"Dylan and the Dead"
is an official recording (for a change) of a live concert, with our friends Bob Dylan
, Jerry Garcia
, Mickey Hart
, Bill Kreutzmann
, Phil Lesh
, Brent Mydlan
, and Bob Weir
playing versions of Dylan songs. After its release in the early parts of 1988, it has general
ly, verging on universal
ly, been regarded as a particularly bad record (riverrun
calls it "the nadir of Dylan's efforts" and adds that we should "avoid at all costs"). The track listing is as follows:
- Slow Train, from Slow Train Coming
- I want you from Blonde on Blonde
- Gotta Serve Somebody from Slow Train Coming
- Queen Jane Approximately from Highway 61 Revisited
- Joey from Desire
- All Along the Watchtower from John Wesley Harding
- Knockin' on Heaven's Door from the soundtrack for Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid
I, personally, am not entirely sure what to think of this record. I suppose I should just be a man about it and say, unashamedly, that I like this album, thank you very much, because I do. I think the Dead create a nice, smooth backing sound for Dylan's songs. It's a unique sound, it's Jerry Garcia's sound, and I enjoy hearing it with Dylan's lyrics.
Having said that, I can't deny that I know exactly what people mean when they say that in their opinion, it's absolutely awful. After the initial introductory togetherness of Slow Train, there's a certain half-assed atmosphere which arises from Dylan's singing. I get the feeling that perhaps he's a bit embarrassed, almost like he knows that the "Dylan and the Dead" gravy train, slowly truckin' through the set, is actually a bit too commercial for his liking. I mean, the Dead were, at the time, one of the "most popular concert draws in the
United States, grossing tens of millions of dollars each year", and I get the feeling from the credits to "publicity" people and the "Grateful Dead Office" that what started as a fun, interesting project between Bob's folk traditions and Garcia's bluegrass roots, somehow became a bit of a money scheme for the producers. Nevertheless, Bob and the Dead didn't see the gravy train coming until it already came, and by then it was too late: the concerts were planned, the tickets were sold, and the recording equipment was set up.
That's what I reckon anyway. I feel that as the night progresses, Dylan becomes more and more conscious of the commercialism, and less and less involved in the performance. His singing seems to become quite lazy, almost forced, especially during Joey. It's as if he can't wait for the night to finish.
As for the Dead, I feel that they settle too far into the role as the backing band. They don't really seem to add anything much to the music, apart from their natural sound (which I personally think makes it worth the collaboration, if only for the experience). There are times (near the end of All Along the Watchtower, for example) when I feel Bob is giving the Dead space to contribute more, but the Dead instead seem to just watch Bob and wait for what he does next. There's a certain amount of uncertainty on stage.
And as for the crowd, well, they make me think of a superbowl halftime show. I wasn't at this mid-summer night's concert in the late-80's, so I don't know what the atmosphere was really like. However, it seems from the crowd's noise levels and Dylan's apparent lack of enthusiasm that it was probably held in something huge and impersonal, and like it was advertised in such a way that many people who thought they cared or just said they cared went out and bought themselves a ticket. You know the type: those who reckon they're a big fan of whatever hip star it was that everyone was listening to back in the day, who go to these concerts because they technically should be fun, but in reality aren't because they don't actually care anymore, but all their friends seem to (they don't) so they'll say it was fun and cheer when someone gets on stage, and cheer at the end of every song, and cheer at the end of the concert, and maybe even pretend to cheer for an encore when really they want to go home and get something to eat. I mean, I have a few songs a friend gave me from a 1984 collection of Dylan songs called Real Live. When Dylan begins to play his harmonica on its version of Tangled up in blue, the crowd go absolutely nuts. It sounds like Elvis Presley just walked on stage behind him or something. But on Dylan and the Dead, there's no real excitement or even interest, apart from some sea of heads out there. And is that a better audience than 2 or 3 people who really listen to you? Well, I can't say I know. But I imagine it isn't. (I'm not sure why that reminds me of a superbowl halftime show....)
At any rate, I think the bottom line on this record is that if you know the songs, then there's no real advantage to buying it, but it's not the type of record that ruins your favorites for evermore (and those records do exist, you know). I especially like the rhythmically thumpin' version of I want you, which many say is the only likeable thing on there. I also dig the groovy Garcia-esque solos which pop up here and there, and I feel that the version of Knockin' on Heaven's Door is the closest the performers come to letting themselves go. It also implies what the Dylan/Grateful Dead combination could have become, with more familiarity and practice between the worlds of talent.
The following is a list of concerts in which Dylan and the Dead
perform together. I found it at www.expectingrain.com (I imagine that's "expecting rain" rather than "expectin' grain") submitted by someone called Thad.
- November 16, 1980, 4 songs.
- July 2, 1986, 3 songs at end of joint concert during Dead set.
- July 7, 1986, 3 songs at end of joint concert during Dead set.
- July 4, 1987, Dylan backed by Dead
- July 10, 1987, Dylan backed by Dead
- July 12, 1987, Dylan backed by Dead
- July 19, 1987, Dylan backed by Dead
- July 24, 1987, Dylan backed by Dead
- July 26, 1987, Dylan backed by Dead.
- February 12, 1989, 8 songs Dylan joins in at Dead concert.
- October 18 or so 1994, 1 song Dylan joins at Dead concert.
- June 25, 1995, Garcia joins 2 songs in Dylan set at joint concert.
The quote up there about Jerry Garcia
was on www.expectingrain.com, under an article written by someone called "Chris", in the Who's Who
section, written soon after Garcia's death.