and renowned sitar player Ravi Shanker, George Harrison arranged a benefit concert for the newly formed nation of Bangladesh, which was suffering a humanitarian crisis brought on by natural disasters and a brutal civil war. Enjoying life as an ex-Beatle with a chart-topping album and the number one hit “My Sweet Lord,” Harrison arranged for a star-studded benefit show at Madison Square Garden. He recruited Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, Billy Preston, Leon Russel, Badfinger, and possibly Dylan. Bob showed up for the practice sessions, but he was still indecisive about stepping out and performing on the Madison Square Garden stage. The benefit concert quickly sold out and a second show was added to the bill. To raise further proceeds for the people in need, this show would be made into a movie and a double album titled Concert for Bangladesh.

The afternoon show commenced with Ravi Shanker’s Indian music, followed by performances from the all-star troupe. After Harrison played “Here Comes the Sun” live for the first time, he looked to the side of the stage, where he saw Dylan pacing around nervously. The decisive moment had arrived, and Harrison was still not sure what Dylan was going to do. Wearing a denim jacket, shades, a harmonica rack, and carrying an acoustic guitar, Dylan swiftly moved towards the microphone at center stage as a rapturous roar filled Madison Square Garden. Dylan opened with “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna-Fall,” and followed that with “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “It Takes a lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry,” “Love Minus Zero,” and “Just Like a Woman.” Dylan, Harrison, and Madison Square Garden were ecstatic. Dylan’s evening set, which was used on the album, was even better.

“Like to bring on a friend of us all, Mr. Bob Dylan.” With that intro from George, Dylan kicked off the evening show with “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna-Fall.” Dylan’s voice is smooth, with the same tonality displayed on Nashville Skyline. There’s some tentativeness early, but by the second verse Dylan’s cadence is mesmerizing, and the tension builds precisely throughout. Backed by George Harrison, Ringo Starr, and Leon Russel, there’s great excitement because Dylan’s playing “Hard Rain” with two ex-Beatles. As Dylan brings “Hard Rain” to a perfectly pitched climax, the audience explodes. Already, this is a historic Madison Square Garden moment.

Dylan switches up the order of the set by playing “It Takes a lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry” before “Blowin’ in the Wind.” The fact that he’s played two of his Freewheelin’ anthems sends waves of optimism through Madison Square Garden. Dylan’s growth as a performer is obvious—his voice is seductively smooth, yet still emotional. It sounds as if he’s been playing these tunes on a regular basis. For the late show, Dylan replaces “Love Minus Zero” with a stunning “Mr. Tambourine Man.” The enthused crowd claps along hastily, and Dylan coolly delivers a harp solo for the third consecutive tune.

Making his debut in the “World’s most famous arena,” in the city that gave birth to his legend, with two Beatles by his side and 20,000 fans feeling the love, Dylan closes the set with “Just Like a Woman.” This is one of those extraordinary performances that stops time in its tracks. Dylan teases the sublime melody as he blows into his harmonica and tunes his guitar. He creates a vacuum of anticipation for those in the Garden, and those listening decades into the future. Dylan’s sincere voice unveils one of the great opening lines of modern song, “Nobody feels any pain.” Those four words never sounded better. As the song shifts into the chorus, Harrison and Russel sing the title with Dylan. The wonderful harmonies are filled with tenderness that makes the song sound fresh. Dylan adlibs, “and she bakes, just like a woman.” As was the case with every song in this set, the momentum rises as the music pulses forward. 

 Dylan finished to one of the great crowd eruptions in Madison Square Garden history. It would have been louder if it were not for the silence of those choked up by tears of joy. It was the type of triumph the Beatles never got to experience due to screaming fans rendering their performances meaningless. The lights came on and it appeared every person in the arena was clapping and howling as one. Dylan won an unanimous decision and pumped his arms above his head in victory. In addition to adding a legendary performance to their resumes, Dylan, Harrison, and friends raised $12 million for Bangladesh. The Concert for Bangladesh was the model for future benefits like Live Aid and Farm Aid. In the aftermath of his majestic showing, Dylan returned to hibernation.

