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gun-and-roses

In an alternate universe…

 

Guns N’ Roses officially disbands after Slash & Duff leave in the mid-nineties. The original members all go into self-imposed seclusion until 2016, when the lucrative re-union offers grow too large to ignore. Before the tour, the band hits the studio to pool all of their best ideas that have laid dormant over the last 20 years. This is that album (SPOTIFY playlist link at bottom of page)…

 

Some ground rules… All of the material had to come post-1996, & I included classic members only. Sorry Gilby. I wanted to include 12 songs and roughly match running time of APPETITE FOR DESTRUCTION.

 

Every band member had to be represented somehow. As per later records, IZZY gets a showcase song with his vocal. DUFF does not, but his influence in VELVET REVOLVER is enough. As a show of good faith, I even gave the much-marginalized STEVEN ADLER pole position, his signature cowbell anchoring the appropriate lyric, “You got to fall before you rise.” That could be the mantra for the whole project.

 

Split into 2 sides as of vinyl as GOD (AXL) intended, the first ends with the slow burning BACK FROM CALI, & the next kicks off with the sirens of SUCKER TRAIN BLUES. The QUEEN-like THIS I LOVE ends the record on a somber note, with a tour de force vocal performance. They played it a lot on the tour, so it’s inclusion is justified. SLASH has been ripping it up on this one live.

 

Other than that, it’s just a rock record with some fast songs mixed with slower ones. Deep cuts mixed with sure-fire hits. What else could you want from the best hard rock line-up of all time?!!!

 

More about the author at…

www.marq-desouza.com

To begin, I’ll just say if you wanna get into VH, just get the whole discography. The original six-pack, plus the last record. There is really no ‘weak’ track on any of them, and it paints a full portrait of the band chronologically. Also, all their albums are really short. Like, barely a half hour each for the most part! Easy to get through. The latest album is surprisingly strong. I highly recommend it. It’s grown on me a lot. Every song is good, and built like a tank. No weak spots anywhere. Makes the last 20 years of Aerosmith even more sad. So this list is really just a bunch of my mumbled thoughts on (more or less) my favorites loosely in order. I stayed away from some the radio staples (Aint Talkin’ ‘Bout Love, Everybody Wants Some) just to give more room to the lesser known Waldos of their world. If you get the full-lengths , those singles will jump out at you anyway, this is meant to be more the esoteric ramblings of an unabashed fanboy. The album each song appears on is listed in parenthesis at the end of it’s entry. (1) VAN HALEN (2) VAN HALEN 2 (3) WOMEN & CHILDREN FIRST (4) FAIR WARNING (5) DIVER DOWN (6) 1984 (7) A DIFFERENT KIND OF TRUTH

