Bob Dylan – ‘Rough and Rowdy in Milwaukee and Washington’ (Crystal Cat CC 1135-38)

‘Rough and Rowdy in Milwaukee and Washington’ (Crystal Cat CC 1135-38)

Disk 1; Igor Stravinsky, Rite Of Spring / Watching The River Flow / Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I’ll Go Mine) / I Contain Multitudes / False Prophet / Simple Twist Of Fate / My Own Version Of You / I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight / Black Rider / Melancholy Mood / Mother Of Muses (49:42)

Disk 2; Gotta Serve Somebody / Key West (Philosopher Pirate) / Early Roman Kings / Soon After Midnight / I’ve Up My Mind To Give Myself To You / Goodbye Jimmy Reed / band introduction / Love Sick / It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry (51:48)

Riverside Theatre, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA 2nd November 2021

Disk 3; Igor Stravinsky, Rite Of Spring / Watching The River Flow / Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I’ll Go Mine) / I Contain Multitudes / False Prophet / When I Paint My Masterpiece / Black Rider / I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight / My Own Version Of You / Early Roman Kings (49:03)

Disk 4; To Be Alone With You / Key West / Gotta Serve Somebody / I’ve Made Up My Mind To Give Myself To You / Melancholy Mood / Mother Of Muses / Goodbye Jimmy Reed / band introduction / Every Grain Of Sand / When I Paint My Masterpiece (5/11-21)

The Anthem, Washington DC, USA 2nd December, 2021. (52:31)

I can’t remember any sets that solely feature explicitly the very first and very last show of the leg of a tour unless it goes boots deep and includes most of the rest of it too.  In my mind Crystal Cat have done the right thing for Dylan’s latest tour (the first leg was c. a month long, and changed, well, not a lot.) – capturing the first time that Dylan had stepped back on stage since the fog descended – A new album dropping and the late nights stopping up watching cult films, capturing scenes for his paintings were probably keeping Dylan busy anyway – In any case, had Bob decided that he was just going to cover Little Richard records, we’d have been happy to watch. That he was out to present the new album alongside a selection from his vast past catalogue was just peachy anyway. We’d waited too long. 

As I wrote in my review of the previous CC release, Chicago 2021, “Bob’s voice is, granted, as raspy and as Dylanesque as previous, there’s less garbling of words though, less slouch, a little more vigour to the presentation – Regardless of the age of the song, there are, once again, subtle differences in performance that Dylan sprinkles in like sugar dust.” None of that changes for the first night obviously (Chicago being the second night, after all), the audience are pinned to the floor second guessing what’s coming right now as opposed to next. 

The sound of the recording in Milwaukee is pretty much comparable to the Chicago show too – The audience reactions righteous but not evasive, there are various cheers, calls of support, bellows and whoops but not a lot gets in the way of the music. Think yourself grateful that you’re not there sometimes as some of the audience elicit a call-and-response with Dylan, but maybe that’s just me. 

Of course, not much separates the first night from the second – A tight show, the crowd have obviously been wound up waiting for this gig, the twist of a new album was the mixture that they’ll have been most looking forward to since the tour became unlikely to tour in 2020. Fizzy excitement greets every new arrival, the end of each new chorus is met with approval. If the track isn’t new, there’s anticipation of how an old song has changed (This is true of every tour, sure, but for obvious ‘stay-at-home’ reasons, wondering if we might see a Dylan show again, there’s a mixture of relief.), sometimes it’s hard to tell who’s more excited sometimes – The crowd or Dylan. 

The final night in Washington, things have changed. This recording is a little more muted – Still clear but not as open as the first nights show. Dylan’s enunciation has slipped a little and, from song number one, he’s a little less sharp, dragging and gnawing out the words while occasionally singing them, by the next track (You Go Your Way), he misses his intro but rather than starting again, the band play an extended intro before Dylan shifts in to gear. Maybe it’s me but taking the feeling from the room (the audience are a lot lower in the mix), Dylan is playing towards auto pilot, the fact that it’s the end of term seems to be the overall mood. 

‘When I Paint My Masterpiece’ replaces ‘Simple Twist’ tonight – A light, flippant waltz with Donnie’s violin aiding the song along gently. Even ‘I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight’, a track that really surprised me at first, moves at a less propulsive pace, Dylan stops to chuckle at something part way in, though never loses his place. 

‘Early Roman Kings’ is played very slowly, like Dylan is thinking things over in an important meeting, it proves a formidable force though with it’s slowly marching stomp. This is another switch I wasn’t expecting but I like it’s form. 

Starting disk two, ‘To Be Alone With You’ is slotted in to the set, acoustic, fleet foot and flirty, Dylan jives behind with a little piano while the band dance around him. It’s a neat little slide in to ‘I’ll Be Your Baby ..’ territory, taking it’s place as the charming ballad.

The band introduction is elongated but Dylan seems happy enough to greet the crowd, even come close to conversation with a closed question but he seems genuinely pleased to break cover for just a few minutes and elucidate on his love of local knowledge. 

‘Every Grain Of Sand’ takes the final spot tonight, lilting, lovely, quivering and soft, Dylan has finally found the end of the set and allow the night just a little longer to stick around. After that, he wordlessly says goodbye. The taper allows the recording to flow after the band have gone .. 

.. but then, the bonus track! Picking ‘When I Paint My Masterpiece’ from Cleveland, Ohio (the third show of the tour for those keeping pace), the Cat has made the suitable choice. A languorous acoustic version of this track, the style goes out of the window, replaced by something a little more bluegrass, Dylan still has his early tour singing voice and the band skip along gently. Seems Dylan is happy with how it went too as he actually utters a brief ‘thank you’ after the performance.

Any misgivings about the second set are quickly blown away by the first set. It’s a great choice of show, well recorded and very lively for the best part. Sure, it shadows it’s twin, but, this being Dylan, there’s always something for everyone. A perfect collection would be the first and second nights packaged together, that they aren’t doesn’t matter – if you’re merely interested in 2021 Dylan, stick with the Chicago show. If you’re intrigued by what you hear, you would do worse than to seek out this set. 

Props as usual to the packaging, two digipack sleeves in a slipcase, silkscreen printed disks, each show has it’s own booklet included, full colour with many reviews packed in to each. There’s also a little card that shows the tours dates. Excellent!  

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