Bob Dylan – Saratoga 2000 comparisons

Bob Dylan – ‘Sun Beating In Saratoga (Golden Eggs GE 113/114) / ‘Saratoga Springs’ (Crystal Cat CC 1108/09)

Intro / Duncan And Brady / To Ramona / Desolation Row / The Ballad Of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest / Tangled Up In Blue / Searching For A Soldiers Grave / Country Pie / Positively 4th Street / Tombstone Blues / She Belongs To Me / The Wicked Messenger / Band Introduction / Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat / Things Have Changed / Like A Rolling Stone /It Ain’t Me Babe / Highway 61 Revisited / Blowin’ In The Wind

Crystal Cat bonus tracks – It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry (16/06 – 00) / Born In Time (7/07 – 00) / Joey (12/07 – 00) / I Threw It All Away (01/11 – 00) / Blue Bonnet Girl (Glen Spencer) (01/11 – 00) / Chimes Of Freedom (04/11 – 00) / God Knows (11/11 – 00) / 10,000 Men (12/11 – 00) / The Man In Me (Early show) (18/11 – 00)

Unexpectedly a brand new soundboard of Bob Dylan’s show in Saratoga showed up in Autumn 2019. Stored away for 18 years, it was digitised and uploaded for free download as a dry soundboard recording where it was subsequently meshed with an existing audience recording that had already been circulating. An occurrence like this doesn’t happen too frequently, and among the hundreds of recordings that spring up from each NET leg, a new soundboard is a cherishable moment.

Shortly after it was picked up by the bootleg publishers, Thinman (Not to hand at this moment), Golden Eggs (Who used the upgraded matrix that was uploaded) and Crystal Cat who have taken the dry board mix and remastered it together with another audience mix (They don’t make any claims over their remastering, however, they did suggest in their pre-release ‘marketing’, that their own version was exclusive to the label and it would make sense to assume that CC had managed to dig through their own archives and use an audience mix that wasn’t currently circulating). A disclaimer: I wouldn’t count this as a ‘standout’ Dylan show – It’s perfectly acceptable and no where near drab, it doesn’t hit the heady heights for me.

This set follows a standardised list of shows that Dylan played on the summer US tour, with some slight changes made between night and the previous nights show in Mansfield, Massachusetts. Dylan was still keen on slipping in a couple of folkish covers in to his set, in and around the classics – This particular set starts with ‘Duncan and Brady’ before giving way to a very old Italian styled, ‘To Ramona’. A weeping, sorrowful rendition.

‘Desolation Row’ begins with a very simple, soft introduction before stepping up a little with touch more drive to it’s pace. It’s also nice to hear Bob speak rather than drawl for a change, the words as clear as Bob got in 2000.

As we get a little later in to Dylan’s career (Writing this review 20 years after the fact), it’s great to hear ‘The Ballad Of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest’, one of the songs from Dylan’s almost forgotten album, “John Wesley Harding” (It really doesn’t make enough ‘best of ..’ lists for me). It’s easy, breezy, ring captivates and holds for a huge applause. One of the real highlights of the set however is ‘Tangled Up In Blue’, an audience favourite, it comes unadorned of other embellishment apart from a rather lovely harp solo towards the end. A lot to be said for Dylan’s phrasing too, especially at the title lines where he really expresses his words.

‘Searching For A Soldier’s Grave’ is another dig in to the bag of the American songbook, a lonesome harmony that’s played to relax. It’s a plaintive Oxford comma to the set, allowing the band to show off their more thoughtful moments. ‘Tombstone Blues’ is played with a jolly country twist, skipping and twirling, it all sounds like fun between the band and no doubt allowed more than a couple of waists to wiggle in the audience, while ‘She Belongs To Me’ brings the swoon again, Dylan’s elongated vowels a beautiful thing to behold.

‘Wicked Messenger’ has been a much overlooked track since the early ‘00’s – Though has obviously made way for ‘Cold Irons Bound’ most of the time – It’s arch, descending chords blending well with Dylan’s urgent harp soloing.
A beautiful, ‘Things Have Changed’ has a quiet spot towards the end of the set – it’s bold patter sneaking around the main list but it is enrapturing all the same, much like ‘It Ain’t Me, Babe’, it’s as quiet as to be barely there but achingly intimate. You could suppose Bob in a world of his own singing to just one person.
‘Highway 61 Revisited’ strikes up to push people out of their dream however and those ringing, concentric guitar peels are like a trapped tiger pacing up and down the cage until someone breaks the lock.

Finally, for the main set, ‘Blowing In The Wind’ takes on the same suit as ‘It Ain’t Me Babe’, an easy, folksy strum that wouldn’t have been out of place 40 years earlier, though with a little more grit. The deft harmonies on the chorus’ really lifting it to places heavenly.

The bonus tracks on the CC set are all from the same year and are plentiful if some are not quite as quality, obviously, as the main set.

‘It Takes A Lot To Laugh (It Takes A Train To Cry)’ is one of the stand out bonus’ – It’s weary, wobbly guitar lines backing a strong vocal by Dylan who sounds as possessed and alive as his best days. A rare take on ‘Born In Time’ follows. It’s a very nice audience recording, a little distant but marred by static the way through making that a little more annoying than anything.

An epic take on ‘Joey’ is marked by one of the tapers close neighbours being more than excited by this appearance, thankfully, that joy really only peaks at the beginning of the track and the rest of this song really drives on.
There’s a beautiful, lilting take on ‘I Threw It All Away’, an enthusiastic audience chime in every so often but do nothing to take away from the beauty of the piece – it’s very well placed beside a cover of Glenn Spencer’s ‘Blue Bonnet Girl’, personally, I was unaware of the track, the crowd all seem to know it however and clap along quietly.
‘10,000 Men’, not on heavy rotation generally, is cast well here, some excellent partying between guitar lines and a wonderful vocal delivery by Bob.

Of the two sets to be reviewed here, the CC set is obviously the most bulky – In terms of both bonus tracks and packaging – though if the overall appearance is ephemeral to you or you’re swung by the main attraction, theres’s a lot to be said for both editions. The Crystal Cat a shade clearer, lighter and less bass-heavy than the Golden Eggs version. My own preference is for the GE version, though some ears, a little more sensitive to the bass might prefer the sound of the CC variation.

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