Archive for the ‘Concerts’ Category

No. 1’s Heard Live

Thursday, May 14th, 2015

I noted the other day that when Louis Armstrong performed at St. Cloud State in 1966 and played “Hello, Dolly,” that was almost certainly the first time I’d heard a live performance of a No. 1 record (by the original performer, that is). And I wondered how many of those moments there have been in my life.

That called for an hour or so spent paging through Fred Bronson’s Billboard Book of No. 1 Hits, which I accomplished this morning. It turns out that I’ve heard twenty tunes performed by the original artists that have hit No. 1, which seems not a bad total for someone who’s never spent a lot of time going to concerts or clubs.

Two of the No. 1 records have come my way live more than once. I heard Don McLean perform “American Pie” at St. Cloud State in February 1986 and then again in August 1990 in Columbia, Missouri. But that’s topped by Billy Preston’s “Will It Go Round In Circles,” which I’ve heard live three times: In the spring of 1973 at St. Cloud State’s Selke Field; when Preston opened for the Rolling Stones in Århus, Denmark, in October 1973; and when he played with Ringo Starr’s first All Starr Band in St. Paul in July 1989.

I also heard two other No. 1 tunes on that 1989 evening in St. Paul: Ringo’s “Photograph” and “She’s Sixteen,” but even that great night is eclipsed by the October 1973 evening when I heard Preston’s hit and then took in three No. 1 hits by the Rolling Stones: “Honky Tonk Women,” “Brown Sugar,” and “Angie.”

Going back further in time, there was one other night when I heard three No. 1 tunes from the original performers: In October 1970, the Rascals played St. Cloud State and did “Good Lovin’,” “Groovin’,” and “People Got To Be Free.” It’s a concert I tend to forget because my memories of the evening are tinged with some melancholy: My hopes of taking a certain young lady to the show evaporated very late in the day. With an extra ticket in hand, I gave Rick a call, and he was more than happy to see the show, but even with his good company, I didn’t enjoy the show as much as I had anticipated.

I’ve been at a few other shows over the years during which I heard two performances of No. 1 hits: The Association did “Windy” and “Cherish” at a St. Cloud State show in early 1970; Glenn Campbell sang both “Rhinestone Cowboy” and “Southern Nights” at a show in St. Cloud in 2011; and Paul McCartney performed “My Love” and “Band On The Run” when the Texas Gal and I saw him in St. Paul in September 2002.

Those last two, of course, were initially credited to Paul McCartney & Wings, but despite the absence of the Wings folks during that St. Paul performance, I think I can reasonably put the two songs on this list because no matter who the other members of Wings were over the years, McCartney was the main driving force. That wasn’t the case with the Beatles, of course, which is why I don’t include the bonanza of mostly McCartney-penned Beatles’ No. 1 hits that made up a good chunk of that evening in St. Paul: “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “Yesterday,” “We Can Work It Out,” “Hello, Goodbye,” “Hey Jude,” “Let It Be,” and “The Long & Winding Road.” (Along the way that evening, McCartney performed the George Harrison-penned “Something,” another No. 1 hit, as a tribute to his late bandmate.)

That leaves just three other performances for this list: “Aquarius/Let The Sun Shine In” by the 5th Dimension during an October 1969 concert at St. Cloud State, “Cracklin’ Rosie” by Neil Diamond at the Minnesota State Fair in September 1971, and the performance that sparked this post, ‘Hello, Dolly” by Louis Armstrong in January 1966 at St. Cloud State.

And to close, here’s a live performance of “Photograph” by Ringo’s first All Star Band at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles in 1989. This sounds a lot like it sounded in St. Paul earlier that summer. (Members of that band were: Jim Keltner and Levon Helm on drums, Rick Danko on bass, Joe Walsh and Nils Lofgren on guitars, Dr. John on piano, Billy Preston on keyboards, and Clarence Clemons on saxophone. As Ringo says in the video, his son Zak Starkey sat in.)

An Evening With Fleetwood Mac

Tuesday, April 30th, 2013

Slow and insistent, the recognizable riff came from the speakers high above the floor of St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center Sunday evening.

“How are they going to do this one without the marching band?” the Texas Gal asked me in a whisper.

“I don’t know,” I whispered back as Fleetwood Mac’s Lindsey Buckingham continued the riff on his guitar, joined soon enough by drummer Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie. And then “Tusk” burst forth in full voice from them and Stevie Nicks and the rest of the musicians onstage Sunday: a pair of back-up singers along with another guitarist and a keyboard player.

But even as that happened, I wondered how the second half of “Tusk” – from the 1979 album of the same name – would sound without the brass and percussion provided thirty-four years ago by the University of Southern California marching band. I needn’t have worried. At exactly the right moment, the horns and drums rolled out of the speakers, and on the big screen at the back of the stage, the image changed from kaleidoscopic abstract (if foreboding) art to footage of the USC band from a video shot back in 1979.

