Leipzig, Germany
Leipzig Arena
October 22, 2003

[Stefan Flach]

Review by Stefan Flach

As soon as they came on stage (8.10 pm) and went into

“Maggie´s Farm”

one could feel some excellent vibrations in the air. My slight
disappointment of yet another rendition of the song quickly faded, since
there was a real groove established which wasn´t there when they played in
Hamburg (sometimes you only notice the lacking of something when it stands
in front of you again). Dylan leaned very much into some words in
the middle of lines (“Ain´t gonna work for Maggie´s brooooooooother no
more!”) and let himself carry away by this to some extend, which was
exciting to watch. Two vibrating instrumental verses (one of which saw
Larry already in great form) in addition made for a very good version of
the song and a perfect opener. 

When I saw that Larry thankfully DIDN´T take his seat on the pedal steel -
which almost inevitably would have signaled we get another “Baby Blue” -,
but got handed a different Telecaster (he didn´t play any Strat on the
four shows I saw, by the way), I instantly had high expectations. Then two
strong minor chords were heard and YESSSSSS, they did my alltime favorite
song again:


and what can I say ..? I was thankful to the extreme THAT they played it,
but by no means could have expected what they´d do with it. Let me put it
this way: Dylan charmed the angels with this version. He went very deep
into the lyrics and displayed the drama of the song (or better: parts of
it, some more, some less) in an incredibly moving way. After a solo by
Freddie during the instrumental middle part, Dylan grabbed his harmonica
and played the most outworldly and sweetest harmonies I ever heard him do
(in person anyway). As a comparison only “What Can I Do for You” from 79 –
comes to my mind. His vocal phrasing of the final verse (stretching some
words with an absolute urge, as if the whole truth had to come out,
and especially his last “Senor” expressed such a multitude of things that
one could literally write a book about it … Another harp solo at the end
(after a solo by Larry) maintained the tension and closed one of the
greatest readings of this song I could have imagined …

“Cry a While”

was next and made for a necessary and welcomed change of intensitiy
(another kind of it, of course on a more sturdy level), though I can´t say
too much about it since I had to recover somewhat from the experience with
“Senor”. Again the instrumental line (where the staccato part of the
verses is emphazised to the extreme) was a killer and Dylan left out the
“I SWEAR” before “I die before I turn senile” …

I was surprised to see neither one picking an acoustic guitar for the next
song. Then - coming beautifully out of the dark - the majestic
intro of

“Just Like Tom Thumb´s Blues”

was heard. Usually I´m a bit disappointed by live versions of this song
(and the two I head in person: in Dresden 2000 and Hamburg three days ago
certainly made no exception), but today the song was perfectly chosen.
Dylan NAILED the lyrics, playing with them while being on a ride with them
himself. One could see it on his face how much enjoyed leaning into some
words again (the “If you see Saint Annie” and “Up on Housing Project Hill”
verses were overwhelming in this regard). At one point he confused two
verses which caused an angry expression on his face, but he found his way
out of this and back into his vocal experiments immediately. A very fine
harp again and at least three strong instrumental verses made for the best
version of this song I ever heard. It´s always great to have to feeling of
having been on a journey after listening to a song, and this certainly
what happened here …

“It´s Alright, Ma”

likely was the less perfect (= intense and aggressive) version of the four
I heard in a row, mainly because Dylan wasn´t in tune with the length of
some lines here - the band was ahead of him. But still it was much
appreciated and cheered with tons of furious applause by the eastern
german audience.

Then Dylan was handed over his usual sunburst Strat while the others were
hanging acoustic guitars (in Larry´s case the bouzouki) over their necks
and they gave us another reading of

“To Ramona” 

which, even though Dylan´s vocals were again slightly hesitant, was far
superior to the version from Hamburg II. In fact it was dripping with
charme. Dylan played a DELICIOUS mixture of chords (in first position only
on the lower strings, giving the waltz rhythm a percussive accent by
raising/lowering his fingers) and lead parts throughout the song. Freddie
stubbornly experimented again with playing licks on the backbeat of the
song (or maybe even in a different rhythm!), which was … strange to say
the least. 

“Things Have Changed” 

followed in the usual # 7 slot and was a split experience. Dylan´s vocals
here were ok, but rather standard stuff to my ears, while the band cooked
at the end like I haven´t heard them before on this song. Dylan too was so
pleased that he just didn´t turn around and nodded his head at Receli in
order to end the song. If I remember well, they did three extra
instrumental verses at the end with Larry and Freddy trading much exciting
soli. So even Dylan´s vocals lacked some passion (at least for me; but
maybe I wasn´t too concentrated on listening either), this was a
tremendous version (and certainly one of the most extended).

