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Bob Dylan – All Roads Lead To Wembley (Empress Valley EVSD 1154/1155/PRO)

Bob Dylan, “All Roads Lead To Wembley” (Empress Valley EVSD 1154/1155/PRO)

Disk 1 – Highway 61 Revisited / Jokerman / All Along The Watchtower / Just Like A Woman / Maggie’s Farm / I And I / Licence To Kill / A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall (Acoustic) / Tangled Up In Blue (Acoustic) / It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding) (Acoustic) / Simple Twist Of Fate / Masters Of War / Ballad Of A Thin Man
Disk 2 – Enough Is Enough / Every Grain Of Sand / Like A Rolling Stone / Mr. Tambourine Man (Acoustic) / Girl From The North Country (Acoustic) / It Ain’t Me Babe (Acoustic) / Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat / It’s All Over Now Baby Blue (Van Morrison) / Tombstone Blues / Señor (Tales Of Yankee Power) / The Times They Are A-Changin’ / Blowin’ In The Wind / Knockin’ On Heavens Door

Bob Dylan’s European stadium tour of 1984, coming with help from Bill Graham who dropped in his clients, Santana, was often chastised as being as flat at the Stones 1981 tour – Lifeless and immobile variations on some of Dylan’s classics bunched alongside vapid renditions from his latest ‘Infidels’ album. The portrait that’s captured on the album ‘Real Live’ certainly doesn’t do it too much justice either, however, the audience recordings and subsequent soundboards, do tend to have a little more life about them.

This specific recording, taken from recently discovered stereo soundboard DAT tapes, gives much more soul to this show than previously heard. This show has previously been booted from an audience source on TNT Studio’s “What’s Real” and Masterport’s 3 CD set, ‘Wembley 1984’, though it would be safe to suggest that you just try trade those in at your local second hand record dealer now. The sound is very well balanced, an even spread of each contributer (Dylan’s voice could be a little louder for me but that’s a minor quibble), there’s just enough audience noise underneath the main board to stop it all from becoming too dry. The tape isn’t quite complete as it’s missing Greg Sutton’s contribution before Dylan’s acoustic set – Whether this was a decision made from the mixing desk or by the bootlegger as has been apparent on previous 1984 bootlegs, it’s not clear but I have to assume it’s of no consequence not to have it.

Beginning with a slightly erratic and ragged ‘Highway 61 Revisited’ where the band know they’ve started, they’ve rehearsed, however, it feels like the choice of opener was made two minutes before they stepped on stage. We lead in to a much more ‘together’ version of Jokerman. A track that couldn’t sound much more ‘80’s in style if it tried, the whirling organ that is it’s bed is just correct, maybe Colin Allen’s drums could sound a little less cold but, hey, it’s a sound of the times right there as is the noodling version of ‘All Along The Watchtower’, furiously paced, it charges along with a solid vigour, the slightly dated sound is saved however with a crazy amount of Hendrixian soloing that just whips among at will. “Maggies Farm” sounds like it might befall a fate as badly as ‘Highway’, as the band spar between licks that fall apart like brittle wood, in the end however, it all comes together perfectly – A real ’65 sounding version where Dylan almost sounds 24 again rather than just gone 43, the spirited, speeding pace of the track made all the more insistent by Ian’s keyboards and Mick Taylor’s jagged soloing.
The reggae-toned ‘I & I’ comes next, it has a little crunch on the tape between 0:37 – 0:52 that presumably feeds back from Mick’s guitar as there’s a little squeak a few seconds later – A technical hiccup only – the rest of the track sounds great.

As we move in to the acoustic portion of the set, the atmosphere changes, the audience are immovably quiet for “It’s A Hard Rain ..”, obviously rapt by this version, however, it’s “Tangled Up In Blue” that really strikes, as we know, it was almost completely rewritten after the first verse as if Dylan has decided to start rapping straight from new. Lines are thrown out and around with abandon, the effort of trying to sing along on the night must have been a nightmare for skilled Dylan enthusiasts, it is wonderful to hear though as Dylan attempts to rewrite the book completely. Another glorious rendition, after around 24 seconds of retuning their guitars, is ‘It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)”, one of the versions that could just be Dylan standing alone again in 1965, his waspish intonation and the fluid flurry of Mick Taylor’s dueting, not withstanding, this is another tour-de-force of songwriting and memory.
Changed up is ’Simple Twist Of Fate’, given an oddly decade spanning change of sound which just rolls over and asks the ’80’s to scratch it’d belly and some of the worst twist of lyrics featuring subtle racism and a very bad glass of wine, the difference is astounding – It’s turned in to the most crass submission of the evening and will leave you wanting the bare romanticism of the original. Thankfully, “Masters Of War”, though it’s shell has also been replaced, retains it’s political heart and this version actually has a bulk of muscle behind it as does, “Ballad Of A Thin Man”, suitably simple sounding despite the arsenal on display, it has a great heft behind it.

