Masters Of The Bluff (Thinman 092/93)
Paramount Theater, Portland, OR – December 4, 1980
Disc 1 (79:39): If I Got My Ticket Lord, It’s Gonna Rain, Come On In My House, Saved By The Grace Of Your Love, Gotta Serve Somebody, I Believe In You, Like A Rolling Stone, ‘Til I Get It Right, Man Gave Names To All The Animals, Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues, We Just Disagree, Ain’t Gonna Go To Hell, Girl From The North Country, Slow Train, Walk Around Heaven All Day, Abraham Martin & John, Rise Again, Let’s Keep It Between Us, Mary From The Wild Moor
Disc 2 (56:50): Solid Rock, Just Like A Woman, Señor, What Can I Do For You, When You Gonna Wake Up, To Ramona, In The Garden, Blowin’ In The Wind, City Of Gold, Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding), Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall
During 1980 Bob Dylan toured three times, playing a total of seventy-two concerts and recorded the second of his gospel albums Saved. By the time he played the nineteen date Musical Retrospective tour in November and December, in addition to playing some of his best unreleased songs, there is a more noticeable looseness in his attitude and performance. The first two gospel tours are characterized not only by the fire and brimstone preaching, both musically and homiletically, but also palpable gravitas. By the time he played the final show of the year on December 4th in Portland Dylan’s music and personality reflected unique and sundry profundity unseen before in performance. The proclamation of the gospel is there, but so are the playfulness and humanity not seen in many years.
Masters Of The Bluff is a very good to excellent audience recording of the final night of this fascinating tour. There is a cut at the beginning of “Man Gave Names To All The Animals” eliminating the opening verses and the sound wavers a bit in the middle. It sounds as if the PA was giving Dylan some trouble since his voice is heard only in echo for about thirty seconds. There is another big cut four minutes into “In The Garden” eliminating the final verse, so we don’t get to hear about the resurrection.
Otherwise this is a very good document from the final show of the tour starting with the four gospel numbers. Various tunes were played in this slot over the three week tour but the four on this night would be played more frequently in the tours the following years. The beginning of “Gotta Serve Somebody” with the full electric band is a thunderous contrast to the simple arrangements of the previous songs played with only the piano. “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” is a rarity for this era and is played in a breezy hard rock arrangement. The audience don’t recognize the song until the lyrics begin. “We Just Disagree” is a cover of the Dave Mason hit from 1977 and is seems to be played only because it was a big AOR hit about that time.
Afterwards Dylan introduces the next song, saying, “Thank you. This is a new song I been working on for awhile now. One of these days I’m gonna release it on a record. Release it in the Philippines and it’s called ‘I Ain’t Gonna Go To Hell For Anybody.'” Despite his assertion this song was never recorded and released. It formed the core of the set in 1980 but was never played again after this show. The lyrics seemed to change nightly until, for this last performance, it really doesn’t have much of a message past the title and was allowed to drop into obscurity. It is a shame because it is a fast tempo song which is very catchy.
Carolyn Dennis sings “Walk Around Heaven All Day” and Dylan follows with the short “piano” set beginning with “Abraham Martin & John.” A cover of Dallas Holm’s “Rise Again” follows and Dylan introduces the next song by relating a humorous story, saying, “This is a new song I been trying to fix, finish up. It’s called Honey Baby Let’s Just Keep It Between Us. We can work it out everything just fine if we can just manage to keep it between us. I think this is the song that we played last night they they …, the critics, newspaper journalists said was Maggie’s Farm. But I mean to tell you it’s not ‘Maggie’s Farm,’ it’s called ‘Let’s Keep It Between Us.’ Yeah, I was walking by Roxy’s Heart Memorial Diner. You know where that is? And somebody was telling me about that.” This is another great song that has never appeared officially in any form.
Before Dylan and Havis sing “Mary Of The Wild Moor” he introduces David Grisman who was visiting that night. “We wanted him to play on this song but can’t seem to find him. Anybody know where he is? But it’ll be too late by that time. He can’t play on the next one.”
“When You Gonna Wake Up” is, along with “Gotta Serve Somebody” and “I Believe In You” one of the standard tunes played at all of the gospel shows between 1979 to 1981 and underwent much tweaking in the arrangement over the years. Other arrangements emphasized Tackett’s guitar but this features a harmonica break replacing the solo and the harp accompanying the singers at the end. It is an interesting attempt to make the new Dylan song sound closer to the old Dylan. Before “To Ramona” Grisman finally shows up and Dylan exclaims: “David Grisman actually did show up! So he’s gonna play with us on this song” and offers a plug for his show the following night afterwards.
Since this is the final night of the tour Dylan rewards the audience with five encores when normally he played either three or four by adding “It’s Alright Me (I’m Only Bleeding).” Masters Of The Bluff is packaged in a double slimline jewel case with thick glossy paper inserts and silk screened picture discs and is free from any manufacturing defects. Although this tape has been in circulation for many years, Thinman have produced the only silver pressed release for any part of this show. This is their fourth release of this tour in the past couple months (after Ain’t Slept In Three Days, Burning Of The Page and Iron Waves) and their effort to make emphasize what has been a poorly represented era in Dylan’s career is most welcome.