  1. PANAMA- Yeah, it’s a radio hit. The video was played to death. You already know it, but listen again closer than close. It’s slowly crept its way up to become my favorite VH song of all time. There is no better groove than the one they get into once those drums come in ‘full blastin’, top down.’ Diamond Dave, the model citizen with zero discipline.’ (6)
  2. UNCHAINED- ‘Non-stop talker, what a rocker’. I recorded this in my first band when we were about 14. No small achievement with its rhythmic twists & turns. It’s their go-to concert opener, from Roth to Cherone back (mercifully) to Roth. Even Sammy had to begrudgingly sing it nightly, no doubt wondering what in the devil ‘blue-eyed murder in a size 5 dress’ means. It’s ‘that’ type of song. Even when they moved it down the setlist, it demanded to be brought back to the start (me up?). A magic moment caught on tape from a band critically maligned at the time, but like the Toastmaster General says, “Most rock critics like Elvis Costello because most rock critics LOOK like Elvis Costello!” (4)
  3. SO THIS IS LOVE- ‘Check me out on the good side here,’ Dave recommends before launching into one of his best, most off-the-cuff, yet perfectly placed lyrics. ‘Catch that smile & I hit the roof’, which the band then does. One of my initial favorites back in the day, & still up there now. (4)
  4. DIRTY MOVIES – Ode to a pornstar. ‘who’s that babe with the fabulous shadow? so obscene but to me it don’t matter’ ‘her movies get down like you won’t find in her hometown’. Breaks down in the middle with Dave remembering when that girl was prom queen (an ad lib no doubt). Some rare electric slide from Eddie throughout, while the intro/middle is a study in bass-guitar harmonics. Some songs on this list could be interchanged for similar ones in the canon, but this one sounds like nothing else. (4)
  5. THE FULL BUG- Dave solo-acoustic in the intro, all big, black, & bluesy before the rock brigade crashes in. Features my single favorite Diamond-ism, directed no doubt as advice to some misguided groupie…‘Just remember when you follow through, bending over isn’t planned.’ (5)
  6. MEAN STREETS- That groove! No wonder Earth, Wind & Fire opened the ADKOT tour. Dave again proving to be the king of announcing (more like demanding) the impending guitar solo. ‘Dance baby!’ whip-cracking orders to Ed in this one before a maelstrom of note-dense fury. (4)
  7. I’M THE ONE- If I had to play someone just one VH tune, it’d be this. It encapsulates every element that made them California Gods. The guitar playing is super human. The drums do that double bass shuffle that almost no one else even tries. The harmonies are signature Mikey. There’s even a barbershop quartet breakdown after the solo. ‘We came here to entertain you, leaving here we aggravate you, don’t you know it means the same to me?’ basically summing up the band credo. (1)
  8. HANG ‘EM HIGH- One of my favorite Ed solos. A perfect example of the fact that somehow, when you can only make out bits of the lyrics, that makes it even better. A Spaghetti Western directed by Russ Meyer. (5)
  9. DROP DEAD LEGS- My favorite intro, bits of cowbell pole-dancing around electric guitar picking. The strongest production of all of their records. When Alex comes in, it’s a bone crushing, slightly behind the beat groove that won’t quit. Some nice falsetto from Dave. (6)
  10. HEAR ABOUT IT LATER – My favorite bridge, second favorite intro. I can’t believe they resurrected it for the last tour. I always thought it was forgotten by all but me. (4)
  11. … AND THE CRADLE WILL ROCK – The first time they’d used keyboards on record. A Wurlitzer through a distortion pedal. Filled with Roth-asides, the best being, ‘Have you seen Jr.’s grades?’ just before the solo. (3)
  12. ON FIRE – Their heaviest rocker by far, & opener during the salad days. In a passing of the torch story, Ozzy Osbourne admits that warm-up act VH blew away Black Sabbath nightly on their tour of 1978, leading to the Oz leaving the group. I totally picture this being the song that made the Prince Of Darkness throw his hands up, & realize that the new guard was coming to take over. (1)
  13. LITTLE GUITARS – One of their sunniest melodies. A perfect pop track. Dave shows a tender side.  Nice drum intro that I’m surprised hasn’t been sampled to hip-hop death. Some pretty Eddie flamenco/metal (flametal?) guitars. (5)
  14. TOP JIMMY- Features Ed’s strongest rhythm playing, and the perfect example of ‘the brown sound’, (google it!). The song is about a legendary band that used to rule the Sunset Strip when the boys were just starting out. Dave requests, ‘shake it baby,’ just before the solo, & boy do they ever. (6)
  15. TAKE YOUR WHISKEY HOME –  Since no one can play electric like Eddie, he decides to play acoustic like Eddie. Dave being scolded for liking that bottle better than the rest. I don’t think they ever did it live. A shame. (3)
  16. LIGHT UP THE SKY – Best drum break they ever did (of many). A barn-burner if there ever was one. I don’t think I have a clue what most of the lyrics are, my friend Shane used to quote them to me, & I’m sure he was way off. (2)
  17. WOMEN IN LOVE- They just started playing this again recently after a 30 year absence. (2)
  18. HOT FOR TEACHER- Alex’ shining studio moment. On the most anticipated rock re-union tour of all time (sorry Sting) in 2007, Dave always made sure to emphasize the line ‘heard you missed us, we’re back,’ to thunderous applause. (6)
  19. I’LL WAIT – A non-wimpy keyboard song. Dave (& all of them) maturing. Evocative, sensual, sensitive. Too bad they (fired?) Roth (quit?) after this album, as it pointed the way to exploring new ground, but not losing power (as they ended up doing with Hagar the Horrible)  (6)
  20. SINNERS SWING‘Alright you sinners, swing!,’ commands the voice of degeneration. Dave later sings the F-word (to my pre-teen delight when I first got it). The older brother behind the kit imitating a jazzy Bam-Bam. A jitterbug for the Atari 2600 generation.(4)
  21. BEAUTIFUL GIRLS – Famous mostly for being licensed by Schmitt’s Gay Beer for the commercial starring Sandler & Farley. Some perfect BG’s by Michael Anthony. No other band makes music that rocks so hard, but swings so free. I think we’re gonna like it here. Ah, Yeah. (2)
  22. OUTTA LOVE AGAIN- The single greatest cowbell hit ever just before the solo. They unearthed this song on the last tour for the first time in over 30 years, much to my astonishment. Must’ve been the kids idea. (2)
  23. COULD THIS BE MAGIC – If I’m not mistaken, the only fully acoustic song in the cannon. Eddie sliding away while Dave channels his inner Al Jolsen. Love the ‘Edward…thank you’ that starts the solo. Also notable for the fact that it’s the only VH tune with a female singer on it (Nicolette Larson, who worked with Neil Young alot, was in the studio next door, and asked over on a whim) (3)
  24. BOTTOMS UP – My drum teacher, when I was a kid, told me his cover band opened with this song. I thought that was the coolest thing I’d ever heard. An ode to drinking from the man who brings a 26 of JD onstage & says,”This aint ice tea in here. Who do you think we are, Quiet Riot?”. (2)
  25. BIG BAD BILL (IS SWEET WILLIAM NOW) – A jazz tune notable for the fact that Van Halen patriarch JAN plays Clarinet on it. (5)
  26. RUNNING WITH THE DEVIL- Track 1, side 1 of the most important hard rock debut platter of all time. With prominent placement like that, it must be good. A guitar solo so wacky, catchy, & great that Ed decides to play it over again later in the song. (1)
  27. HOUSE OF PAIN- They close out their biggest album with a re-worked demo from a decade past, apparently at Alex’s insistence. I have the original version produced by Gene Simmons (who sorta discovered them, making an albums worth of demos). The best VH outro ever. Listen to Ed and Alex lock in as it’s fading out. Bye Dave. One break coming up. Things would never be the same again after this, until… (6)
  28. ME WISE MAGIC- …they were the same again. This song made the previous decade seem like just a bad dream. (from VH greatest hits)
  29. ROMEO DELIGHT – Dave’s ‘taking whiskey to the party tonight, & looking for somebody to squeeze.’ A concert staple to this very day. (3)
  30. SECRETS- No distortion on the guitars, or not much anyway. An under the wire type song. Overlooked for the most part, though performed plenty of times. Philosopher Dave behind the mic, taking his cue from American Indian greeting cards.  (5)
  31. GIRL GONE BAD – The summit of musical virtuosity. Probably the track that has their best ‘band’ performance on record. There a very few musicians that could pull off any of these parts, let alone tightly together. (6)
  32. SHE’S THE WOMAN- Re-worked from a seventies demo. Wolfie changing bits a bit, getting writing credit on something began 16 years before his birth. Dave the, ‘knight in shining pick up truck, before the city tows my other apartment.’  In awe of a gal who’s doorbell says, ‘bring it, or don’t ring it.’ (7)
  33. STAY FROSTY- A sequel of sorts to Ice Cream Man from the ground zero debut. Play them back to back & it sure doesn’t feel like 34 years have passed. Dave, now in his mid/late fifties, giving us such advice as ‘if you wanna be a monk, gotta cook a lot of rice,’ & ‘god is love, but get it in writing.’ (7)
  34. BLOOD & FIRE- The Diamond manages to slyly work his most oft repeated stage banter into the lyrics. ‘Look at all the people here tonight.’  This track is a great example of them firing on all cylinders, from the writing to playing. Eddie using his stereo Ripley guitar, which can pan each string separately left or right in the mix. (7)
  35. DANCE THE NIGHT AWAY- The quintessential VH summer jam. Eddie strums Hawaiian Ukulele style, albeit through enough wattage to be heard all the way to the Marshall (amplifier) Islands. The middle breakdown is all coconut percussion under cathedral harmonics. MVP for me is the big bro, whose wickedly tasteful choice of where to choke the hi-hats make the song slightly stagger in the best beach-buzz sort of way. “Oooh, baby baby,” indeed. (2)
  36. YOU & YOUR BLUES- Rather than his usual stream of (barely) consciousness, I get the feeling that Roth really took pains to sculpt these lyrics . A pastiche of common phrase blues idioms aimed at dismissing those whose “bad mood’s permanent”. Dave’s pathos hits home in the chorus, where he reaches vocal registers as high as any from the perfect six-pack of original albums. Perhaps though, I’m reading too much into the whole affair, & it’s all tongue firmly in cheek. After all, like the great (front)man once said, “Joke ’em if they can’t take a fuck”. (7)
  37. IN A SIMPLE RHYME– Happy hard rock? That’s about the best way I can describe this jubilant jam that dates to the backyard party days. Not sure how they decided to dust it off for their 3rd LP, but so glad they did. Alex the (muppet) Animal does his marching band best with a complex snare/kick syncopated rhythm. Eddie layers more than usual (at least for the early days), overdubbing some rare 12 string guitar. Mikey almost gets lost in the murk, but still manages some octave-based, Entwistle licks. Diamond Dave carries the wordy vocal with glee, sounding even happier when his brothers-in-arms join in on the heavenly chorus. (3)
  38. SOMEBODY GET ME A DOCTOR- A concert constant to this very day, the brothers actually let their long-suffering bassist grab a bit of glory with the lead vocal during the Cherone-era tour. This is the kind of basher that had the snooty critics of the age throwing around terms like, “dunderhead neanderthals”, & “mindlessly juvenile.” All the while, the rest of us unruly rockers screamed, “MORE PLEASE!”. (2)
tom
see/hear Volume 1 here… http://wp.me/p28Skk-1N 

Listen to Volume 2 here & read descriptions below… http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLpFZMU5hBh3sTCPUdQ_cG7HrxTixgCjtX

PICTURE IN A FRAME – One of my favorite vocals by anyone, ever. A traditional chord pattern with simple, direct lyrics. Could’ve been written by Willie Nelson, who covered it years later. The sax that appears mid-way lends an elegant touch. The occasional creak of piano pedals prevent it from being too smooth. Extraneous noise seemed a recurring texture of the MULE VARIATIONS sessions. The whole record has the feel of a hi-tech, digital field recording.

