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Just Like So Many Times Before
2001-05-02, NorthWest Georgia Trade & Convention Center, Dalton, GA
Based solely on tapes, I’d have to agree that 2000 was the highlight of the Never Ending Tour. And this is a sore spot for me, because it was the only year from 95-07 that I didn’t make it to a show. I was a broke college student, and the tour just didn’t come near me that year. I’m still kinda bitter.
The general sense among reviews in spring 2001 was that the new shows were comparatively a let down. There weren’t as many setlist surprises that spring, and the acoustic set/electric set format was swapped out for acoustic/electric/acoustic/electric/eight song encore. Musically, the spring shows tend not to have the grandeur of the best 2000 shows. But maybe things had just gotten too “same old same old” even with the format tweak, and maybe we were just itching for a new record, and maybe it’s just that spring tours (in my opinion) are never as strong as fall tours. Anyway, the first show I caught in 2001 was one of my favorites.
The show was May 2, in Dalton, Georgia, a carpet mill town three hours away from the little town where I was going to school. My friends and I loaded up early and spent the day exploring - Dalton had a little mall with a video arcade (which seemed like an anachronism already) and an independent ice cream place which was really good, except that they were playing Kenny G on the stereo and had a faint smell of diarrhea in the dining room. The “Northwest Georgia Trade and Convention Center" I recall as being about as bland a venue as you could imagine - a large hall, holding about four thousand, with no real ornamentation. It looked like a pretty nice civic center on the outside, but the concert space was like a hall for livestock shows, only without any rustic charm. Some bales of hay and a couple of cows would have livened things up considerably. Looking it up now I don’t see any concerts on their calendar; just a lot of trade shows, high school graduations, and car auctions. [Editor’s note: Adam drafted this a few months ago, before all of that presumably got cancelled - though it is Georgia…]
Would the show have been better in a gorgeous old theater, or even an outdoor festival with a city skyline in the background (like the Atlanta show two nights later)? I have no idea, but what I do remember was that the show was a killer. Dylan was in fine voice and a good mood - a few weeks shy of his 60th birthday and, unbeknownst to us, sitting on a new album that he was about to lay down when this leg of the tour ended a few days later.
Like the ‘99 and ‘00 shows, the set opened with a folk song cover. I always enjoyed “Duncan and Brady” as an opener. Here you are, seeing “the poet laureate of rock and roll,” and the first words out of his mouth are “Twinkle twinkle, little star.”
The electric songs were good that night, particularly "Cold Irons Bound" with a cool light show (that my friend, a punk rocker, dubbed the coolest thing he’d ever seen), and an excellent “Rolling Stone” in which the staccato delivery on “the JUGGlers and the clowns when they ALL came DOWN” brought a huge cheer from the crowd, but it was the acoustic ones that stick out in my memory - particularly a splendid “Mama You’ve Been On My Mind” and a great “Fourth Time Around” (you can’t judge a show by the setlist, but a real rarity always makes it extra special and exciting).
The short, almost perfunctory “Knocking On Heaven’s Door” moved me the most - the great arrangement with Larry and Charlie on backup vocals. I never really loved it as a song. I mean, it’s fine and all, but it’s one of those songs that feels bogged down by too many covers sometimes. This night it was something else, and the extra line, “just like so many times before” (common in live versions starting in about ‘81) felt positively uplifting. I’m not sure if that’s a line Bob lifted from some cover or wrote in later himself (it’s always been a song with fluid lyrics), but it changes the whole tenor of the song in a way that felt really clear to me that night. It’s a song about being at death’s door, right? But if it’s “just like so many times before,” then you’ve been here and gotten out alive before. Many times. So many times. And if you’re here now, you survived before. So many times. You can totally do it again.