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Date: Wed, 20 Mar 1996 12:47:25 GMT
From: Mitch Gart (mg@ASP.CAMB.INMET.COM)
Subject: December tour review (long)

There's an excellent piece (new info!) in the new Fi Magazine (no relation to Fiona), April 1996 issue on the December 1995 tour of Patti & Bob. The issue costs $5.95, and is mainly for audiophiles, but if you can't get it, here's, ahem, "excerpts" (all typos are scanner/OCR induced):

by Paul Williams

"All you guys together is great too!" Thus spoke Patti Smith to her audience in a college gym on December 1, 1995, in Danbury, Connecticut. She was responding to an audience member who shouted out how great it was to see her and Television founder Tom Verlaine and Patti Smith Group veterans Lenny Kaye and Jay Dee Daugherty on stage together. The shouter was presumably also anticipating seeing Patti Smith and Bob Dylan together later on at this, their first appearance on the same stage ever in the course of their two legendary rock-androll biographies to date. "Mine have been like Verlaine's and Rimbaud's," Dylan said of his relationships in a 1974 song. lt's not hard to imagine a 21st century minstrel saying his or her relationships have been like Bob Dylan's and Patti Smith's. Ah, history. Before our eyes and ears.

It Was the Paradise Lost Tour, so de- described on a poster sold at the T-shirt table at these ten Bob Dylan and Patti Smith shows in New England, New York, and Pennsylvania in mid-December. It was my good fortune to be at the first five collcerts. They were wonderful, both sets, both artists and all their accompanists, and starting at the fourth show, the second night in Boston, the two poets did appear on stage together for one song, Dylan's haunting 1985 ballad "Dark Eyes" (from the Empire Burlesque album), which he has never sung before in concert except for a 20-second false start at one show in early 1986. The name of the "Paradise Lost" tour is presumably a humorous response (perhaps from someone in the Smith camp, or could it have heen Bob's prankish suggestion?) to Dylan's liner notes for his 1994 album World Gone Wrong, where he rejects the "Neverending Tour" moniker and makes up funny names for many different (and arbitrary) six-month segments of his virtually nonstop itinerary over the last ten years. In any case, making up tour names is not entirely new to Bob; he named his fiendishly inventive fall tour of Europe with Tom Petty & band in 1987 "Temples in Flames." Don't you wish you had a poster from that tour to hang in your living room! Sure wish I had one. But anyway I was there last month when the loss of paradise was celebrated as aptly as we're likely to experience in this wonderful corner of musical and pop cultural history.

Wow. Dylan, as he has so often been during these recent years of tireless touring was inspired and full of surprises, full of inspiring musicopoetic performances, many breathtaking memorable high points during each of his sets, songs that even a very experienced fan could sometimes feel were the very best version of this particular song he (or she) had ever heard and seen Dylan deliver. (And the good news for centuries of audiophiles yet to come is that these shows like every Bob Dylan and Grateful Dead performance since almost the start of time were documented by fans in the crowd with illicit--and very good--tape recorders. Not obtainable at present unless you're in with the illicit crowd, but perhaps to be sold to happy music lovers someday by the artist himsel for his heirs. Whatever. As long as that Danbury performance of "Never Gonna Be the Same Again" and the Boston performance of "Lenny Bruce" can be heard over and over again by gratified listeners imagining and indeed experiencing the soundstage.)

Dylan was superb, in great voice and full of keen desire to share life through music, through ensemble performance, and through this form of poetry called song. He also amazed even his most loyal fans by varying his offerings as energetically as the Grateful Dead in their best days: in the first four concerts, he sang 39 different songs.

