Jesse Jarnow

“mr. tambourine man” – bob dylan

“Mr. Tambourine Man” – Bob Dylan (download)
recorded 30 July 1999, Jones Beach Amphitheater, Wantagh, NY (download whole show)

(file expires December 24th)

(And… reentry complete.) A friend of mine once negatively characterized Bob Dylan’s live vocals as “UPdownUPdownUPdown.” And not inaccurately. But, Dylan’s too ornery to alternate so blandly (except when he is). It’s like Mike Gordon said — speaking of criticisms that the Grateful Dead just ran up and down scales together — you have to know when to go down and when to go up. Given Dylan’s gnarled voice — part affected, part acquired — even the up/downs sometimes get blurred, which is why I’m so frabjously psyched about this summer ’99 soundboard, in which Dylan cuts through completely.

In Chronicles, Dylan spins a probably bullshit yarn to describe his improvised vocal melodies, taught to him by Lonnie Johnson, involving “an odd- instead of an even-numbered system” and “a highly controlled system of playing [that] relates to the notes of a scale, how they combine numerically, how they form melodies out of triplets and are axiomatic to the rhythm and the chord changes.” Which is where the UPdownUPdown comes from. And the fastSLOWfastSLOW, and all the layered combinations.

At its best, though, it all congeals into melody, as it did during shows I saw in 1999 and 2000, when Dylan’s Larry Campbell-dominated band blew both Paul Simon and Phil Lesh’s genial revues off the summer shed stages. This “Mr. Tambourine Man” resists singalongs and stumbles, almost surprised at itself, around a new melody, with all the revelation that entails. Dylan never quite sings it directly — which is sort of the point, like an improvisation unresolved — but still delivers appropriate drama. This is what I love about live Dylan. It can be elusive, and I’m glad I finally have a solid example I can point to. If you don’t like it, well, there it is.

So, who’s got the awesome Never Ending Tour soundboards? Sendspace that shit up. (Thx to Ace Cowboy for digging this one up.)