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Lemme Get an Encore: Bob Dylan

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can i get an encore bob dylan e1344621763401 Lemme Get an Encore: Bob Dylan

“You should do an ‘Encore’ on Dylan. He’s got a new album and a tour soon.”

“Sure.”

Never has a response of “sure” been more loaded. Forget the fact that Bob Dylan has released more than 50 albums and written and recorded hundreds of songs. Forget that since 1988 he has played a workmanlike 100 shows per year, often rotating more than 100 songs into each year’s setlists. Those are daunting numbers. And, when putting together a list like this one, this type of math is about as helpful as, say, “Love Minus Zero/No Limit”.

Here’s the rub. Books—literally, books—get written about Dylan’s touring. Bragging rights and money change hands over what songs get played. (It’s surprising Vegas isn’t in on this. Maybe they are.) 401ks—along with the occasional college fund—are tapped into as worshippers at the Church of Bob follow his tour bus in pursuit of another sermon. Even if I had the nerve to look beyond all of this and make a few setlist suggestions—and I’m working up to that—it really wouldn’t be enough to simply say play this or play that. I’d have to say something like, “Play the version of ‘Man in the Long Black Coat’ from August 11th, 2004, at Blair County Ballpark in Altoona, Pennsylvania, with the clicking and rattling of an old, wooden roller coaster in the background.”

And, to some extent, I get it. I’m a veteran of more than two dozen Dylan shows, dating back to August 15th, 2002, sitting about 60 yards stage left in a racing track grandstand at the Hamburg, New York, fairgrounds. I know what it’s like to check the setlist each night for a month before the show you have tickets to, trying to identify patterns in the formula. I know what it’s like to click through the venue turnstiles already heartbroken because the song you really wanted to hear was played in Eastlake, Ohio, the night before, meaning it’s probably a no-go that evening. I know what it’s like to count the songs as they come and go, sink or soar with the first recognizable note or intelligible lyric (often a couple lines in) of a song, and take stock throughout the show. He played X not Y, but maybe he’ll come back with Z. We find tragedy and redemption in what for Dylan is probably a coin-flip decision.

It’s all in pursuit of something—even just a fleeting moment—that nobody else has witnessed over the course of thousands of shows. Occasionally we get that something. Most nights we don’t. But that’s the allure of the Never Ending Tour. There’s always next time.

—Matt Melis
Senior Editor

10. “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)”

Absent from setlists for exactly three years as of yesterday, “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” falls under the category of old favorite that needs to be back in the rotation. Dylan’s 1965 mostly spoken-word vituperation with “flesh-colored Christs that glow in the dark” and roaring “waterfalls of pity” transforms onstage into a grinding rocker that leaves old folkies mumbling, “Judas” and everyone else headbanging. And the infamous line “But even the president of the United States / Sometimes must have to stand naked” never fails to elicit one of the loudest cheers of the night, regardless of who is in the Oval Office at the time.

9.  “Forgetful Heart” (Dylan center stage on mic and harp)

“Forgetful Heart” may be a somewhat forgettable track sandwiched in the middle of 2009’s Together Through Life, but it’s been as important as any song to Dylan’s more recent onstage rebirths. There was a string of legs a few years back during which Dylan seemed joyless and mechanical while buried behind his keyboard. Frankly, they were often miserable shows to be at. Then came “Forgetful Heart”. No keyboard. No guitar. Just a spotlit Dylan strutting across stage with mic and harmonica, growling out this aching tune. It was a risk that seemed to awaken his inner showman at a time when the Never Ending Tour looked like it really needed to be put to bed.

8. “Things Have Changed” (w/Mark Knopfler on guitar)

It’s not uncommon for Dylan to tour with some pretty substantial names (Willie Nelson, Elvis Costello, John Mellencamp). However, it is a rarity for him to share the stage with a tourmate on a number. So, when Dire Straits guitarist Mark Knopfler became a de facto part of the band for several songs each night on Dylan’s swing through Europe last fall, fans were treated to something unlikely to happen again… until a bit later this leg when Knopfler rejoins Dylan on the road. It also makes fall dates slated alongside special guests Leon Russell, Ben Harper, and Bob Weir a bit more intriguing. Feeling collaborative, Bob?

