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Bob Dylan – I Don’t Believe It (Tambourine Man Records TMR-134/135)

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I Don’t Believe It (Tambourine Man Records TMR-134/135)

Bethel Woods Center For The Arts, Bethel, NY – June 30th, 2007

Disc 1: Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat, The Times They Are A-Changin’, I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight, It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding), Just Like A Woman, The Levee’s Gonna Break, The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll, High Water (For Charley Patton), Spirit On The Water, Tangled Up In Blue, Blind Willie McTell

Disc 2: I Don’t Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met), When The Deal Goes Down, Highway 61 Revisited, Blowin’ In The Wind, Thunder On The Mountain, All Along The Watchtower. Bonus track #1, The Star Pavilion, Hershey Park, Hershey, PA – June 24th, 2007: Cat’s In The Well, It Ain’t Me Babe, Watching The River Flow. Bonus tracks #2, Pines Theater, Frank Newhall Look Memorial Park, Florence, MA – June 26th, 2007: Every Grain Of Sand, Shelter From The Storm, Things Have Changed

A week into the tour and Dylan plays at the Bethel Woods Center For The Arts in Bethel, upstate New York. This venue was built on the very site of the Woodstock Festival in 1969 on what was Max Yasgur’s farm, close to where he lived in the sixties. Even though one of the agendas of the promoters of the site was to coax Dylan out of post-motorcycle accident by holding the festival so close to him home, they were unsuccessful and Dylan himself spent the weekend in England getting ready for his appearance at the Isle Of Wight Festival instead. The irony of playing on this spot thirty-eight years later was not lost on him or the 16,000 in attendance. The review in the New York Times states, “The set mingled 1960s songs he could have played at Woodstock with those from his current album, Modern Times (Columbia), along with a few exceptions.

He sang ‘The Times They Are A-Changin’ ‘: once his advice to an older generation, now a warning to his own. ‘It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)’ drew cheers when he sang, ‘I got nothing, Ma, to live up to.’ He delivered both songs not with youthful, manifesto-hurling defiance but with a jocular ease, as knowing admonitions from grizzled Uncle Bob. Mr. Dylan and his band – the one that backed him on Modern Times – arrived in black suits and black hats, and for the first few songs Mr. Dylan played electric guitar before moving to electric organ. He was unsmiling and intent on the music. The frog rarely leaves his throat nowadays, but his vocal lines are as improvisational as ever, swerving onto or around the beat. And he uses his gruffness both playfully and bitterly, sometimes dropping to a pitiless, sepulchral bass.” (“A Mythic Troubadour Visits Hallowed Ground” by Jon Pareles)

TMR use an excellent sounding complete DAT audience recording which emphasizes the lower frequencies. It is doubtful if TMR used anything to enhance the tape and is very natural and clean sounding. The first five songs all date back to the sixties including the rarely played “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat.” This is the second performance of the piece on this tour and is a welcome change of pace from “Cat’s In The Well.” The mid-paced blues number is followed by “The Times They Are A-Changin’” in a version which emphasizes long instrumental passages between the verses. “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” features an unusual guitar solo by Dylan in the latter half of the song, where he is chopping at the guitar producing a staccato affect. “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” is the final song with Dylan on guitar. The band behind him hit a nice groove in this new arrangement and the audience reacts loudly to the “even the president of the United States must sometimes have to stand naked.”

“Just Like A Woman” is taken at a casual pace and has the first harp solo of the evening. “The Levee’s Gonna Break” is the first of the newer songs and the first from the new album to be played. One of the highlights of the set is the performance of “High Water (For Charley Patton).” An attendee describes the song, “this was a rearrangement from prior versions I’ve heard. There’s a mostly chromatic descending line throughout the verses, along with some almost discordant notes in there, which takes that ‘circus/carnival on the edge of disaster’ feel which started with ‘Levee’s Gonna Break’ and took it to the edge, and let it stay there. Bob’s weird organ playing added hugely to the mood, making this a bluegrass-mixed with electric Miles Davis mixed with a kind of menacing ‘Benefit Of Mr. Kite’ sound– it was a sonic landscape of its own, like some planet that’s always been there but just discovered” (Mike Skliar).

“Blind Willie McTell” receives its second performance of the year. The set ends with “Blowin’ In The Wind” in the same arrangement Dylan introduced on the European tour earlier in the year. Only two encores, “Thunder On The Mountain” and “All Along The Watchtower” are played with “Like A Rolling Stone,” a frequent encore, being dropped. Between the two songs, after Dylan introduces the band he says, “It’s nice to be back here. Last time we played here we had to play at six in the morning. And it was a-raining. And the field was full of mud.” He is speaking of his appearance at the 1994 Woodstock Festival in Saugerties. There are two sets of bonus tracks to fill out the second disc. The first is the opening three songs from the June 24 show in Hershey, Pennsylvania. The sound quality is slightly duller than the Bethel tape with the vocals very high in the mix.

Following that, the second set of bonus tracks come from the June 26 concert in Florence, Massachusetts and are sourced from a very good but slightly distant audience recording. The track selection is much more interesting than the bonus from Hershey. The profound “Every Grain Of Sand” receives its first outing of the year. Dylan plays guitar on this rendition that has a longer instrumental introduction and is more upbeat than other versions. (The only other performance of this song so far was on July 17 in Denver where he plays keyboards). He even plays a little guitar solo in the middle of the track. “Shelter From The Storm” is taken at a slow, meditative pace. The verse “suddenly I turned around / and she was standing there” is moved earlier in the song and the verses are punctuated with gorgeous guitar solos and turns into a masterpiece. I Don’t Believe It is packaged in a double slimline jewel case and TMR continue the use of thick glossy inserts and picture discs. (GS)

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Bob Dylan - I Don’t Believe It (Tambourine Man Records TMR-134/135), 2.5 out of 5 based on 1 rating

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