Patti also was very good, at a moment that was important to her not only because she was finally co-billed with one of her true music heroes, but also because these were her first band shows (as opposed to solo, spoken-word-plus-song shows) after her astonishing 15-year absence as a live performer, a break even longer than and as momentous as Dylan's seven-year sabbatical '67-'73 (both poets were raising children during their breaks from touring). She was nervous at first (as she acknowledged to the audience the second night), but also in terrific voice from the beginning and gloriously supported by a band more in the tradition of the early Stones than the later Stones themselves. New songs and old songs, and every one a delicious listening and watching experience. I'll tell you more. But first I want to note that in an evening (five evenings for me) of quite a few thrilling high points for Smith lovers and Dylan lovers, the single moment that most summarized the entire experience, and provided pleasure equal to the other highest points from both artists, was Patti Smith and band's performance of "The Wicked Messenger" ("with a mind that multiplied the smallest MATTER!") from Dylan's 1967 album John Wesley Harding. What a great, unstoppable, irresistible arrangement. She reinvented the song as if she were the master himself, and in a way absolutely suited to her unique voice and temperament and packet of themes and messages. Oh my. You must hear this. And you will, because before the Paradise Lost Tour started, Patti and friends had already recorded this "version" for her new album that is expected sometime in spring 1996.

Before I discuss a few more specifics of the performances, I want to share with you a story I know I'll tell my grandchildren: hanging out backstage in Boston (my hometown) way up the metal stairs with Patti Smith and Tom Verlaine and my old science fiction fan friend Lenny Kaye and other musicians from both bands, and other true fans, notable among them Michael Stipe of R.E.M. (I walked into Patti's band's dressing room and he asked if he could take my picture) (he traveled to the first five shows on Patti's tour bus, Resident Honored Fan) and ubiquitous poet Allen Ginsberg, who thanked me for reviewing his (very excellent) box set last year and told me about Paul McCartney volunteering to be his back-up musician at a recent benefit ensemble poetry reading at Royal Albert Hall in London. Allen won't exactly have grandchildren, but he is already telling them stories, because we are they, as we are also the respectful progeny of Patti and Bob. Such a night!

Patti's theme for the tour, don't ask me why, was feet. A high point of her set every night (and especially spectacular Thursday night, when it opened the tour) was her 1979 song "Dancing Barefoot," which she punctuated with the great stage stunt (and she made it feel like a ritual, invocation) of taking off her shoes. The Dylan song she chose to throw her very heart into, "Wicked Messenger," climaxes with the cry, "the soles of my feet I swear they're burning!" And the new songs she shared with us (and in five nights I came to know and love all the new ones, instant old friends) included "Walking Blind" and "Mortal Shoes." The theme seemed to extend even into the wonderful choice of 1976's "Ghost Dance" ("we shall live again...") and 1988's "The Jackson Song" (do yourself a big favor and find a copy of her 1988 album with her late husband Fred Smith, Dream of Life) for her first son: "Little blue wings as those feet fly.) Great singing, never mind whatcha read in Rolling Stone. She has become one of our finest (most expressive) vocalists. And a nice choice to salute Jerry Garcia with a Buddy Holly song the Dead always did as a dance number, "Not Fade Away," concluding her theater piece each night by dancing fiercely to this and/or her own "Rock N Roll Nigger," and, on Saturday night particularly, rapping spontaneous poetry in the style of her masterpiece "Land" loudly over "Not Fade Away's" Bo Diddley beat. No, Jerry won't fade away. Not as long as we vote with our feet.

