This is a list of recommended tapes; added to the official releases, it should provide a genuinely representative cross-section of Bob Dylan's best work. A few tapes from the 1960's are labeled "essential," because there are no available alternatives; for the post-1973 period, I've tagged as "highly recommended" the baker's dozen live recordings I think would form the core of a collection.
This list is, of course, subjective; while I've tried to balance my personal favorites with the opinions of more prominent collectors (who have heard many more shows than I have), their
evaluations qualify, rather than override, my own. I've also tried to factor in sound quality and the relative scarcity of material on the setlists. And, of course, the more shows I hear, the more changes I make. For a well-informed list, check out John Howells', at the Bringing It All Back Homepage.
The three circulating pre-1961 tapes are primitively recorded, often fragmentary, and give only thin and scattered flashes of Dylan's talent. They are of almost exclusively historical rather than musical interest. "Bob Dylan" began his musical career in New York City in early 1961.
Most of the dozen tapes from 1961 document Dylan's development, but are of very limited musical interest. The sound is often lower-grade. All of the substantial circulating album outtakes have been officially released.
East Orange Tape: Recorded at Bob and Sid Gleason's home, February 1961. Notable as the only documentation of what Dylan sounded like at the time he arrived in New York.
Carnegie Chapter Hall: About half of Dylan's first New York concert, in a small theater, November 7, 1961. PA recording.
Minnesota Hotel Tape: Recorded by Tony Glover at Bonnie Beecher's Minneapolis apartment, December 22, 1961. Just after recording his first album, Dylan lays down what appears to be a large share of his basic performing repertoire.
Once again, about a dozen tapes survive, about mostly lower-grade informal recordings or short performances. The Freewheelin' outtakes and the demos are solid, but add little new to the official releases, while the Broadside material is mostly Dylan's lesser work.
Folksinger's Choice: From early 1962, an episode of Cynthia Gooding's radio program with Dylan as her only guest. His first significant broadcast performance.
Gerdes Folk City: April 16, 1962 "hoot night" appearance, including his first public performance of "Blowin' In The Wind."
Finjan Club: July 2, 1962 Montreal club performance. PA recording. First lengthy live recording with a significant portion of original material, but dominated by distinctive interpretations.
Gaslight Tape II: October 1962 Greenwich Village club performance. Only surviving relatively complete document of an early Dylan New York performance [but this tape is probably a compilation from two sets, if not two performances]. The transition to singer-songwriter has begun, with early versions of several major songs. PA recording.
Another dozen or so tapes survive, but the live performances are mostly either insubstantial or duplicate parts of the year's two major concerts. The circulating Times outtakes are not really substantial, and the demos are mostly minor or duplicative.
Town Hall: April 12, 1963, Dylan's first major New York concert. Most of the concert now circulates, including several unique performances of early original songs, taken from a Columbia concert recording.
Bob Dylan In Concert: A live album scrapped by Columbia, including a few Town Hall songs as well as five songs from Dylan's Carnegie Hall concert in October.
While Dylan had a fairly active concert schedule, hardly any tapes survive, and those that do simply echo the Halloween show. Dylan has all but stopped recording Witmark demos, and the Another Side outtakes are either minor or, in the case of "Mr. Tambourine Man," unsuccessful.
Quest: February 1, 1964 Canadian television program, in very good sound. Complements the later 1963 tapes, without duplicating any songs.
Halloween Masque: October 31, 1964 Columbia concert recording. The definitive presentation of the end of Dylan's "acoustic" period, taking its nickname from one of his most memorable stage asides. Now officially released
It's heretical to say so, but the known BIABH outtakes, and most of the outtakes from Highway 61, are mostly superfluous, at best interesting variations. The acoustic shows from the first half of the year are quite similar. Very few of the electric shows are documented, and two of the circulating four are simply dreadful sound quality.
Free Trade Hall: May 7, 1965 Columbia concert recording, from Manchester, England. A bit of a throwback, as Dylan adjusts his setlist to take the British popularity of his earlier albums into account. From his final run of purely acoustic concerts.
Newport 1965: The legendary July 25, 1965 appearance, taken from the soundtrack recorded for "Festival."
Hollywood Bowl: September 3, 1965. Dylan's second full concert featuring a backup band, taken from a set of nearly-complete acetates. A recent discovery. The sound quality of the
circulating Forest Hills tape is simply inadequate.