As the song came to a thundering climax and ending, those of us in the X (as it’s called in these parts) came to our feet roaring in approval. It wasn’t the first time we’d risen like that, and it wouldn’t be the last.

Seeing Fleetwood Mac was the Texas Gal’s idea. She’s a big fan of Stevie Nicks and thus, by association, a Fleetwood Mac fan, and one evening early this year, she poked her head into the Echoes In The Wind studios and told me we were going to go see Fleetwood Mac in April. I was fine with it. I’d never had the Mac on my list of must-see artists, but I knew (and liked) the group’s music well enough that it had showed up in this space numerous times.* So off we went Sunday, joining what appeared to be about 18,000 others in St. Paul for what turned out to be a very good show.

We stopped for dinner on our way, and the Texas Gal asked me over our enchiladas which songs I was most looking forward to hearing. “Gold Dust Woman” and “The Chain,” both from 1977’s Rumours, came immediately to mind, and an instant later, I thought of “Silver Springs,” the outtake from Rumours that was released as a B-side. And then I revised my list, putting “Landslide” from 1975’s Fleetwood Mac at the top of my list.

I heard all four, including an intimate version of “Landslide” midway through the show, with Nicks accompanied only by Buckingham’s acoustic guitar. “The Chain” showed up early, following the opening “Second Hand News” and preceding the group’s only No. 1 hit, “Dreams.” “Gold Dust Woman,” with Nicks drawing applause for the third or fourth time for her whirling dance during the instrumental, came near the end of the main part of the show. And just when I’d thought I’d have to go without it, “Silver Springs” showed up as an encore, earning a place on my list of great concert moments.

All together, the twenty-three songs offered Sunday night spanned more than forty years, with the earliest being “Without You,” a song Nicks said came from “1970 or 1971,” when she and Buckingham were working toward their 1973 album Buckingham Nicks, and the most recent being the new recording “Sad Angel,” which Buckingham said was one of several new tracks recently recorded.** (The set list also included “Stand Back,” Nicks’ solo hit from 1983.)

Fleetwood Mac’s catalog from the mid-1970s on is so well known, of course, that the opening notes of nearly every song brought a roar of approval from the crowd; the loudest roar, it seemed, came for Nicks’ iconic “Rhiannon” from Fleetwood Mac. And the roars didn’t subside until about two-and-a-half hours after they began, when the band members bid us goodnight and Mick Fleetwood told us, “Be kind to one another,” as the houselights came up.

There are a few videos from Sunday’s performance at YouTube, but none are very well done. So here’s “Landslide” from the 1997 release The Dance. This is pretty much how it sounded in St. Paul.

And here, courtesy of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, is Sunday’s set list:

Second Hand News
The Chain
Dreams
Sad Angel
Rhiannon
Not That Funny
Tusk
Sisters of the Moon
Sara
Big Love
Landslide
Never Going Back Again
Without You
Gypsy
Eyes of the World
Gold Dust Woman
I’m So Afraid
Stand Back
Go Your Own Way

Encores
World Turning
Don’t Stop
Silver Springs
Say Goodbye

*Many of those posts were, of course, from other versions of the band, as Fleetwood Mac has had several incarnations through the years: There was the blues band featuring Peter Green and Jeremy Spencer; the early 1970s band with Danny Kirwan, Bob Welch and Christine McVie; the mid-1970s band that saw Nicks and Buckingham join the McVies and Fleetwood for an extraordinary run of both popular and critical acclaim; the short-lived 1990 lineup when Buckingham was replaced by Rick Vito and Billy Burnette; and the current regrouping of John McVie, Fleetwood, Nicks and Buckingham that we saw Sunday evening. Christine McVie hasn’t worked with the group since sometime in the mid- to late 1990s, but I read online in the past few weeks that she’ll join the band onstage later this year for a couple of shows in London.

**Shortly after I posted this, I read that Fleetwood Mac has issued a four-song EP, available at iTunes, that includes both “Sad Angel” and “Without You.”

Hard Chairs & A Clip-On Tie

Thursday, February 28th, 2013

In the early 1960s in St. Cloud, there was an organization known as the Civic Music Association. I have no idea when it started – there are references to it in online archives as early as 1932 – and I would guess it closed up shop sometime during the late 1960s. During the years the association was active, it sponsored about five concerts of generally classical or light classical music during each academic year.

That meant for about five years in the early and mid-1960s, I’d regularly have to dress up to go to a concert. I didn’t mind going; I just didn’t see the point of putting on good slacks and shoes, a blazer and a necktie – yes, a clip-on – on a weekday evening. But my sister and I would dress up a bit and then ride with Mom over to St. Cloud Tech High School and take our seats halfway up the grandstand in the auditorium/gym.

During the five or so years that we attended Civic Music-sponsored concerts, we saw and heard performances by some familiar names. I noted a couple months ago that Mom and I had once seen Mantovani and hs orchestra in concert; that was through Civic Music. I also remember concerts by the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra (now the Minnesota Orchestra), the piano duo of Stecher & Horowitz, the Robert Shaw Chorale, the Vienna Boys Choir and for at least two years, season-ending performances by the Royal Winnipeg Ballet.

