How Sweet The Sound (Godfather Records GR 569/570)
Star Pavillion, Hershey, PA – August 13th, 1997
CD 1: 1. Intro / Absolutely Sweet Marie 2. Ballad Of A Thin Man 3. Tough Mama 4. You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere 5. Silvio (Bob Dylan & Robert Hunter) 6. To Ramona 7. Tangled Up In Blue 8. Cocaine Blues (traditional) 9. God Knows 10. Simple Twist Of Fate 11. Highway 61 Revisited 12. One Of Us Must Know (Sooner Or Later)
CD 2: 1. Knockin’ On Heavens Door 2. Rainy Day Women #12 & 35 3. I Want You 4. This Wheel’s On Fire 5. Pretty Peggy-O 6. I Shall Be Released 7. Blind Willie McTell 8. Lay Lady Lay 9. Friend Of The Devil 10. Tears Of Rage 11. Leopard-Skin Pill-box Hat
America’s chocolate capital sets the scene for this release by the Don. A unique tape to the label & a very good sounding audience recording it is too. Recorded at The Star Pavillion, Hershey the concert here came mid August. Dylan’s 46th date this year and his 9th after taking a near 3 month break due to problems arising from histoplasmosis. A certain sense of urgency drives Dylan tonight as if to refute claims of any power lost or to give a Mark Twain-ish shrug to his enemies “Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated” indeed. “Absolutely Sweet Marie” rolls straight in, blustering along with magnificent drive. Dylan’s voice is on good form tonight & while he doesn’t garble his words he shoots along the lines enough to make some of them slightly unintelligible.
A furious & spirited solo spearheads the final third of the track which races towards a crazy ending, each instrument on stage effecting it’s own nuances within. A cheerly upbeat Bob thanks the audience before heading in to an equally exciting if more metered “Ballad Of A Thinman” – The doomish slink, the thunderous beat, et al are all there for the first rendition of this track for this part of the tour. It does at least give Bobby a chance to slow his enunciation down to the benefit of the crowds hearing. More thrillin’ & swingin’ solos drive home the point & make for an enthralling listen.
“Tough Mama” makes another appearance this season, taken from the shaded & not often discussed cousin of “Blood On The Tracks”, “Planet Waves” – another pace altogether – strong, rampant & thumping befitting the words sung to his unknown muse. “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere”, the famous Basement track, takes it’s stage as a regular number 4 in the set list – an obvious fan favorite it’s a standard but solid rendition, Bobby’s voice growing higher in the mix as opposed to his band mates. The country styled licks as instantly recognizable as the steady, homely beat.
A punchy “Silvio” is played next – a mainstay of the current tour & always played at this juncture each & every show. A chance to drag the crowd closer if their devotion wasn’t apparent already & a knowing tip of the hat to Dylan’s friend Jerry Garcia who had passed away almost 2 years to the day. It’s a stretched, electrifying version that spans over 7 brisk minutes – Being played by such a tight band obviously benefits it’s outing & both Bucky Baxter & Tony Campbell do it justice, sparing with wigged out guitar passages & a fastidious beat by David Kemper. A unique quirk of the tape is after the second line of the song – “Looks Like Tomorrow Is Coming On Fast” someone very close to the tapers left hand side laughs – It’s a hearty chuckle, like a riddlers explosion of glee & in itself brings a little bit of magic to the recording by way of proxy.
“To Ramona” wordlessly heads up the acoustic portion of the set. A Delicate & crisp sound this brings us closer to the action with just a hint of audience reaction. This particular track is gilded with various exquisite solos that tend to glide freely rather than hesitate & stop. “Tangled Up In Blue” resumes work as a danceable ode having David rejoin the fray to add a splash of drums. It’s slightly more workman like though – Dylan knows what he’d doing as he’s done it countless times before – so despite the effort put in to making a decent fist of a remake of the song it’s non too exciting & would only make the diehards stick around. Dylan throws in a hurried & disinterested band introduction before picking out the traditional “Cocaine Blues” for inspection.