Hawks sessions: While almost all of Dylan's studio sessions are well-represented by his official releases, his first attempts at the album that would become Blonde on Blonde are the most conspicuous exception. Two versions of "Freeze Out," which became "Visions Of Johanna," and the solo piano "She's Your Lover Now" are the essential tracks. [These sessions actually continue into early 1966.]
Berkeley: December 4, 1965. A surprisingly listenable audience recording of the electric set, including the only surviving Dylan performance of "Long Distance Operator."
More and more line recordings from the European tour are leaking out from Sony/Columbia and Pennebaker archives, providing coherent alternatives to the official release. The audience recordings are primitive.
Denver Hotel Tape: March 13, 1966. Robert Shelton recorded Dylan and Robbie Robertson working out new songs at 3 am, then Dylan previews "Sad-Eyed Lady." Dylan and Robertson reportedly did this night after night, and all of the music but this has simply evaporated. Sound quality is listenable, but not much more.
Sydney Stadium: April 13 (or 16), 1966. An almost-complete line recording from the earliest stage of the world tour, in excellent sound. Dylan's manner is surprisingly upbeat and coherent.
Adelphi Theatre: May 4, 1966, Dublin, Eire. PA recording of 6 songs from the acoustic set. Among the first recordings from the period to leak out, and still among the best.
Odeon Theatre: May 14, 1966, Liverpool, UK. The legendarily ferocious electric set finally circulates in its entirety.
Gaumont Theatre: May 16, 1966, Sheffield, UK. The complete acoustic set, and two electric tracks. From the surviving evidence, this may have been the tour's best night.
Albert Hall: Excerpts from the tour's penultimate show, and the complete acoustic set from its final night, May 26/27, 1966. PA recordings.
The Basement Tapes: Thirty-odd years later, no less astonishing.
Nothing essential; indeed, nothing of substance.
The year's known studio material is lightweight at best.
Isle Of Wight: More significant as Dylan's most important public appearance during his eight-year retreat from the spotlight, it also includes several striking performances. Sound quality tends to be erratic.
The year's known studio material is again rather insubstantial.
"Tomorrow Is A Long Time": A New Morning
outtake, and a rare occasion when Dylan revisits an old song in the studio.
Nothing of substance except a few sessions backing Allen Ginsberg, where Dylan's voice is rarely heard, and the Bangla Desh "Love Minus Zero," an elegant footnote.
With the release of the expanded Rock Of Ages, only the Peckinpah-recorded performance of "Billy" is nontrivial.
Little of substance; the best of the known studio material amounts only to minor variations on the official releases.
And, suddenly, virtually all of Dylan's public performances are available to the determined collector. The official releases have almost never done justice to Dylan's live work, and Before The Flood is particularly unsatisfying. The year's best shows feature almost none of the rarer songs, though.
January 6, Philadelphia: Dylan and the Band struggle with songs and styles they haven't played for audiences in more than seven years, and produce fresh-sounding music whose roots in their 1960's are clear. Later shows had more raw power, but lack many of the surprising moments. Audience recordings of both shows, quite good for the time, although the evening tape is a bit thin-sounding by today's standard. The Chicago shows are also well-regarded, and Toronto (1/10) has the unique live performance of "As I Went Out One Morning.".
January 31, New York.: A virtually complete soundboard of the evening show surfaced recently; it is far more interesting, and more representative of the tour as a whole, than Before The Flood. The February 14 afternoon show from Los Angeles is available in even better sound quality, but the New York show is more potent; Dylan's enthusiasm on his return to New York outweighs whatever formulaic elements have begun to creep into his performance.
Blood On The Tracks/New York: The original versions of the tracks replaced by Dylan with Minnesota versions. The resulting album was probably better balanced, but the arguments over the quality of the individual tracks still continue. These versions have an edge on the Bootleg Series tracks.
The Rolling Thunder shows were consistently excellent, so that sound quality and completeness are the determining factors. If the Montreal PA recording ever escapes, it will probably be the show of choice, and the "Night Of The Hurricane" is hard to pass up if found in top quality.
Other End, July 3: Dylan backs Jack Elliott for two songs, then unveils a remarkable "Abandoned Love." The only known recording of Desire material before the sessions began.
