Bob Dylan – Positively West 52nd Street (PAS BPDOS52)

Positively West 52nd Street (PAS BPDOS52)

Roseland Ballroom, New York, NY – October 19th & 20th, 1994

CD1 (71:48)  October 19, 1994: Jokerman (cuts in) / If You See Her, Say Hello / All Along the Watchtower / You’re A Big Girl Now / Tangled Up In Blue / Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I’ll Go Mine) / Mama, You Been On My Mind / One Too Many Mornings / It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue / Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again

CD2 (79:48):  Shelter From The Storm / Maggie’s Farm / Like A Rolling Stone / It Ain’t Me, Babe / October 20, 1994:  Jokerman / If You See Her, Say Hello / All Along the Watchtower / Simple Twist of Fate / Tangled Up In Blue / Positively 4th Street

CD3 (73:37):  Mama, You Been On My Mind / The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll / Boots of Spanish Leather / God Knows / Joey / Maggie’s Farm / Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I’ll Go Mine) / My Back Pages / Rainy Day Women # 12 & 35 / Highway 61 Revisited

Through 3 nights in October 1994 Bob Dylan & his touring band played a residency in New York’s esteemed Roseland Ballroom, a 3500 capacity theatre right in the heart of the city. These shows have been vaunted as some of Dylan’s best & some of the most powerful. It has been suggested that because Dylan took the previous day off to sit in with the Grateful Dead & very possibly join in on a jam session he took a certain samson like strength from that & it brought out some of his fighting powers for the next three nights.

These Roseland shows have been released before on various CDs – “Stuck Inside Of Roseland With The New York Blues Again” on Meteor / Front Row [ FM 2113 ] presents the second show missing the entire “Jokerman”, “New York ’94 [ Redsky CD 1012 / 1013 ] adds the missing “Jokerman” & some of the tracks from the third night & “All Along The Roseland” [ Scouser ] features the third night but all those releases were audience tapes.

“From The Vaults Vol. 1” [ Dandelion DL 059 / 60 ] features “Shelter From The Storm” from the 2nd night which may be from the original downloads from Dylan’s official site. The CD presented here though is from soundboard tapes & sounds better than ever before – Close, warm & correct the overall feeling is of listening to the sets through headphones even when you’re not actually wearing headphones. Certain elements can be heard quite clearly, without the need to be a foot away from the speakers, such as Dylan’s stage directions to the band & the ring of the strings as they’re strummed. Some dislike soundboards due to the distinct lack of crowd noise but they’re certainly here, possibly due to being recorded by one spare mic, as the cheers, whistles & clapping permeate through the recording as not to obliterate them completely. 

The First CD starts with a brisk “Jokerman” not the coy, slow skank that we’re used to from the “Infidels” album. It is incomplete because of a problem with the master tape but we’re only missing the first verse from this version. The manufacturers have resisted the temptation to fly this in from another source which may well be the best call – The track itself runs for over 6 minutes, regardless. The band are well in to their place this evening throwing a couple of sweet solos in to the track while Winston Watson keeps time with an effortless swing & drive on the drums. This is tonight’s sole concession to the ’80’s catalogue. The rest of the set will consist of 60’s & ’70’s material never straying further of the mark than 1975.  

“If you See Her, Say Hello” finds Bobby throwing his weight behind the annunciation of the words. Drawing things around, away, over while never sounding like he’s trying to force round pegs in to square holes which seems to have become more of a problem as the years pass. “All Along The Watchtower” is the Hendrix aping version that has been relied on for many years to draw reliability & force to the set. It’s as wild & wigged out as ever having the band reach to different, improvisational places, playing off licks against each other then slowly coming to a heaped crescendo that has the audience bellowing for more.

“You’re A Big Girl Now” has a lot more clout than the “BOTT” original – the breathy rendering, the pained crooning they all give way towards a chipped, swooning glisten. A rainy day rendition it may still be but Dylan sings it with a statement of empowerment rather than with the regret that he once had. Bucky Baxter’s slide guitar swims under Dylan’s & John Jackson’s guitar lines like an eel through water. 

