Bob Dylan – Suffering Under The Law (Thinman 119/120)

Suffering Under The Law (Thinman 119/120)

Fox Warfield Theatre, San Francisco, CA – November 3rd, 1979

Disc 1 (52:07):  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, Gonna Change My Way Of Thinking

Disc 2 (42:54):  Do Right To Me Baby, Solid Rock, Saving Grace, What Can I Do For You?, Saved, In The Garden, Blessed Be The Name, Pressing On

Suffering Under The Law presents for the first time on silver discs the third ever gospel show from the Fox Warfield Theater in San Francisco.  Thinman use the common good to very good but distant audience recording of the event.  The opening gospel set and Mona Lisa Young singing “God Uses Ordinary People” are omitted leaving only the Bob Dylan songs.  There are several small, non destructive cuts between some songs but all of the songs are complete.

The first two nights were tentative with the band learning the new  material and Dylan adjusting to his new role as musical evangelist.  The band continue to learn the new arrangements and show hesitation at the beginning of almost every song but by this night Dylan is much more energized and determined beginning with the scorching opening number “Gotta Serve Somebody.” 

His enthusiasm carries over into the second number of the set “I Believe In You” where he misses the beginning and the band have to catch up.  The intimate, confessional song is followed by the polemic “When You Gonna Wake Up.”  Over the next three years Dylan will play around with different arrangements but at this early stage is played as the studio recording.  

“When He Returns” brings the set back to a quiet moment with the voice accompanied only by piano.  “Precious Angel” is one of the most glorious and optimistic songs of the show with a powerful vocal performance.  The beauty of the arrangement captured in the backing vocals stands at odds with much of the rest of the set and shares its muse with much of contemporary Christian music.  “Covenant Woman,” still one of the best songs to come out of this period, is beginning to show signs of the arrangement which would be used for the next several gospel tours. 

“Do Right To Me Baby” is the earliest of the songs written coinciding with his conversion, having been composed in the latter days of the 1978 tour and played at the very last show on December 18th in Hollywood, Florida.   The song would change in subsequent tours the following year but in these early shows retained the same fascinating arrangement with the lyric bass underlying the banjo melody.

The set closes with a slew of as yet unreleased songs which test the patience of both the band and the audience.  The band race to keep up with Dylan during “Solid Rock” and “What Can I Do For You?”  The latter also ends with a piano melody instead of the normal harp solo.  “Saved” has a very gentle beginning and contains an additional chorus.  When they come upto the final song of the set “In The Garden” there is some commotion in the audience.  Boos can be heard although it isn’t clear if they are directed to the band, the music, or a heckler.  It is strange since the reception had been positive all night.  

As a result of the tension, Dylan delivers a fantastic performance of the piece.  The audience even join in during the encores “Blessed Is The Name” and “Pressing On” (which someone close to the taper suggest is “Amazing Grace.”)  Although the sound quality isn’t up to par with some of the other tapes released from this era on Thinman, this one is still quite listenable and offers a fascinating glimps into the first week of the gospel era.  The label use thick cardboard inserts with relevant photos of the era.  Suffer Under The Law is another quality release of the under-represented gospel era. 

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