Dylan and the Grateful Dead: A Tale of Twisted Fate on Amazon 


Thursday, July 27, 2017

A Chronicle of Dylan and Garcia Performing Together

1. November 6, 1980...John Lennon was still among the living when Jerry Garcia joined Bob Dylan on stage for the first time on November 16, 1980, during Dylan’s twelve-night residency at San Francisco’s Fox-Warfield. Bob was still singing songs of faith, but he mixed in some old classics and cut back on the number of gospel songs for his backup singers. Prior to Garcia’s appearance, Carlos Santana played with Dylan on 11-13, and Mike Bloomfield joined him on stage two nights later. It was the last time they’d see each other. Bloomfield died three months later from a drug overdose.
After a slippery start, Dylan rallied to give Garcia a flattering introduction: “Well, I don't know exactly what to say here. Different peoples been coming down to the theater every night so far. And this night is no exception I guess. Anyway this is, keep . . . here’s a young man I know you know who he is. I’ve played with him a few times before. I’m a great admirer and fan of his and support his group all the way, Jerry Garcia. He’s gonna play with us, in the key of C.”

The song was “To Ramona,” and Garcia unleashed an A+ jam in the key of C. It was a long solo by Dylan standards. Garcia remained on stage for eleven songs, including a song covered by the Jerry Garcia Band, “Simple Twist of Fate,” and a tune that would later be covered by the JGB, “Senor.” After his spirited outburst in “To Ramona,” Garcia dutifully fit in as just another guy in Dylan’s band. Everything from Dylan’s performance to the sound of the band was spot on during this Fox-Warfield residency.

2. July 2, 1986… At the second concert of the tour, in the Rubber Bowl in Akron, Ohio, on July 2, Dylan joined the Grateful Dead on stage for three songs during the first set. Dylan played along on “Little Red Rooster” before the Dead played their only version of “Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright.” It was a rocky adventure because the Dead had a slow, methodical style that didn’t naturally match with Dylan’s unpredictable cadences and rhythms. Garcia adjusted to Dylan’s style nicely, but more practice was needed if Dylan and the Dead were to play together. “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” was in the Dead’s rotation as an encore, but with Dylan on stage, they gave it a go in the opening set. Garcia took lead vocal and made space for Dylan to join him, but Bob’s voice was rough, and didn’t mesh with Garcia’s polished, high-pitched interpretation. Deadheads roared lustily as Weir thanked Dylan for joining them on stage. “Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright” showcased that Dylan and Garcia could easily adapt to each other, however, the three-song preview hinted that a possible Dylan/Dead affair wouldn’t be as smooth as Dylan’s transition to playing with Tom Petty.
 Dylan and the Grateful Dead: A Tale of Twisted Fate @ Amazon

3. July 7, 1986… Deadheads, Dylan & Petty, and the Grateful Dead reconvened for a pair of shows at RFK Stadium in Washington, DC on July 6 and 7. The temperature at showtime was 100 degrees with hazy sunshine and stifling humidity for both concerts. Survival and hydration took precedence over transcendent music. The Grateful Dead performances were abysmal. The jams were short, the song selections were unimaginative, and Garcia’s performances were consistently lethargic. Dylan seemed to deliver a better show with Petty & the Heartbreakers, but Dylan added to the Grateful Dead’s dilemma by joining them for horrible renditions of “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” and “Desolation Row.” As Dylan’s abrasive voice croaked along with Garcia and Weir, it was obvious the Dead had a better handle on these songs. What happened to the confident performer from the Hard to Handle video earlier in the year?

Commenting on this tour, Garcia said, “I found myself in the weird position of teaching Dylan his own songs. It’s just really strange! It was funny. He was great. He was so good about all this stuff. Weir wanted to do Desolation Row with him, y’know, and it’s got a million words. So Weir says, ‘Are you sure you’ll remember all the words?’ And Dylan says, ‘I’ll remember the important ones.’”

4. July 4, 1987...The Grateful Dead became Dylan’s backing band for six shows and their debut collaboration was a star-spangled debacle. The Dead opened for Dylan in Foxboro and played a sluggish and unimaginative one-set show—not a good omen for the upcoming Dylan/Dead set. This was Dylan’s first show in eleven months, and he was rustier than an old dirt shovel in a porous toolshed. This gig is only noteworthy because Dylan played his first live versions of “Queen Jane Approximately and “Joey,” and he also performed “John Brown” and “Chimes of Freedom” for the first time since 1963 and 1964 respectively.