“Tangled Up In Blue” seems to be the familial regarded as the go to track for people to beat a hasty retreat to the bar or write about the gig so fan on your phone but tonight’s is a schizophrenic powerhouse launching between Byrdsian guitar lines to jagged guitar through sprightly piano vamps & in to a wicked harp solo. Bobby really doesn’t miss a word or a beat, keeping pace with the scattershot drumming, eager solos & moody, hopping bass playing and his pleading voice adds a great deal of passion to the whole before the track cascades to a slow burning, euphoric jam a la Grateful Dead thereby taking the song to eight & a half minutes of pleasure. 

“Most Likely You Go Your Way ( And I’ll Go Mine )” is given a major revamp to fit with the rest of the set – gone the harmonica, horns & organ for a 90’s radio rock re-imagining. It seems to take the crowd a little while to get to grips with the track until the first “You Go Your Way .. ” and thats where the hooting & howling catches up. Dylan could obviously never compete with the 1966 Dylan that recorded this originally so has it pulled up by it’s boot strings & pulled in to sorts to fit this period – apart from the subtle nuances that made it in the first place then it’s a whole different beast. “Mama, You Been On My Mind” is also given a make over but with a different scope. We’ve gone bluegrass this time to add a little cajun flavour – It’s an affectionate twist that won’t go against too many expectations. Dylan also casts in a long harp solo for good measure. 

“One Too Many Mornings” & “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” are of the acoustic part of the set and take the pitch right down. The smooth “Lay, Lady, Lay” styled version presented here is as delicate as onion paper. Given a touch of Bucky’s pedal steel & Tony’s bass these are intimate, ponderous & heartfelt renditions. No tricky showman ship, no odd phrasing, just straight down the line replications of the bones of the originals carefully cast by Dylan. 

Back to electric we go for “Stuck Inside of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again”. We stick with the same formula for not messing too much with the standard & this is quite a standard version of “Stuck Inside .. ” that still resonates to this point in time with this version being a slight bit faster & culminating in a helter skelter of mixed guitar dueling only to close in beatific style over 9 minutes later. 

“Shelter From The Storm” is an altogether different rendering of the song though. Those sweeping “Lay Lady Lay” chords swing again, the beat is a funkier affair & Dylan’s vocals are more reflective rather than there at the moment. It’s a fond reminiscence this time, less intimate storytelling expedited by giddy soloing & ‘up’ chords. Dylan will also throw in one of his heartfelt harp themes which will cumulate in the band forming & growing around each other to help the story’s pages fold together. This is quickly backed by an altogether more furious beast – a raging “Maggies Farm”. A hard rock formula filled with Dylan’s best bile. The band furiously tear through this version, guitars screaming, bass thunderously rolling before coming up to quieter portion that Bobby uses to introduce the band & to thank his support Cheryl Crow.

Once the thanks are over the band ramp up to full pace again, racing towards a tumultuous end before leaving the stage for the first time. Once they return for the encores there’s an almost immediate fall in to one of the favorite show closers “Like A Rolling Stone”. A perfect rendering of this oft’ covered classic that is a fantastic topping to an excellent concert but it would seem that Dylan has an extra ace up his sleeve by reaching for his acoustic guitar, sending the bulk of the band away & playing a spellbinding, pindrop “It Ain’t Me Babe” for which there is a quiet reverence. It would seem to be Dylan’s way to lead the crowd to a wild finale & then to leave them either gasping after a raucous work out or to change the pace & leave them a reflective adieu. Tonight he opted for the latter & it works brilliantly. Bob exits the stage having let no one indifferent & for those that would attend the following nights show or all 3 wondering what to expect next .. 

The following evenings show followed pretty much the same stance as the previous one but as usual, nothing is set & stone & the set list is fluid dependent on the songs rehearsed or Dylan’s ever changing moods. The band, still fired & wired, are fixed towards another night of glory. There are 9 different songs on the table tonight with a couple of amendments to the running order too the first comes in the form of “Simple Twist Of Fate” – the 4th song from “Blood On The Tracks” throughout this trio of dates.

