Never-Seen Live Bob Dylan Videos from 1993
1993-09-03, New York State Fairgrounds, Syracuse, NY
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Good video has been hard to come by during the Rough and Rowdy Ways tour. Due to extremely tough security and, more recently, the addition of Yondr pouches securing phones, it’s fairly perilous for anyone to even try to snap a photo, much less hold up a recording device for an entire song.
So I remember being blown away when, months after the tour started and fans had had to make do with occasional glimpses of grainy footage from what a football field away, suddenly some clear and close clips started popping up on YouTube. Like this one:
The taper who captured this revelatory footage was Carol Casper. She turns out to be extremely experienced at recording killer Dylan footage, having started in 1989. Much of it, though, remains unreleased. “I've never actually seen the majority of it other than while I watching it through the viewfinder as I filmed,” she tells me. She is (and I mean this as a compliment) a perfectionist. She only picks the very best songs to release, and only after a labor-intensive process of remastering that I don’t have the tech knowledge to understand. I think it involves A.I.
Last spring, she emailed me with an idea: Partner on liberating some of this lost footage from her decades of filming. She sent me a long and extremely enticing list of shows she has unseen video footage of. I zeroed in on, for now, a series of five mostly-consecutive shows in 1993 that happen to be celebrating their 30th anniversary this week. Casper spent the summer picking the very best songs from each show, largely in terms of how good the footage is, and upgrading them through her technical wizardry.
So today, we kick off a five-part series sharing never-seen footage from five different September 1993 Dylan shows: Syracuse, Saratoga Springs, Scranton, Toronto, and a pretty famous show at Great Woods in Mansfield, MA.
Two of the five will be free to all. The other three will be for paid subscribers only.
We kick off with the final four songs from a show in Syracuse, New York, thirty years ago today. Casper sends some notes on what it was like to be there in person:
It was a cloudy day with rain threatening as evening arrived at the New York State Fairgrounds in Syracuse, NY. The outdoor venue was not specifically designed for music. There were grandstands at the back. The large area closer to the stage was a flat expanse set up with metal folding chairs in rows with assigned seats. Carlos Santana opened some time after the show's scheduled start of 7 pm, and played for close to an hour, so that it was getting dark by the time he finished. Around the time his set ended a light drizzle had started, so a lot of the crowd took shelter in an adjacent pavilion building. Most of the booths inside were closed for the night but there were a couple of open refreshment counters. With so many people inside milling around and waiting for Dylan to start, it was very crowded and hard to get anything.
In the meantime while we waited for Dylan the drizzle turned into a steady rain, and it was eventually announced that Dylan's set would be delayed until the rain let up. Finally after around an hour of waiting, the rain ended so the concert could start. The chairs were wet but eventually most people dried them off and sat so I could start filming. About 1/2 hour or 45 minutes into Dylan's set, I think, a few drops started and then again turned into a steady drizzle. At that point I put the camcorder away, not wanting it to get wet. A few minutes later as the light rain continued, it was announced there would be a break in the show until the rain let up again. So a lot of us went back inside the pavilion to wait it out. It wasn't too long, maybe 20 minutes, before the rain lifted again and people went back out to find their seats.
A fair number had given up and left, and with the coming and going the formerly neat rows or folding chairs had become pretty disarranged. It was good for me, since it created some leeway to shift my position in order to find a place where I could shoot around the many people in front of me who just stood for the rest of the show. Dylan picked up right where he'd left off and the remainder of the show went smoothly, even with a few raindrops materializing again now and then, but nothing strong enough to delay the show again or end it early. A lot of people in the ground section pushed up closer and closer to the stage during the last part of the concert, and Dylan finished to extremely enthusiastic applause from the remaining crowd who were largely pressed up as close to him as they could get.
As a taper worried about rain spoiling the chance, and possibly damaging equipment, it wasn't the easiest show to cover, but Dylan's performance was well worth the effort.
A rainy night, but Casper and her camcorder persevered. Let’s check out the videos!
The Man in Me
Fair warning: For the first 40 seconds, you’ll wonder, why am I watching this? It’s like attending a Bob show and staring straight at the floor. Stay with it (or skip ahead). As noted, oft-adverse conditions prevent perfectly capturing every second of every song.
Once the video kicks in, I’m immediately struck by Bob’s beautiful delivery. Let’s face it, 1993 is no one’s favorite period of Bob’s voice — super nasal, it often sounds like your dumbest friend’s “Bob Dylan” impression — but that doesn’t prevent him from selling the hell out of a tender song like this. It’s an amusing disconnect to watch him doing so while wearing a shirt it looks like he stole off a circus clown. A circus clown three sizes bigger than him.
While we’re talking about Dylan’s sartorial choices — and that’s part of the fun of watching a good video rather than just listening to a tape — I dig the guitar strap. The little white dots look like a gunslinger’s belt. Not sure about the black leather vest overtop though. Looks very Hard to Handle.
