Bob Dylan – North Stage (Crystal Cat CC 345)

North Stage (Crystal Cat CC 345)

Woodstock Festival, Saugerties, NY – August 14th, 1994

(78:22):  Jokerman, Just Like a Woman, All Along the Watchtower, It Takes A Lot To Laugh, Don’t Think Twice, Masters Of War, It’s All Over Now Baby Blue, God Knows, I Shall Be Released, Highway 61 Revisited, Rainy Day Women #12 & 35, It Ain’t Me Babe

Among Bob Dylan’s television appearances in 1994, two stand out for their conscious appeal to the younger crowd.  The most blatant was the November taping and telecast of Unplugged on MTV.  The other was his set at Woodstock, broadcast over pay-per-view.  Other acts such as Red Hot Chili Peppers, Primus and NIN generated much of the highlights, but Dylan’s set also generated much interest and has been called one of his watershed performances.  

There were many releases of the video soundtrack in the festival’s wake.  Woodstock Revisited  (Dv.GIG DGCD 030) was the earliest but is missing the final song of the set.  Others include Master Of Woodstock (SUBPOP Revisited V-15372-14), Woodstock ’94 (Living Legend LLRCD 251), Woodstock ’94 (Wood 027/28) a two disc set with material from the July 16th, 1989 show in Bristol Connecticut.  The same label also issued Woodstock 1994 (Wood 99407/8), another two disc set but this time with three bonus tracks from a 1994 US show in addition to the Woodstock telecast.

North Stage came out a year latter and is the best of the lot.  Not only is it complete, but the sound quality is generally an improvement.  Dylan’s introduction and the beginning of the first song “Jokerman” are a bit distorted and bassy, but by the tape clears up nicely and the rest of the show is close to perfect soundboard quality.  It is not up to being an official release but comes close.  Crystal Cat omit between song pauses to economize on the disc. 

Ironies abound surrounding his appearance at this event.  The location for Woodstock in 1969 was largely dictated by Dylan’s residence at the time in Woodstock in upstate New York.  The publicity leading up to the event had the opposite affect than intended, making the singer flee to England and sing at the Isle Of Wight Festival instead for his first public performance in three years. 

There were not any intentions for his participation at Woodstock in 1994.  He approached the organizers to play once he heard that Neil Young wouldn’t play (and earn a $600,000 fee).  Most of the excitement occurred on Saturday night, August 13th when Nine Inch Nails, Metallica and Aerosmith played in a row.  

Dylan appeared on Sunday night, after Porno For Pyros and before the Red Hot Chili Peppers hit the stage with their light-bulbs.  He shortened his set only by two songs.  And his talent, not mud-flinging, stage diving or giant mosh pits, was enough to ensure the legendary status of this performance.       

“We’ve waited twenty-five years to hear this” the mc says as he introduces Bob Dylan to the stage.  He starts off the with “Jokerman,” “Just Like A Woman” and “All Along The Watchtower.”  These three opened most of the shows that summer and in Saugerties are played very quick and nervously.  Bucky Baxter goes crazy with the fuzzy wah-wah pedal during “Watchtower.”

Confidence is reached with “It Take A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry.”  They’ve retained their habit of drawing out their songs with long instrumental passages.  Most of the songs are either approach or hit the seven minutes mark. 

In the middle Dylan plays a three song acoustic set starting with “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright.”  He follows with a very slow, ponderous, doom-laden rendition of “Masters Of War.”  Commentators like to point out how he likes to pull that song out during international conflict, but the only foreign tensions in the American news that summer were centered on North Korea’s saber rattling about the time Kim Jong Il assumed power.

“Highway 61 Revisited” is played for the only time during the summer tour.  The set ends with “Rainy Day Woman #12 & 35” with “It Ain’t Me” as the encore.  

Crystal Cat utilize a contact sheet with screenshots from the pay-per-view telecast on the front.  The inside booklet has a little paragraph describing the show, a setlist, and backstage photograph of Dylan signing an autography.  In the fifteen years since its release, North Stage remains unsurpassed as the defintive document of Dylan’s set at Woodstock in 1994.

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