November 4, Providence (evening): The most complete, high-quality version of a 1975 Rolling Thunder Revue show in common circulation, including almost all the non-Dylan performances. Very good audience recording (exceptional for its time).
November 11, Waterbury: The best PA recording from the first Rolling Thunder tour, but not quite the most complete (November 21, Boston, has 3 more songs).
November 24, Hartford. A high-grade CD transfer from a first-generation copy ofthe master audience tape of this show now circulates, and the show is very highly regarded.
The documentation of the second Rolling Thunder tour is a bit spotty. Despite the greater variety in the setlists, I find less variety in many of the performances, especially the later ones. The recently overhyped rehearsal tapes (included in an earlier version of this listing) may be compelling for the completist, but are far less interesting than most (if not all) of the live performances.
May 3, New Orleans: Nearly complete PA recording. Dylan was on the edge but in control at this show; by the time "Hard Rain" and Hard Rain were recorded, he was over the edge. Fort Worth is more complete, but not quite so effective; and there are several very interesting audience recordings from early in the tour..
Nothing of substance; the year-end rehearsals are grouped with the Rundown tapes from 1978.
Dylan went on the road with an ambitious show that required more discipline (and probably more vocal stamina) than he could manage. The Budokan album is a rather sterile reflection of the Pacific tour, but there is little available that wasn't done better in Europe during the summer. The fall tour got off to a dreadful start, but eventually improved.
Rundown Studio Rehearsals: Some of the rehearsals for the 1978 tour, often more interesting than many of the concerts. The circulating material amounts to only small fragments of the actual sessions.
July 6, Paris: Not so epic a performance as the concluding show at Blackbushe, but available in far superior sound quality. Probably the best choice for most listeners.
July 15, Blackbushe: The climax of the 1978 tour's European leg, and just about the longest concert Dylan ever gave. The European shows had passion missing from the Japanese and Australian shows in the spring, and energy missing in so many of the American shows in the fall. Audience tape; there seem to be several versions around, with great variation in quality.
Fall American Tour: While I've heard only a few tapes from this tour, there are several outstanding audience recordings in circulation. The early shows are unquestionably weak, but the post-Thanksgiving shows deservedly have their partisans; Dylan seems to be moving back to his 1974 vocal style, and allowing his band to play more aggressively. The December 10 Charlotte show circulates freely in superior sound quality.
December 9, Columbia, SC: The best 1978 show I've heard so far; Dylan has abandoned the disappointingly mannered vocal style from the early part of the tour in favor of an aggressive but controlled style reminiscent of the high points of the 1974 shows. The band is looser but more potent, too. A conclusive demonstration that Dylan's musical instincts remained sound in 1978, even though achieving his musical goals proved far more difficult than he had anticipated.
Because Dylan went out and played the same show night after night, the only real differences are in the audiences' reactions and, as the tour winds up, in Dylan's lengthier sermonizing. In Tempe, Dylan's battle with the hostile audience is notorious.
November 16, San Francisco: The first wave of the gospel tour was pretty uniform, and this show is probably in the best quality. It is also the only show including every song performed live in 1979. Audience tape.
December 5, Alberquerque: While the sound quality isn't up to par, Dylan's relatively cheerful demeanor during this performance is a marked contrast to the dour singer of the Dylan legend. Audience tape.
Dylan seems to be wearying of the unrelenting gospel format as the spring tour goes on, and his performances are less consistently effective. The fall shows mix in a great deal of more secular material, although Dylan's interest in his classic material is often weaker than for his newest songs and his occasionally eccentric covers.
April 20, Toronto: PA recording, for a planned live album and concert film. Probably not the best show, but the best sound quality by far. The video can also be found. The May 7-8 Hartford shows were particularly good, but the sound quality of the audience tapes is much lower.
November 15-16, San Francisco: Two PA recordings, with significant overlap, that can be compiled into a representative set. Mike Bloomfield guests at the first show, Jerry Garcia at the second. These tapes have relatively standard setlists; unless sound quality is your highest priority, audience tapes from November 22, November 30, and December 3 would be better choices.
November 30, Seattle: A surprisingly clean and clear audience recording of a terrific show, one of his best between 1976 and 1988. The setlist is adventurous, including several songs and arrangements heard only on this tour. Dylan's performance is energetic and confident; a few songs feature startlingly loose (but consistently effective) vocals.