And I remember hearing Van Cliburn play. Cliburn, who passed on yesterday at the age of seventy-eight, was likely the biggest classical music star we saw and heard during our years of attending Civic Music events. I was about ten, so call it 1964, just six years after Cliburn had astonished the world of classical music by winning the 1958 International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow.

I don’t remember much about the concert itself, just a glimmering image of Cliburn’s hands on the keyboard and the concentration on his face, that and a fleeting memory of wondering – spurred, no doubt, by my required daily half-hour of piano practice – how much time Van Cliburn spent practicing. What I do remember is his genuine smile and willingness to shake my small hand backstage after the concert and then to autograph a photo of himself that his publicist had handed me. (That photo and the program from that evening’s performance are no doubt in one of the boxes in the basement, boxes that I hope to sort through soon in search of Van Cliburn’s autograph and other mementoes.)

As I write, I have vague memories of Mom telling me – maybe sometime around 1968 – that the Civic Music Association had folded. That wasn’t uncommon. Last evening, I clicked a few links after I recalled that the piano duo of Melvin Stecher and Norman Horowitz came to St. Cloud at least twice and perhaps more frequently. In a 2012 Wall Street Journal piece about the duo and their foundation, I read this:

“When we toured in the 1950s, we played anything between 50 and a 100 concerts a year and a great deal of recitals,” says Mr. Stecher. “These community concert series have disappeared. Out of 3,000 that existed in America, there are maybe 200 or 300 left.”

St. Cloud’s concert series was one of those three thousand, and I’m probably not alone in thinking that whatever fondness I have for classical music – and it is there, eclipsed though it often might be by my affections for blues, soul, rock, pop and all the rest – comes at least in part from those evenings spent in hard, wooden auditorium chairs, wishing I could take off my clip-on tie and trying at the same time to absorb what I could from the gifted musicians up on the stage.

It’s quite likely that Van Cliburn was the most gifted of the musicians who visited St. Cloud for Civic Music during my years of attendance. Here’s his recording – I do not know the date; I’d guess sometime in the 1960s – of the third and best known movement of Claude Debussy’s Suite bergamasque. It was written about 1890 and, Wikipedia says, was almost certainly revised significantly just prior to publication in 1905. During that revision, the movement’s title was changed to “Claire de lune.”

Worthy of note
I frequently refer and link to the blog The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ offered by my friend jb. Earlier this week, he told his readers that come March 11, he’ll be a full-time radio guy again. That’s the day he starts his new gig as the permanent afternoon-drive guy on Madison’s Magic 98, on the air from 3 to 7. Congratulations, my friend!

And there’s a new listing in the blogroll: A note from my friend Marie, late of Catch That Train & Testify, told me that she is now offering her take on vintage music at It’s All in the Grooves. It’s well worth your time to look at and listen to her mix of, as she calls it, “Hit parade flashbacks and obscure gems.”

Amended slightly since first posting.

‘You Better Start Savin’ Up . . .’

Tuesday, November 13th, 2012

Quiet times here in the past few days, as the Texas Gal buried her nose in her textbooks and I stayed out of the way. She’s studying employment law and supervisory management this quarter, and although I’ll help where I can – I routinely review and edit papers quite gladly – I’ll have little to add to the conversation. (That’s not always been the case as she heads toward her paralegal degree; her several courses in constitutional law brought us some truly fascinating discussions.)

Anyway, as she studied, I did the minimum required housework and some cooking, watched a lot of football and continued to fight off a sinus infection that’s perplexing both me and Dr. Julie. As a result, I’ve done even less prep work for a post than my usual minimum. But something caught my eye Sunday as I read Jon Bream’s review at the Minneapolis Star Tribune website of Sunday night’s concert in St. Paul by Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band.

Bream noted that a sign in the audience requested the band play “Savin’ Up,” a tune Springsteen wrote for the first album recorded by the now-departed Clarence Clemons, an album titled Rescue, credited to Clarence Clemons & The Red Bank Rockers. Springsteen quickly taught the basics of the song to the band, the background singers and the horn section and then let loose a pretty darned good performance on the crowd at the Xcel Energy Center.

After listening to the live version by Bruce and the gang, I went digging, pretty sure I had Rescue. And I found it in the stack of LPs waiting to be ripped to mp3. But something else nagged at me, so I ran a search through the 65,000 mp3s. And there was “Savin’ Up,” collected as one of twenty-eight tracks on the 1997 two-CD set titled One Step Up/Two Steps Back: The Songs of Bruce Springsteen. And a quick search at YouTube saved me some time.

Personnel on the Clemons’ version of “Savin’ Up” are: Clarence Clemons, saxophone and background vocals; John “J.T.” Bowen, lead vocals; David Landau, guitars; Bruce Springsteen, rhythm guitar; Ralph Schuckett, keyboard; John Siegler, bass; and Wells Kelly, drums.

