Sun Beating At The Altar (Rattlesnake RS 040)
Sun Theater, Anaheim, CA – March 10, 2000
Roving Gambler / Tomorrow Is A Long Time / It’s Alright Ma ( I’m Only Bleeding ) / Tangled Up In Blue / This World Can’t Stand Long / Dignity / Tell Me That It Isn’t True / Things Have Changed / Not Dark Yet / Highway 61 Revisited / Lovesick / Not Fade Away / Blowin’ In The Wind. [ 70:37 ]
This was to be the first show from Bob Dylan & his touring band both of the new millennium & quite some time with Dylan taking a considerable break before the turn of the century – his last being the 20th of November 1999 ( without counting his guest appearance in late February at the 42nd Annual Grammy Awards. ) The announcement was made only a week before that Dylan would be appearing at The Sun Theatre in Anaheim, South California. A 1,200 crowd capacity venue that has been chosen today to help Bobby ease out of his short sabbatical. As it would turn out 2000 would be a fantastic year for Bob & it would be revered as one of the one of the better of his years through out this new decade.
The tape presented here is a very good audience recording of the first show of the day that sounds very close to a soundboard but still benefits from a bit of circling audience noise that shows up a rapt & appreciative crowd. That the theater is smaller than a vast arena show is picked up well by the acoustics. It has a better, more intimate feel than watching Dylan on the big screens of some cold, unapologetic airdrome & this it sounds like you could be sat there abet sat towards the back of the stalls.
The recording starts with the abbreviated version of Dylan’s spoken work entrance after which the band quietly fall in to a version of the traditional “Roving Gambler”. The band are right on the money tonight – for all the sharp stops in to harmonic accapellas & the bluegrassish musicianship then they don’t let us down. A muted entrance it may be but the audience are respectful enough to let Dylan continue without whooping & hollering too much. “Tomorrow Is A Long Time” makes a quiet return – It’s inaugural recorded rendition was for the Whitmark Demos & then it was re-recorded for ‘New Morning’ nearly 10 years later but never used.
Its appearance is greeted fondly tonight & a few in the crowd seem to recognise it ( This being despite it’s only official Dylan appearence on 2 greatest hits LPs – ‘Greatest Hits II’ & ‘Masterpieces’. ) Again it’s a delicate tune & it doesn’t strain to reach out & grab the audience but bathes them in quiet waves of bliss. Bob then turns tail & throws in an acoustic “It’s Alright, Ma ( I’m Only Bleeding )” a far brisker song to somehow placate the audience & draw them back again – Dylan, as bullish as he an be sometimes, must have realised there can only be so much obscurity within his set before people’s attention would start to drift so rooting around in his ‘best of’ pile drags out the favorite ( and lesser played as of late ) track. Even in it’s acoustic form then it loses nothing of it’s venom especially in Dylan’s atypical sneer.
The words are still somewhat garbled at points as if Bob is trying to push them out in his haste to prove his worth this new year. “Tangled Up In Blue” follows to even more recognition. This time we’re joined by drummer George Recili after the first verse, which gives the song a little more ballast. The first song in which Bob starts to mess with the phrasing – It’s only slowing between the beat leaping in to action before the next verse is due but it is a very good interpretation without getting too messy. The first Dylan guitar solo, although ably pitched comes out a little weedy & slightly halting – Dylan thinks this through before the next break & grabs his harp to much delight. This gives much more feeling to the track & enables it to push along as the everyman story that it is. To finish the acoustic set up the band go to another traditional “This World Can’t Stand Long” – Dylan & The Bands second ever venture of singing this track.
He’s behind it fully after obviously taken in the warnings & prophecies surrounding the end of the century – it may by now also have a passing nod to the man who broke in to his friend George Harrison’s home at Friar Park in December 1999 & notes of fate that stands behind the song – Do wrong to others & do wrong to yourself – The rendition is pleasingly spartan almost hymnal. By all accounts Dylan sang this song sans guitar leaving his band to play the bluegrass backing leaving Dylan to concentrate on lyrics & a brief burst of harp in the middle.
