Bob Dylan – Iron Waves (Thinman 090/091)

Iron Waves (Thinman 090/091)

Warfield Theater, San Francisco, CA – November 12th, 1980

Disc 1 (67:27):  Let It Ride, Show Me The Way, Look Up, Saved By the Grace of Your Love, Gotta Serve Somebody, I Believe In You, Like A Rolling Stone, Till I Get It Right, Man Gave Names To All The Animals, Precious Angel, Ain’t Gonna Go To Hell, Mary From The Wild Moor, Girl From The North Country, Slow Train

Disc 2 (57:16):  Walk Around Heaven All Day, Abraham Martin And John, Let’s Keep It Between Us, Covenant Woman, Solid Rock, Simple Twist Of Fate, Just Like A Woman, Caribbean Wind, In The Garden, Blowin’ In The Wind, City Of Gold, Love Minus Zero

With Thinman finally giving systematic presentation of Bob Dylan’s Musical Retrospective 1980 tour, it is naturally they would offer the silver pressed debut of the November 12th Fox Warfield show in San Francisco.  The most interesting song from this tape “Caribbean Wind” can be found on Acetates on the Tracks 3 (Howlin Wolf BDAT03), but Iron Waves is the first release of the entire concert on silver disc. 

The opening gospel tracks, “Gotta Serve Somebody,” “I Believe In You,” the first ninety seconds of “Like A Rolling Stone” and “Abraham Martin And John” are in mono and the rest of the tape is in very dynamic stereo.  There are several non-destructive cuts between some of the numbers and muted audience conversations scattered throughout the performance, but it is one of the more enjoyable recordings from this short tour.

The opening four gospel are all originals written by the women.  Sung third is a song which Thinman list as “unknown.”  It sounds like a unique performance which some sources title “Look Up.”  Dylan’s set begins with “Gotta Serve Somebody” and Dylan sings it with the hortatory subjunctive according to the studio version.  The musical transition between “I Believe In You” to “Like A Rolling Stone” is pure magic and is an early highlight of the set.

Before “Ain’t Gonna Go To Hell For Anybody” he says, “Thank you. This is a new song. I don’t think we played it here before. I want to say hello to Greil Marcus, if he’s here tonight. I think he’s here tonight. Greil Marcus is one of the … I guess he’s the top rock ‘n’ roll critic of the era. Whatever that means.”  Of Dylan’s unreleased songs this has such a deep and infectious hook that it’s a crime it was never completed.  It is an interesting song written for the gospel era which  focuses upon two lovers and their fate against the backdrop of a biblical cosmology. 

Afterwards Dylan gets into a long explanation of the next song “Mary Of The Wild Moor“, saying, “All right, we’re gonna try something new tonight. Don’t know how it’s gonna come off, but we’ll try it anyway. A lot of people ask me, they want to know about old songs, and new songs and stuff like that. This is a song I used to sing before I even wrote any songs. But this is a real old song, as old as I know. This here is called an autoharp. So this is how I guess you call one of them old folk songs, I used to sing. I used to sing a lot of these things. Well, I hope it brings you back, I know it brings me back. This is Mary And The Wild Moor. I guess it’s about 200 years old.” 

This is the first ever Dylan performance of the song which he sings as a duet with Havis.

Before the final song of the night he plays “Caribbean Wind,” the highlight of this release, for the only known time.  It was written earlier in the year and recorded in April 1981 but wasn’t released until 1985’s Biograph boxset.  Before playing the track he gets into a long introduction, saying:  “This is a 12-string guitar. First time I heard a 12 string guitar was played by Leadbelly, don’t know if you’ve heard of him? Anyway, he was a prisoner in, I guess it was Texas State Prison, and I forget what his real name was but people just called him Leadbelly. He was recorded by a man named Alan Lomax, I don’t know if you’ve heard of him? Great man, he’s done a lot of good for music. Anyway, he got Leadbelly out and brought him up to New York. And he made a lot of records there. At first he was just doing prison songs and stuff like that. Same man that recorded him also recorded Muddy Waters before Muddy Waters became a big name. Anyway, Leadbelly did most of those kind of songs. He’d been out of prison for some time when he decided to do children’s songs and people said oh, why did Leadbelly change? Some people liked the old ones, some people liked the new ones. Some people liked both songs. But he didn’t change, he was the same man! Anyway, this is a song called …, It’s a new song I wrote a while back. I’m gonna try and do it as good as I can.  There’s somebody important here tonight who wants to hear it, so we’ll give it our best.”

The “important” person Dylan mentions is journalist Paul Williams, founder of Crawdaddy magazine who read the lyrics several days before and asked him to play the song live.  Many years later Williams writes:  “‘Caribbean Wind’ is the high point of the fall 1980 shows, a sublime performance of a Dylan masterpiece that never quite came together in the studio (the Biograph performance, recorded in  April 1981, is inferior both lyrically and musically).  Dylan was dissatisfied with the band’s playing on the song November 12, that may be because he was on stage, not in the audience.  Tim Drummond (de facto bandleader) and the other musicians provide superb support and hard-rock embellishment as Dylan delivers a blistering vocal performance; the net result, even though you can’t hear all the words, is filled with an excitement comparable to the best of Dylan’s spontaneous studio sessions.  The song, through this performance, burns itself into the consciousness of every person who ever hears it.  It becomes flesh; it breaths; even the mere memory of hearing it roars into the listener’s blood.”  (Bob Dylan Performing Artist 1974-1986, page 186).

Some have said this is Dylan’s single greatest live vocal performance and there is a lot of truth in that.  He burns with unheard intensity as he sings the narrative which is based upon the particular theological stance of his conversion.  The “born-again” theology stresses what can be called “conversion by salvation” which stresses one’s personal encounter with Christ as the point of their conversion into the Christian life. 

This is the popular theology preached in American evangelicalism aka “decision theology.”  (This stands in contrast to traditional Christianity which teaches that we are converted at baptism when we’re infants, given the gift of the Holy Spirit in a doctrine called “baptismal regeneration).

This distinction is important for understanding the meaning of “Caribbean Wind” for it deals with a common situation with recent converts who enter faith through a “born again” experience.  For what is taught is that once one make the decision to follow Christ there will be blessings and a new life.  But the resolve of faith takes a hit when there is a failure in temptations of the flesh. 

Questions and doubts pop up and linger about one’s faith and salvation which many can’t really handle and fall away.  The song is a narrative about an encounter with a woman whom he wants to preach to, but instead seems to have relations and a son with.  The lyrics on the final Biograph recording have dense lyrics, placing the listener at a distance from the story but at this early stage it is clear, immediate and extremely powerful.

At one point, after the fire of his conversion died down, Dylan was quoted that he didn’t like feeling guilty all the time and that sentiment is forcefully expressed in the song. 

The guilt is not only in the relations with the intense woman from Haiti and is his failure to convert her, but also in not rescuing her from her vision and pain “that has arisen from the ashes abided in her memory” and her return back to the place with “evil reports / Of riotin’ armies and time that is short / And earthquakes and train wrecks and death threats written on walls.” 

In the clash between the “circle of light and the furnace of desire” one has to win but even victory brings sorrow and regret.  It is a unique topic for a pop song and the version sung at the Fox Warfield that night is essential to hear.  Williams’ statement that it “burns itself into the consciousness of every person who ever hears it” is accurate and this along makes this title worth having.  

The title of the disc Iron Wavesis taken from the chorus of the song and Thinman did an excellent job in finally bringing this concert to disc.  The technical issues with their recent releases, the gaps and clicks between tracks are absent from this.  It is a flawless production on the label’s part and ranks among their best work. 

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