7. “Huck’s Tune” (from the 2007 film Lucky You)

Tell Tale Signs will probably never be counted among the more celebrated installments of Dylan’s now legendary Bootleg Series, but it did remind us—as if “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” and “Things Have Changed” weren’t enough—that Dylan often produces pure gold for the silver screen. Written for the 2007 card player film Lucky You, “Huck’s Tune” combines a beautiful melody with one of Dylan’s best vocal performances in years, conjuring both gravelly sweetness (“When I kiss your lips / The honey drips”) and bittersweet resignation (“The game’s gotten old / The deck’s gone cold”). It would be Lucky All of Us if Dylan debuted and nailed this one this fall. Don’t bet on it, though.

6. “All Along the Watchtower” (Dylan on grand piano)

It shouldn’t be surprising that a guy who has made a habit of playing summer shows in minor league ballparks is capable of throwing the occasional curveball. This summer that curve was Dylan sitting at a grand piano each night for several of his live staples. This version of “All Along the Watchtower” won’t remind fans much of the thundering encore closer the song has been over the last decade, but I guess it’s just another case of “he not busy being born is busy dying.” Looks like that grand piano might be here to stay.

5. “Roll on John”

We haven’t heard it yet. Neither have you. And if you have tickets to a show prior to the September 11th release of Dylan’s 35th studio album, Tempest, there’s virtually zero chance you’ll get to hear “Roll on John,” reportedly a tribute to John Lennon that incorporates several famous Beatles lyrics. (It’s also a choice title for a song written by the guy who allegedly introduced Lennon and the other Beatles to marijuana.)  Between this tribute and a nearly 14-minute title track about the Titanic that name-drops Leonardo DiCaprio, Tempest is shaping up to be, well, Bob only knows.

4. “Red River Shore”

Like fellow bootleg gem “Blind Willie McTell” before it, “Red River Shore” is such a dynamic song that you wonder how it never came to be on a proper studio album. Included on 2008’s Tell Tale Signs as an unreleased track from the Time Out of Mind sessions, this almost mystical tale of unrequited love has never been marched out live and likely never will be. Like the song’s protagonist laments, that “dream dried up a long time ago.”

3. “Boots of Spanish Leather”

This exchange of letters between lovers at a crossroads is as timeless as anything Dylan has ever written or recorded; its subtle shift from souvenir offer to goodbye is as moving now as it was when Dylan sang it as a twentysomething on 1964’s The Times They Are a-Changin’. If “Boots of Spanish Leather” finds its way back into steady rotation this fall, fans won’t need leather boots, or even a tour t-shirt, as a souvenir. This song will be more than enough.

2. “Isis”

Dylan played a scorching version of “Isis” (listen below) 49 times during the famed Rolling Thunder Revue in ’75 and ’76. The real question is, why has this tale of love and grave robbing—really, a poor man’s “Tangled Up in Blue”—gone missing from setlists for nearly 40 years? If Dylan exhumes “Isis” this fall, he’ll have dug a lot deeper than six feet.

1. “Tweeter and the Monkey Man” (The Traveling Wilburys)

With a lineup boasting Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, and Roy Orbison, I think it’s more than fair to call The Traveling Wilburys the supergroup of supergroups. And Dylan’s (a.k.a. Lefty or Boo Wilbury) most enduring contribution to the band’s catalog will always be “Tweeter and the Monkey Man”, with its indelible lesson: “In Jersey, everything’s legal as long as you don’t get caught.” Will Lucky and the Monkey Man make an appearance this fall? The chances, my friends, aren’t even blowin’ in the wind.

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