An Evening With Bob Dylan

Thursday, November 8th, 2012

The first two times I saw Bob Dylan in concert, I’m not entirely sure I gave him my complete attention. Last night I did, and I was rewarded with a very good – maybe even great – show.

Last night’s fifteen-song concert at St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center spanned fifty years of Dylan’s catalog, from 1962’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” to “Early Roman Kings” from this year’s album, Tempest. A majority of the songs performed by Dylan and his amazingly tight touring band came from the 1960s – including the essential final three: “Like A Rolling Stone,” “All Along The Watchtower” and “Blowin’ In The Wind” – but there were a few other stops along the way.

Those other stops included several songs performed in a country jive pre-rock ’n’ roll style that at times, said the Texas Gal later, resembled the Western swing sounds of Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys. (I concurred, though I’d thought of the more recent sounds of Asleep At The Wheel.) One of those songs, “Summer Days” from Love and Theft, thus sounded as close to its original version as did anything Dylan and his band offered us last night. (Another of those Western swing-styled offerings was the opener, “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” from 1967’s John Wesley Harding. Despite having once correctly predicted Dylan’s opening tune, I didn’t even try last night; I would certainly have been wrong.)

Dylan’s well-known propensity for altering the shape and sound of even his most famous songs was on full display last night. Whether seated at a grand piano or standing behind the microphone at center stage – he never picked up a guitar at all – he offered the seven thousand folks in the audience reworked versions of several tunes. The most altered, it seemed to me, were “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” and “Highway 61 Revisited,” with Dylan’s piano leading the band in rhythmic riffs as he rapidly spat out the lyrics between those riffs. The least altered, along with “Summer Days,” was the gleeful spitefest, “Ballad of a Thin Man.”

The seventy-one-year-old Dylan didn’t speak at all last night except to introduce the members of his band, but he was in good voice – a little gravelly but not as raspy as he’s sometimes sounded lately – and he seemed to be having fun: During his ninety or so minutes on stage, he added his customarily idiosyncratic harmonica solos to many of the songs, occasionally shuffled across the stage (perhaps like the “song and dance man” he once said he was in one of his famously evasive interviews), and interjected a throaty chuckle just before the final phrase of one of the verses of “Things Have Changed,” an addition that brought him a mid-song round of applause and laughter. (Joining Dylan onstage for “Things Have Changed” and two other numbers was Mark Knopfler, whose own group offered a forty-five minute opening set.)

As I noted above, last night’s performance was my third chance to see Bob Dylan in concert. During the first, at St. Paul’s outdoor River Fest in 1989, I was distracted by both my company and by the mass of the forty thousand folks who wedged themselves onto Harriet Island, and I remember only a few moments. My second chance at Dylan live came in the mid-1990s, when Rick and I attended a show at the Orpheum Theater in downtown Minneapolis. Weighted down with what I now recognize as a nearly decade-long depression, I pretty much noticed nothing.

So I went to last evening’s show determined to absorb it, and I think I did, from the opening bars of “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” to the last strains of “Blowin’ In The Wind.” And even though it’s difficult to pick a best moment from a show like last night’s, I’m going to mention three: “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” because it should have been on my occasionally discussed bucket list, “Things Have Changed” for that chuckle and Knopfler’s liquid fills, and “All Along The Watchtower” for its fire, both lyrically and during its long closing jam.

This video, from an October 29, 2011, performance in Berlin, Germany, will give you an idea of how “Things Have Changed” sounded last night.

And here, courtesy of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, is last night’s set list:

I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight
Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right (with Mark Knopfler)
Things Have Changed (with Mark Knopfler)
Tangled Up in Blue (with Mark Knopfler)
Early Roman Kings
A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall
Summer Days
Blind Willie McTell
Highway 61 Revisited
Spirit on the Water
Thunder on the Mountain
Ballad of a Thin Man
Like a Rolling Stone
All Along the Watchtower
Encore:
Blowin’ in the Wind

Played Once & Left Behind

Thursday, October 4th, 2012

It was at a concert in St. Paul in 1989, my friends and I sitting on a grass bank overlooking the stage at Riverfest, four of us among a crowd that I think was later estimated somewhere between 20,000 and 40,000. (I no longer remember the estimate; I only know that the St. Paul police closed several city streets after the show to let the crowd walk off of Harriet Island north through downtown.)

Before the show started, the four of us tried to guess how Bob Dylan would open that night’s concert. If all of us had been wrong, I doubt that I’d recall any of the four guesses, but my guess – and that’s all it was, based on the opening track of his live album Before the Flood – was correct. When Dylan and his band took the stage, they launched the concert with “Most Likely You Go Your Way And I’ll Go Mine.”

Along with a great night of music – Dylan and his band were very good that night – and a chance to march on downtown St. Paul, I also remember a snippet of conversation from before the show, as we talked about which songs we hoped to hear. “Like A Rolling Stone” was mentioned, of course, and one of the four of us wondered, “Can you imagine how many times he’s played that in concert?”

