FRAGMENTS Preview (Part Seven): TOOM Live
The Pre-Release Series
Our look at Bootleg Series 17 continues. Most posts have been Premium Member-Only, but today we’re sharing a bit of it with everyone.
For this look at the Live Tracks on FRAGMENTS, we’re pleased to have a contribution from Author Tim Edgeworth who writes for Cover.Me and at the blog Talkin' Bob Dylan where he explores Dylan's songs and performances.
Bob Dylan Live in Philadelphia, 1997
Building A Live Time Out Of Mind
Creating and sharing compilations of live performances is a popular hobby amongst Bob Dylan fans. The ways to approach such a task are endless: compilations exist showcasing the best performances of individual tours or calendar years, the contributions of certain band members, and even different performances of the same song. One of the most popular compilation projects, however, is to recreate a studio album using live performances, with Time Out of Mind probably being the record most often selected for this treatment (a quick search on YouTube yields numerous fan-made live versions of the album). Now, Dylan’s record label is getting in on the act, compiling a live version of Time Out of Mind for disc four of The Bootleg Series Volume 17: Fragments.
Surprisingly, this disc is also the first full-length collection of Never Ending Tour performances to be released officially (putting aside 1995’s MTV Unplugged, which was quite different from Dylan’s regular shows of the period). NET-era tracks have occasionally been included on singles and compilations – and for a while on bobdylan.com – but this collection is the first true Never Ending Tour live album. Rumours have swirled that genuine audience-recorded bootlegs would be used, and that’s mostly true, but the most important question concerns the performances themselves: are they good? Have they been carefully curated or hastily thrown together? There’s only one way to find out:
Track By Track
The disc kicks off with a performance of “Love Sick” from Birmingham, England in May 1998. This is the most played Time Out of Mind song by some distance, having racked up over 900 performances between 1997 and 2021, and it has almost always been performed well. Having said that, there’s something about the early performances of the song in 1997-99 that are just a cut above the rest. Maybe it’s the way Dylan’s electric guitar sits at the heart of the arrangement, with Larry Campbell’s second guitar and Bucky Baxter’s pedal steel colouring in the spaces around it. My favourite part of this performance is when the whole band shifts into a higher gear during Larry’s thunderous guitar solo.
Up next is the slot occupied on the original album by “Dirt Road Blues.” However, since that song is still yet to be performed live, its place is taken by the first of two performances of “Can’t Wait” on this disc. It’s an interesting sequencing decision, and one that changes the flow of the album significantly. “Love Sick” and “Can’t Wait” are twin songs, conveying the same basic message: both sound like they’re being sung from the perspective of some kind of ghoul, trapped in a terrible purgatory of the soul. Placing them side by side brings this connection into sharper focus, while also turning the two songs into an extended ‘opening statement’ that introduces the album’s key themes. This performance is from Nashville, Tennessee in February 1999, when the song was still in its upbeat, riff-driven arrangement.
Track 3 is a performance of “Standing in the Doorway” from London’s Wembley Arena in October 2000. This is an inspired choice; in this writer’s opinion, the song was never performed better that it was on that year’s European Fall Tour. Splitting hairs, a case could be made that the two outings immediately preceding this one (the previous night at Wembley and three days earlier in Paris) were even better, but when the standard is this high you can’t really go wrong. This track also marks the first appearance on the disc of guitarist Charlie Sexton, who immediately makes his presence felt: listen to the incredible guitar weaving between him and Larry Campbell during the instrumental sections. Bob, for, his part, contributes some very eccentric lead guitar, and your feelings towards his unique style may end up dictating whether you think this performance is a success or not.
Dylan’s guitar playing is much more focused on the performance of “Million Miles” that follows, from Atlantic City in January 1998. In fact, it’s at the very core of the band dynamic, alternately propelling the other players forward or reigning them in when appropriate. There’s something of Bone Machine-era Tom Waits in this performance’s relentless, churning rhythm, and you can almost imagine Tom’s voice howling out the lyrics instead of Bob. I had previously believed that “Million Miles” only really took off live during the 2003-04 period when Freddy Koella was playing guitar in the band, but this lively outing proves me wrong. You can hear Bob shout “Yeah!” at 4:35, which is always a good sign.
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