With about a weeks' notice, this gem arrived in the hands of collectors-- and actually delivers on the promise! In fact, it's likely the top bootleg CD release for 2010 at this juncture.
While the above assessment deserves to be said, a fair warning to all who haven't snapped it up yet: Do NOT judge this on the first disc! The first of the two soundboards featured here kicks off by chopping the opening "Jokerman" a few words into the first verse, but it's instantly apparent that ole Bob has jumped the gun and has left his backing quartet of Bucky Baxter (Slide & Pedal Steel Guitars), John (J.J) Jackson (Guitar), Tony Garnier (Bass) and Winston Watson (Drums) in the dust. And that's the way it comes off, as some sort of race to finish the set and it doesn't digest well at all. Thankfully, all 5 musicians completely sync up on "Shelter From The Storm' which kicks off disc 2, salvaging this October 19th, 1994 performance at New York's Roseland Ballroom. I mean, it's a real 180-degree turnaround and it's quite amazing. This initial version of "Maggie's Farm' could be the heaviest run-through of this classic I have ever heard. It's deliberate and serious...and absolutely wonderful. The first night recording here finishes with a superb "It Ain't Me Babe" and some flavorful harp from Bob which sets the bar for the following evening.
Disc Two transitions the two performances and midway through we are treated to a complete opener of "Jokerman", and if you've heard Bob perform this tune through the years, you know it's one of those that is simply never the same and certainly not usually in the ballpark of the originally recorded version. Here it does follow fairly closely to the original, thanks to the wonderful interpretation of the band, coming off as the best live version I can remember hearing. For me, this alone is worth the price of admission, but wait!...there's more. The key word in all of this is INTERPRETATION. Following the solid and appreciated opener on the eve of October 20th, we are treated to a nicely grooving version of "If You See Her, Say Hello" and Bob is clearly on the same wavelength as the rest of his team and enjoying himself. It can be a magical experience with Bob and while rare these days, we get this release that has captured some lightning in a bottle, to throw a cliche into the works. I couldn't wait for "Positively 4th Street" to kick in but frankly it's about the only awkward delivery of night two, though Bob is patient with himself on this one, really trying to bring it home. And it does gel about half way through as the band and Bob find common musical ground and pace, closing out the second disc in an accepatable manner.
Disc 3 again opens with Bob securely squared and focused for "Mama, You've Been On My Mind" much to the delight of anyone listening. Being able to listen to these recordings with such presence and clarity, and to have these setlists, is truly a blessing. By the time you get to the third disc and into "The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carrol", you are completely absorbed into the performance being delivered and are now a believer. The legend lives! It should be stated too that there is a great sense of personality being injected into the delivery as well. This isn't just another run-through of a static setlist like we have seen in recent years, only to be completely homogenized by a band that seems to only know how to play one song repeatedly (they can all sound the same). Now we get to a series of surprises on several levels. "God Knows" could be one of the clearest examples of brilliance and chemistry that Bob has exhibited with any of his touring bands since the peak of those gospel tours circa '79-'81. "Joey" is both weird and wonderful and in that order and the same could be said for "Most Likely To Go Your Way (And I'll Go Mine)" as Bob showcases his uncanny knack for inimitable phrasing. And while you're catching your breath, we get a moving and spiritual rendition of "My Back Pages". What a finish. Wait. Not done yet. As the first measures of "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35" ring through your speakers, you'll notice a couple extra layers of chords chopping through. While there is no verbal acknowledgement of who's lending the axe support, it's Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young joining the band onstage with the ensemble crew closing a spectacular evening with a rough and rocking run-through of "Highway 61 Revisited".
There really isn't much more that could be asked for except that we would like it gift-wrapped with packaging that is worthy of such contents, and our astute producers have done just that. This 3CD set comes in a trifold, mini LP style glossy over with graphical design that smartly utlizes period photography on the inner panels (a striking 1983 black and white Infidels-era photo on the front cover which perfectly matches the tone of the shows) and thoughtful liner notes from 'The Watchtower's Keeper'...plus, I couldn't be more appreciative of the clearly legible tracklisting and info on the back cover. Home Run. Touch 'em all. Seek it out. Pick this up!