The Never Ending Tour:
In June of 1988 Bob Dylan kicked off a tour that has yet to stop. Nearly every show has been taped, leaving fans with hundreds upon hundreds of tapes to sort through. Here are some of the best.
Jones Beach, 6/30/88
This is the best soundboard from the early G.E. Smith era of the Never Ending Tour. The setlist isn’t very adventurous, but the guitarist adds an extra oomph to standards like "All Along The Watchtower" and "Maggie’s Farm." It opens with a fairly rare "Subterranean Homesick Blues" and has a gorgeous "Boots Of Spanish Leather."
Toad’s Place, 1/12/90
The single weirdest show in Dylan’s career. This four-and-a-half-hour marathon set was a warm-up before the 1990 leg of the NET kicked off. Extreme rarities like "Man Of Peace" and "I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine" are mixed with shocking covers like "Dancing In The Dark." By the end he’s taking requests, and playing whatever the crowd yells for. You have to hear it to believe it.
The Supper Club, 11/16/93
The most beloved gig of the Never Ending Tour. In this tiny New York club Dylan performed an acoustic gig that outshined the following year’s MTV Unplugged by a huge margin. Lost Eighties track "Tight Connection To My Heart (Has Anybody Seen My Love)" is transformed into a song of haunting beauty, while "Queen Jane Approximately" has never sounded so tender. Ironically 1993 was a lousy year of the NET, but on this November night Dylan played his most perfect show of the past quarter-century.
He refused to play the original, but in 1994 the Woodstock payday proved too tempting. Playing to his biggest crowd in years, Dylan goes the extra mile delivers fiery versions of "Highway 61 Revisited" and "Jokerman." It was overshadowed by Nine Inch Nails, Green Day and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, but he definitely didn’t phone this one in like many had predicted.
El Rey Theater, 12/19/97
Time Out Of Mind not only revitalized Bob Dylan’s recording career, it seemed to have revitalized his concerts as well. With an arsenal of great new songs and the addition of guitarist Larry Campbell, the winter 1997 theater shows are some of the most beloved shows of the NET. Sheryl Crow guests on "Highway 61 Revisited" and "Knockin' On Heaven's Door."
San Jose, 5/19/98
The band assembled here – with Bucky Baxter and Larry Campbell on guitar – ranks among the greatest backing groups Dylan has ever worked with. This soundboard captures them at their peak. "Love Sick" has never sounded so haunting, and "Tangled Up In Blue" soars like it hasn’t before or since. The sound is also better than most officially released live albums.
In the middle of a co-headlining tour with Paul Simon, Dylan booked a last-minute show at the miniscule Tramps in New York. Elvis Costello comes out for "I Shall Be Released," but the real highlights are "Visions of Johanna," "Seeing The Real You At Last" and "Every Grain Of Sand." Dylan’s always more adventurous in small halls, and this stunning show is the best example of that.
Fans were stunned at opening night of the Fall 2002 leg of the NET when Dylan began the show on piano, playing the born-again track "Solid Rock." Shock turned to outright disbelief when he covered the Rolling Stones’ "Brown Sugar" and three Warren Zevon songs. It persisted through the rest of the year – with tracks by Don Henley and Neil Young coming in later. These shows were the most bizarre and fun of the NET and must-hears.
Opening with "Rumble" to honor the recently departed guitar great Link Wray, Dylan pulled out two of his most unexpected songs of his live career at this London show: the first (and to date only) performance of the Basement Tapes gem "Million Dollar Bash" and a cover of the Clash’s "London Calling." He sounds like he was having a blast, and the crowd goes absolutely batshit crazy. If only he did stuff like that more often.
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