Walk up to the concert hall, and dance to the music. That's how the 20th century cult called "Deadheads" practiced their arcane rituals. And the same is true for those who love and who have made time in their lives for any kind of jazz or rock or blues or r&b in clubs or theaters or arenas. Live music. Live performed art on stage in front of a live audience. I go on about this because, to me, the Paradise Lost Tour was an almost deliberate celebration of the art of performance. Smith recommitting herself after her long absence, in proximity to one of the primary role models who inspired her to pursue this calling. And Bob Dylan adding ten shows onto the end of what had already been a long year for a champion road warrior comparable (as Dylan himself has suggested) only to a B.B. King, or James Brown in better years, a performer committed to working as many nights as possible. In fact, these ten shows brought Dylan's 1995 total to 117 concerts, actually his biggest year ever (not bad at age 54), beating his previous best: 114 in 1978. Jerry Garcia was and is, I think, the patron saint of the dedicated live-rock performer, so it is appropriate that he was acknowledged not only by Patti but also by Bob, who sang a song by Garcia and Robert Hunter, "Alabama Getaway," with tremendous gusto as his first encore every night. Not mentioning Jerry's name. Just throwing himself passionately into evoking his musical spirit, with every bit as much feeling as Garcia gave to the many Dylan songs he sang. There were moments, even, when you could see that Dylan feels he's now got a band like Jerry had. Soulful and tight and rockin'. I did appreciate Jim DeRogatis in Rolling Stone, even though he and I disagree on the overall quality of Patti's Monday performance, praising Dylan's band and noting that "it's possible that the artist who fills the cultural void left by the Dead's disbanding may well be the one who inspired them in the first place." Dylan celebrates the joy of performing most nights, but he played these shows as if playing on a bill with Patti Smith was as special for him as it was for her. Just what one might have prayed for: both artists speaking in tongues, like 1965, 1975. But in manners very much true to their experience and artistic sensibilities in 1995.

"A lot of girls have come along since Patti started," Bob told the audience during their first moment onstage together, in Boston, "but Patti's still the best, you know." And he kissed her. And followed "Dark Eyes" with "Jokerman," one of his many theme songs. It was a playful, dramatic, deeply satisfying set of performances, each night different and each set at each show as high quality as the others (with the usual variables, such as where you happened to be sitting that night). I originally planned to go to four shows, and I emphasize that I didn't go primarily for the event, as exciting as the event of this co-bill was; I flew across the country to hear the music, both of these artists are among the very few that I will travel any feasible distance to see any time I have the opportunity to catch a promising series of shows. What a musical opportunity this was. Two for one...And then the fifth show was added when Michael Jackson collapsed at a rehearsal and had to cancel his HBO special and, secondarily, his nights at the Beacon Theater in New York. The Beacon asked Bob and Patti to add a date now that Monday had become available (and since their Thursday show had already sold out).

It seems strange to write about a live music experience in a magazine about the joys of listening to music recordings, although one of the things I most relate to in the audiophile community is the shared interest in preserving and recreating the experience and artistry of live performances through good recording and good listening. Future generations will thank us for the preservation of vital art that we support and encourage now. So it would also seem strange not to acknowledge that while being at the five shows was the thrill of a Lifetime, I am now having a different kind of thrill with the arrival (friends trading with friends, often with the help of Internet communication) of first-rate tapes of that fifth show, New York City, December 11. Future generations will write that much of the greatest surviving work of the 20th century rock artists like Dylan and the Rolling Stones and Patti Smith, the Who, R.E.M., the Grateful Dead, is in the form of recordings (professional or otherwise) of their live concerts. A great legacy. So let me wrap up telling you about these shows I attended by sharing just a small piece of the ecstatic musical experience I'm still having listening to these first tapes. (More will likely come along, and if you're looking for a copy, don't write to me; post your needs to the appropriate Internet newsgroup, And if you wanna know what tape to search for, you almost can't go wrong in my opinion, but the tenth show, Dec. 17 in Philadelphia, which I didn't see, is already a favorite of Dylan fans on the Internet. One woman on the Net describes talking to a member of Dylan's sound crew at the end of that concert, a guy who says he's been at every show since Dylan started touring with Tom Petty, which is ten years ago. "I told him it was the best show I've seen in six years. His response was, 'Best show ever. Even Watchtower was GREAT!'" (The fans and maybe the crew get a little weary of "All Along the Watchtower," a crowd-pleaser that Dylan and band have performed at virtually every show for years in a row. And it still does have nights when it transcends itself, even if you're not hearing it for the first time.)

