Slow Train To Warfield (Mainstream MAST-98/99)
Fox Warfield Theater, San Francisco, CA – November 7th, 1979
Disc 1: Gotta Serve Somebody, I Believe In You, When You Gonna Wake Up?, When He Returns, Man Gave Names To All The Animals, Precious Angel, Slow Train, Covenant Woman, What Are You Doing With Your Heart?, Gonna Change My Way Of Thinking
Disc 2: Do Right To Me Baby, Solid Rock, Saving Grace, What Can I Do For You?, Saved, Blessed Is The Name, Pressing On
Of all twists and turns of Dylan’s career, his transition in 1979 with the release of Slow Train Coming to the Gospel after finding Jesus is still very touchy with long time fans. Perhaps the most surprising decision he made when he was ready to tour in the fall of that year was to completely ignore all his past material and focus only upon the latest album with even newer songs that would later appear on 1980’s Saved LP. Some commentators have suggested that his conversion shouldn’t have come as a big surprise given just how depressed he seemed on Street Legal and the apocalyptic vision of much of his work.
What can be said is that the songs he wrote were very catchy, beautiful and not too preachy since the theology articulated doesn’t fall within the crass Arminian-decision theology made popular in the American pietism of Billy Graham and Robert Schuller, for example. Nor does he fall into the trap of dispensational premillinialist theology which is another very popular religious fad. Rather the songs are a very sincere exposition of one’s new found faith that is very convincing.
Dylan began the gospel era with fourteen shows at the Fox Warfield Theater in San Francisco. Slow Train To Warfield documents the six show of this run. The older tape source for this show is an audience recording that is incomplete, missing the first seven songs and contains significant cuts in others. This new tape source is almost complete. Regina Havis’ introductory monologue is missing from the tape, the gospel numbers and “In The Garden,” which is listed on the artwork, is absent from the tape. It’s very clear and well balanced but taped a distance from the stage with some distorting echo present. Mainstream also tried to boost the volume but leave a metallic residue.
By this time it sounds like Dylan and the band have become more comfortable playing the material in front of a live audience and the delivery is very confident. There is the occasional miss que like in “When You Gonna Wake Up?” and “Gonna Change My Way Of Thinking”. He also misses the first line of the “pig” verse in “Man Gave Names To All The Animals”. That track is, however, particularly effective with the calypso beat, Spanish guitar, American blues melody and the hissing at the end. Before “Solid Rock” Dylan says: “You all know we’re living in the end of times, near the last of the end of times. And the end of times are perilous times, and the last days perilous times shall be again. And you’re gonna need something strong to hold on to. The name of this song is ‘I’m Hanging On To A Solid Rock Made Before The Foundation Of The World.’ You’re gonna need something just about that strong.”
The final tracks, “Blessed Is The Name” and “Pressing On” are the most gospel in terms of musical style and the former really rocks the house. The latter begins with Dylan alone at the piano and builds to such an emotional crescendo with the backing singers that it’s a very effective final encore. Slow Train To Warfield is packaged with several pictures from the tour and is a very good document from the first week of the gospel era. An excellent online resource for this period can be found on the link.