SUCH A SCREAM – “The plow is red, the well is full/Inside the doll house of her skull/A cheetah coat fills up with steam/She’s such a scream.” “Shovelling coal inside my dreams.” Trading the wasp wing shaker buzz, & garbage pail percussion of the studio version for tight, full-band syncopated sax-funk, this concert take goes right into James Brown at the Apollo territory. From studio album to live album, you can time-warp the entire history of the blues, from African Voodoo chant right straight through to the Checkerboard Lounge. If that ain’t enough, the lyrics cut & paste in the best Burroughs tradition. Tom would later work with the Beat master on THE BLACK RIDER stage production, which actually featured William S. on lead vocals for a tune on the soundtrack album. Singing about removing your skin, & dancing around in your bones, he actually sounded more terrifying than Waits. No mean feat.

SHINY THINGS – Another short one. One of my favorite melodic pieces, back porch banjo mirroring the exquisite vocal line. I like how each section starts immediately after the previous one, not letting the bar play out. I rarely pay attention to lyrics unless something grabs me, & this song starts so curiously. “The things a crow puts in his nest/They’re always things he finds that shine best.” I heard that, & had my ear glued to the speaker. You could go anywhere with an opening line like that. Of course, Tom the romantic declares his one true wish in the final lines, “To be king there in your eyes/To be your only shiny thing.”

BLIND LOVE – This is as close to classic country & western as Tom gets. Keith Richards wastes little time introducing himself on the electric twanger, in full FARAWAY EYES mode. His tattered vocal peeks through occasionally as well. This whole track sounds like it could’ve been a late seventies/early eighties Glimmer Twins out-take.

YESTERDAY IS HERE – Quite the beguiling set of lyrics. It’s all set to a whistle-able, Disney-in-hell melody (a hellody?). Fun fact: The title was given to Tom by the main Munster himself, actor Fred Gwynne.

I’M STILL HERE – OK, after much deliberation, I’m proclaiming this the saddest of all Tom Waits songs. Clocks in at under 2 minutes, with some subtle orchestration nicely bubbling under the piano halfway through. The tag line, that universal lament, “You haven’t looked at me that way in years…” I almost lose it on that final title phrase, where his voice pushes the higher notes. He sounds almost too heartbroken to reach them.

JESUS GONNA BE HERE SOON –  This is the centre-piece of my play list, & one of the most puzzling songs in an already mercurial catalogue. Lyrically, at first it seems an irony-free, gospel-blues in the Blind Willie Johnson vein. Upon further study though, cracks in the armour begin to appear. A weariness in which the singer must trudge on convincing himself that salvation is just around the corner, though nothing in this long,hard life has given any indication for that to be true.
I couldn’t resist sharing 3 unique versions, as this song morphed from studio to the stages of the world.
First up is the album recording, stripped down to mostly gut-string bass & vocal. Then a live take (WATCH THE VIDEO IN THIS ONE).  Tom tosses glitter in to the crowd, & does his doom dance along to a Booker T. style, Stax shuffle. The stage is covered in sawdust, so that when he stomps, a cloud arises. In 1999, this was usually the second song sung from the stage, after he entered from the rear of the venue shout/singing the kick-off number, THE BLACK RIDER, through a bullhorn. I wish I could’ve included the delirious Vancouver version here, but this is almost as good.
The final version here is also live, but the accompaniment has a new dominating guitar line, backed by a Louisiana swamp dirge.

TIME –  A rare instance where lyrics also work as on-the-page poetry. Instant classic-just add music. More than a hint of mid-sixties Dylan, what with name checks of a parade of odd characters. A weeping Napoleon, the invisible fiance, & Matilda, among others. “The wind is making speeches, & the rain sounds like a round of applause.” “Memory’s like a train, you can see it getting smaller as it pulls away/& the things you can’t remember tell the things you can’t forget, that history puts a saint in every dream.”

GREEN GRASS – “& if the sky should fall, mark my words/We’ll catch mockingbirds.”  The melody is a subtle, minor key variation on the New Orleans funeral march, FLEE AS A BIRD/DIDN’T HE RAMBLE. That songs title is even quoted within the lyrics here, sort of like Dylan tipping his hat to the ST. JAMES INFIRMARY in BLIND WILLIE MCTELL. Fitting, as the subject matter seems to be Tom talking to a former lover visiting his grave. This live take has him reaching down to perhaps his lowest register vocal ever. Love that down-the-spiral-staircase melody. A rare (unless you like Guns N’ Roses) whistle-solo. How can you go wrong when your opening line is, “Lay your head where my heart used to be.”?

DOWN THERE BY THE TRAIN –  No sinner is beyond redemption in this solo-piano gospel. A cavalcade of history’s most reviled figures meet up for a ride into heaven. Tom testifying “I saw Judas Iscariot carrying John Wilkes Boothe.”  This song first appeared in a stellar take by Johnny Cash on his Rick Rubin produced comeback. In interview after interview, you could hear just how thrilled even a grizzled old vet like Tom was. The Man in Black sings the Black Rider. “I’ve never asked forgiveness & I’ve never said a prayer/I’ve never given of myself I’ve never truly cared/I’ve hurt the ones who loved me I’m still raising Cain/I’ve taken the low road and if you’ve done the same…”

THE PIANO HAS BEEN DRINKING  (Not Me) – I always picture this song taking place a few hours after BAD LIVER & A BROKEN HEART (see pt 1 of play list), another song from the same record. A short, but perfect evocation of that blur of a night out at the dive bar. This insane TV performance is from a parody talk show hosted by Martin Mull & Fred Willard, complete with mock interview chock-full of one-liners. Vintage 70′s in every garish way. Must be seen to be believed. “The carpet needs a haircut, & the spotlight looks like a prison break.” “You can’t find your waitress with a Geiger counter/& she hates you & your friends & you just can’t get served without her.”

IN THE COLISEUM – The only version that counts, as far as I’m concerned, is the astounding concert arrangement from the 1999 tour. The setting is ancient Rome, where women, “control their men, with razors & with wrists.” Marc Ribot laying down the most unorthodox lead guitar lines behind the vocal. The lyric, “This one’s for the balcony, & this one’s for the floor,” seems a tailor made audience pleaser. The follow-up line, “As the Senators decapitate the Presidential whore”, umm, not so much! Again, Vancouver 1999 is definitive for me, ranking as the concert I most kick myself for missing. This doesn’t hit the heights of that, but it is from the same tour.

FALL OF TROY – Assuming this was some sort of ancient history lesson, I used listen through without much thought, as it’s on the massive ORPHANS box of rarities, & that’s a lot of material to digest. Turns out, it’s at least partly about someone named Troy! Then one day, I found this great radio performance (possibly it’s only ever live airing), & I could not get the first or last lines out of my head. “It’s the same with men as with horses & dogs. Nothing wants to die.” “My legs ache, my heart is sore, the well is full of pennies.” A sudden, ominous minor key chord ends the proceedings. An American tragedy sketched out with the finest of detail. “It’s hard to say grace, & to sit in the place/Of someone missing at the table/Mom’s hair sprayed tight/& her face in her hands/Watching TV for answers to me/After all she’s only human/& she’s trying to find her own way home.”

DEAD AND LOVELY – Film noir jazz. This has one of those melodies where you can tell exactly what’s coming next, but that in no way diminishes the impact. One of his best recorded ensemble pieces, his son Casey on drums. The bridge brilliantly inverses its lyric on the reprise, with Tom first warning, “never let a fool kiss ya” , before sounding the equally wise, “never let a kiss fool ya.”