One of the other highlights of the evening is “Why Do I Have To Choose?”, the Willy Nelson cover has a real bar jam kind of feel, arguably what a band like this was formed for, the party cross of Mick’s liquid soloing and Ian’s keys brings the song to a greater level. Of course, you have to top one triumph with another and certainly one of your own so, “Like A Rolling Stone” comes next. Strangely middle of the set for inclusion, there’s no flurry, no wooly embellishment, it’s all prime Dylan. Maybe it’s only fault could be that Dylan announces the band over the coda, breaking the unwritten code that the tracks too big to talk over, however, seeing as Dylan had written it ..

For the encores, Dylan steps back on to the stage for another short acoustic set – A quick step rendition of “Mr. Tambourine Man”, which has the crowd especially roused. Dylan really begins to playing with the elasticity of the words, chewing them up, musing with them, playfully spitting them out. It’s certainly a sit down and feel it wash over you version as it’s it’s follow up, “Girl From The North Country”. Dylan swoops through, drawing out and changing the lyrics – Maybe not always successfully – but it’s another spellbinding offering.

Just before “Leopard Skin Pill-Box Hat”, Bob introduces the first special guest of the evening (Actually, there’s two as Carlos Santana also joins in but as he supported, his introduction has already been made), Eric Clapton, before joking that there are too many guitar players on stage. It’s a fantastic play off between them all however and just the powerhouse that you might expect, especially when Dylan decides that it’s time to pull out the harmonica and give us a couple of short but rough solos between verses. Rather fantastically, there’s another guest that Dylan wants to introduce you to, Chrissie Hynde, who in turn wants to introduce you to a third guest, Van Morrison who joins the band on stage for a take on, “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”. A great, if ragged, take on the song, there’s a little feedback after the second verse which knocks Dylan’s mic out, you can just about hear him and Chrissie fight it out to be heard, thankfully, after the middle eight, Van rejoins again to add his part in again.

Van steps away and leaves the rest of them to get back to it, “Tombstone Blues”, moves towards “Señor”, the last of the latest songs of the night (of which is at least a minute and a half of introduction where Dylan teaches Eric the chords) which bleeds effortlessly in to a rousing “The Times They Are A-Changin’” where the quad of sweeping guitars (Clapton’s especially) wrings out the emotion. Colin’s drums pop a little off of the recording, akin to someone drumming a pencil on a table, but you can almost phase that out by concentration.

For their second encore, the extended band return for a short take, sub-reggae take on ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’, replete with whirling organ and very short solo which drifts straight in to ‘Knockin’ On Heavens Door’ (This almost sounds like a fade in after a tape cut). Again it sounds like a twin of a BOTT session and a current update. Chrissie almost ruins things by shout singing the chorus, however, it’s a mercifully short contribution. The band leave the stage silently, leaving the announcer to state their departure. The tape then ends cold.

The DVD that arrived with the package was a pleasant surprise – Despite Empress throwing in DVDs often, it’s something that most European bootleggers don’t seem to see a need for – The footage comes from the Martha Quinn MTV interview shot backstage at the show with 7 tracks that were shot by the crew from the side of the stage. Though it’s pro-shot, it’s really rather amateur (Bill Graham had denied the crew access officially so whether they were acting on Dylan’s wishes or were trying to be covert is unclear). The audio for the interview and the live clips is from the raw footage – The interview is clear enough, the clips suffer badly from overload. The picture however, is fabulous and could only come from the station master tapes.

The packaging is fantastic – Pictures from the show are included also including images of the dat tapes. The label screwed up the traclisting at first however and included a little insert showing the correct running order later.

We haven’t had a vintage Dylan treat like this for a long time now and so it’s great to see the wheels in motion yet again. The initial run of this edition sold out very, very quickly. If EV produce a second edition, leap for it. You won’t be disappointed.

If you liked this review, buy me a cup of joe. (Suggested: $3 a shot or $7.5 for a double)

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