Packin’ Up In Puyallup (Thinman 060/61)
Western Washington Fairgrounds, Pullayup, WA – September 22, 1998
Disc One: Maggie´s Farm/ Man in the Long Black Coat/ Cold Irons Bound/ You Ain´t Going Nowhere/ Can´t Wait/ Silvio/ Don´t Think Twice it´s All Right/ Masters of War/ One too Many Mornings
Disc Two: Tangled Up in the Blue/ To Make You Feel My Love/ Till I Fell in Love with You/ Love Sick/ Rainy Day Women 15 and 35/ Blowin´In the Wind/ Highway 61 Revisited/ Forever Young
Thinman are really surpassing themselves with their silver Bob Dylan releases for 2008: several excellent shows from very different periods of his career have surfaced in the latest months, always in very elegant packaging and with beautiful photographs from the corresponding period; practically all of these releases are very desirable in themselves, but this particular one is (both in terms of the recording and of the performance) really shines among the whole batch. This concert belongs to the beginning of the Fall leg of the 1998 tour, just before Dylan was billed together with Van Morrison, and must thus be placed in the aftermath of the 1997 album, “Time Out of Mind”, and the phenomenal critical reception that it received.
The repertoire for this tour consisted mostly of material from this album and from Dylan´s brilliant career in the 60s, wisely sprinkled over with a few numbers from the 70s. The band was one of the most effective in Dylan´s mature years, consisting of Bucky Baxter (guitar), Larry Campbell (acoustic and pedal steel guitars), Tony Garnier (bass) and David Kemper (drums). The source tape for this CD is extraordinarily good for an audience recording, with an excellent balance between the instruments and the voice, which reaches near-official quality in the acoustic numbers and in the final part of the concert; the interplay betwen the two guitarists is never less than excellent and comes across particularly clearly. In my opinion, perhaps this particular band has only been surpassed by the group that is backing Dylan in the present moment, in our 2008.
The evening begins with a rowdy, energetic version of “Maggie´s Farm”, an old Dylan chestnut that is given new life by this dynamic ensemble. Immediately after that comes a first highlight: an absolutely outstanding version of “Man in the Long Black Coat”, where the capacity of Bob Dylan for reinvention and reinterpretaton already shines in full glory. The song is played mid-tempo, with a very elegant, sustained rhythm by David Kemper and Tony Garnier, a beautiful, ragged accompaniment by Bucky Baxter, and a moody steel guitar wail by Larry Campbell; Dylan himself sings with full intention in a version that adds new layers of menace and profundity to the song. A similarly ragged feel permeates a much more optimistic, relaxed song: it is a version of “You Ain´t Going Nowhere”, once more with an outsanding steel-guitar work from Larry Campbell, that returns the piece to its full, classic country-rock glory.
“Can´t Wait” brings us to the sweaty, conflicted world of “Time Out of Mind”, and one can feel Dylan´s commitment to his new material shining through, as he pronounces every sentence with passionate intensity. There is a significant imporvement in clarity of sound with the arrival of the acoustic numbers that close the first CD: the three numbers in that segment are really a delight in themselves, and could almost pass for a recording straight from the soundboard. We have heard Dylan´s songs from his early acoustic catalog so many times that it is difficult to forget how incredibly brilliant and evocative they are; but these performances allow us to rediscover them in pristine quality: the renditions of “Don´t Think Twice it´s All Right” and “One Too Many Mornings” are precise, delicately arranged, practically note-perfect.
One absolute highlight occurs in “Tangled Up the Blue”, which is played in an uptempo arrangement strongly reminiscent of the original studio version; while the rhythmic pattern is the same, it is a true joy to hear Dylan sing this masterpiece with full abandonment and fire; there is an extraordinary guitar solo by Larry Campbell in the centre of the song, before Dylan charges into the second part of the song like a man possessed; there are a couple of verses missing, but this is in order to make room for the magical, frenzied acoustic guitar-picking of Baxter and Campbell in the final section.
Then the electric instruments are picked up again, in order to introduce a beautiful love song, “To Make You Feel My Love”: this is another winner, and it is played slowly and ceremoniously, with Dylan gently whispering the lines rather than singing them, over a wonderful tapestry woven between Baxter´s lead and Campbell´s steel guitar. The set closer is “Til I Fell in Love with You”, where all the musicians once more appear shining through, at the top of their game, the rythm section of Garnier and Kemper particularly shows their dexterity here.
The first encore is “Love Sick.” Today, ten years after the Pullayup concert, this has become a firm staple of Dylan´s live repertoire, but the audience then must have felt astonished by the power of this then-recent song, and by the sheer conviction put by Dylan into it; the mix between the vocals and the instruments seems to get better here, reaching near-official quality. “Rainy Day Women 15 and 35” then follows, and is used very much as a space for the guitarists to let rip once more.
But the truly culminating moments come towards the very end of the concert, when the acoustic instruments are taken up again: First of all comes “Blowin´in the Wind”, performed slowly and with extraodinary taste, and after a momentary return to electric fury with “Highway 61 Revisited”, the concert finally closes with an inspired “Forever Young”; by this point it seems that some of the guitars are a bit out of tune (as becomes painfully evident a the beginning of the song) but the strength of the performance, and especially of dylan´s vocals, more than makes up for any technical inconveniences.
This is one of the very best Dylan 1998 concerts you are likely to hear; both the performance and the clear recording deserve a place of pride in any collection. Thinman are really making a strong effort into putting out a respectable catalogue of Dylan releases this year, and we can only encourage to keep on going with their great work.