JOHNSBURG, ILLINOIS – A few things set this song apart from being just another tear-jerker. First, its brevity. At a buck & a half, it is the shortest song on my list. Second, it’s specificity. Tom’s wife Kathleen is actually from the title city. Her impact on his career , especially as a co-writer, should not be underestimated. Finally, that slightly dissonant resolution on the piano during the final phrase is unexpectedly jarring (in a good way). More from Tom. “It’s just like a feeling of a sailor somewhere in a cafe, who opens his wallet & turns to the guy next to him & shows him the picture while he’s talking about something else & says: “Oh, here. That’s her.” & then closes his wallet”

CONEY ISLAND BABY – If you want a carnival waltz that sounds like it’s being played from a scratchy 78 through a 1920′s phonograph, then look no further. “When she’s with me, I’m the richest man in the town.” A woman so perfect that, “the stars make wishes on her eyes.” That bridge is just perfect, with his voice slightly breaking at the high notes. “She’s a princess in a red dress. She’s the moon in the mist to me.”

GOD’S AWAY ON BUSINESS/MISERY IS THE RIVER OF THE WORLD – Apocalypse now, cabaret style. I see these as sister songs, from the same record. As nihilistic as it gets, but after all, “If there’s one thing you can say about mankind, it’s that there’s nothing kind about man”. ”All the good in the world you can fit inside a thimble, & still have room for you & me.” Our sages advice? “Everybody row!”

I’LL SHOOT THE MOON – Let’s cap this off with something silly. A romantic huckster’s plea. I thought this was a cover until only recently. A cross between ALL OF ME, & MINNIE THE MOOCHER.  Wonder what happens if you call that phone number?!
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Kathleen Brennan, Tom’s wife, & indispensable writing partner since the early 80’s, has classified Tom as writing two types of songs, Grand Weepers & Grim Reapers. I’ve tried to put a good mix here. Some real brawlers, ballers, & bastards (to use another TW self-description).

I kept off any of his “hits?” by proxy like OLE ’55 (The Eagles), DOWNTOWN TRAIN (Rod), BAD AS ME (Tom Jones), DOWN IN THE HOLE (recorded as theme to The Wire by a different artist each season), or his signature track, TOM TRAUBERT’S BLUES (probably his best known song, despite the incongruous title). Those are all highly recommended, & you can search them out too.

This is by no means a list of my favorites in order. Looking at my list for Volume 2, I’m just as excited! I’ve saved some of the best for later.  Playlist is the link directly below…

HOLD ON –  Busting out of a town whose motto is… “If you live it up, you won’t live it down.” Some great wisdom throughout… “If you share my bed you share my name”. “You don’t meet nice girls in coffee shops.” On the MULE tour in the late nineties, he would elongate the final word of the devastating line…“I miss your broken china voice, oh how I wish you were still here with me.” Shivers every time. “St. Louis got the best of me.” He sure names a lot of places in his songs. When asked why… “Every song needs to be anatomically correct: You need weather, you need the name of the town, something to eat – every song needs certain ingredients to be balanced. You’re writing a song and you need a town, and you look out the window and you see “St. Louis Cardinals” on some kid’s T-shirt. And you say, “Oh, we’ll use that.””

ON THE NICKEL – A Hobo’s lullaby written for a little seen indie film of the same name. This live take is from when it was relatively new. This song just floors me.

FISH & BIRD – The sad tale of a love affair that can never be realized. Don’t cry though, when it’s clear out, there’s a whale on the moon, & a bird on the tide. Another nominee for saddest song. Orchestrated so well. Is that a triangle I hear in there? And one more thing… If Tom Waits calls a whale a fish, then goddamnit, it’s a fish!

EARTH DIED SCREAMING – The apocalyptic kick-off track on Tom’s best album, Bone Machine. It’s like a voice coming up from under hell, horses (of the apocalypse) clip-clop sounds the percussive accompaniment. “The great day of wrath has come, here’s mud in your big red eye/The poker’s in the fire & the locusts take the sky.” 

TAKE IT WITH ME – Framed by an absolutely gorgeous piano melody line, this 1999 song seems to magically take us back to Tom’s early solo-troubadour days. This might be my favorite ballad of his. Imagine being so lonely that you’ve… “worn the faces off all the cards.”  The line about champagne is actually quoting Anton Chekhov’s last words. The final verse is genius, as each line contracts in on itself like a lyrical Babushka doll until all that’s left is his woman’s heart. Upon release of the record, an interviewer teared up describing the effect of this song to him while sitting in a diner. Tom’s response? Holding up 2 pieces of toast in front of his eyes, so he couldn’t see her cry. He always seems to go for a true grand piano sounds, slightly murky, not too bright like the electronic kind. Listen for them, & you can hear the piano pedals loudly through the whole thing. Yeah!

DIAMOND IN YOUR MIND – Not on any official album, just a hard to find bonus track on the mammoth ORPHANS vinyl box set. This song was donated to Solomon Burke for his comeback record about a decade ago. Tom did it live with the Kronos Quartet for a charity show that was also recorded. That’s the version here. complete with crowd sing-along, & a joke in the intro. Some great lines too. “Everything is sacred, nothing is profane/Money is just something you throw off the back of a train.”Plus, the crowd pleasing (listen to his perfect timing on the phrasing)… “She’s like a wrecking ball that’s no longer connected to the chain.”

ALICE – Title track of the soundtrack album based on the stage play telling the story of Lewis Carroll’s obsession with the real-life young girl upon he would cast into literary Wonderland. “There’s only Alice.” The skates on the pond spell her name, but trace it twice & you’ll fall through. When he compares her hair to,“meadow grass”, I thought he was saying “metal grass”, which is actually cooler (make mental note for future lyric). “How does the ocean rock the boat?/How did the razor find my throat?”

INNOCENT WHEN YOU DREAM – This is a song only Tom could’ve written, sounding like a demented Oompah Howlin’ Wolf. He said at his Rock Hall induction (after a great intro from Neil Young) that, to him, songs are just… “interesting things to do with the air.” This song floats dreamlike out of nowhere, light as a feather, then fades back into nothing, making you wonder if it was really here at all. Always a concert favorite.

BLACK WINGS – A spaghetti-Western flavored character study of a mysterious phantom figure who floats through history, rumored to have… “killed a man with a guitar string!” “When the moon is a cold chiseled dagger/& it’s sharp enough to draw blood from a stone/He rides through your dreams on a coach and horses/& the fence posts in the moonlight look like bones.” “Well they’ve stopped trying to hold him with mortar, stone, & chain/He broke out of every prison/Boots mount the staircase, the door is flung back open/He’s not there for he has risen!”

DAY AFTER TOMORROW – The second greatest anti-war song ever written (see Iron Maiden, “Two Minutes To Midnight” but that’s for a future list). Protest street cred given by Joan Baez covering it. Takes the viewpoint of a weary soldier so close to coming home. He misses the mundane everyday tasks of life, like raking leaves & shovelling snow, but over here… “I just do what I am told/We’re just the gravel on the road.” Full of hopeful anticipation, but knowing only the lucky ones make it back. “How does God choose? Who’s prayers does he refuse?”

EVERYTHING GOES TO HELL – “A man has only one thing on his mind.” Pure devil lust set to a nice Bossa Nova bounce. Unexpected modulation half way through. Tom has said… “I like a beautiful song that tells you terrible things.” This one lists the lies of the world through a misogynistic pessimist’s eyes. Advice on just who to believe in a world that…“don’t care what a soldier does in town/It’s all hanging in the windows by the pound.” Tom only wants to hear his woman… “purr & moan.” After all, she’s… “got another man that brings the money home.” Some of my favorite lyrics of his, which is saying something.

