Bob Dylan – War Against The Spirit (Thinman-050/51)

War Against The Spirit (Thinman-050/51)

National Exhibition Center, Birmingham, England – July 5th, 1981

Disc 1: Gotta Serve Somebody, I Believe In You, Like A Rolling Stone, Till I Get It Right (Regina Havis)(Lane/Henley), Man Gave Names To All The Animals, Maggie’s Farm, Girl From The North Country, Ballad Of A Thin Man, Simple Twist Of Fate, Watered-Down Love, Slow Train, Lenny Bruce

Disc 2: Mr. Tambourine Man, Solid Rock, Just Like A Woman, Heart Of Mine, What Can I Do For You?, Masters Of War, When You Gonna Wake Up, In The Garden, City Of Gold, It Ain’t Me Babe (Dylan solo), Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door

War Against The Spirit documents the second of two shows Dylan played at the NEC in Birmingham on the Shot Of Love tour. This is a very good to excellent stereo audience recording whose only drawback is a slight distance away from the stage. The taper didn’t record the opening four-song gospel introduction, ignoring “Come On In This House,” “It’s Gonna Rain,” “Show Me The Way Lord,” and “Saved By The Grace Of Your Love.” There are also cuts after “Man Gave Names To All The Animals,” “Slow Train” (eliminating Carolyn Dennis singing “Walk Around Heaven All Day”), “Solid Rock,” and “In The Garden.” All of the other songs are otherwise complete. The tape was released on the CDR title Bob Dylan Is The One (Rock Rebel 07/08) in similar quality, but Thinman is its first silver release. The set list is typical of the tour at the beginning with “Gotta Serve Somebody” serving as the opener.

This is the same arrangement he uses in the other shows with the bombastic flourishes and changing “gotta serve somebody” to “you are serving somebody,” changing the imperative into the indicative changes the meaning of the song from being an exhortation to being a condemnation. Dylan introduces Regina Havis for “‘Till I Get It Right” by calling her, “a young girl I met in Nashville, Tennessee a bunch of years back.” “Watered-Down Love” is moved from the second half of the show to an earlier position, after “Simple Twist Of Fate.” After the apocalyptic “Slow Train,” they play “Lenny Bruce” off of the new album Shot Of Love. It is a touching ballad with cringe worthy lyrics, but many saw this as a sign that he was moving away from writing purely gospel material to writing more inflammatory songs in the vein of “Hurricane” and “Joey.”

“Mr. Tambourine Man” is given a breezy arrangement on this tour and some say this is the only really effective electric version. Afterwards Dylan says, “Thank you. You people are too kind. Right now, we get it, sometimes it’s too slow, sometimes it’s too fast. But I’m gonna try to get this one just right in the middle.” As the band play “Solid Rock,” it is the one song that invokes the spirit of a Pentecostal tent meeting with the repeated litanies and the hard beat. “Just Like A Woman” is a strange song to follow. “Heart Of Mine” follows. This song received its debut on July 1 at Earls Court making this the third time it is performed live. “Masters Of War” is played in the so-called “heavy metal” arrangement that goes back to the Street Legal tour three years before and is scarcely played, finding itself in nine shows. “In The Garden” is again the set closer, serving as a summary of all the songs that have come before.

During which, Dylan introduces the band by saying, “Thank you ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for coming here now. On the left over there I wanna introduce to you one more time, Carolyn Dennis. Standing next to her, Madelyn Quebec. Regina McCreary, Clydie King. On the keyboards tonight, from …, I think he’s from Portsmouth, Virginia, ladies and gentlemen Willie T Smith. Booker T Smith, I’m sorry. On the guitar, Fred Tackett, Fred Tackett. On the other guitar, Steve Ripley. On the drums, give him a hand, from Tulsa, Oklahoma, Jim Keltner. On the bass guitar, the last of the best, Mr. Tim Drummond. Actually we got a band of the last of the best, and the best of the last. I wanna thank you for bearing with me tonight. I hope to see you when we come back sometime. I sure hope we can do that.”

The first song of the encores is the rarity “City Of Gold.” This song was written several months before but wasn’t included on the new album and was played several times on the previous tour. This is its only appearance in Europe and remains to this day unreleased although it curiously pops up in Dylan’s 2003 movie Masked And Anonymous. “It Ain’t Me, Babe” is played on acoustic guitar by Dylan alone and appears only twice in Europe: here and on July 10 in Drannen, Norway. The audience reacts loudly to the song and sings and clap along. It is a definite crowd pleaser but a strange song to chose. The message of the preceding two hours has been one of faith, communion with God and serving the neighbor, and even the older songs, placed into this context, derive a deeper meaning.

“It Ain’t Me, Babe” is a seeming contradiction to all that. How can you “serve somebody” when at the same time “I’m not the one you’re looking for”? War Against The Spirit, like Ways Of The Flesh (both names coming from lyrics in “Solid Rock”), is packaged in a double slimline jewel case with glossy paper inserts much like the ones used for their first set of releases of the 2007 European tour back in May. There are many photos from the tour used on the front graphic and the back picture. Like all of the shows, this was recorded professionally by Dylan’s crew but so far that tape has never surfaced. Both of these releases are nice documents from the waning days of Dylan’s “gospel period.” He would have a tour of the States and Canada in October and November and then stop touring for three years as he prepared Infidels, his first non-gospel album in four.

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