Bob Dylan and the Grateful Dead’s July 19th, 1987 show at Eugene, Oregon’s Autzen Stadium has circulated in bootleg circles for decades, and it’s now available on YouTube Music under the title Honky Tonk Lagoon.
This doesn’t appear to be a legit release of any sort, but the sound is pristine and some of the songs have been shared on Dylan’s official YouTube channel.
This was the fourth stop on Dylan and the Dead’s six-city stadium tour in the summer of 1987. Each night began with a two-hour set by the Grateful Dead, and then Dylan joined them for another 12 or 13 tunes and the encore. In his 2004 memoir Chronicles, Dylan wrote about how the Dead pushed him to play songs he hadn’t done in decades.
“If I had known this to begin with, I might not have taken the dates,” he wrote. “I had no feelings for any of these songs and didn’t know how I could sing them with any intent. A lot of them might have only been sung once anyway, the time they’d been recorded. There were so many that I couldn’t tell which was which — I might even get the words mixed up with others. I needed sets of lyrics to understand what they were talking about, and when I saw the lyrics, especially to the older, more obscure songs, I couldn’t see how I could get this stuff off emotionally.”
He eventually wandered out of the rehearsal hall, at least according to his telling in Chronicles, and stumbled into a bar where an old man was singing jazz standards like “Time on My Hands” and “Gloomy Sunday.” “Suddenly and without warning, it was like the guy had an open window to my soul,” Dylan wrote. “It was like he was saying, ‘You should do it this way.'”
When Dylan returned to the rehearsal space with the Dead, he felt ready to tackle any song they threw at him. “Maybe they just dropped something in my drink, I can’t say,” Dylan wrote. “But anything they wanted to do was fine with me. I had that old jazz singer to thank.”
Dylan is a notoriously unreliable narrator of his own life, and it’s likely this story is at least partially fictionalized, but the Dylan and the Dead tour did indeed feature songs like “Chimes of Freedom” and “John Brown” that he hadn’t touched since his folkie days in the early Sixties. And this Eugene, Oregon, show that popped up on YouTube contains the first “Dead Man, Dead Man” since 1981 and the first “Watching the River Flow” since 1978. It also features the rendition of “Queen Jane Approximately” that wound up on the official live album Dylan & The Dead.
The reviews for Dylan & The Dead were overwhelmingly negative. “Quite possibly the worst album by either Bob Dylan or the Grateful Dead, the live Dylan & the Dead completely squanders its promise,” reads the All Music review. “Working from an intriguing selection of songs — it includes staples like ‘Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door’ and more obscure gems like ‘Joey’ — the Dead and Dylan contribute listless, meandering versions that are simply boring.”
For years, fans of both Dylan and the Dead have claimed the live album failed to include the best moments from the tour. And now that Honky Tony Lagoon has entered the picture via YouTube Music, the debate can continue. (And if you’re really hungry for a Dylan and the Dead fix, here are five hours of tour rehearsals that somehow leaked out to the public.)