BAD LIVER AND A BROKEN HEART – Never heard a better song about wallowing in alcoholic self pity as this one. Expertly crafted. Too many great lines to quote all of them. “She was sharp as a razor, soft as a prayer.” “I’ve got my own double-cross to bear.” “You can pour me a cab, I just can’t drink no more, ’cause it don’t dowse the flames that are started by dames.” Preach Tom, preach. More from the man himself… “I tried to resolve a few things as far as this cocktail- lounge, maudlin, crying-in-your-beer image that I have. There ain’t nothin’ funny about a drunk. You know, I was really starting to believe that there was something amusing and wonderfully American about a drunk. I ended up telling myself to cut that shit out.”

WHO ARE YOU – The first Tom song that really sank its hooks into me, & still perhaps my favorite vocal performance. He has said that it’s the bitter things you say to an ex you run into at a party. “Are you still jumping out of windows in expensive clothes?” “I did my time in the jail of your arms.” “Excuse me while I sharpen my nails.” “I fell in love with your sailor’s mouth.”The lyrics in this, to me, line up perfectly with the mid-sixties acerbic Dylan of “She’s Your Lover Now.” I can even hear him singing it with the thin wild Mercury backing from Blonde on Blonde. Of course, Tom grew up putting Dylan lyrics on his bedroom walls, & later said…“For a songwriter, Dylan is as essential as a hammer, nails, & a saw are to a carpenter.”

GOING OUT WEST – Ok, let’s rock. Popular music has a long history of bragging songs, from ‘Hootchie Cootchie Man,’ to ‘I’m Too Sexy,’ to, um, what’s that one rap song? Oh yeah, all of them. In this junkyard blues, A lifetime loser looks to California’s promise of glitter dreams come true. He’ll do well out there, knowing karate AND voodoo! He’s no extra, he’s a leading man who can…“really drive a bed.” Even his parole officer would be proud of him! This 2008 live take has the funniest background vocal I’ve ever heard (not on the studio take).

WHISTLE DOWN THE WIND – I picture this song set in some remote, frozen, ice covered town. Could there be a chorus more sad than… “I can’t stay here and I’m scared to leave, just kiss me once and then/I’ll go to hell, I might as well be whistlin’ down the wind.” “The places that I’m dreaming of, do they dream only of me?” When he sings… “I’m not all I thought I’d be, I always stayed around,” it gets me every time.

WHAT’S HE BUILDING IN THERE?  Speculation runs wild with nosy neighbours. Of course, eventually you will become that creepy neighbour yourself. This spoken word piece tries to assemble a character portrait of the weirdo next door. Take it away Tom… “It’s about thinking we have a right to know. ‘Y’know, he drives a blue Mazda and doesn’t get home until three in the morning. He was karate-chopping his own shrubbery last night – in his underwear. So we put all those things together and we make up a story about someone that bears no resemblance to the truth, and then we make it a serial. And that’s what happens with the media. We love looking at each other through keyholes. They ought to make keyhole-glasses, they’d sell a million of ’em, because that’s how we prefer looking at each other, down on our knees in front of a keyhole.”

IF I HAVE TO GO – Another contender for his saddest song. “Until I send for you, don’t wear your hair that way. If you cannot be true, I’ll understand.” “I’ll leave my jacket to keep you warm. That’s all that I can do.” One of my favorite vocal melodies, & he nails it.

COME ON UP TO THE HOUSE – This live take is a one-man gospel choir tour-de-force. Mavis Staples, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, &… Tom Waits? YES! “Does life seem nasty, brutish and short/The seas are stormy and you can’t find no port.” My favorite line being… “Come down off the cross, we could use the wood.”

YOU CAN NEVER HOLD BACK SPRING – Picked because Tom sounds just like Louis Armstrong on it. Great lyrics. “The blushing rose that climbs/spring ahead or fall behind/winter dreams the same dream every time.”

JUST THE RIGHT BULLETS – From the Brechtian stage collaboration with William S. Burroughs & Robert Wilson, “The Black Rider.” Sounds like something from Germany in the ’30’s. Who else writes songs like this nowadays?! Love that staggered, drunk rhythm.

TAKE ME HOME – Written & recorded for the Coppolla flop ,”One From The Heart”, for which Tom received an Oscar nod. Most of that album was duets with the unlikely Crystal Gayle. This one is Tom alone. Does more with less than 2 minutes than most writers do with 5. “The world’s not round without you.” Aww!

LAST LEAF – This isn’t a personal favorite, but I put it on because it’s another in a long line of collaborations with Keith Richards. Tom sang on the Stones, “Dirty Work,” album, appeared onstage with them last year, & has written at least an albums worth with Keith. Back in the day, Tom said about hanging with Keith…“Sometimes you finish the song not the bottle, sometimes it’s the other way around.” You can hear how weathered they both are on this duet. Not really even harmonizing, just croaking it out with full mileage audible. This song is from Tom’s most recent album. A few tracks before this one is a song slyly called, “Satisfied,” where he barks… “Mr. Jagger and Mr. Richards will scratch where I’ve been itching!” while Keith spirals signature Tele licks behind him. Two pirates living it up. LAST LEAF though, finds the survivors pledging not to go down without a fight. “I’m the last leaf on the tree/The autumn took the rest but they won’t take me.”

So here is a grab bag of 25 great John Hiatt songs. Keep in mind that I own maybe only half of his albums, & none from his early days. I have a fondness for his late nineties/early 2000’s run as evidenced by this list. I left off a few of his most famous standards such as HAVE A LITTLE FAITH IN ME (covered by a gazillion artists), ANGEL EYES (a #1 hit for Jeff Healey), & ACROSS THE BORDERLINE (a co-write with Ry Cooder that even Dylan has covered often). Those are essential too, but these ones below just sort of stuck out for me.

