Standing At Valencia’s Gate (Durango 00/01)
Velódromo Luis Puig, Valencia, Spain — April 15, 1999
Disc 1 (68:18)
Friend of the Devil (acoustic), My Back Pages (acoustic), Masters of War (acoustic), Girl From The North Country (acoustic), Tangled Up In Blue (acoustic), Mr. Tambourine Man (acoustic), Forever Young (acoustic), Can’t Wait, Just Like A Woman, Stuck Inside of Mobile (With the Memphis Blues Again)
Disc 2 (36:24)
Señor (Tales Of Yankee Power), Highway 61 Revisited, Love Sick, Rainy Day Women #12 & 35, Blowin’ in the Wind (acoustic), Not Fade Away
A new Bob Dylan venture called Durango has recently come in from the Far East, sporting an Old West name along with cowgirl logo and custom sticker that recall some other high-quality labels. The top-notch content is here to match. Durango’s debut release of Dylan’s performance at Valencia, Spain on 15 April, 1999, uses a terrific stereo audience recording that captures the proceedings with remarkable presence, and with an intimacy that belies the fact the show was performed in an arena with a capacity of 6,500. In many respects this set looks ahead a few months to the memorable small-venue shows Dylan spun out from the Pacific Northwest to New York City in June and July of ’99 (documented on Wild Wolf’s Ace of Clubs box set). Listening to this Valencia ’99, you feel up-close and club-connected. The recording has plenty of punch and outstanding clarity, qualities it shares with Thinman’s Souls of Santiago release of the April 9 show from the week before.
It was in this spring of ’99, as Dylan worked his way through Portugal and Spain before heading to other stops in Europe, that he and the band started stacking the acoustic numbers six and seven deep to start each show. They maintained the number usually at five or six through the rest of the year, with one show in November at Atlantic City that was actually all acoustic. The effect is to pull the audience immediately into listening focus and keep them there for quite some time. The crowd noise here is minimal and generally at a distance – they make their presence known, but don’t even come close to getting in the way.
From the moment the band’s on the run in the “Friend of the Devil” opener, it’s clear that everybody’s ready for the ride, and they’ll let Dylan do the driving. He kicks into gear with a nice upfront guitar solo that’s blues tinged and full of single-string runs alternating with full strums. Flat sour notes dart in and out. His vocals are strong and expressive, with phrasing that is effectively offbeat and extended, the lyrics sung more as free flowing sentences than as single words delivered lockstep to the rhythm.
The beauty is that the recording catches all the twists and turns and nuances so well. As Dylan moves on through “My Back Pages”‘ and “Masters of War,” his voice cuts you through with the old sharp edge, makes you squirm with every patented moral sneer he hurls toward those who would reduce the world to politics or to ashes. At the same time you’re struck by the sound of Dylan’s plangent guitar, and compelled to follow the doomy call-and-response exchange with Larry Campbell as they and the band rumble like slow caissons through earth’s eternal zone of the military and funereal.
The mood stays meditative with the lovely and wisftul “Girl From the North Country,” featuring intricate guitar interplay punctuated by Dylan’s quick crisp strums. Things kick into higher gear with the intense narrative of “Tangled Up in Blue”, Dylan shouting the lines out to the top of his nasal range. Then as the ride accelerates, we all drive that car as far as we can, this one not abandoned but heading right on, careening ’round New Orleans and other points south, the wounded words flung now with a force both moral and centrifugal.
With “Mr. Tambourine Man” we look back to the New Orleans Dylan first saw through his own special kaleidoscope, where songs are played midst swirl and jangle, lyrics are laid forth slow and bare, and the musicians are comfortable to let their guitars amble in unhurried parade. “Forever Young” follows with similar feel. Bucky Baxter’s steel slides plaintively in the background, while Larry — the man in the long grey coat, whose fluid and well informed instrumental work enhances so many songs acoustic and electric during these years — provides his usual sympathetic guitar accompaniment and here also joins in on the vocal chorus.
Now comes the first move to electric. The transition to “Can’t Wait” is quiet and seamless, aided again by the presence of the steel as the band eases into a nice chunky intro. There follows some lively guitar work, Tony Garnier’s fat bass loping along as solid underpinning. The band gets into a great little Memphisbilly jam that really cooks. Dylan continues to accentuate with typical discordant jabs, and the whole affair is impressively workmanlike and well meshed. Everyone plays his part, everything is in its proper place. “Just Like A Woman” displays more of Dylan’s persistent solo guitar work along with an especially effective rasp to his voice.
It’s once we get “Stuck Inside of Mobile” that we know we’re now caught in the magnetic coils of a powerful electric band. After a silky smooth country intro, they launch an all-out attack that’s loose and slashing and angular, but knows its limits and is always on the mark. Notes and wild notions tumble ’round like a rock ‘n’ roll barrel of monkeys, then always seem to land right where they should to be hooked up with the next musical idea. The timing and integration are superb. Dylan keeps wailing out “Mowwww-beel” and the whole gang has a fine old time.
A sense of the sinuous carries over into “Señor,” where Larry’s wiry guitar winds around Dylan’s pointed stabs, then offers some very crunchy passages. With “Highway 61″ we’re hit once again with a barrage of rock ‘n’ roll that soars to Larry’s raw and nimble lead. This song showcases not only the fully integrated sound of a powerhouse outfit, but also the exceptionally clear separation and balance in this recording that allow all the musicians and their instruments to be heard so well.
On to the encores and a version of “Love Sick” that’s noteworthy for its somber resignation. “Rainy Day Women” is a relentless walking blues that churns along and offers the opportunity for another all-out jam, again featuring Larry as he wings masterfully through several classic riffs. “Blowin’ in the Wind” takes us back to the acoustic with everybody joining in on the vocal chorus. The “Wiiiind” is stretched way out, and some nice double-time strumming adds to the dramatic effect. Then in comes Dylan to finish off with simple and effective harmonica. “Not Fade Away” closes things out, an electric send-off with everybody joining in on vocals, and the only song of the night that clocks in at under 5 minutes.
This is simply a classic show from one of Dylan’s finest periods, presented here in classy style. Again as Thinman did with Souls of Santiago, and as has been done many times with similar “one for the ages” shows, Durango has chosen to have the masterful performance stand on its own without bonus tracks, a move that makes sense. This is another of those special ones that deserves to be experienced pure and intact, beginning to end, savored for a while as the disc spins to a stop, then returned to for repeated listens. The times in between can be spent indulging in the nifty packaging, from the color photos that grace the heavy-stock front and back inserts and the discs themselves, to the custom sticker and the 12-page color booklet of more period photos and graphics, also done on heavy glossy stock. Presentation and performance are truly beautiful – in the end that’s all we know, and all we need to know.If you liked this review, buy me a cup of joe. (Suggested: $3 a shot or $7.5 for a double)