Night Before Hush (Chrome Horse Records CHR-07/08)
Carolina Coliseum, Columbia, SC – December 9th, 1978
Disc 1 (78:03): My Back Pages, She’s Love Crazy (Tampa Red), Mr. Tambourine Man, Shelter From The Storm, Love Minus Zero/No Limit, Tangled Up In Blue, Ballad Of A Thin Man, Maggie’s Farm, I Don’t Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met), Like A Rolling Stone, I Shall Be Released, Señor (Tales Of Yankee Power), The Times They Are A-Changin’, Rainy Day Women # 12 & 35, It Ain’t Me Babe
Disc 2 (72:02): Am I Your Stepchild?, One More Cup Of Coffee (Valley Below), Blowin’ In The Wind, Girl From The North Country, Where Are You Tonight? (Journey Through Dark Heat), Masters Of War, Just Like A Woman, All Along The Watchtower, To Ramona, It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding), Forever Young, Changing Of The Guards
Bob Dylan’s long journey in 1978 ran through Japan, recording and releasing Street Legal, his first tour of Europe in twelve years, capped by four months in the US. The December 9th show in Columbia, South Carolina dates from the final week of Dylan’s busiest year to date. Although the stage show and arrangements have been tightly rehearsed and performed, these final concerts show Dylan trying to expand and alter the arrangements.
The liner notes point out that the following night’s concert in Charlotte, North Carolina, is thought to be the best performance from the US tour. An excellent quality audience tape from that show is available on Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte (Dandelion DL 115/16).
“Where Are You Tonight?” is included as bonus track on the Dandelion release, but Night Before Hush is the first silver release of the entire Columbia show. Sourced from an excellent stereo audience tape, it is one of the better sounding tapes from the tour. Only a cut before “I Don’t Believe You” cutting out the opening notes and a cut after “Where Are You Tonight (Journey Through The Heat)” mar what is an excellent tape.
The structure of the show remains the same as the rest of the tour. It begins with the band without Dylan playing an instrumental arrangement of “My Back Pages.” Dylan comes onstage to cheers to play a cover tune. Earlier shows this was “I’m Ready,” but in the latter weeks it was a cover of the Tampa Red tune “She’s Love Crazy.”
“Mr. Tambourine Man,” earlier in the tour, was a tightly arranged mid-tempo rocker where the flute played a prominent role in the mix. By Columbia, the first half of the song is replaced by a dirge-like recitative with only the Hammond organ accompanying Dylan’s vocal before it kicks into high gear.
“Shelter From The Storm” and “Love Minus Zero/No Limit” retain their arrangements. “Tangled Up In Blue” sounds more like plainchant than rock and includes the woman quoting from Jeremiah rather than Dante in the penultimate verse.
Dylan is very talkative before “Ballad Of A Thinman.” Explaining why he calls himself a geek, Dylan delves into a long story, asking: “Remember those carnivals we used to have all over, I don’t know if they came through here or not but they came where I grew up. They always used to have what they called a geek in there. You know what a geek is? It’s a man who eats a live chicken…. He thought of everybody else as being quite freaky. And later on when I was out making my rounds, years later, that thought came back to me once in awhile when people would start looking at me in a strange way. So, I wrote this tune. Somebody had to write it.”
Before “Maggie’s Farm” he recalls how he was invited to the 1963 Folk Festival and was kicked out of town for playing this song. Of course he’s referring to the 1965 festival, but he still is puzzled why it caused a big commotion. “It’s hard to believe that a song could make people feel that way, but it did.”
“Señor (Tales Of Yankee Power)” is the final song of the first half of the show, replacing “Going, Going, Gone.” Dylan gives yet another long explanation of the song’s origin, speaking about the train “from Durango, Mexico, to San Diego” and how “a family of about 15 was getting off the train. An old man was stepping up to the platform onto the train. This old man wore nothing but a blanket. I thought he must have been about 150 years old. … I was looking out of this mirror and I saw this man come up the aisle and take a seat across the aisle from me. And he just sat there. After a certain period of time I couldn’t help myself, I turned to look would he would look like. When I looked at him both his eyes were on fire and there was smoke coming out of his nostrils. I knew this was the man I had wanted to talk to.”
It’s a powerful version with Helena Springs practically duetting with Dylan on the final verse.
The second half of the show opens with a spectacular arrangement of “The Times They Are A-Changin’.” David Mansfield’s lonely violin leads the band into a haunting melody and serves as a coda. It is followed by “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” sung by the three female vocalists Helena Springs, Jo Ann Harris and Carolyn Dennis.
Dylan follows with a solo acoustic performance of “It Ain’t Me, Babe,” invoking nostalgia from his early career.
The rest of the band return for “Am I Your Stepchild?” This is a mid tempo blues written during the tour. It’s never been recorded in the studio nor has it been played live since this tour, destined to be a late seventies relic. Afterwards Dylan goes into another long story about his birthday and a gypsy holiday and meeting the king of the gypsies in southern France. The story really has nothing to do with anything except serving as a story for “One More Cup Of Coffee (Valley Below).” They band have a lot of fun onstage with prolonged percussion instrumental interludes.
Other highlights of the second half of the show includes “Where Are You Tonight? (Journey Through Dark Heat),” the latest single from Street Legal which “sold about one hundred copies … I think it just sold twenty-five.” There are scorching versions of “Masters Of War,” which features Billy Cross on heavy metal guitar, and “All Along The Watchtower.”
The show ends with “Forever Young” and the criminally underrated “Changing Of The Guards.”
Chrome Horse began to manufacture Dylan titles last year, offering high quality titles of essential (and obscure) excellent sounding tapes. Night Before Hush comes with a thick booklet with an essay and many rare photos of the tour to go along with the picture discs in the double slimline jewel case.