Originally written February 26th, 2004
As Bob Dylan is probably the most bootlegged artist in the history of anything ever, I decided to try and find a recording of the concert I went to. It took a while as I had the year wrong, but I found it, it’s sitting on my desk in front of me and I just apologised to it, I’ll tell you why, even if you don’t want to know.
The concert took place at Birmingham NEC on 12th of October 1987 (I thought it was ’86) and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers did a long set before Bob turned up. My lady partner for the evening (who brought binoculars as our seats were so far away from the stage that they weren’t actually in Birmingham) charmed her way through several miles of bouncers and by the time his Bobness took the stage we were quite near the front.
Dylan with the Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – 1987
Bob shambled onto the stage and kicked off with an unintelligible version of Like A Rolling Stone, which went very much like this:
Oneupona thyme dressed finethrewbumsdime inyrprime, didn’t you?
(rather than ‘Once upon a time you dressed so fine/You threw the bums a dime in your prime, didn’t you?’)
It was awful and that set the tone for me and was my enduring memory of it, Bob mumbling his way through a load of songs as though he didn’t really want to be there. But listening to it now, some 17 years later, I realise that my memory is coloured by that opening song and isn’t to be fully trusted. One of the problems I had with it becomes quite clear to me, I didn’t know a lot of the songs and I don’t think I was alone in that. The evangelical albums that began with Slow Train Coming (which I’d not heard) and continued with Saved (1980), Shot of Love (1981) and Infidels (1983) sold poorly, were poorly promoted and I hadn’t heard a single song from any of them. As about half the show was made up of these songs and others I’d not heard I was disappointed, I remember, for some reason, wanting him to do Hurricane even though there was absolutely no chance he would, and others as well that I knew and wanted to see played live, these didn’t come either.
It was the expectation unfulfilled that made me think that this was a terrible concert, but it wasn’t. There were rambling musical introductions that bore little or no resemblance to the songs they turned out to be, such as the harp (harmonica, I know all the terms me) solo that eventually became Shelter from the Storm, it wasn’t until our Bob actually began singing that anybody knew which song it was and I kept hoping that it was one I wanted to hear from my own personal list of what a Dylan concert should contain.. Another part of my problem was that I was still wrapped up in music elitism (that I shrugged off in later life) and wasn’t absolutely sure that I really should be seen at a Dylan concert, despite the chances that anybody actually seeing me there were pretty much nil. Ridiculous really.
Thinking back on it now, and hearing it again, it was not the greatest Dylan concert ever, but it was nowhere nearly as bad as I have always described it as being. He put on a good show, a little on the short side perhaps but whereas I had always thought he played for sixty minutes, it was actually eighty. Memory, it’s a slippery thing and becomes all twisted up when avoiding capture. Also, I bought a Tour T-Shirt, which I almost never do and that must mean something.
I know I’m jumping about a bit here as I recall things but that’s the way things from that long ago return. Gotta Serve Somebody from Slow Train Coming was wonderful, I really liked it and thought it one of the best songs he did on the night, even though it was one of the ones I’d not heard before. That’s contradictory, I know, but that’s just the way it is.
At this time I knew quite a lot of Dylan’s songs, the more well known ones, and owned only two albums, At Budokan and Desire. Thinking about the former, I remember wanting him to do All Along The Watchtower as well. Nowadays I’d have a completely different set list in my head and probably stand as little chance of having it played out.
There was no encore, but as he finished with Rainy Day Women #12 & 35 there wasn’t really any need for one. I’m really glad I got to hear that live, everybody must get stoned!
So what’s the upshot of all this? A little bit of regret that I didn’t have the good sense to just enjoy myself at the time and some joy at discovering and listening to it all over again and being able to admit to myself that, for the most part, I was wrong, except for Like A Rolling Stone, I was right about that, it was rubbish.
at Wembley 5 days after the NEC Gig (added 27/06/2018)
Birmingham NEC 12th October 1987 – Set List
1: Like A Rolling Stone
2: Maggie’s Farm
3: Forever Young
4: When The Night Comes Falling From The Sky
5: Shelter From The Storm
6: Clean Cut Kid
8: Emotionally Yours
9: Seeing The Real You At Last
10: License To Kill
11: Dead Man, Dead Man
12: The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll
13: Tomorrow Is A Long Time
14: Gotta Serve Somebody
15: I Shall Be Released
16: Positively Fourth Street
17: Rainy Day Women # 12 & 35