Straight Was The Track (Thinman-141/142)
Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Saratoga Springs, NY – June 26th, 1988
Disc 1 (43:58): Subterranean Homesick Blues, I Shall Be Released, My Back Pages, Watching The River Flow, I’ll Remember You, Highway 61 Revisited, Girl From The North Country, Two Soldiers, It Ain’t Me Babe, Driftin’ Too Far From Shore
Disc 2 (68:16): Silvio, All Along The Watchtower, Tomorrow Is A Long Time, Maggie’s Farm, Times They Are A-Changin’, Like A Rolling Stone. Grandstand, New York State Fairgrounds, Syracuse, NY – August 31st, 1988: Tangled Up In Blue, Every Grain Of Sand, To Ramona, Girl From The North Country, Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright, One Too Many Mornings, I Shall Be Released, Barbara Allen
When the Never Ending Tour began in June 1988, Bob Dylan opted to bring with him his smallest touring band yet with only G. E. Smith, Kenny Aaronson, Christopher Parker on drums and no back-up singers. The ever-evolving setlist contained hard hitting renditions of the hits with barely a sight of songs from the latest panned release Down In The Groove and no harmonicas.
Straight Was The Track is the first silver pressed release of the complete concert utilizing an excellent stereo audience recording. The only other title to have anything from this show is Critics Choice Vol. 4(Wanted Man WMM 055) issued in 1994 with “Watching The River Flow,” “Two Soldiers” and “Tomorrow Is A Long Time.”
Like every show on the I88 tour (as it was dubbed at the time) is the adrenaline rush “Subterranean Homesick Blues” played with punkish intensity. Raw and intense, the arrangement stands at odds with the typical eighties polished pop style which Dylan himself used.
There is a similar intensity with the other songs in the first part of the set. It works very well on “Watching The River Flow” and “Highway 61 Revisited,” which also features Smith playing a nasty sounding slide guitar as lead.
It doesn’t really work, however, on the Empire Burlesque track “I’ll Remember You.” This stands as one of his best songs from the album and was a standout track on the True Confessionstour with the Heartbreakers in 1986. But it sounds too overbearing as a fast tempo rock number.
The three song acoustic set in the middle of the show starts with “Girl From The North Country.” Also played is the civil war era traditional ballad “Two Soldiers.” This cover was new to the tour and Dylan would later record it on World Gone Wrong in 1993. Dylan’s observations of the tune, which were printed on that release, include: “Jerry Garcia showed me TWO SOLDIERS (Hazel & Alice do it pretty similar) a battle song extraordinaire, some dragoon officer’s epaulets laying liquid in the mud, physical plunge into Limitationville, war dominated by finance (lending money for interest being a nauseating & revolting thing) love is not collateral. hittin’ em where they ain’t (in the imperfect state that they’re in) America when Mother was the queen of Her heart, before Charlie Chaplin, before the Wild One, before the Children of the Sun — before the celestial grunge, before the insane world of entertainment exploded in our faces — before all the ancient & honorable artillery had been taken out of the city, learning to go forward by turning back the clock, stopping the mind from thinking in hours, firing a few random shots at the face of time.”
The latter half of the show contains the only performance in 1988 of “Tomorrow Is A Long Time.” One of Dylan’s earliest songs, its sounds effective in a hard rock arrangement. “Maggie’s Farm” closes the set with two encores, “The Times They Are A-Changin'” and “Like A Rolling Stone” as encores.
The bonus tracks contain eight songs from the Syracuse show on August 31st, about a month after Saratoga Springs. Five songs appear on Blown Out On The Trail (Moontunes 019/20) in 1996. The tape is very clear and bass heavy. The choice of songs is interesting, including great versions of “Every Gain Of Sand” and “To Ramona.”
Thinman also include “Girl From The North Country” and “I Shall Be Released” from Syracuse in identical arrangements as Saratoga Springs, effectively having two versions of the same song in the title. Thinman could have improved this by including two other songs from another show as filler instead.
However, that is a minor quibble for such a strong title. Straight Was The Track is packaged using glossy paper inserts lending a high class look to the overall production. Titles from so early in the NET are always interesting to hear given the fluidity of the setlists and power of the performances.