“Highway 61” 

one more time was the final “Bob-on-guitar-song” this night and brought
the house down, down, down … a monster performance. Dylan put quite
something (sexually loaden, nasty, dirty, funny stuff) into his vocals and
Freddie and even more Larry played the hell out of their
instruments. It was interesting to see that Larry by no means repeats
his parts on the “familiar” songs each night. He did some hot soli rather
high up on the neck, while in Berlin he did a certain figure on the lowest
strings in first position throughout most the song (which I absolutely
adored and which I missed a bit here, but no matter). Again this was a
version where one could be actually surprised that Dylan sung another
verse, since the instrumental parts were so absorbing … Awesome stuff.

Dylan went back to the keyboard then, Larry got an acoustic Martin, while
Freddie stayed with his light pink/red and pretty damaged looking Strat
(he must play it for ages) and they presented us with the song that -
after “Senor” - provoked my strongest “YEEEEEEAAAAAAHH!” reaction to a
song of the evening. My third

“Man in the Long Black Coat”

It´s remarkable how these recent, newly arranged versions accentuate more
an overall feeling of sadness than of creepy menace and doom as in 1993 -
96 for instance (from 97 onwards they played it somewhat faster, which
altered its mood as well). Dylan is less the narrator of the dark story
(not the best word here) than the narrator of his own feelings of
all-consuming loss and irretrievability caused by what happened in the
story here. The second verse in Leipzig was sung as if a sad (and
dangerously wise) old man would somewhat whisper: come over here, and I´ll
tell you a secret … It was a more quiet version here, the embellishment
between verses was less emphasized (he didn´t hit the keys so hard).
During the instrumental verse (between the bridges) he played some subtle
melody notes on the higher octaves while Freddie had his solo.

“Stuck Inside of Mobile” 

made a welcomed surprise appearance then and worked well. Even though
Dylan here started to sing with a little less passion here (which he
displayed so splendidly when he played the songs as opener early on the US
summer tour), he gave us at least a fine delivery of the “railroad men”
verse and (at least) one more beautiful and voluminous hard solo. Needless
to say the band did another great job here.

“Mr. Tambourine Man”

was next and Dylan delivered his (next to “Senor”, “Tom Thumb”, “Long
Black Coat” and Highway”) best vocal of the night. In fact it was awesome
what he did with certain lines – with a mixture of easiness and humility
he went into certain images and found some movable and never heard
phrasings along the way. He didn´t always quite knew what to do with them
(wether to incorporate them in a call-response pattern or let them be
unique), but it was lovely to witness some of the benedictions and also
problems his way of acting out poetry sometimes causes. Overall a
splendidly sung and unobtrusive version. 

As the nights before I was glad to see Larry getting his copper-colored
Gibson guitar which he exclusively uses for playing slide on

“Honest with Me”

which rocked my world again in a most pleasant way. Larry´s slide riff (or
better: his sliding back in first position after the riff) was more
cocky and quick-fried than it was in Berlin and I enjoyed it to the
maximum. In fact I watched Larry for almost the whole song, so I didn´t
payed attention so much on what Dylan was doing …

Before the next song I thought: ok, now or never, and shouted loudly for
“´Cross the Green Mountain,” but wasn´t really surprised that he didn´t
promptly respond to it and instead went into

“Every Grain of Sand”

as the song “to cool things down” between “Honest with Me” and “Summer
Days” this night. Even though I´m still no fan of the song (neither of the
lyrics nor Dylan´s vocal approach), this version made a pretty great
impression on me. Sung and played with real care, Dylan and the band
(again mostly Larry, since he plays the melody line) did a far better
version than in Berlin. The instrumental part in the middle (including
more harp) had a strength on its own and Dylan´s vocal on the last verse
was enriched by it in a very positive way.

“Summer Days”

again didn´t seem as strong and inventive as on the two Hamburg nights to
me, mostly due to a slightly more subdued (if this word isn´t completely
out of place here!) contribution of Freddie. But of course it was fine,
gorgeously swing-rocking and most appreciated by the audience …

“Cat´s in the Well”

again was the first encore and sung in a rather sloppy way by Dylan. He
got the lyrics wrong on almost every bridge (“the cat´s in the well and …
[mumbles], the cat´s in the well and [mumbles, then, very pronounced] …
Back Alley Sally is doing the american jump!”), but seemingly enjoyed
playing the song. He had eye contact with Receli again often and they
laughed nicely when Dylan repeatedly made a waving movement with his hand
in order to show George which beat he should emphazise. A highly enjoyable
version again.

“Like a Rolling Stone”

was next of course and worked well, with Dylan playing harp on the
instrumental middle part, but there´s not much more to say about it. The
audience loved it.

“All Along the Watchtower”

came in like rolling thunder then and closed my fourth show in a row in a
beautifully strong way. Again the arrangement with the more seperated
parts (and the clearly visible structure) worked miracles for six or seven

Stefan Flach


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