Well, no, I couldn’t then. I had no idea. But today, I do.

Between July 25, 1965, when he first performed the song, and his most recent concert on September 9 of this year, Bob Dylan has performed “Like A Rolling Stone” 1,976 times. Surprisingly – or maybe not; this is Dylan, after all – that’s not the song he’s performed most frequently.  That would be “All Along the Watchtower,” performed 2,070 times, with the first performance on January 3, 1974, and the most recent on September 9.

Other songs that Dylan has performed more than a thousand times are “Highway 61 Revisited,” 1,746 performances; “Tangled Up  In Blue,” 1,242 performances; “Blowin’ In The Wind,” 1,114 performances; “Maggie’s Farm,” 1,055 performances; and “Ballad of a Thin Man,” 1,026 performances.

Where did I find this information? Right on Bob Dylan’s website at the page that lists his songs and provides a link to each song’s lyrics. I’m not sure how frequently the list of performance dates is updated, but the most recent performances listed come from Dylan’s most recent show, which took place September 9 in Hershey, Pennsylvania. Dylan is scheduled to play in Winnipeg, Manitoba, tomorrow night, so those of us who are interested can look at that webpage over the weekend (or later, if need be) to see how soon the list is updated. (There is a separate list at the website of all songs Dylan has performed, including covers; I might dig around in that on another day, but today, I was interested in Dylan’s own songs.)

After checking on the most frequently performed songs, I started digging through the list from the other end. There are a lot of songs on the list that Dylan has never performed in concert. Those come from all portions of Dylan’s long career, although many of them seem to come from just a few sources: the 1970 albums Self-Portrait and New Morning; the Biograph collection; the blues/folk albums of the  1990s, Good As I Been To You and World Gone Wrong; and from the various Bootleg Series collections he’s released since 1991.

But it was the next step up that interested me: Songs that Dylan has performed in concert just once. Only once, for example, has he pulled “Buckets of Rain” from Blood on the Tracks out of his bag of tricks, on November 18, 1990, fifteen years after the album came out. Only once has he performed “Spanish Harlem Incident” from Another Side Of Bob Dylan. (That October 31, 1964, performance was included on the sixth collection in the Bootleg Series: Bob Dylan Live 1964 – Concert at Philharmonic Hall.)

So, just because it interests me, here’s the list of his own songs that Bob Dylan has only performed once:

“As I Went Out One Morning” from John Wesley Harding, performed January 10, 1974

“Billy 1” from Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid, performed March 22, 2009 

“Black Diamond Bay” from Desire, performed March 25, 1976

“Brownsville Girl” from Knocked Out Loaded, performed August 6, 1986

“Buckets of Rain” from Blood on the Tracks, performed November 18, 1990

“Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window” a 1965 single included on Biograph, performed October 1, 1965

“Caribbean Wind,” an unreleased 1981 track included on Biograph, performed November 12, 1980

“Corrina, Corrina,” from The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, performed April 16, 1962

“The Death of Emmett Till,” released with The Witmark Demos, performed July 2, 1962

“Farewell,” released with The Witmark Demos, performed February 8, 1963

“Gospel Plow” from Bob Dylan, performed November 4, 1961

“Got My Mind Made Up” from Knocked Out Loaded, performed June 9, 1986

“Handy Dandy” from Under the Red Sky, performed June 27, 2008

“Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie,” a reading during a concert included on Rare & Unreleased, 1961-1991, performed April 12, 1963

“Lay Down Your Weary Tune,” an unreleased 1963 track included on Biograph, performed October 26, 1963

“Let Me Die In My Footsteps,” a 1961 outtake included on Rare & Unreleased, 1961-1991, performed July 2, 1962

“Lily, Rosemary & The Jack of Hearts” from Blood on the Tracks, performed May 25, 1976

“Little Maggie” from Good As I Been To You, performed March 18, 1992

“Living The Blues” from Self-Portrait, performed May 1, 1969

“Man On The Street,” a 1961 outtake included on Rare & Unreleased, 1961-1991, performed September 6, 1961

“Meet Me In The Morning” from Blood on the Tracks, performed September 19, 2007

“Million Dollar Bash” from The Basement Tapes, performed November 21, 2005

“Minstrel Boy” from Self-Portrait, performed August 31, 1969

“No More Auction Block,” a 1962 live performance included on Rare & Unreleased, 1961-1991, performed October 15, 1962

“Only A Hobo,” a 1963 outtake included on Rare & Unreleased, 1961-1991, performed April 12, 1963

“Outlaw Blues” from Bringing It All Back Home, performed September 20, 2007

“Oxford Town” from The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, performed October 25, 1990

“Percy’s Song,” an unreleased 1963 track included on Biograph, performed October 26, 1963

“Quit Your Lowdown Ways,” a 1962 outtake included on Rare & Unreleased, 1961-1991, performed July 2, 1962