The summer tour is often energetic, but despite the technical virtues, I'm not sure Dylan has any real emotional connection to his material. I find the fall shows more interesting. There is a variety of interesting studio material available, but most of it is either minor or inferior to the officially released version of the songs.
July 25, Avignon: Recorded by Columbia. Dylan closed the European tour with the longest show, and 90% circulates as a PA tape. The show (and the entire tour) is rather uneven. An excellent audience recording from the June 29 London concert is also highly regarded.
November 10, New Orleans: A terrific show, also recorded by Columbia, circulating in a Lanois remix.
November 12, Houston: Another terrific show, but this one circulates as the raw PA tapes.
Nothing of substance. The "Peace Sunday" performance comes close to falling flat.
Only the studio material is substantial. While it is little more than variations on the official releases, it is unusually important because it is almost uniformly clearly superior to the released album. Dylan's selections for album tracks are often debatable, but here they were pretty clearly inferior.
Infidels (Knopfler mix): There are quite a few outtakes from these sessions around, and several unfinished tracks; the most coherent presentation of the material is the preliminary form of the album, usually regarded as Mark Knopfler's mix (some of which overlaps The Bootleg Series). Of the rest, "Julius And Ethel" and the electric "Blind Willie McTell" are the most significant.
Dylan went on the road with a band both unready to perform and unable to support his best efforts. He eventually managed to pull some effective shows together. The unreleased studio work is negligible at best.
David Letterman Show: Both the soundcheck and the three tracks from the show itself are available in higher-quality sound. More energetic than Infidels or the 1984 tour.
June 28, Barcelona: By most reports, the best of the year's shows. Sound quality may be a problem; most of the show is available only as an audience recording, and lower-grade versions are common. The uneven June 19 Rome concert has finally surfaced in a high-quality line recording, and partial line recordings of other shows, probably taken from Columbia recordings, also circulate.
The unreleased studio material is again insubstantial.
Live Aid rehearsals: One 45-minute segment of this material is surprisingly strong, with Dylan running through his planned set as well as "Little Maggie" and "Dark Eyes." It suggests what might have happened if Dylan's performance had been properly staged.
Farm Aid: PA recording of the first Dylan/Petty appearance.
The Dylan/Petty shows were pretty uniform, although the earliest Australian dates appear more interesting, and the year's studio work is rather dire.
Sydney, February 10: A rough-edged audience recording showing Dylan, Petty, and the Heartbreakers playing more loosely and more interestingly than they did for most of the rest of the tour. By the time "Hard To Handle" was recorded, I think this tour had lost most of its edge.
Saratoga Springs, July 13: Complete PA recording of one of the better "True Confessions" outings. There was very little variety in the year's setlists, and few standout performances, so sound quality is the determining factor. The July 17 New York City show may be the best of the audience tapes.
Dylan's work with the Dead was haphazard, undisciplined, and far more entertaining than most of his earlier concerts of the decade. When he went back on the road with Petty and the Heartbreakers, he managed to channel that energy and enthusiasm into his best shows since 1976.
Front Street Tapes: Dylan and the Grateful Dead ran through dozens of songs preparing for their summer tour, and much of the material is more interesting than the actual concerts. Often fragmentary or incomplete, though. Some of the more unlikely material turned up separately in late 1997. PA recordings.
Eugene, July 19: All of the Dylan/Dead shows are available in relatively high quality, although the audience tapes often give very different impressions of the shows than the line recordings do. On the East Coast leg of the tour, both Dylan and the Dead are conspicuously unsteady, but the Dead pulled together at the beginning of the West Coast swing, and Dylan tried harder for a night. Philadelphia probably has the most interesting setlist, although it was the shortest show.
Dortmund, September 15: It's hard to pick out a single show from the "Temples In Flames" tour, which is radically different from the 1986 concerts. I like this the best from the shows I've heard. The closing Wembley shows are also very good, with the final night the longest show of the tour.
Helsinki, September 23: This show is particularly worth hearing for Dylan's remarkably loose but energetic performance.
Dylan begins his NeverEnding Tour, with the best shows featuring G.E. Smith hammering out energetic lead guitar on the electric material, counterpointed by remarkably understated short acoustic sets with some fine traditional material. The June 15 (Denver) concert may be the best, and the circulating CD is in top-notch sound, but the setlist is short, and two songs are missing from the most common recording. While the tour couldn't sustain its initial burst of energy or the remarkable variety of the first month's setlists, it remains consistently effective.