5. July 10, 1987… Dylan and the Dead greeted a fired-up Philadelphia crowd with “Tangled Up in Blue.” The Dead played it in the style of Jerry Garcia Band, and Dylan strung the lyrics out in an interesting chant that might have worked if a different band backed him. Garcia, a considerate player, was cautious about jamming and stepping on Dylan. Garcia played pedal steel guitar on “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight,” something he hadn’t done prior to this tour since 1970. Wearing a red jacket and black beret, Dylan was bobbing and weaving like a dazed fighter as he shouted lines and hung onto syllables uncomfortably long, in a self-mocking manner. Dylan’s live debut of “Frankie Lee and Judas Priest” was solid as he managed to remember most of the words. There was still room for improvement, but the JFK show was worth seeing.

6. July 12, 1987…This Giants Stadium gig was easily the best of the Dylan/ Dead shows, and the most thrilling concert I’ve ever seen. I dedicated a chapter in my book, Dylan & the Dead: A Tale of Twisted Fate, to analyzing this show. Garcia had a sensational night on guitar, inspiring Dylan to raise his intensity. Dylan’s debut live performance of “Wicked Messenger” might be the premier tune of this overwhelming show which was ignored when Dylan selected the tunes for the subpar Dylan & the Dead album (1989). Dylan and the Grateful Dead: A Tale of Twisted Fate @ Amazon

7. July 19, 1987…After a week layoff, the tour reconvened in Autzen Stadium, Eugene, Oregon. There were some interesting moments at this show, but this is weak compared to their Giants Stadium masterpiece.

8. July 24, 1987…The Oakland show features outstanding versions of “I Want You” and “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.” Jay Blakesberg captured some great photos at this show including the photo on the cover of my new book, and this one.

9.July 26, 1987…No reason to get excited. The last Dylan/ Dead show in Anaheim went by like a puff of wind.

10. February 12, 1989… Dylan/Dead relations took their strangest turn when Bob joined the Dead on stage for the second set of their show on February 12 at the Great Western Forum in Inglewood. Dylan played guitar out of the spotlight in between Garcia and Weir as the band opened with “Iko Iko.” That was followed by unusual selections: “Monkey and the Engineer,” “Dire Wolf,” “Alabama Getaway,” “Cassidy,” “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again.” Most of these were tunes that the Dead played in the first set, and the band had never played an electric “Monkey and the Engineer” before. Dylan added meager backing vocals in places, and showed no interest in singing his own song. The music had no spark, and it was bizarre to see Dylan this passive on stage. (This can be seen on YouTube.) After the Dead finished off the second half of their set, Dylan re-emerged for a “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” encore, and grunted the lead vocal. It was fine for a novelty version, but Dylan’s odd phrasing clashed with the lush, methodic pacing of the Dead’s version of “Heaven’s Door.”

The day after his guest appearance, Dylan phoned the Grateful Dead office in San Rafael to ask if he could join the band. This was a serious request. The band members voted on the proposition, and if the vote were unanimous, Dylan would have been a member of the Grateful Dead for at least a tour. One no vote shot down the dream. Weir has publicly stated that he voted to give it a go, and we know how Garcia voted. The no vote likely came from Lesh or one of the drummers, and it was a great business decision, nothing personal. Dylan tried to fit in as one of the boys the night before, and it was awkward at best. Even in a legendary line-up like the Traveling Wilburys, Dylan was a huge presence. The Dead would have had to, on some level, restructure what they were comfortable doing, and there was little benefit to having Dylan in the band, except for the fact that Garcia and Weir greatly admired Dylan. It turned to be a fortuitous no-vote for Dylan who went down to New Orleans and recorded Oh Mercy with Daniel Lanois.

11. May 5, 1992…Garcia joined Dylan on stage for “Cats in The Well,” and one of four rare 1992 performances of “Idiot Wind.” Some tapes and CDs of this are in circulation, but I’ve yet to hear one. Garcia and Dylan were going through tough times in ’92, but I bet this must be a compelling listen.