“Sarah Jane” from Dylan, performed May 1, 1960

“Spanish Harlem Incident” from Another Side of Bob Dylan, performed October 31, 1964

“Talkin’ Bear Mountain Picnic Massacre Blues,” a 1962 outtake included on Rare & Unreleased, 1961-1991, performed September 6, 1961

“10,000 Men” from Under the Red Sky, performed November 12, 2000

“Walkin’ Down The Line,” a 1963 demo included on Rare & Unreleased, 1961-1991, no performance date listed

I’m not at all sure what that list proves, but what I found especially interesting were the songs that Dylan performed for the only time long after they were recorded, like “Outlaw Blues,” “Meet Me In The Morning” and “Oxford Town.” And then there’s the flip side of that: “Sarah Jane,” performed for the only time in May of 1960 and then winding up – in a chaotic and imprecise performance – as the only original on the 1973 album Dylan. (That album, famously, is made up of outtakes released by Columbia over Dylan’s objections after the singer had moved to the Asylum label.)

And I find myself wondering how – even as he carries with him the greatest catalog of songs of the rock era – Dylan can ignore so many great songs, not only those listed here with one performance each but the many more that he’s never performed at all. I guess if I were going to pull one of the tunes listed here from its relative obscurity, it would be “Lily, Rosemary & The Jack of Hearts” from Blood on the Tracks.

Here’s how it sounded in 1974 during the original New York sessions for that album, before Dylan re-recorded most of the album in Minneapolis.

What Was That Song?

Thursday, May 17th, 2012

While I was writing earlier this week about spending Sunday evening at a Peter Yarrow performance (and sing-along), one of the songs Yarrow offered was running through my head. But since I wasn’t sure what it was, I didn’t mention it in the post.

Nor did I mention one of the nicer things about the show. During a twenty-minute intermission, Yarrow took song requests from members of the audience. He said as the first half of the show ended that he wouldn’t be able to perform them all, but with only a few exceptions, the second half of the show would be all requests. (The exceptions he mentioned were “Puff the Magic Dragon,” “If I Had A Hammer” and “Blowin’ In The Wind,” and I thought, “Yeah, like no one would request any of those . . .”)

Anyway, as he left the stage, I talked with him briefly and made my request. A while back, while looking for a CD of Yarrow’s 1972 solo album, Peter, I came across the last track from the album, and “Tall Pine Trees” was, for a few days, playing pretty regularly in the Echoes In The Wind studios. He nodded and smiled and said he’d see what he could do.

Twenty minutes later, as the second half of the show began, Yarrow held up a sheet of typing paper covered with scrawled titles and began to share the list of requests. “Well, for the first time ever, someone requested ‘Tall Pine Trees’,” he said. “And someone mentioned ‘Too Much Of Nothing’, and that one almost never gets requested.” He shook his head in mock bafflement, and the audience laughed.

As I expected, he did not perform “Tall Pine Trees,” but midway through the second portion of the show, he looked at the list of requests and said, “Let’s do ‘Too Much Of Nothing’, but let’s combine it with something else.” And he took off into a song that I knew I’d heard but that I couldn’t place, and after that song’s chorus came up – “Line of least resistance, lead me on” – he (and his son) would toss in the chorus of “Too Much Of Nothing.” It was a great combination, but the source of that vaguely familiar first part of the medley puzzled me.

Still puzzled Tuesday morning after writing that day’s post, I began to dig, and I soon learned that Yarrow and folksinger Chris Chandler had recorded a track titled “Isn’t That So/Too Much Of Nothing/Whoop” for Chandler’s 1999 album, Collaborations. I listened to an excerpt of the track and nodded in recognition. I didn’t care for Chandler’s (I’m assuming) spoken wisecracks during the track, so I didn’t buy it. But now I had a title for that vaguely familiar song. So I searched my own collection, and I found “Isn’t That So” as the first track of Jesse Winchester’s 1972 album, Third Down, 110 To Go.

If I were a tech wizard, I’d combine that track with the choruses from Peter, Paul & Mary’s 1968 take on “Too Much Of Nothing” from their Late Again album. That’s not going to happen, but here’s “Too Much Of Nothing”

And finally, yesterday I found a listing at Amazon for a box set of Peter, Paul & Mary’s 1972 solo recordings – Peter, Paul & and Mary – but I’m not ready to shell out sixty bucks for a used copy. I imagine that sometime soon, I’ll buy the three albums as mp3 downloads (the price is much more reasonable). But until then, I do have the closer to Yarrow’s album, the Russian-influenced “Tall Pine Trees.”

Dragons (And Music) Live Forever

Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

“If you ask me who I am,” mused Peter Yarrow for a moment Sunday evening, “well . . .” And he paused as he looked out at the audience in St. Cloud’s Pioneer Place. “As I always have been, I’m the one who carries forward the tradition of Peter, Paul & Mary.”

And then, with his son Christopher playing a wash-tub bass and supplying vocal harmony, he launched himself into another song recorded by Peter, Paul & Mary. It might have been “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” or “Lemon Tree.” It could have been “All My Trials” or “Jesus Met The Woman.” It could have been the final pair of the evening: “If I Had A Hammer” and “Blowin’ In The Wind.”