Berkeley, June 10: The NeverEnding Tour kicks into high gear after an erratic start, with one of the year's best shows. Neil Young on electric guitar in the last half. Very nice audience tape.
Great Woods, July 2. Very good audience recording of a first-rate show with an unusual setlist. Avoid the defective PA recording.
Lake Compounce, September 4: PA recording of an energetic show, with several rarer performances.
Radio City, October 19: Dylan finishes the year with a powerful show. PA recording.
While the 1989 tour is not so accomplished as 1988, probably because Dylan is uncomfortable with the limits he accepted the year before, it includes many effective shows.
Oh Mercy sessions: A second, high-quality album of alternate arrangements and unreleased songs could be culled from these sessions.
Athens, June 28: Reportedly the best of the European shows, with Van Morrison dropping in for the encores. The acoustic work is particularly rambunctious, including a unique "Every Grain Of Sand." Audience tape. Istanbul (June 24) is also quite good, but hard to find, and may not survive in complete form.
Springfield (IL), August 19: An energetic show, with signs of things to come, as Bucky Baxter sits in with the band for several songs. Audience recording.
Providence, October 22: Dylan and G.E. Smith just tear through the entire setlist, beginning with "Trouble." Audience recording.
Chicago, October 31: An unusually clear audience recording of a particularly energetic show, with unusually sparse and effective arrangements. It sometimes seems as though Dylan is not telling the band which song he intends to performs, leading to some adventurous stretches.
The first stage of the NeverEnding Tour winds down pretty quickly after storming through Europe early in the year. With G.E. Smith preparing to leave the band, the later shows are inconsistent. The Wilbury studio outtakes add little to the released work, while the circulating Red Sky outtakes, while arguably superior, are not radical improvements.
Toad's Place, January 12: The marathon public rehearsal, running nearly four hours with a great deal of rare and unique material. Audience tape, not top quality sound, and most circulating tapes are lower-grade.
Paris, February 1: One of the best of the European shows, with a few rare songs. Unusually good audience recording.
London, February 8: Sometimes listed as one of the best shows of Dylan's career and, at 23 songs, the longest setlist for a concert on the Never Ending Tour. Unusually good audience tape.
West Point, October 13: In the middle of a haphazard American tour, Dylan pulls out all the stops in an unlikely place.
For most of the year, the tour is reputed to be a shambles; while the spring and summer shows are quite uneven, with many low points, quite a few shows have interesting performances of a few songs embedded in the tours' often-thick fog. There are signs, though, that the most common shows, by which the year is usually judged, are among the year's worst efforts.
By far the best show I've heard is June 12 (Budapest), the year's longest show. Two other shows stand out, mostly for sound quality -- May 11 (Danbury, CT), an unusually good audience recording of an afternoon show with Dylan in high spirits, and June 29 (Ringe, Denmark), the most complete circulating PA tape of a regular concert from this period (but not one of the better performances). The July 21 (Wolf Trap) PA tape, although missing nearly one-third of the show, is uneven but has some convincing efforts.
Budapest, June 12. Dylan is engaged for the entire show, and seems to be trying to find fresh vocal approaches for many of his standards. Guitarist John Jackson gives one of his best efforts of the period. A highlight is the two-song acoustic encore, with Dylan apparently improvising new arrangements for "One Too Many Mornings" and "Blowin' In The Wind."
Guitar Legends, October 17. Dylan plays a short set at a contrived festival in Seville, Spain; the electric songs, backed by Jack Bruce, then Keith Richards, are sluggish at best, but the acoustic songs, embellished by Richard Thompson, are potent.
Ames, November 2: After staggering around the world, Dylan and his band regroup with sudden and startling success. High-grade audience recording. There are several other reputedly first-rate shows which I have not heard, particularly Wichita (October 31). A PA recording of the solid but unspectacular October 30 Tulsa show also circulates
While the early shows are technically proficient, I don't find any real excitement in the shows I've heard until the fall tour begins and Winston Watson joins the band.
Waikiki, April 24: This show is held in high regard, and circulates as a high-grade PA recording. While the spring shows are solid, I hold the minority opinion that Dylan and his restructured band do not gel until later in the year.
