Bob Dylan


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The three-disc track listing says it all -- two full concerts at the Wolftrap Performing Arts Center, Vienna, VA (August 23-24, 1997), with three-decades worth of songs. Dylan has spent a lot of time being almost selflessly generous with his catalog repertoire, but the appearance here of "Tough Mama," "Watching the River Flow," and "You Ain't Going Nowhere" still suggests he spends a lot more time thinking about his old songs than his fans do. What next, "George Jackson"? "Dirge"? Performance-wise, Wolftrap doesn't offer much more than any other later Dylan live set, but for those who have been waiting for one set which gives all they could want, this is probably it. With minimal duplication across the two shows and Dylan clearly in good form (if not always good voice -- "Roving Gambler" is especially creaky), there are some amazing highlights in store, with the second show just edging it in terms of burning commitment. That means a great "Highway 61," an even greater "Tangled up in Blue," and much, much more. But there's a fistful of gems scattered throughout the first show as well, including a "Mr. Tambourine Man" which almost lets listeners forget that it's one of the most overdone, overrated, and certainly overplayed songs in the history of music, and a grungy blues version of "Leopardskin Pillbox Hat," which quite uncannily echoes the mood and tone of 2001's Love and Theft album. Backed by a band who echoes the Band in terms of joie de vivre, but omits that ensemble's inherent po-facedness, Dylan sounds in better spirits than he has in other attempts -- which other commentators promptly speculated could have been the result of his so-called brush with death the previous spring. Maybe, but just as probably, maybe not. Live as much as elsewhere, Dylan's genius moves in cycles, and with peaks in 1966, 1975, and 1983, another one was long overdue. According to the dynamic take on "Blind Willie McTell," which opens disc two, this is it.

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