August 1, 2021

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08/24/97 Wolf Trap, Vienna

What a great, great show!  Easily the best of the 3 shows I’ve seen this summer (other two being Hershey and Philly).  Dylan was ON IT from the 1st note of “Sweet Marie” and did not let up with the same kind of energy he had in Philly.  There was no messing around of any kind, between songs and during songs.  I haven’t seen him do a show, so crisp, clean and concise since I saw him at the Supper Club.  And Dylan kept his guitar solos to a minimum for the most part and made the most of them.  Where his solo on this at Hershey was pointless noodling that went nowhere, tonight he played a cool little almost Chuck Berryish riff for one verse that fit right in and served as a good counterpoint to Larry and Bucky’s country riffs.

Very cool also was the second tune, “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You,” with Campbell playing the Charlie Daniels lick of the original version.  Dylan left the guitar work up to Campbell.  “Tough Mama” was really intense with Dylan really leaning into the words.

First surprise was “I’m A Rovin’ Gambler” which I’ve had for years on an old Jack Elliott album.  They did it in a bouncy country version with Campbell and Baxter singing harmony on the last line (which repeats) and added a neat stop there too, with fine bluegrassy guitar from Larry.  Dylan’s version is longer than Elliott’s with additional verses about a poker game and a murder.  It was superb.  “Tangled” followed and though it was the same version they’ve been doing on this tour, Larry wasn’t playing the opening rhythm quite as hard, making the song more flowing and it worked out great.  Dylan was mugging and making faces and having a good time singing it.  He kept cracking up Campbell both during the singing and when Dylan was soloing.  They seem to be developing a real rapport with each other.  I was a little sad that the acoustic set included two covers, but it didn’t matter.

“Watching the River Flow” followed and if there was a weak spot in the show, this was it, but only ’cause the song and the arrangement itself just weren’t on the level of the other tunes tonight, though Campbell and Baxter were trading great country riffs and when they slowed it down to a blues at the end it turned the whole thing around to a powerful conclusion.

In the darkness between songs, I saw Campbell trade his guitar for a bouzouki and I knew what was coming.  The one song I’ve been waiting something like 10 years to see Dylan do “Blind Willie McTell.”  He does it an an arrangement that’s a cross between the Infidels takes and the Band’s version (as stated here before) with the added “I know one thing” No One Can Sing the blues like Blind Willie McTell as opposed to I know no one can can sing…  When the Band sings it, it’s slightly awkward but Dylan had no such problems.  It was phenominal!

At the songs conclusion he mentioned that folklorist supreme Alan Lomax was in the audience.  I wasn’t able to get everything he said, but his closing comment was, “If anybody unlocked the secrets of this music, it’s Alan.”  A strong tribute to an extremely important person to folk music.  A blistering Highway 61 (a song that rarely captivates me in live versions–I prefer the humor and the beat of the original) closed the show with Campbell and Dylan both tearing it up on guitar with funky dirty licks.

The show could’ve ended right there and it wouldn’t have made a difference.  “Like A Rolling Stone” followed and was almost anticlimactic.  Campbell seemed surprised when Dylan threw the solo over to him and didn’t quite catch the ball and they seemed to lose the thread a tiny bit.  A nice version of “Forever Young” was the acoustic encore with Dylan really singing and holding the notes.  He didn’t seem to take his solo at the end quite where he wanted, but it didn’t matter.  “Rainy Day Women” was the usual with Dylan singing maybe 2 verses and the rest being a not bad blues jam.

I’ve been seeing the Never Ending Tour now for 9 years (Dylan for way over 30) and this was one of the tightest shows of the tour I’ve seen him do.