This season it has been pulled out to stand along side or instead of “Roving Gambler”. Much like “To Ramona” it’s a bright if sparse rendition of this country styled classic that ambles along quite seductively – certainly one of the highlights of the evening. Back to electric & “God Knows” – brilliantly pared down at the beginning before warming to a hotly burnishing crescendo & then falling to a military-esque stomp it’s another of tonight’s highlights. The band really hit the nail on the head punctuating the heady need within the lyrics. “Highway ’61 Revisited” fails to ignite as it has done before – although it’s still a powerful, on the nose rendition it’s missing something of a real spark.
For Bobby’s first encore he springs “One Of Us Must Know ( Sooner Or Later)” A track that wouldn’t be played on tour after this round & still hasn’t at the time of this review. Bucky’s glimmering electric slide work is fully efficient here & raises the heartbreak to a suitably affectionate level. The harmonies are pleasantly ragged between Dylan, Larry & Bucky.
The second encore is either a smirking dig at Dylan’s problems or just an undue coincidence ( It was only played once in the last part of the tour in New Hampshire on the 11th of April & this is the first time it’s been played again – The song does take on a whole new meaning today though. ) “Knockin’ On Heavens Door” is Played acoustically for the first verse & chorus & it is awarded a wonderfully raucous reception on it’s opening line so the crowd are rewarded with a blissful take on the song that, once again stretches to an extended, euphoric ending. Dylan obviously pleased that he’s been given a chance to step back on stage, the audience twice as happy that he’s there. “Rainy Day Women ⌗ 12 & 35 leads out the night in a less reflective mood – a roof raising barn storm which includes a good few showy solos, a brilliant vocal by Dylan & an obvious yet no less powerful finale to top of the show.
The bonus tracks are no slouches either – from Loon Mountain, Lincoln, August 3rd we’re offered a lovesick, pleading “I Want You” – The electric steel underpins the hurt & want in Dylan’s voice. He doesn’t rush to spit out the phrases & is only too happy to take his time to offer his words to his proposed lover. “This Wheels On Fire” is another measure of studied cool, gliding rather than sprinting although the band do manage to form a tough frame around which the track holds itself. Ponderous but not introspective & boring it somehow has the edge of a spy movie theme.
“Pretty Peggy-O” from Oakdale, Wallingford, August 18th the traditional track re-worked by Dylan for his inaugural first album appears here with bells & whistles – a sanguine beat, weeping slide & winsome melody – The sound is a warm, mid concert relief – a breather from the tumbling thrust of Dylan’s other rockers. That it was played straight after that nights “Absolutely Sweet Marie” comes as no surprise but it that it was only played once within this section of the tour is a shame. “Blind Willie McTell” from Pine Knob, Clarkston, August 10th brims with a rumbling darkness, managed with a cutting solo & some of Dylan’s finest phrasing it’s menace is potent & rising. Another Highlight.
From the Du Maurier Stadium, Montreal, August 5th a placid “Lay Lady Lay” is reinvented – It still retains it’s brilliant slide part but now includes the crunch of a guitar & loses the closeness of the original – Dylan’s no longer crooning to an intended he’s singing to swingin’ lovers & baby boomers. “Friend Of The Devil” from the GTE Ampitheatre, Virginia August 22nd is the second Robert Hunter penned song of the set. Featuring Larry on fiddle it’s rendition is an excellent nod to the sprit of the Dead’s original
To end the set “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat” from the Mann Music Center, Philadelphia, August 20th – A mean, truculent, bluesy wrestle with guitars that shines throughout & paces itself well rounding off the whole in a fitting way
The packaging is The Godfathers usual excellent work – The front cover is of a moody Dylan on stage lit in green, dressed in a grey suit with velvet collar, playing guitar & staring straight to camera. to his left is a distressed green border with his name & the title – A punning twist on the location – on a bold white. Below that a tour poster from the date & venue. The back of the sleeve is almost the same using a different photo of Dylan in the same setting along with a full track & date listing & two ticket stubs again from the same date bearing the legend “No cameras / video / recording .. ” The tri-fold inner is another scene of green positing press shots of Dylan & shots of him on stage along with a full itinerary of the tour list for the U.S. & Canada Summer Tour 1997.