License To Sing (Thinman-052/53)
Kongresový sál Palác kultury, Prague, Czech Republic – March 13, 1995
Disc 1: Crash On The Levee (Down In The Flood), Lay Lady Lay, All Along The Watchtower, Just Like A Woman, Tangled Up In Blue, License To Kill, Mr. Tambourine Man (acoustic)
Disc 2: The Times They Are A-Changin’ (acoustic), Boots Of Spanish Leather (acoustic), God Knows, Man In A Long Black Coat, Maggie’s Farm, Like A Rolling Stone
Licence To Sing picks up the NET after the MTV Unplugged sessions in November, 1994 and a three month break from live performance. This month long tour of Europe began with three shows in Prague and ended on April 11 in Dublin, Ireland. Thinman use an excellent sounding stereo audience recording. Very close to the stage, the music is clear and all of the sounds are very well balanced. Although this tape has circulated on cdr among traders, this is its silver disc debut. Many collectors place these Prague shows among the very best Dylan ever performed. And although the March 11 show is singled out for particular praise, all three are legendary performances.
Right before these dates Dylan came down with the flu forcing all three to be pushed back one night, and he performed these shows without playing guitar but focusing on singing and on the harp. He became a crooner on these nights and some people describe his style as a cross between Frank Sinatra and Mick Jagger. The tape begins with the short annoucement over the PA, and according to a set list that exists, the band had a choice to open with “Jokerman” or “Down In The Flood” with the decision landing on the latter of the two. This song would open all the shows in the spring and would be used for a majority of the concerts that year. “Drifter’s Escape” and “To Be Alone With You” opened a couple of shows later on.
“Lay Lady Lay” is played second and makes its tour debut. (“License To Kill” was an alternate choice for the second slot, but that would be played later in the show.) “Lay Lady Lay” is emphasized by the slide guitar giving it a hazy quality in this dreamy atmosphere. “All Along The Watchtower” is indebted to Hendrix of course, but this version isn’t as wired as on other occasions and the guitar solos sounds quiet mellow as they meander through the melody. “Just Like A Woman” is also very mellow with a gentle harp solo. Following “Just Like A Woman” they had an option of either “Unbelievable” or “Tangled Up In Blue.”
They obviously chose the latter of the two and these versions of the song feature a strong country & western tinge with Dylan spitting out the lyrics in rap style. “License To Kill” features Dylan in full crooner mode and serves as a prelude for the evening’s three song acoustic set. “Mr. Tambourine Man” is slow and contemplative and in this rendition the third verse is sung instead of the second verse for the first time in almost thirty years. “The Times They Are A-Changin'” follows (instead of “Masters Of War”) and a great version of “Boots Of Spanish Leather” closes out the acoustic songs.
After an upbeat version of “God Knows” they deliver yet another mysterious version of “Man In The Long Black Coat.”
Dylan narrates the words and the band serve as a Greek chorus commenting on the action. In an essay titled “Black Coat And Black Veil: Dylan, Hawthorne And Calvinism,” Christopher Rollason comments: “Dylan’s song bears some curious similarities to a story published by Hawthorne in 1836, ‘The Minister’s Black Veil’ (reprinted in the Penguin Scarlet Letter and other tales, pp. 299-313)…. Hawthorne’s two narratives, taken together, can shed light into the dark corners of Dylan’s song. In both prose fictions, there is a forbidden relationship, whether hinted at or made explicit, between a Puritan priest and a woman; and in both, there is no happy ending or easy way out. Building on this, I would even suggest that in Dylan’s song the preacher and the Man in the Long Black Coat may actually be _one and the same_: the man who preaches hellfire sermons, dressed in black in the pulpit, is also the masked man in black who breaks the rules with the woman while quoting the Bible.”
“Maggie’s Farm” is anticlimactic as the set closer. License To Sing is packaged in a double slimline jewel case with glossy inserts and gorgeous picture discs. It is a great sounding tape of a legendary concert. In this handsome edition it is worth having.