I don’t remember which tune it was that followed Yarrow’s statement. I wasn’t taking notes. Rather, I was sitting in the front row, flanked by my mother and the Texas Gal. We were just to the right of center stage, as close as I’ve ever been for a performance by a legend. I watched Yarrow’s left hand play with his picks as he talked between songs. I saw his eyes get a little misty as he talked about his family – many of whom live in Willmar, Minnesota, about sixty miles away (and many of whom, along with other friends from the Central Minnesota city, were at the performance). I saw the slight tremors in his seventy-three-year-old legs as he moved to sit on a stool instead of stand several times during the performance.

But mostly, I just watched and listened as a giant of folk music worked the room and turned what I expected to be a concert into a three-hour sing-along. From the opening tune, “Music Speaks Louder Than Words” through the two closing songs mentioned above, Yarrow encouraged the two hundred or so folks at Pioneer Place to join in.

After all, he said, as he introduced his second tune – “Leaving On A Jet Plane,” performed in memory of his long-time friend and partner, Mary Travers, who passed on in 2009 – “You’ll sing along anyway, or at least mouth the words, so you may as well sing.” And sing we did, sometimes pretty confidently – as on the medley of “This Little Light Of Mine,” “Down By The Riverside” and “This Land Is Your Land” – and sometimes a little more tentatively, as in the case of “Stewball” and “Have You Been To Jail For Justice?”

And sometimes, we just listened, as we did when Yarrow sang the potent anti-war song he and Travers wrote, “The Great Mandala.”

Yarrow remains unabashedly liberal and spoke a few times about the causes he supports. He mentioned his marching at Selma, Alabama, during the early 1960s civil rights movement and the performance of Peter, Paul & Mary at the 1963 rally at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., when the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have A Dream” speech. Yarrow noted that he and his children – Christopher and Bethany – have visited and performed at several of the Occupy sites in the past year. And he told us about his current project, Operation Respect, an educational program aimed at “creating compassionate, safe and respectful environments.” The theme song for Operation Respect is “Don’t Laugh At Me,” a song that first showed up on PP&M’s final studio album, 2003’s In These Times.

When Yarrow introduced the tune Sunday evening, he said, “You’ll all know some of the people in this song. You might have been some of them. And some of you will weep.” He was right. And the performance – during which, of course, we sang along on the chorus – earned Yarrow a mid-concert standing ovation.

I’ve listened to Yarrow’s music – the massive catalog of PP&M and his own, more slender catalog – for years, but I’ve never dug very deeply into the history and lore of the group and its three members, so I was intrigued to learn Sunday evening that Yarrow’s wife, Mary Beth, was the niece of the late U.S. Senator from Minnesota, Eugene McCarthy. The two met during McCarthy’s 1968 campaign for the Democratic nomination for the presidency. And I was even more intrigued when Yarrow told us that not only was Noel Paul Stookey – “Paul” of PP&M – Yarrow’s best man when he and Mary Beth were married but that Stookey sang during the ceremony a song written specifically for the wedding.

It took a lot of talking, Yarrow said, to persuade Stookey to record and release “The Wedding Song (There Is Love),” which turned out to be a No. 24 hit and was, Yarrow said, the No. 1 sheet music seller for ten years. And as Yarrow then sang “The Wedding Song (There Is Love),” the rest of us joined in on the choruses.

Yarrow’s most famous song is likely “Puff the Magic Dragon.” Addressing the myth of the song’s reference to drugs, Yarrow told us Sunday evening that he and co-writer Leonard Lipton never had any thought besides writing a song about the loss of childhood. And he called up to the stage the younger folks in the audience – which meant, Sunday evening, those under thirty-five – and those folks (many of whom, I presume, were friends and family from Willmar) helped Yarrow and the rest of us sing that great song.

As he led us through the song, there were a few changes: The line “A dragon lives forever, but not so little boys” is now “A dragon lives forever, but not so little girls and boys.” And the final chorus is now sung in present tense: “Puff the magic dragon lives by the sea and frolics in the autumn mist in a land called Hona-Lee.”

Puff lives forever. So will Yarrow’s music.

(Here’s a similar performance of “Puff the Magic Dragon” from Fairfield, Connecticut in 2007.)

Revised slightly after first posting.

Watching A Legend At Work

Wednesday, May 18th, 2011

So when Glen Campbell wants to close the show – at least the main portion of the show, just before the two scheduled encores – what does he do?

Well, those who’d been keeping track of the hits he’d performed last night at St. Cloud’s Paramount Theatre had a pretty good idea. And they were right, as Campbell’s seven-person band – four of them his children – launched into “Rhinestone Cowboy.”