Youngstown, November 2: Dylan's radically revamped band improved throughout the year, and made a quantum leap in quality in the fall. Very nice audience tape. Sarasota (November 9) is also quite good; Storrs (October 24) was was also a terrific show, and despite the dreadful acoustics, a surprisingly good audience tape has surfaced.
This year has quite a few notable shows, but the setlists are increasingly uniform.
London, February 8: An energetic show, the best of the short European run. A powerhouse driven along by Winston Watson's drumming. Very nice audience tape.
Huntsville, April 19: A standout show from Dylan's short spring tour of the United States.
Marseilles, June 29: A high-grade PA recording that is the consensus choice from the European tour. I've heard only an incomplete version, which doesn't excite me anywhere near as much as Beersheba (June 19), but that show is hard to turn up and circulates in significantly lower sound quality.
Wolf Trap, September 8: PA recording (possibly not quite complete) of one of the year's best American concerts. The Great Woods line recording from a few days later is also well-regarded; Wolf Trap may have become the preferred recording simply because it turned up first.
Supper Club, November 16-17: Four "unplugged" shows in a tiny Manhattan theater in November, with unusually intense performances and rare material. An exemplary set of audience recordings, as well as a set of eccentric professional multitrack mixes, both circulate commonly.
There are some other excellent shows throughout the year, but Dylan's setlists are fairly static and his performances similar. The unreleased "Unplugged" material tends to be slower, and the unedited shows seem to drag in comparison to the higher-energy official selections.
Hiroshima, February 16: A good show, but the unveiling of the newest version of "Masters Of War" in this city makes the show a landmark. Audience tape.
Woodstock II, August 14: Dylan's most widely seen live concert ever, and he pulls off one of his best shows of the year. PA and video recordings available.
The year begins with the remarkable "unstrung" shows, and Dylan maintains a high level of quality throughout.
Prague, March 11: Noted mostly for Dylan's illness, leaving him without the strength to play guitar, as he successfully struggles to achieve a unique sound with intense vocals and elaborate harp work.
Brussels, March 23: A healthier Dylan adds some of the "unstrung" arrangements from Prague to his more familiar renditions.
Monterey, May 27: A high-grade PA recording of a first-rate performance.
Philadelphia, June 21: During a short break from an arena tour with the Grateful Dead, Dylan plays an exceptional show, with several rare songs, in an intimate theater.
Washington, June 25: Dylan stormed through a string of exceptional sets opening for the Dead; this was the final show, and Jerry Garcia sits in for two songs. Outstanding audience
Oslo, June 29: Notably (and deceptively) sedate, in particularly good sound quality.
Philadelphia, December 17: Dylan caps a short tour with Patti Smith with one of the year's best shows, including two duets with Smith. High-grade audience recording.
Another year of excellent shows, with individual shows hard to single out, but late October and early November may represent the best run of shows in Dylan's career.
Portland, April 19: My favorite from among a string of reportedly first-rate shows.
Berlin, June 17: The consensus choice as the best of the summer shows, perhaps influenced by the quality of the circulating tape.
Differdange, June 24: My favorite of the summer shows I've heard, with an interesting setlist.
Atlanta, August 3: An excellent line recording, by some accounts professionally mixed.
Jean (NV), October 19;
Austin, October 26-27;
Tupelo, November 1;
Birmingham, November 2: An astonishing run of shows, almost all available in high-grade sound. Not coincidentally, David Kemper's first shows with the band. Dylan is shaking up his repertoire, working out new arrangements, and experimenting on stage. The Austin shows have the most interesting setlists. October 26 is Highly Recommended.
While Dylan's performances become more compact and efficient when Larry Campbell replaces John Jackson, they quickly attain a high level of accomplishment. After Time Out Of Mind is released, the tone and structure of the shows begin to become more distinct and more uniform.
Hartford, April 19: An extremely enjoyable show, with a varied setlist and the first live "Not Fade Away." High-grade audience recording.
Wheeling, April 28: A first-rate performance, with one of the spring's most interesting setlists. Excellent audience recording.
Wolf Trap, August 23-24: A pair of excellent line recordings of excellent shows. The summer shows were almost uniformly accomplished, and the high-grade sound and varied setlists make these shows stand out.
New York City, December 8: Available as a line recording, and therefore probably the preferred tape out of the club shows. Certainly first-rate, but not quite so good as December 10.