  1. WHEN WE RAN – Unfortunately, bad 80’s production mars John’s studio release, so instead, try to grab the astounding version from Linda Rondstadt. It’s from one of her mid-nineties albums. Great song about the perils of NOT taking any chances. “Could have been the kiss of my life, could have been the death of me/Could have been that I was just too scared to wait around & see/Could have been a guardian angel, could have been the wicked one/Besides the buttons on our shirt, what else did we leave undone?”. So many chords! Nice modulations throughout.I have a killer bootleg of him doing it solo-piano in concert that I can try to share with you down the line.
  2. MASTER OF DISASTER- Nearly the same progression through the whole song, but the chorus is sung much higher. Very simple, & it feels like it just keeps building and building. Live versions have the sax replaced by blistering slide guitar. Great motifs with some very evocative lyrics that seem to me to be about a musician with some substance abuse problems, which he was (hardcore) for many years. “Bleeding tongue/8-ball pounding in my lungs/Ship to shore/Can’t see the coastline anymore.”
  3. LIPSTICK SUNSET- “There’s a lipstick sunset smeared across the August sky/There’s a bittersweet perfume hanging in the fields, & the creek is running high.” “Pretty as a picture, red & blushing just before the night/Maybe love’s like that for me/Maybe I can only see/As you take away the light.” Killer slide by the incomparable Sonny Landreth, one of the best players in the world.
  4. REAL FINE LOVE- “I never went to college, I did not have the luck/Rolled out of Indiana in the back of a pickup truck/With no education higher than the streets of my hometown/I went looking for a fire just to burn it all down.” I first heard this song when I had to learn it on drums for a wedding gig.
  5. SOMETHING BROKEN- I’ve covered it live. It was around this time that he was diagnosed with polyps on his throat, & was told he may not have long to sing. He wrote up a storm in that time. I have the acoustic (him & a mandolin player) live off the floor demos from that period & they often surpass the album takes.
  6. HOW BAD’S THE COFFEE?- “& how good’s the pie?/If you call me honey, honey, I’m gonna cry/A whole lotta sugar, little pinch of salt/You cut my bitter with your sweet talk.” A paean to a lovely waitress at the local greasy spoon. John laments those days before America became an endless strip mall. When every town had it’s own unique truck stop diner that served up horrible coffee that you drank anyway, & awesome, homemade pie. I have a live, solo finger picked version that is outta this world.
  7. THE RIVER KNOWS YOUR NAME
  8. MY OLD FRIEND- “Like A Rolling Stone was playing on the radio…”. Pure nostalgia.
  9. THE MOST UNORIGINAL SIN- I’ve covered it. Willie Nelson has covered it. Sounds like it could’ve been penned by him too in his pre-outlaw days.
  10. THE TIKI BAR IS OPEN- “I know a drink ain’t no solution, I ain’t had one in seventeen years/But if that tiki bar is closed tonight, Well, I might just disappear.” He is a big NASCAR fan & wrote this in dedication to the recently passed on Dale Earnhardt Jr.
  11. ONLY THE SONG SURVIVES- “We rolled that Camaro like a cowboy’s cigarette, out on the highway in a puddle of beer.” An odd lyric, but a semi-true story that happened to John & his wife.
  12. THING CALLED LOVE- Of course, Bonnie Raitt made John a mint with her cover, but his is still definitive. It’s got that push/pull rhythm that is hard to do authentically. Plus, when he sings, “it just worked out that way,” & goes into falsetto, it sounds like David Lee Roth!
  13. COME HOME TO YOU- “There’s a meanness inside and it shivers my bones/That’s the thing about mercy, I guess/There is no man so wicked that he cannot come home/Nor so good that he passes each test.”
  14. LINCOLN TOWN- Acoustic on the album, but at the concert I saw, he opened the set with it in full-band electric mode.
  15. CARRY YOU BACK HOME- Such great falsetto singing. He often just comes up with a fairly cliched title, then fills it in with a very simple melody. He managed to replace Sonny with an equally good lead player.
  16. PERFECTLY GOOD GUITAR- As in, why would you smash one! Great lyrics with very unique subject matter. “It started back in 1963/His momma wouldn’t buy him that new red Harmony/He settled for a Sunburst with a crack/But he’s still trying to break his momma’s back”
  17. WONDER OF LOVE- A relatively new song that reminds me of what I feel THE ROLLING STONES should be capable at this late stage. Perfectly crafted, executed delicately. Imagine Mick singing these mature, heartfelt lyrics, Charlie doing his loose-groove ,’shine a light’ type beat, Keith handling southern style rhythm, & Ronnie scratching out those Tele lines. They could come up with gems like this if they put their hearts & minds to it, or more importantly, actually WORKED! Until then, John is doing it instead. Great song with some interesting, sculpted chord choices.
  18. HANGING ‘ROUND HERE- Very much structured like “The Weight”. “It’s an old man’s dreams that a young man fears.”
  19. AINT NEVER GOING BACK- A gut wrenching blues. He usually puts a few blues on each record, though I generally stayed away from those on this list.
  20. 30 YEARS OF TEARS- I’ve covered this one too, around my 30th birthday.
  21. OLD DAYS- A very autobiographical track re-living his early career when he “played for practically free”, naming specific famous names that he’s toured with, even mentioning Vancouver.
  22. CROSSING MUDDY WATERS
  23. MEMPHIS IN THE MEANTIME- “Sure I like country music, & I like mandolins/But right now I need a telecaster through a vibro-lux turned up to ten.”
  24. ROCK OF YOUR LOVE- About as sappy & sentimental as you can get, but it’s good.
  25. SOMETHING WILD- Try to get the Iggy Pop take. He does the best version of this (helped by the powerhouse of Kenny Aronoff on drums, & Waddy Wachtel on guitars). “Sometimes I don’t even move a muscle/Baby, while you lie awake all night/I think I’ve got 9 lives in these corpuscles/ Girl, you know sometimes I don’t think right.”

There’s been so much already written about this album, even before it’s release date, that I don’t really want to bother to intertextualize many of the fine reviews I’ve read (& agree with). So these are more like some random observations…

Overall, a very strong record, though I don’t think it quite matches the feverish, flawless raves that greeted its arrival. With that said though, I do feel that Dylan made the EXACT record that he wanted to make, and on its own terms, it is wildly successful. I’m just not quite convinced with some of the overall song choices & flow.

Much like the doomed voodoo conjurings of TIME OUT OF MIND, the laser-sharp musicology precision of ‘LOVE & THEFT’, the pristine, American Gothic romanticism of MODERN TIMES, & the Tex-Mex cantina breeze of TOGETHER THROUGH LIFE, I know it’s got its own unique magic, but so far it is indefinable to me as a whole. As with most of his work, hindsight will surely make it all clear.

THE SONGS…

DUQUESNE WHISTLE- A perfect kick start to stand alongside the other Modern Bob album openers. Some nice, subtle lead guitar work underneath the vocals, probably by Charlie. Even though it’s a ‘train’ song, for me it captures the jubilant mood that must’ve been present on the docks that fateful day that the Titanic boarded. Tying into a later song here, the album, like the ship, is about to leave the party, & set sail into some dark, dangerous waters.

SOON AFTER MIDNIGHT- This is an out & out perfect track. With the exception of MISSISSIPPI, it is perhaps his best vocal of the modern era, especially the pause before “…passing by”. Great lyrics.

NARROW WAY- A kick-ass blues in the ‘ROLLIN’ TUMBLING CRYING AWHILE’ vein. Love the see-saw fiddle in the musical breaks. Sometimes I wish he’d let the band cut loose a bit, but this is obviously the sound he has in mind. The music is just the skeleton where his words/vocal can hang upon.

LONG & WASTED YEARS- The best track on the album. Instantly added to my top Dylan tunes of the new century. The shortest song here, but to me, it could go on for another 10 minutes. You can tell it’s Bob on guitar here, what with that strangled duck-squawk sound he seems to have latched onto in the past few years. One of the best sung lines on the record being the pure bass resonance of “Maybe it’s the same for you as it is for me.”

PAY IN BLOOD- Another instant classic. Without a doubt his most scorched earth vocal ever. The first line in particular is so gravelly that I’m surprised he left it on. Personally, I love that sound, though I have seen some criticism that it has been taken too far here. This song has been getting a lot of ROLLING STONES comparisons, & it does have a similar chord structure to HAND OF FATE. A more apt description though would be “Zevon-esque”. I just happened to be listening to Warren before TEMPEST came out, and PAY… has many of the hallmarks of Zevon’s writing. The mid-tempo repeating, choppy chords with wordy, almost spoken/sung verses, as well as the instrumental choices of guitars rocking, but down in the mix along with piano, & drums that drive steady, but don’t really rock. I’ve only listened to this album on my headphones, & I swear during this song that it sounds almost mono, and that at various points jumps to a stereo mix for a second, then back. Weird. Also has the most oddly phrased line I’ve ever heard on a major label album, “you bastard! I’m supposed to respect you!”