It made sense. “Rhinestone Cowboy” was No. 1 for two weeks in 1975, and it was the biggest hit of Campbell’s career, a career that dates back to 1961 as a singer and back into the 1950s as a session guitarist. It’s a catchy tune, but it never caught on with me back then, and – although I knew I would hear it Tuesday evening – it wasn’t one of the songs that drew me to the Paramount.

But when Campbell came out to the lip of the stage as the song’s chorus came around the second time, he pointed his microphone at the audience and asked all 600 or so of us to sing with him. And just like the other folks in the audience, I found myself singing along from my seat in the balcony: “Like a rhinestone cowboy, riding out on a horse in a star-spangled rodeo . . .”

And I was having a great time as I did.

But that’s what great entertainers do: They charm their audiences, pull them in and then send them home humming songs they’d perhaps never much cared for or maybe never even heard before. Glen Campbell did all that last night at the Paramount, and more.

Many performers start a show with one of their hits, and the Texas Gal and I shared guesses as we waited for the show to start. I continued to ponder the question a little bit as I listened – more and more intrigued and interested – to a five-song set by Instant People, an alt country/folkish group made up of three of Campbell’s children and two other musicians.

By the time a couple of other musicians had joined those already on stage and introduced Campbell, I’d decided that he’d likely open with “Gentle On My Mind.” It was, after all, his first major hit, going to No. 39 in 1968. And it was, in fact, his opener last evening, followed by the powerhouse pair of “Galveston” and “By the Time I Get To Phoenix.” I’ve seen a fair number of concerts over the years, but I’d be hard-pressed to remember an opening salvo like that.

From there, Campbell and his band made their ways through his career, touching on other hits – “It’s Only Make Believe,” “Try A Little Kindness,” “True Grit” and more – and then visiting some other friends in the country oeuvre: Campbell gave us “Didn’t We,” a Jimmy Webb song more closely identified with Richard Harris. He and his eldest daughter Debby did a saucy version of “Jackson,” better known as a duet between Johnny Cash and June Carter or Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood. And his younger daughter Ashley – a multi-instrumental and member of Instant People – picked up her banjo and joined Campbell up front for a lightning-fast rendition of “Dueling Banjos,” best known from the 1973 hit by Eric Weissberg and Steve Mandell (and from its inclusion in the 1972 film Deliverance).

For years before he made it as a singer, of course, Campbell was a prominent session guitarist in the Los Angeles area, working many times with Phil Spector, the Beach Boys and many, many others. He showed last night that even at the age of seventy-five, he’s still a dexterous and evocative guitarist. The pure speed demonstrated on “Dueling Banjos” was balanced by the simple and melodic solos he’d added – at that point in the show – to “Galveston,” “By the Time I Get To Phoenix” and a few others. (Some of those solos did evolve into some pretty quick country picking.) I should note that, given his age, Campbell’s voice has also held up well. It’s still rich in the lower register and effective though a bit reedy – almost like Willie Nelson’s – in the mid-range. He reached for very few high notes last evening, although when he reached for them, he got them.

Shortly after performing “Dueling Banjos,” Campbell and his band took us through a rapid but musically brilliant performance of the finale to Rossini’s “William Tell Overture,” known more popularly among Baby Boomers as the Lone Ranger’s theme. Coming out of that – Campbell played the last minute or so with his guitar held over his head – he slowed things down with the last of the three great Webb songs: “Wichita Lineman.”

I’ve shared here a couple of times my musical bucket list, my collection of certain songs by certain performers I’d like to hear someday. I’m not sure why it wasn’t, but “Wichita Lineman” by Glen Campbell should have been on that list.

(It’s not like it’s rare or anything, but here’s the original version of “Wichita Lineman.”)

There was more, of course. “Southern Nights,” “Let It Be Me,” a duet from Debby and Ashley on Stevie Nicks’ “Landslide,” the two encores of “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’” (Campbell noted that he played guitar on the Righteous Brothers’ version of the tune in 1964) and the hymn-like “A Better Place.” By the time the lights came up and the Texas Gal and I began to make our ways out of the balcony, I was wondering – out of all the concerts I’ve seen – how many times I have actually seen a legend at work. Whatever the total turns out to be, last night was one of them.

But there was a moment yet to come. After waiting a few minutes in the lobby, the Texas Gal and I went into the theater’s main floor and down to the stage. There, we bought a CD with highlights of Instant People’s album We Must Be Camping and got it signed by both Ashley and Cal Campbell.

And as we left the theater, we saw the tour’s bus waiting at the curb. We figured that the seventy-five-year-old Campbell was already inside, resting, having already done an afternoon show at the Paramount before taking the stage again for the evening peformance. But we thought we’d hang around for a while and see if anything happened. A few moments later, the bus door opened, and out came two of the younger folks on the tour. One slipped away quickly, and I told the other fellow that they’d all done a great show. He thanked me, and I decided, well, what the hell?

I held out my ticket stub from the concert and asked if Glen was on the bus. The younger fellow nodded, took my stub and turned back to the bus, saying, “I’ll see what I can do.” As you can see from the picture below, he did pretty well for me.

Amended since first posting.