Posts Tagged ‘Infidels’

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Bob Dylan’s performance on the Letterman Show in 1984 is legendary…  at least among fans & commentators. Live debuts of “Jokerman” and “License To Kill”, …..When it came to the performance itself, Letterman waved the cover of Dylan’s newest album “Infidels” in front of the camera, giving it a patronising but enthusiastic introductory spiel. and at the last minute Dylan sprang on them a gloriously grungy version of a 1955 Sonny Boy Williamson II song ‘Don’t Start Me to Talkin’’. Dylan revelled in the punk sound of the band—and was dressed accordingly, not in Latino mode but in the hip thin dark suit and super thin tie of UK punks like the members of, say, the Jam or Elvis Costello a` la 1980. Then came ‘License to Kill’ (not as good as at the TV-studio rehearsal, as it happened) and then a furiously fast, wondrous version of ‘Jokerman’, in the middle of which Dylan spent quite some time searching for a particular harmonica.
No-one else in the world would treat coast-to-coast high-ratings TV that way, and as a sampler of the album it was splendidly misleading.

Filmed at the Rockefeller Center, New York City, New York,22nd March 1984

Late Night with David Letterman.

Don’t Start Me To Talkin’ (Sonny Boy Williamson) is a witty comment on the fact that Dylan had agreed to sing on the show, but was refusing to be interviewed. This is then followed by “License To Kill” & “Jokerman,” both songs transformed, all freshness and immediacy and fire.

In spring 1984 Bob Dylan was invited to the Letterman Show in order to promote his new album “Infidels”, which he did in his very own way by hiring a young punk band from California called “The Plugz” and playing the songs in raw R&B arrangements that hardly resembled the polished versions from the album.

Fittingly for a TV talk show and surprisingly for both the audience and the band (who didn’t really know the setlist until the show started) they had kicked off with the old Chicago Blues classic “Don’t Start Me To Talking”, originally recorded by Sonny Boy Williamson in 1955. The band was clearly under rehearsed, the playing was dirty and loose but so full of energy that Dylan himself seemed to be electrified.
This was followed by a passionate version of “License To Kill” and then a glorious rocked-up “Jokerman”. During the last song Dylan had trouble finding the right harmonica and was wandering off stage for a while waving at the band to just keep on playing without him.
Certainly one of the most chaotic performances ever on national television, but also a milestone in Dylan’s career as a performer. Not until the start of the “Never Ending Tour” in 1988 would he sing and play again with such power and enthusiasm as on this historic late night in march 1984.

In some alternate universe, Bob Dylan hit the road with New Wave band The Plugz during the Reagan era and completely reinvigorated his career; in our universe, however, they simply backed him for three songs on Letterman in 1984. It’s a real tragedy, as this is, far and away, Dylan’s best TV performance to date, as well as one of his single best musical moments of the 1980s. When he went on tour later that year, he let Bill Graham pick the band and he wound up with Mick Taylor, Ian McLagan and other vets. Those guys are obviously great, but they lacked the Plugz’s raw power that night.

  • Bob Dylan (vocal & guitar)
  • Justin Poskin (guitar)
  • Tony Marsico (bass)
  • Chalo Quintana (drums).

Originally recorded in 1983 for the album “Infidels”,Foot Of Pride” had been dropped from that album because neither Dylan nor the album’s producer, Mark Knopfler, seemed particularly happy with it, even though they’d recorded more than a half-dozen takes of it. Perhaps their dissatisfaction with it had to do with the song’s lyrics, which were a stern warning, couched in religious terms, to a woman who was full of the sin of pride, and/or with the way the song was performed, which was rather restrained, even disinterested (the harmonica solos were especially weak).
According to his “Great Lyrics and Jukebox Hits” list, on which he’d placed Dylan’s “Foot of Pride,” Lou said that he found the song “fucking funny” because “there’s a lot of anger” in it. And there is indeed a lot of anger in it, at least on the part of the song’s narrator (and presumably its author, too). But isn’t this seeing the finger that points instead of what the finger is pointing to? What about those who have let “the foot of pride” come upon them? Lou himself could certainly be accused of taking a great deal of pride in himself and his accomplishments. “My week beats your year,” he’d boasted in the liner notes to Metal Machine Music. “My bullshit is worth more than other’s people’s diamonds,” he’d told Lester Bangs. And so, when Lou Reed got onstage to sing “Foot of Pride,” it was more than not obvious and more than a little anomalous. Performed at the Bob Dylan Tribute Concert, Madison Square Garden, NYC, 16 10 1992
His version of the song was not a careful handling of a fragile museum piece. In fact, he made a couple of important changes to it. He changed “when your foot of pride comes down” to “when the foot of pride comes down,” which shifted not only the agent of this action, but also its meaning: instead of it being the woman who was taking a step full of pride, it was now God who was crushing her underneath His foot. And he changed the sound of the music: instead of being a restrained piece of folk rock, with a harmonica taking the solos, it was now a forceful rocker, with snarling guitars boiling and soloing.
But the biggest change – the thing that made Lou’s version unforgettable – was his singing. More than just animated or even agitated, it was ferocious, and not just in the choruses, when he sang “Hey, hey, hey, hey,” but also in the verses and especially in the second half of the song. When he thundered “No!” in answer to the question “Will they teach you how to enter into the gates of Paradise?” – when he broke up the line “Struck down by the strength of the will” into “Struck! Down! By! The! Strength! Of the will!” – he didn’t sound like a self-righteous rock singer or a preacher hypocritically predicting ruin for some other person. He sounded like God himself.