Philadelphia, December 10-11: Dylan's fall shows got better and better, and most of the club shows were outstanding. The Trocadero shows were particularly intense, and are underrated because the excellent El Rey shows were so quickly and widely circulated (and perhaps because the setlists are a shade conservative). December 10 is Highly Recommended.
During the first part of the year, while Dylan's performances remain consistently solid and accomplished, the setlists become more structured and less varied, and the variations in his shows are incremental. The big changes come in response to the enthusiastic European audiences, and the later American shows become more uniform.
Boston, January 23: The best of the Dylan/Morrison shows, in my opinion.
Cleveland, February 14: It's hard to single out a show from the winter tour, and Springfield might be the best overall show, but this is a very, very good show which clearly shows more flexibility in the arrangements and performances.
George (WA), May 16: The best show I've heard from the Dylan/Morrison/Mitchell tour. The sound is not quite so good as the San Jose show, but the setlist is longer and a shade more interesting.
Stockholm, June 9;
Newcastle, June 20;
Manchester, June 25: There were quite a few outstanding shows on the summer European tour; of those I've heard, these seem to have the best balance between sound quality and setlist variety.
Mercury Lounge, Melbourne, August 19: Dylan's longest show in years, with an unusual setlist and high-powered vocals. The sound quality is very good, but not the best. The August 24 show is more representative of the tour and in better sound, but adds little to the best European shows.
Madison Square Garden, November 1: The setlist and Dylan's deceptively amiable, conversational manner make this the clear choice from the fall tour. Duluth is also a very good show, but the tape I've heard is a bit rough.
Dylan finishes off another phase of the NeverEnding Tour on his winter swing through the eastern US. The shows with Brian Setzer are a shade more adventurous, while the dates with Natalie Merchant were extraordinarily good, a string of almost perfectly executed performances. The setlists continue to be relatively uniform, though (but often feature some notable covers).
Grand Rapids, February 15: Notable principally for the Brian Setzer horns sitting in for several songs during a lively show.
Amherst, February 24: A potent show, my favorite of the shows I've heard so far from this tour. Dayton (February 9) and Troy (February 22) are very close, and Buffalo (February 23) is the best sound quality.
For his spring swing through Europe, Dylan returns to the format of his 1965-66 tour, opening with a lengthy acoustic set for the first time in more than 30 years; unlike his 1960's shows, though, he continues to perform an encore set. From the tapes I've heard so far, the most impressive show is April 13 (Santander, Spain).
After the European tour, Bucky Baxter leaves the band; rather than simply replacing him, Dylan adds guitarist Charlie Sexton. Sexton begins to take over some lead guitar duties, while Larry Campbell shows off his talents on other instruments, including violin and pedal steel guitar. The Dylan/Simon shows featured relatively static, "greatest hits" setlists; the most coveted summer tour shows have been the Dylan solo dates: Denver (6/5), Eugene (6/14), Detroit (7/6), Cincinnati (7/11), and New York City (7/26). Chula Vista (6/25), a Dylan/Simon date, features the live debut of "Highlands."
Albany, July 20: The best of the Dylan/Simon July shows I've heard so far, highlighted by a positively jaunty rendition of "Desolation Row." Excellent audience recording.
Tramps, New York City, July 26: An outstanding, intimate performance circulating as an exemplary audience recording.
Antioch, TN, September 8. A terrific audience recording of both the Simon and Dylan sets was distributed through rmd late in 1999. Marty Stuart joins Dylan's band on mandolin and guitar, to great effect on the acoustic songs. Although the setlist is pretty much the same as the July shows, Dylan's performance is much livelier.
During the fall tour with Phil Lesh, Dylan began to vary his setlists radically, running through almost his entire repertoire in less than two weeks, and tossing in several rare or previously
unheard covers. The most coveted shows are probably from the tour's final week or so, including an almost completely acoustic show in a small venue at an Atlantic City casino.
Dylan returned to the road in late winter; his tour of the Western US featured some surprises in the setlist and solid performances, but was often regarded as sedate. The two shows from March 10 (Anaheim), and the April 6 show (Denver) are well-regarded and circulate in high quality. The spring tour of Europe was more adventurous, and near its end a new structure for the setlist began to take its final shape.
The summer American tour with Phil Lesh was nearly as exciting as the end of the fall 1999 tour, and the new structure for the shows took its final form (most notably, "Things Have Changed" displaced "Love Sick" in the encore set).