So let's look at Dylan's Dec. 11 set, although Patti's is also worthy of repeated attention, starting (only this night) with a fiery unaccompanied reading of her own Corso/Ginsberg/Ferlinghetti extravaganza, "Piss Factory," a working girl teenage angst poem that was also her first single, on an indie label (quite rare). Dylan's first New York set -"I might seem a little sluggish tonight," he joked, "couldn't sleep last night, I was so excited about playing in New York." -showcased a very relaxed and confident (and not at all sluggish) singer and band. Working from an extraordinary songbook, which tonight yielded electric or acoustic string band versions of "Mr. Tambourine Man" (gorgeous this night, as at most performances of this new 1995 arrangement), "Rainy Day Women," "Girl from the North Country" and "Watchtower" by way of greatest hits (he does want 'em to go away happy if possible), and a generous selection of less likely and highly desirable choices: "Tears of Rage," "Drifter's Escape," "Mama, You Been on My Mind," "Senor," "Most Likely You Go Your Way," "Silvio," "Masters of War," "Highway 61 Revisited," and the aforementioned "JokerMan," "Dark Eyes," and "Alabama Getaway." A splendid cross-section of an important artist's life work. But more than that, a very immediate cross-section of his mind and his feelings tonight, as though each song is coming into existence for the first and final time before your eyes and ears.

"Girl from the North Country," for example, as I rewind the tape and listen to it again and again with tears in my eyes, is an absolutely exquisite evocation of this 54year-old man's intensely poignant feelings of loss and tenderness when he lets himself think about loves and scenes from his past. Particularly keen this night in New York. If you listen to all of the officially released live recordings of Bob Dylan, you'll have to go to the solo acoustic performances from 1966 on Biogragh to find this particular degree of heartbreaking sweetness and vulnerability in the singer's voice...and you won't find the unique sound of his acoustic string band (guitars, string bass, mandolin) anywhere, because it hasn't been adequately documented on an official release. All Dylan has to do is hand this 12/11/95 tape to his record company and get it on the street, to change forever the public and critical assessment of his ongoing revolutionary accomplishment as a singer and bandleader and working artist in the medium of live musical performance. The innovative, jazzy, small combo performance of this song is so richly textured and moving that the release of this show as an album, preferably alongside an album of the still-unreleased extraordinary Supper Club shows from New York City 1993, would I think serve to establish once and for all Dylan's preeminence arnong all American rock or folk performers of his era, not just back in the '60s but equally now in the 1990s.

I can barely begin to describe to you the treasures to be found on this Dylan tape. His self-confidence and expressiveness in front of his current band, and the results he and they achieve song after song after song, argue that this combo, John Jackson on guitar, Tony Garnier on bass, Winston Watson on drums, Bucky Baxter on mandolin and lap steel, and Dylan on voice, guitar and harmonica, is the equal of any band Dylan has ever worked with, even the Band itself. Listen for example to "Tears of Rage." This is a performance of almost unthinkable power and beauty, an epic re-creation (new words, new interpretation) that is every bit as timely and devastating as if he had written a brand new song in order to share with us his assessment of the state of the universe, end of 1995 and trembling on the edge of the next era. What artistry. The Paradise Lost Tour was more than a marvelous event. It was also the occasion of the recording, by amateurs if not professionals, of works by these great artists that will likely survive them and keep pleasing listeners for centuries to come.

What it takes to be present at a great moment is to have the impulse to go down to the show, and then to follow one's intuition. I can't help but remember a day at the end of June in 1975 when I had the impulse to finally go see this Patti Smith my friends had been telling me about. At the Other End on Bleecker Street, I found myself sitting in a booth next to Bob Dylan's, another music fan who apparently had had the same impulse. Patti and her group were great that night, and Bob went backstage to congratulate her. It was their first meeting. For some reason I found myself there. And twenty years later I found myself again a fly on the wall backstage, this time Patti had just come upstairs in Boston after her first conversation with Bob on the Paradise Lost Tour, and Michael Stipe was lovingly braiding her hair, helping her get ready for the show. Why was he there? Because Patti Smith, as he and other members of R.E.M., as well as their contemporaries Bono and The Edge of U2, have often said, was as important to his inspiration and career choice as Dylan was to Patti's. And so the wheel turns. And music lovers become music creators, and paradise is found again. l'm gonna tell my grandchildren. And better than that, I'll play 'em the tapes.


Expecting Rain