The first half of the record is as strong as anything I’ve heard him do. It’s the second half that I feel could’ve used some editing or even different tracks.

SCARLET TOWN-  This is probably my least favorite on the album. Again, it sounds terrific, & the lyrics are great, but it’s too similar in its minor key folk drudge to the far better song 2 tracks ahead of it. I like the idea of almost doing a sequel/spin-off of BARBARA ALLEN, but I think he could’ve done better.

EARLY ROMAN KINGS- I could listen to Dylan sing blues all day (& have). Taken as a stand alone track, it’s nothing to write home about, but as a buffer on the album between the more ambitious pieces, it works just fine. Modelled more on Bo than Muddy, especially with that rattlesnake shaker. Some hard-hitting couplets throughout. Again though, I feel he probably had better songs for this slot than this one, even if they were still retro Chess rewrites.

TIN ANGEL- A devastating vocal, meticulously written lyric. The new method on this album is a return the narrative storytelling of his early, cover-only days. No back & forth time-travel as on BLOOD ON THE TRACKS. Like Keith Richards once said of him, “Dylan was used to building a song for 20 minutes because of the folk thing he came from.” That’s what this is, & it’s great.
The only caveat I have is that there are some very shoddy vocal edits, especially after the word ‘skies’. Even an amateur engineer would’ve caught these, but Jack Frost has ultimate say here, so I guess it didn’t bother him. Best sung line…”Husband, what husband what the hell do you mean?”

TEMPEST- I can’t decide if I like this one or not! The most written about track on here due to its length & subject matter. Again, a story song like the song before it, so to me it could’ve used a more uptempo shorter song between them to break up the monotony. Maybe even a Liverpool skiffle that I’m sure the band could’ve knocked out in 10 minutes that would have had the added benefit of alluding to the closing number.

The Titanic motif works as metaphor, as well as tying into the 100th anniversary of the disaster. I can’t help but wish that he’d have used a more current tragedy to write about. Perhaps the Concordia sinking? That surely would be a song-worthy subject. Maybe he was worried about getting sued a’la HURRICANE since the event is still so fresh. Also, judging by the ROLLING STONE Interview, he seems to have no interest in news stories that the media covers to death before all the facts are even in.

I know he is using the model of the endless folk song with a gazillion verses,  but I wish we had at least a bridge or two in some of these songs. This is a guy who wrote some of the greatest bridges of all time! (JUST LIKE A WOMAN, TONIGHT I’LL BE STAYING…). Would it kill him to even have just a musical bridge thrown in? Again, I think it didn’t serve his purpose here. These are songs that have that cumulative effect once verse after verse start piling together. Maybe next time. The sense of dread as it builds does work, & I have returned to it far more than I thought I would.

ROLL ON JOHN- This one has grown on me from the first listen. I have a feeling there is more going on with these lyrics than we even know about right now. Layers of meaning will continue to reveal themselves. Love the clanging of the ride bell at the beginning. Sounds like English factory workers.

This song sounds like something that could’ve been written/sang during the gospel period. The melody is in that ballpark with other material he was doing at the time, & I can picture his voice from that era singing this one with the female vocalists backing him. Who knows, maybe he did start writing it back then, as alluded to in the ROLLING STONE piece. That would put it in the right timeline with the event that inspired it. I suspected this song was sort of tacked on at the end without much cohesion to the rest of the record, a fact confirmed by the RS interview also.

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1. Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat
2. To Ramona
3. Things Have Changed
4. Tangled Up In Blue
5. Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum
6. Love Sick
7. Ballad Of Hollis Brown
8. The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll
9. The Levee’s Gonna Break
10. High Water (For Charley Patton)
11. A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall
12. Highway 61 Revisited
13. Simple Twist Of Fate
14. Thunder On The Mountain
15. Ballad Of A Thin Man
16. Like A Rolling Stone
17. All Along The Watchtower
18. Blowin’ In The Wind

Overall, this show ranked probably about average in the NEVER-ENDING TOUR pantheon. Which means if you trust in Bob, you were repaid in spades, witnessing a master ply his trade. If not, well, then you may have been scratching your head knowing something is happening, but you don’t know what it is. Was that really singing? Or just a dead man’s last pistol shot, (baby)?

Personally, in all of his shows I’ve attended, I’ve never seen him so at ease with himself and the band. Switching agilely between instruments, often within the same song, sometimes within the same verse. In fact, tonight featured by far the most harmonica I’ve ever heard him play, as well as the relatively new grand piano puncturing the mix. That stands in grand contrast to the last few years of the organ drone swimming in the deep end of the sound, hanging on a note or two for minutes on end.

People complain that he doesn’t talk to the crowd, or doesn’t seem like he’s having a good time. Nothing could be further from the truth there. They question the motives of a septuagenarian who’ll gig pretty much anywhere that will have him. Well, this is what he does. He’s said himself that he loves to thrill a crowd. He has a steadfast commitment to his calling. By the encore, he was dripping with sweat (take the hat off Bob, it’s hot in here). What else would he do? He certainly doesn’t need the cash. To paraphrase the man himself… You may think he loves us for our money, but I know what he really loves us for. Speaking of which…

LEOPARD SKIN PILL BOX HAT, as any guess from recent set lists could tell, kicked things off, Bob on keys with his (fake?) Academy Award perched up top. A serviceable blues to get the crowd and band warmed up.

The waltzy hi-hat countdown that followed could’ve been any number of songs from the canon, TIMES THEY ARE A CHANGIN’, MY BACK PAGES, etc… Tonight, however, gave us a romantically re-assuring take of TO RAMONA. Musically, this was definitely a highlight of the show. The band showing just what a complimentary ensemble they’ve grown into. Dylan giving his most tender vocal. He held his harp with his left hand and played it while stabbing piano accents with his right. His left leg stuck straight out doing the jitterbug rag, as it would every time he sat at the bench.

Switch-up to the roving gambler center-stage for the apocalypse 2012 THINGS HAVE CHANGED. Having heard several of the summer Europe boots, I’d have to say this rendition ranked below average. Visually though, it was a treat to see our friend in the cowboy hat standing in full command of the stage. They’ve added a repeating triplet accent that begins about halfway through, commencing with a right hand signal from Bob to George to let it rip. Lots of harp, and three huge shots to bring it to a thunderous close.

TANGLED UP IN BLUE was the most interesting song of the show. Not the best or the worst, mind you. I knew the current version from bootlegs already, but never have I heard what Bob did with it tonight. For some reason, and I would love to know how often this has happened before, Mr. D. mixed in large chunks of lyrics that appeared originally in the drastic 1984 re-write of the song performed solo-acoustic in Europe that year. Yeah, it was wild.

We got, “radio blasting the news, right straight through”, “get on that train and ride”, “some were masters of illusion, ministers of the trade”, “beds unmade”, “towards the sun”, “stay out of the joint”.

Not sure if he’s been doing this for awhile, but it sure hasn’t been on the MP3s I’ve heard. He came in late with many of the lyrics, almost as if he wasn’t sure just what words he was gonna sing until they came rollin’ & tumblin’ out of his mouth. In the middle of all that came a truly odd piano ‘solo’, if you can call it that. Simmering, jazzy noodling that maybe worked, maybe didn’t. A baffling, unique take on a song you could’ve sworn you’ve already heard every which way, but that’s why we keep going back, ain’t it?

