Spanish Harlem Nights (Tambourine Man Records TMR 176/177/178)
United Palace Theater, New York, NY – November 18th, 2009
Disc 1 (79:39): Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again, It Ain’t Me Babe, Man In The Long Black Coat, It’s All Good, Spirit On The Water, High Water (For Charley Patton), Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I’ll Go Mine), Forgetful Heart, Cold Irons Bound, I Feel A Change Comin’ On, Highway 61 Revisited, Workingman’s Blues #2, Thunder On The Mountain
Disc 2 (78:12): Ballad Of A Thin Man, Like A Rolling Stone, Jolene, All Along The Watchtower. Bonus tracks, United Palace Theater, New York, NY – November 17th, 2009: It’s All Over Now Baby Blue, Beyond Here Lies Nothing, A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall, John Brown, Summer Days, Po’ Boy, Cold Irons Bound, If You Ever Go To Houston
Disc 3 (78:52): Ain’t Talkin’. United Palace Theater, New York, NY – November 19th, 2009: Gonna Change My Way Of Thinking, The Man In Me, Beyond Here Lies Nothin’, Most Likely You Go Your Own Way (And I Go Mine), My Wife’s Home Town, Desolation Row, High Water, When The Deal Goes Down, Cold Irons Bound, Workingman’s Blues #2, Ain’t Talkin’
Bob Dylan closed his NET for 2009 with three sold out shows at the United Palace Theater in Washington Heights in New York. Spanish Harlem Nights presents the middle of the three shows, the November 18th concert, complete with tracks from the first and third nights as a bonus. The sound quality for all three nights is excellent stereo with very nice punchiness in the lower frequencies. Having the emphasis on the rhythm section is not common for Dylan tapes and really brings out added nuances lacking in other recordings.
A very long and interesting review of the opening night was published in the New York Post, written by Dan Aquilante. In the article titled “Dylan’s delightful” he states: “When Bob Dylan sings, everyone listens — even though half the time it’s hard to figure out what he’s actually saying. Uptown at the United Palace Theater, at the first of his three-show engagement (concluding tonight), Dylan’s vocals on his famous and not-so-famous songs were warped in distinct growls of self-parody, fast eruptions of words and strange sing-song phrasing that made the familiar strange and the strange absurd. Yeah, it was another great show by the Zim. It’s always fascinating to see Dylan in concert. He’s unpredictable, and enjoys dabbling in the erratic.”
Aquilante continues by pointing out how much “guitar-prodigy Charlie Sexton,” who returned to the band replacing “one-note-solo Denny Freeman,” adds to the overall arrangements and how “during the first two nights of Dylan’s United Palace Theater stand Sexton stole the show more than once with hotrod solos that never held back for fear of stepping on The Legend’s toes.”
Dylan’s best tours seem to occur when he has an independent minded guitarist to play off of in the band. It was true with Michael Bloomfield, Mark Knopfer, and GE Smith in the past. This release is evidence of the influence Sexton has upon Dylan with the newer songs sounding much more fresh and exciting than the old. The setlists reflected in this anthology are skewered towards the newer numbers originating from the late nineties to the present.
Older songs, “Stuck Inside Of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again” and “It Ain’t Me Babe” open the show. “Man In The Long Black Cloak” is the only song in the second night’s set dating from the 70s or 80s. It shows a favor to reinterpreting slower numbers into a quicker tempo. The older performances, which held a mystique of gloom, now favor one of independent choice and having control over one’s destiny. The same can be said to “Spirit On The Water” which normally crawls upon the stage as a confessional. But the speeded up tempo sounds more like a defiant gesture to one’s mortality.
A rare “Forgetful Heart” is followed by “Cold Irons Bound” in an arrangement changed from previous performances. It is followed by the excellent “I Feel A Change Coming On.” Of all the older songs, “Highway 61 Revisited” sounds the most fresh and energetic. Receli’s drums are very deep and resonant as Sexton pulls out creative solos. “Workingman’s Blues #2” is played in about a third of the shows and contains very self confident harp solos. “Ballad Of A Thinman” closes the show and is followed on the tape by four minutes of audience cheering before the first encore “Like A Rolling Stone.”
The first batch of bonus songs come from the first United Theater show. These also come from an excellent sounding recording with tremendous presence by the bass and drums. It has a rather sloppy version of “Beyond Here Lies Nothin'” and what the Postcalled a “lull at the center of the show” with “John Brown,” “Summer Days” and “Po’ Boy” in consecutive order. “John Brown” is given a new arrangements. Past tours were content with a slow dirge-paced tempo punctuated by the banjo. This version downpays the banjo and is played as a quick tempo country number.
The third disc has “Ain’t Talkin'” from the opening night followed by almost the entire third night on November 19th. It has the show in sequence from the beginning through “Ain’t Talkin'” and is missing o only the final two songs “Thunder On The Mountain,” “Ballad Of A Thinman” and the encores. It too comes from an excellent but bottom heavy recording. The show starts off with “Gotta Change My Way Of Thinking,” a rare number from the gospel period and a song that was played only ten times during 2009.
“Beyond Here Lies Nothin'” sounds much more confident and tight in delivery, changing the emphasis from trumpet to guitar in the arrangement. “Desolation Row” is played with a syncopated rhtym making it sound very catchy with a pop sensibility. The third disc ends as it begins, with an epic performance of the apocalyptic “Ain’t Talkin.'”
Given the sound quality, the great performances and the generosity of the bonus material, Spanish Harlem Nights is a great release by TMR. They also include a 12 page book filled with photographs from the event to bring you into the three night engagement very well. This could have been improved if the label went ahead and just pressed all three shows complete in one massive collection. But as it is, this is a great release worth having.