Bruce Springsteen has been covering Bob Dylan songs in concert since the early Seventies when his pre-fame group the Bruce Springsteen Band would play “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” as part of their club show. And even when Columbia burdened him with the “New Dylan” moniker after signing him in 1972, he continued to honor his songwriting hero by playing “I Want You,” “Chimes of Freedom,” “Highway 61 Revisited” and several others in concert.
But there was only one brief moment in history when Bob Dylan returned the favor and covered a Bruce Springsteen song. It took place on January 12th, 1990, at Toad’s Place in New Haven, Connecticut. The 700-seat club was booked at the last minute so Dylan could prepare for his upcoming South American tour. The lucky few that managed to grab tickets had little idea they’d see one of the strangest Dylan shows in history where he’d play 50 different songs throughout the course of four sets, dragging out covers like Joe South’s “Walk a Mile on My Shoes,” Kris Kristofferson’s “Help Me Make It Through the Night” and Hank Williams’ “Lonesome Whistle Blues.” He also avoided many of his biggest hits in favor of obscurities like “Man of Peace,” “Lenny Bruce” and “I Believe in You.”
Near the end of the third set, the band kicked into Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark.” As can you can hear from this somewhat lackluster audience tape, the fact that Dylan only knew about 20 percent of the words, at best, did little to stop him from giving it his all. The audience didn’t even seem to recognize what he was singing until he got to the chorus, even if he did manage to get occasional lines like “I ain’t nothing but tired” and “shake this world off my shoulder” right. He basically made up the rest of the song as he went along.
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This was Dylan’s first concert of the Nineties and a very strange way to kick off the decade. Five years later, Dylan and Springsteen would perform “Forever Young” at the Concert for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It was as polished as Dylan’s “Dancing in the Dark” was ragged, and unsurprisingly, Bruce had done his homework and got every lyric exactly right.