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In March 1995, music journalist and Dylanologist Paul Williams sent me a postcard from Prague where he attended the opening concerts of Bob Dylan’s European tour. He wrote that even though Dylan came down with the flu and his three-night stand had to be delayed by one day, the shows were magical. A few weeks later, I obtained a video tape of the first Prague show on March 11 that only substantiated Paul’s observations. Throughout the evening, Dylan rarely picks up the guitar, but instead stands center stage, holding a microphone to sing or play harmonica. Between songs he often sits down on the drum riser, leaning over, sometimes holding his head. Dylan is obviously still feeling the effect of his illness (drummer Winston Watson has said in interviews that this flu was particularly nasty and everyone on the tour got it). But amazingly his performance is stellar and many critics and fans still regard the Prague concerts as some of the finest of his career. His vocals are smooth, subtle and expressive, while the harmonica solos often almost burst into flames. Nothing exemplifies this better than the March 11, 1995 rendition of “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.”

Guitarist John Jackson begins by strumming some sneaky staccato guitar chords as Bucky Baxter adds a scattering of slide guitar stabs and Tony Garnier gently plucks his standup bass. Dylan enters with a surprisingly crisp, clear voice, stretching out notes and playing with the loud and soft dynamics. At the end of the first chorus, the audience applauds, knowing they are witnessing something special. The first instrumental break is highlighted by sweeping slide guitar figures and then Dylan comes in for a short harmonica interlude. He sketches out the basic melody before returning to the vocals, this time accentuating high notes and extending selected words to great effect. The intensity rises and the band gets louder as the final harmonica vamp commences. At first, Dylan basically reprises the melodic idea of the first break, but then tenaciously grabs onto a phrase, starting on a high note, moving quickly down the scale to end on three low notes. As he repeats this motif, the band gathers momentum, which spurs Dylan to become more animated in his stance and playing. The harmonica sound cycles around and around, becoming more mesmerizing with each repetition, until he brings it home with one final phrase that begins with a soft rasp and gradually increases in volume for dramatic effect. Both the attending audience, and later listeners like me, are left stunned by the performance.

When I saw Dylan in Seattle and Spokane, Washington, in June that same year, he was back to playing guitar. However, the shows included stretches where he sang center stage holding only a mic, a unique and striking remnant left over from the European gigs (and something he still does onstage today).

MARCH 10, 2023


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