Again the transformation is varied – rather than the gentle acoustic strum of the original this version is busier & more expansive. At times it feels as if there is too much going on for any real co-ordination – harp blowing, electric guitar, slide guitar & the splash of drums. While the tender feeling is maintained then less is sometimes more & a little more restraint could have been used to better effect. “Positively 4th Street” is much better – Bucky’s trembling steel guitar & the jagged guitar stabs underpinning the quiet fury of the lyrics. Bobby restrained, indifferent & keeping his cool despite the problem that’s been put before him.  

Disk 3 begins with the acoustic set & springs versions of “Mama, You’ve Been On My Mind”, “The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carrol” & “Boots Of Spanish Leather” . Pared down, almost “Gaslight” versions of these early album tracks augmented only by the second player on stage of John Jackson & his harp. This trio of songs it set almost exclusively at the same pace – a jauntily, skipping, appalachian skiffle. The only song that seems remotely out of place is the ramshackle “Boots .. ” but as it fits in well with the rest, it keeps up a solid rhythm & section. 

“God Knows” from “Under The Red Sky” is one of the highlights from this evening. Coming from the return of the electric set it sounds better than it does on the C.V. – a rollin’, tumblin’ swagger of a rocker – another of Bob’s best love songs by default ( the first line coming as an almost abominable putdown but the rest reaping just rewards for it’s soul. ) and one of the best vocal performances all night ( but not by a country mile as they’ve all pretty much hit the mark. ) Towards it’s end it almost tears with wild eyed wonder in to a super cruising monolith as the band crash in to a tumultuous ending. 

Next comes “Joey” from the Desire album. On record a spacious, boxy & mournful epic. Live, a driving-in-the-rain rocker. We’re left without the violin this time but the space is filled with a rampant, twisting guitar – almost rock-god & showy in style. Dylan’s phrasing has changed from a spoken word raconteur to a fast talking, garbled style trying to keep up with the action. It’s certainly interesting to hear how it has changed but a shock to hear how much. “My Back Pages” is acoustic & could well be the quietest rendition of any song over this set.

It’s once again mellowed from its original outing to suit Bobby’s voice & acts more as a nostalgia piece for the Bobcats rather than Dylan’s word against ‘The Man’. The night out in Dylan’s second home town couldn’t be left with out some purchase to let the fans know that they were being looked after & for “Rainy Day Women # 12 & 35” & “Highway 61 Revisited” Bobby & the band are joined on stage by Neil Young & Bruce Springsteen – although this isn’t mentioned to the audience so for us listeners we’re left to guess. “Rainy Day Women .. ” is our first encore tonight & is as bullish as ever. Yes, there’s a lot less fanfare, a few less laughs but there will always be an aura & a bright energy about it & it’s double – entendre & as mentioned earlier, Dylan’s not necessary just playing for the protest any more but for the fans that have stuck around through out the years & is playing now to his own eccentricities. Leaden with solos the song charges on with out fail as does “Highway .. ” which seems to fall short after running just under 6 minutes .. 

It goes with out saying that this set is one to search out. The Dysks run over 70 mins each so a lot to be said for value for money- As mentioned we’ve never had the Roseland in such good quality before & unless someone can come up with an early recording in as such a good as quality then this set will be THE Dylan set of the year. 

The Packaging is a trifold digipack that looks like one of the Godfathers fold outs with a serious study of Bob on the front cover, a clear & neat set list adorning the back with a picture of a ticket stub on the back. Inside are a good few full colour pictures of Bob both on stage & off & a short written piece by The Watchtower’s Keeper with the usual annotation of the touring band at the time.      

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  1. Excellent review Stu!!! I wanted to expand a little on the packaging. The gatefold that surrounds the picture discs is of the glossy style. This is a fantastic release. Both soundboards are of official sound quality however the second show is slightly more balanced. Don’t get me wrong here, any casual or hard core Dylan collector will be more than happy with this one. The performances are outstanding and personally I find myself playing this over and over. I give this a EASY FIVE STAR RATING and agree unless something else surfaces with this sound and performance quality, this is EASILY the Dylan release of the year!!! My sources tell me that Dylan collectors are snatching this one up quick!!!


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