12. October 17 1994… Dylan and the Dead were reunited on the stage at Madison Square Garden. This was their first get-together since February 12, 1989, which was followed by Dylan’s request to become a member of the Grateful Dead. Dylan was in town to play at the Roseland Ballroom the following night, so he dropped by for a “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” encore. Dylan seemed to be in fine form as he began to sing, but his vocals were barely audible as he sang into Weir’s microphone. Apparently, Dylan’s mic gets turned up much louder at his shows. Garcia took a weak stab at singing a verse, Vince played some lame keyboard, and another Dylan/Dead debacle was in the books. Individually, Garcia and Dylan had created some of the most memorable moments in the history of Madison Square Garden. Together, the soul brothers bombed.

13. June 25 1995…Dylan opened for the Dead five times in 1995; one in Highgate, Vermont,  twice in Giants Stadium, and twice in RFK Stadium. On their final night, Garcia grabbed his axe and joined Dylan on stage. This was just like their first time on stage together in 1980, when Jerry joined Dylan on his stage in the Warfield. Garcia added a solo to one of his favorite Dylan tunes, “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry,” and the results were much better than the last few times Dylan tried to join the Dead. Garcia would have benefited from leaving the Dead to do something with Dylan more than the other way around. It was fitting that Jerry and Bob shared this final moment together in the nation’s capital.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Dylan Goes Electric 7-25-65

On July 24, 1965, Dylan was back on the Newport stage for the third year in a row performing three acoustic songs. On the same day, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band drew a big crowd at a blues workshop and stunned them with a fiery performance, despite a dismissive introduction from folklorist Alan Lomax. Albert Grossman was pondering managing the band, and the snub by Lomax led to a wrestling match between him and Lomax. Dylan had already recorded “Like a Rolling Stone,” which entered the charts as a single the week of the festival, with Butterfield’s guitarist, Mike Bloomfield, and Al Kooper. Dylan asked the Butterfield band and Kooper to back him for a set the following night at Newport. From the time he ravaged the Hibbing High School stage with a spirited Little Richard imitation to his latest groundbreaking accomplishments, Dylan dared to advance confidently in the direction of his own dreams.

 What happened the following night shouldn’t have come as a surprise. But this was Newport, the spiritual retreat of folk music. On July 25, Dylan seized the stage with a brash electric band. Consequences be damned!

 Dressed like a pop star in a leather jacket, tight, black pants and pointy boots, Dylan’s fashion statement clashed with audience expectations based on his humble attire from past festivals. The music thundered and there were reports of the sound mix being awful, although just the shock of Dylan playing with a band was too much for the ears of Lomax and Pete Seeger to bare. Seeger threatened to cut the power cables with an axe. There are so many versions of what happened that the story has become folklore. If there was an axe or not, is not as significant as the idea of Seeger wanting to wield an axe because the music of an artist he had great admiration for disturbed him. And even though Dylan was blazing forward without regrets, he was devastated when he heard of Seeger’s reaction.

Out in the audience there was turmoil and a certain amount of booing. Tales of the booing are legendary, but the tape reveals a brisk and explosive performance of “Maggie’s Farm” to kick off the electric set. Bloomfield’s quick-picking licks surround but don’t swallow Dylan’s precise singing. This was aggression unleashed, jarring even for those who enjoyed amplified music. The only person unaffected by the flood of emotions appeared to be Dylan, who, on the surface, handled his first live performance with a band as if he’d been down that road a thousand times before. The raging sound crashed to its conclusion and was met with a mixed chorus of applause, boos, and chatter. Dylan closed the set out with “Like a Rolling Stone” and “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry.”

The crowd was disappointed. The gripes were many. Dylan had gone electric. He was a capitalistic sell out, the sound quality was poor, and the big star of the festival played a brief set and split. Peter Yarrow brokered a peace agreement and coaxed Dylan to come out for an acoustic encore. Dylan borrowed a guitar from Johnny Cash and threw the crowd a couple of bones; “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” and “Mr. Tambourine Man.” At a post-concert communal dinner for the musicians in a nearby mansion, Dylan was visibly shaken by the turbulent night. To try and ease his mind, Dylan’s friend, folksinger Maria Muldaur, asked Bob if he’d like to dance. Dylan replied, “I’d dance with you, Maria, but my hands are on fire.”   
Dylan and the Grateful Dead: A Tale of Twisted Fate  

Friday, July 21, 2017

Tribute to a Taper 7-21-89


An excerpt from chapter 18 of Dylan and the Grateful Dead: A Tale of Twisted Fate.