The electric set begins with a sublime “Dignity” – Very similar indeed to the CV. A glossy, euphoric trickle throughout. The words though are lost in the jumble of Dylan’s rendition & they seem just to melt in to each other before he has time to think about the next word. “Tell Me That It Isn’t True” gets in inaugural airing tonight – The Nashville Skyline track is again very close to it’s LP brother but Dylan has no intention of replicating his warm crooning voice tonight but regardless – the message still stands & Dylan sounds as weary as the lyrics might suggest & I might claim that the weathered hoarseness to his voice adds a little more gravitas to the rendition.
Yet another first swoops in to the set list from the Film ‘The Wonder Boys’ – “Things Have Changed”. This version rocks a little more than the initial track, more propulsive. As this track is possibly still sat fresher on the minds of the attending Bobcats it gets more of a reception & the attention is clearer to hear. “Not Dark Yet” is Dylan’s nod to the fading summer of his years & his respect to the passing of time.
Perfectly shaded by his tired voice & the slow attention of the music, the crowd cheer either to wordlessly say “Keep rollin’ Bob!” or with recognition to the man whom they grew up with & will follow until they fall or he does. One of Dylan’s final lines get the most appreciation “I can’t even remember what it was I came here to get away from” possibly the way most people here feel tonight but that Bobby’s on stage feeling that hand on his shoulder he’s taking the hit for everyone else too.
“Highway 61 Revisited” finishes off the main part of the concert in just style. Ever the fall back plan, the song that rouses the masses & the track where most work generally gets done within the show. The band are allowed to cut loose a little more now & flesh out the power thats hidden with in – fiery solos leap out likes snakes from a box & the furious powerhouse drumming pounds the air in to submission.
The first encore begins with Victoria’s not-so-secret pean to an unknown soul that Bobby has fallen for. He knows he’ll only go & get his heart broken again but he knows he’s in there deep. The textural guitar denotes the passion but pain in Dylan’s heart & the doomish drums seals his resigned pain up to & beyond the brooding tornado-style middle section that sweeps up all in it’s part but leaves the throbbing ache where it stood.
“Not Fade Away” is Bobby’s tribute to his fallen comrade Gerry Garcia & tip of the hat to his boyhood hero Buddy Holly – a jolly & cajoling incitement to get up & dance. It veers away slightly from the Dead’s version of this song but not by a million miles & of course his band is more than well equipped enough to take on the challenge to bend the chords & spring a twisted solo when the time commands. This first show ends with one of Bobby’s earliest hits “Blowin’ In The Wind”. The band version is still sanguine & slow. Dylan’s “Not Dark Yet” styled answer to this song. It’s glow is immense & will ensure the crowd leave stuck by what they’ve seen. The tape ends to a long fade out of applause – an audience who’ve been perched at the altar & felt the sun. Dylan in the new Millennium? Just as good as the Dylan of old. A few listeners have noted this to be a show worth hearing & they’re more than right – It’s an excellent welcome from Bob back in to the year & an affordable way in being just a single disk. it may be a shorter set than usual but there are 13 songs all worth their salt.
Rattlesnake have created a wonderful clean looking package for this show. The outside of the booklet features no script at all just a slightly blurred picture of Dylan on stage with a backdrop of silver pleated curtains, bathed in a warm glow. The text appears through the spine of the jewel case printed on to the rear tray. The rear features a clean & unfussy track list along with a different picture of Dylan on stage. The 8 page booklet inside includes a story-so-far rundown of Dylan’s business by The Gentleman’s Club Of Spalding Treasurer and more stage shots of Dylan ( Although not all from the same venue. )
Dylan seemed to be in good form in the early naughties onstage, and this show in Anaheim was a great one. Bob is focused, the band is tight, and the setlist is varied and interesting. And as Stuart implies in his review, this is one of those instances where an audience tape is superior to a soundboard. This recording is super-clear like a board tape, but has the ‘in the room’ ambience that only a good audience tape can capture. Gorgeous deluxe packaging from the Rattlesnake label too. A flawless release, and one of my favourite Dylan boots!