Crossroads [ No manufacturer listed ]
San Francisco Bay Blues / Pretty Boy Floyd / With God On Our Side / Girl From The North Country / Gates Of Eden / Forever Young – December 4th 1988, Oakland Coliseum, Oakland, California.
Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright / It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry / Born In Time / Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat / Not Dark Yet / Crossroads / Sunshine of Your Love / Bright Lights, Big City – June 30th 1999, Madison Square Garden, New York, New York. [76:39]
In 1988, mere months after the inaugural shows of the NET were played Bob Dylan & his new accomplice G.E. Smith were asked to join the other acts at Neil & Pegi Young’s second Bridge School Benefit. An occasion that prides itself on it’s acoustic exclusivity as much as for helping the Young’s Bridge School. This, the second of the long running charity event, moved venue from it’s inaugural & yet to be usual location having been relocated to the Oakland Coliseum.
This show was originally released on ‘Blown Out On The Trail’ [ Moontunes 019 / 20 ] as a secondary partner to the Jones Beach show of 1988. It has also appeared on the unknown manufacturers CD ‘San Francisco Bay Bridge’ in better quality than the Moontunes CD but this new CD offers a splendid upgrade to the other two releases.
Bob & G.E. played a short 6 song set that evening – The other performers were usually given a short set in which to ply their trade and so tonight it didn’t change – This featured one of the first live renditions of “Pretty Boy Floyd & “San Francisco Bay Blues” that Dylan had played since prior to his ascent to fame in New York’s village but “Pretty Boy Floyd” was obviously reintroduced for tonight after being recorded for the “Folkways: A Vision Shared – A Tribute to Woody Guthrie & Leadbelly” album. The set started a little shakily as the two gelled together although neither should have been nervy about tonight’s proceedings – Maybe it was because they were bringing back a long unperformed track from the silence.
“San Francisco Bay Blues” shows Dylan getting in to the mood of it all and his ‘Bay – hey – hey’s’, hardly his natural range are delightful to hear. “Pretty Boy Floyd” continues the folk routes trend while it becomes clear Dylan and Smith have settled in to their form now and pretty soon the duo were back up to speed again.
“With God On Our Side” finds Dylan slowing in to a more natural, slower rhythm. Dylan sings the full 9 verses clearly and thoroughly, neither mincing or slurring a word to which he receives a rapturous ovation.
“Gates Of Eden” is virtually spat out in pointed, sharp lines with such an energy you could be forgiven for thinking that Dylan has stepped back in to the body of his 20 year old self and reassured the position once more. “Forever Young” is that carefully scripted letter, passed from man to child or from Bob to his fans. Sung with gusto and passion, Dylan nails it with this performance and by the time they end the set, it’s almost as if Dylan and G.E. own the stage and very nearly make it their night. Of course it goes without saying that 1988 was the year that Dylan turned it all around, came back from the disrespected Dylan & The Dead tour and the dithering & sometimes uncoordinated European tour with Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. He really set back up, focused in and tightened up.
Flash forward 11 years & Dylan was playing at another charity concert. This time at Eric Clapton’s behest & the “Eric Clapton & Friends To Benefit Crossroads Centre, Antigua” bash. Instead of appearing as part of a duo, Dylan plays as part of a bigger picture, joining Eric Clapton & his band for another selection of 6 ( 7 if you’re counting the communal version of Jimmy Reeds “Bright Lights, Big City” ) songs and once again the main list of the set is Dylan’s.
We’re presented with the big feature of all the songs that Bob featured on that night – Previously only “Don’t Think Twice” & “Crossroads” have seen release from a professional recording – but now the label have the pleasure of presenting the full set. Dylan is once again in strong voice tonight – his vocals quite readily strengthened from the relentless touring of 1998 & the shows he has already played in 1999. This is not simply a “Best Of” set as one may expect from a normal charity event ( Although we have obviously learned never should anything be expected from Bob Dylan ) and his hand is well played.
Spanning the very early ’60’s up to Dylan’s most recent album, he throws out many shining examples & shows those surrounding guests just how a career should be run.
“It Takes A Lot To laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry” is an electric blues. Featuring David Sandborn on saxophone, it crawls around like a lazy snake and hits a pinnacle when Clapton begins to throw in his guitar licks towards the end.
Eric turns to the microphone to duet with Bob on “Born In Time” but steps back when he seems to over shadow Dylan. Maybe it was always going to be that the pair would sing separate verses anyway but when they sing together, as towards the middle, they get muddled and put each other off, blotting what should have been a tight little duet. Dylan has always seemed perturbed by over fawning contemporaries and Clapton has always let his feelings known as to how he feels about Dylan’s talent so this could be the crux of the matter.
Things come together again for “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box hat” though not as invigorating as Dylan sparing with the Hawks, this version builds slowly and carefully before crashing to a funky halt.
We come right back up to date with a version of ‘TOOM’s’ “Not Dark Yet”. Rather pleasingly it’s not as dark a rumination as on the album as Clapton’s guitar picks it up rather nicely and turns it around from a deathless resignation to a brighter, forward looking glint in Dylan’s eye.
“Sunshine Of Your Love” is possibly as heavy as you’ll ever have heard it. Slower than it’s usual racing pace the band are joined by Mr. Sandborn on saxophone once more. Dylan sits this one out this time so it’s Eric and his guitar who are the staring presence and his liquid soloing ( Playing “Blue Moon” ) is mighty. It increases with fury until it explodes in a Stooges / ‘Helter Skelter’ style, free form jam towards the end.
The finale for this evening is a louche take on “Bright Lights, Big City” as Eric and his band are joined again by Dylan but also this time by Sheryl Crow who duets with Clapton. There’s no info I can find that points to quite who’s playing on accordion but this, teamed with the saxophone adds a wheezy, bluesy quality to the rendition.
So why have I written this review and the above tracklisting ‘backwards’ as it were? Although the CD is named after the ‘Crossroads Center’ set and the cover lists the songs as such there must have been a little mix up between printing the sleeves and pressing the disk and so the 1988 show appears first – chronologically, it makes sense – why wouldn’t you want the first set first? – but rather like the support band to the main act, we have the show that we didn’t necessarily pay to hear but end up being pleasantly surprised anyway.
The artwork itself is very classy, a trifold digipack with a grainy quality but arty, b & w photo on the cover, a very clear set list on the back while the inside is littered with photos of Dylan and Clapton from the show and also a picture of a ticket stub from one of the lucky attendees.
Needless to say, this find is one of the best Dylan finds this year along with the few Nashville tapes. Soundboard Dylan gets fewer and fewer and these days, they’re rarely as good as this.