I caught six unique and satisfying shows on this leg of the tour. The best of the batch was on July 21, 1989 at the Garden State Performing Arts Center, where I saw my first show of the Never Ending Tour the year before. Dylan was showing up in the same towns and I was doing my part, spreading the news—word of mouth. I convinced Deadhead Doug to sneak his equipment in to tape the show. Doug respected Dylan, but he was a Garcia loyalist all the way. Doug was with his girlfriend taping in the fifth row, and I was shuffling on the lawn as Dylan opened the show with his first live performance of “Trouble” from Shot of Love. Dylan’s group rocked it violently, and swiftly segued to a tender version of Van Morrison’s “One Irish Rover.” Dylan’s vocals burned intensely against the casual arrangement, spurring Smith to finish the song off with a spiraling solo. The band slammed into “I Don’t Believe You” and Dylan unleashed an authoritative harmonica solo. It sounded as good as it did with The Band in 1966. It was one of those nights when Dylan pushed himself and his band, and every risk was rewarded.

I’ve enjoyed listening to this show for many years since that night, and I owe thanks to the dogged perseverance of Doug, who improbably battled off a female usher to successfully finish taping this show. During the fourth song, “Just Like a Woman,” the trouble begins. As a tribute to tapers everywhere, I’ve transcribed their conversation from the tape as Dylan played on five rows away.

Usher: Can I see what you have in there? What do you have in that bag? Why is there a red light on?
Doug: I got a flashlight.
Usher: If it’s a tape recorder, shut it off right now… I have to take the tape. I’m going to get a security guard. I have to get a security guard, then. Give me the tape, or I’ll get a security guard.
Doug: I don’t understand. What’s wrong?
Usher: Is that a tape recorder?
Doug: No, it’s a camera with a flashlight blinking.
Usher: If it’s a camera, why is the light on? Listen, if it’s a camera, let me see it, or I’ll have to call a security guard over.
Doug: The light’s not even on. Don’t worry; I’ll shut it off.
Usher: I know, but you’re not listening to me. You still have to check it with a security guard.
Doug: I’ll shut it off. Don’t worry.
Usher: Yeah, but even if you shut it off …
Doug: OK. I’ll shut it off.
Usher: I’ll call a security guard if you don’t come with me now and check it in. You’re not listening to me. (In the midst of this bickering, Dylan was twenty feet away, blowing a lyrical harp solo.)
Doug: I don’t understand what the big deal is.
Usher: There are no cameras or anything allowed in the theatre. I have to check that with a security guard.
Doug: It’s not a camera.
Usher: What is it?
Doug: It’s a flashlight. I told you already.
Usher: Can I see it then, sir? Whatever it is, I have to check it with security.
Doug: Miss, believe me. It’s nothing; it’s not worth the hassle. It’s just me and my girlfriend. I swear to God, it’s nothing. Please trust me.
Usher: I don’t care what it is. You have to check it with a security guard.
Doug: I’ll come back tomorrow.
Usher: No, you can’t come around tomorrow.
Doug: I don’t see what the big deal is.
Usher: It’s not allowed. If it’s a camera or anything, anywhere, or recording device, it must be checked in with a security guard.

The usher suddenly disappeared as if Doug wished her off to a cornfield. I would have folded under that pressure. Doug spoke to the usher in hushed tones, doing his best to protect the audio integrity of the tape. He was a master taper all the way, still interested in turning out a quality tape under serious duress. The other live Dylan debut that night was a lovely acoustic rendition of “When Did You Leave Heaven?” from Down in the Groove.
G. E. Smith’s solo soared during “I Shall Be Released,” setting the stage for a manic “Like a Rolling Stone.” The garbled lines gushed out of Dylan. During the extended instrumentals, Dylan stomped around the stage and occasionally stopped for a guitar hero pose. “Mr. Tambourine Man” was pleasing as the final encore. Bob’s cadence had comic texture: “I’ll come following, ah . . . you!” What a fabulous performance. And for the foreseeable future, Mr. Dylan, we’ll be following, ah you! 


  In honor of the anniversary of Music Mountain, here’s chapter two from my latest work, The Grateful Pilgrimage: Time Travel with the Dea...