TWEEDLES started nowhere, went nowhere, and pretty much ended there too. It just never achieved lift-off, not helped by Bob’s (sudden?) decision to lengthen the final verse. He would sing one line, then not come in on the next bar as on record, so you’d think, “OK, next bar it is,” but no!! He made each line take up the space of about a half verse. He and the band fiddling, while the song burned. I really miss the breakdowns from last year’s performances that had those clashing, multi-guitar explosions.

LOVESICK was tonight’s MVP. As the tune built, security let the floor crowd rush the front of the stage. Dylan got a kick out of pointing at them while blasting off rounds of terrific harmonica, including a stellar full solo break. He threw in a little aside between lines, answering after,”Did I tell a lie?” with “I don’t know, did I?”. While he started this one center stage, he eventually ended up at the piano. Get this though… He didn’t switch to piano just before the final verse as would make sense, but waited until the middle of the second line of the final verse! Whatta guy!. Never known to make a foolish move.

I was excited to get HOLLIS BROWN next, as I’d never had it at any of my previous concerts. As far as I’m concerned, this is the most successful arrangement this song has ever seen. It works much better with each line breathlessly piling upon the next, rather than leaving full bars between them. A banjo-fueled romp of American Gothic dread.

Another debut for me next, as well as another high point. HATTIE CARROLL had some very lovely singing, though he almost gave away the brilliant final line at the first chorus, singing “Bury the rag…. away from your face”. Nice save. As if with something to prove after that misstep, he juggled piano, harp duties, AND leg jiggling simultaneously during the lead section. The Cowboy Band brought the song to a soft landing with a literal fade-out, as if on an album. Each player getting carefully quieter, with almost nothing left but a wall of harmonica. It was very cool, though Bob’s insistence on playing cross-harp these days left his note choices severely limited, resulting in a somewhat awkward final crescendo.

3 debuts in a row (for me)! WHEN THE LEVEE BREAKS was a pure slab of Texas roadhouse boogie. Some great, violent, menacing piano throughout, while Tony climbed way up to the highest notes of his double-bass. A hot extended jam in the middle, with the rhythm section looking at each other and laughing for some reason, hopefully not at their esteemed bandleader (don’t forget who signs the cheques guys!).

The latest fire and brimstone re-working of HIGHWATER was up next with Preacher Bob back in front, standing right next to Charlie. The new motif riff on this one is killer, and it was a barn burner of a rendition, though arguably a little too similar to HOLLIS BROWN to really warrant the inclusion of both on the set list.

Then came the low. Starting with a drizzle, HARD RAIN never actually poured. I did like Bob’s locking into a syncopated repeating melody during the final verse. George and Tony seemed to slightly miscue the ending, looking at each other and shaking their heads, then over to the pianist perhaps in anticipation of one of his famous, withering gazes. Lucky boys. The guy who forced folk into bed with rock never flinched, projecting the same steely squint he donned most of the evening.

Back to the barrel house for THUNDER ON THE MOUNTAIN. Nothing special. It did have the night’s funniest lyric flub, with Dylan declaring in Rimbaudian fashion, “I ain’t no angel, and neither am I.”

Then Bob went electric on us with his only appearance on guitar all night. SIMPLE TWIST OF FATE was a virtual carbon copy of the recent European takes, right down to the little duck squawk guitar melody that he plucks between each line.

HIGHWAY 61 began the final arc of tunes that, more or less, have come each night for the last few legs of the NET. Some explosively percussive piano during the peak, and when they brought it down, I swear Bob almost stumbled onto playing the “Pink Panther” theme. A so-so version of a song that, though it really cooks most every night, I personally wish he’d drop.

During BALLAD OF A THIN MAN, Bob really played with the echo effect on his voice. You can tell he’s phrasing certain words in certain ways just to hear it bounce right back. This was pure carnival theatre. A haunted house hosted by a cow punk, Madame Toussaud waxed figure of Vincent Price come to life. Charlie, Stu, and Donnie on guitars deftly doing some of what Keith Richards calls,”the ancient art of weaving.”

Now…I’d been under the impression that Dylan had NOT been playing piano on this. But, after spending the first half of the song center stage, he rushed back to play from there for the bridge to the end, the band even giving him an extra bar to get there. It was impossible not to get chills of 1966, and perhaps one of his greatest performances of all time. Of course I’m referring to the devastating ‘THIN MAN of THE BAND tour that can be seen in NO DIRECTION HOME, with (Cate Blanchett era) Bob giving the most harrowing piano/vocal of his career.

LIKE A ROLLING STONE was average, though it did have some gorgeous descending piano runs that started in the lead break, and popped back up sporadically from there. He even started to do it vocally, and threw it back in just before the final crash. This grand piano has been like a shot in the arm for this group.

The THANK YOU FRIENDS/BAND INTROS surprisingly did not have any mention of Charlie Sexton’s birthday. Wonder why?

WATCHTOWER was also average. I like how they have scaled it back in recent years to perhaps the closest arrangement to the album take. Shorter, but just as effective, and this band is definitely not about bombastic Hendrixian explorations.

BLOWING IN THE WIND was pure Sam Cooke. After beginning on the ivories, Bob ran quickly to finish the song center-stage on harp as well. This was the most heartwarming part. Fun to watch Bob have fun, wailing away on harp while looking select audience members directly in the eye, pointing at them. A huge build to a tagged ending featuring some piercing harp, then he was off into the warm Canadian prairie night.
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Post Script: if anyone out there is wondering how I could recall as many details as I did, trust me, it wasn’t some CHRONICLES style re-visioning. It’s that I’ve managed to obtain an exclusive recording of said show.

(photo of Bob Dylan in Lethbridge courtesy of Eugene Strickland. Thanks!)

Now a solo artist, Marq DeSouza’s best known previous project is ‘Solarbaby’. That group released 2 successful albums. Both were nominated for the prestigious Georgia Straight Music Awards, as well as placing high on the national college charts. The band was also taped ‘in-session’ for CBC radio, appeared on the MuchWest program, & did the festival circuit, with Marq invited for multiple appearances at the Bluebird North Showcase, in conjunction with the Canadian Songwriters Association.In his various incarnations, Marq has shared bills with such artists as Sir Bob Geldof, Sarah Harmer, Drive By Truckers, Ben Kweller, Martina Sorbara, Joel Plaskett, Matthew Good & Nickelback.Sir Bob Geldof sought Marq out backstage at their co-bill at the legendary Commodore Ballroom to tell him he was reminded of a ‘young Van Morrison’, and Canadian rock icon Todd Kerns has called Marq his favorite Canadian songwriter, & ‘Canada’s Bob Dylan.’

 
Check music from the whole catalogue on Bandcamp, watch the embedded EPK video on YouTube, & read the extended Press section on the official site…
www.marq-desouza.com
-selected press quotes-
-A very personal rock album. He also writes from a very moral perspective, which gives his record a strong POV. These songs are not filled with empty thoughts but actually try to say something. (Vancouver Province)
-Inspiration drips from every distorted and bent guitar note, down-but-not-out vocal phrasing, and sneered lyric. (Georgia Straight)
-Way smarter than average take on the singer-songwriter thing, and ear for what made rock classic. (The Nerve)-Gritty, intelligent rock songs Wilco & Bob Dylan fans will appreciate. (Vancouver Courier)
-Think Steve Earle with the needle still in his arm. (Discorder)

-A lotus land Springsteen
with the bite of a pitbull. His music is radio-friendly, thinking mans driving rock. (Lethbridge Herald