Love watching Bucky Baxter solo on pedal steel, even briefly (2:30). After that we see Bob solo on guitar. You’ll never guess whose playing is better… It’s always fun watching Bob play guitar though. Even when it doesn’t sound great, you can see him making weird chord shapes and noodling his fingers about. He’s moving them so fast in a few brief moments (like 3:40) it looks like Eddie Van Halen. It does not sound like Eddie Van Halen.
This is a very jammy era of the Never Ending Tour. Even singing beautifully, Bob clearly seems eager to get back to playing guitar. After (reluctantly?) stepping up to sing one more verse, he almost leaps back to start soloing again (4:47). It’s honestly more fun to watch than it can be to listen to on the tapes, where some songs seem stretched beyond their breaking point with aimless jamming.
Nice zoom-out at 4:55, giving you a closeup view of bassist Tony Garnier grooving with drummer Winston Watson (blocked by Tony, but sounding badass). Tony’s fully turned around facing Watson, the rhythm section in perfect sync. Bob gets in the mix too, clearly saying something to Winston at 5:11. The next instrumental verse gets a lot quieter; it might have something to do with that. Bob then wanders over and jams with guitarist John Jackson, also wearing a resplendent shirt. Then he goes back to indicate to Winston (6:03) he’s ready for him to bring the song to a close.
Notice he played that whole song wearing a harmonica rack. But he did he ever play a single note of harmonica? Nope!
From Watson’s thunderous drum into, this “Maggie’s Farm” rocks hard. Even more than “The Man in Me,” Dylan appears to want to sing the verses basically as an excuse to jam as much as possible. This band is killer at this sort of garage-rock number. It’s way more rough and rowdy than anything on the current tour.
Watching Bob solo is the best part. I enjoyed the faces he was making so much I made a little GIF. They’re from 3:04 if you want to see him hamming it up in context.
He even does some silly faces while singing. Keep going to 3:29, watch the moves followed by the yelp. Plus the mid-song band intros are cool (4:13), rattling off their names as fast as possible to keep the music going. Everyone’s having fun, Jackson grinning at Watson as the music resumes (4:51). More jamming, with some primo view of Bob’s noodling-fingers again at around 5:47, and nice zoom-out at 6:17 where you suddenly can picture this in context, what the full stage looks like.
Would this, the approximately eight-millionth performance of “Maggie’s Farm” jump out on the audio tape? Maybe not. But it is extremely fun to watch. Make it full screen, sit back, and, to quote the man himself, play it fucking loud.
Man in the Long Black Coat
The harmonica rack is back on. Should we take bets on whether he’ll actually use it this time?
It’s funny how in this context “Maggie’s Farm,” which for most Dylan superfans is old-hat, is so fun to watch, whereas the more-exciting-on-paper “Man in the Long Black Coat” feels more pedestrian. He sings a beautiful version, but there’s less to see.
What the video does is focus you in on the audio. Look/listen to how he holds “mask” around 1:39. If I had this on in the background doing something else, not sure I wouldn’t have caught that. Ditto a great “de-praaaaaaved” at 2:16. In “Maggie’s Farm” he basically just wanted to play the guitar. Here he seems to be focusing much more on the vocals. Which gives you maybe less to watch — just a dude standing at a mic stand — but sounds great.
“Upsinging” isn’t really a thing yet, but you can hear its precursor a couple lines later (2:19). “You who”—suddenly leads up an octave—“must”—back down—“keep it satis-”—back up again “-fiiieeed.”
Okay, here comes the guitar instrumental. Look how he lifts up the headstock of his guitar while partially looking back (4:56). Clearly indicating to the band, “Boys, it’s jamming time.” The little guitar duel with him and Jackson where they’re facing and looking at each other (5:38) is fun. Then he moves back and just starting wiggling.
It’s striking watching this video, his change in demeanor. The first half, when he’s singing, he’s focused, serious, concentrating on delivering the words. Then when he gets to stop singing and just play the guitar, he’s all smiles and wiggles.
Still no indication he remembers he’s strapped a harmonica around his neck though. [One minute passes] Nope, song is wrapping with, yet again, no harmonica. It’s sitting quite literally right in front of your nose Bob! You already made the effort to put it on!
It Ain’t Me Babe
Harmonica remains strapped for the concert finale, “It Ain’t Me Babe.” Will Chekhov’s Harmonica finally get played? This is the first of these songs where he’s playing acoustic guitar. That’s gotta bode well.
This almost sounds solo-acoustic. It’s obviously not — you can see Jackson standing right there — but if the other band members are playing, it’s subtle. Certainly don’t hear any drums. Wonder if Winston is even still onstage.
Watch his eyebrows leap at 0:41 (“want”) and 0:45 (“need”).
You can hear the audience loudly singing along with the chorus a half minute later, and from the looks of it they’re standing like five feet in front of Dylan. He doesn’t flinch. Then, after the next chorus (2:38), some more little guitar wiggles.
The guitar jamming has commenced. I like that expression at 5:01. Like he’s surprised by his own playing. Then a couple seconds later, he’s suddenly skeptical. By 5:25, he’s really feeling himself. Even throws in a little shoulder shimmy. Might need to add that to my inventory of Dylan guitar poses.
“Alright!” screams a fan at 5:42, and he’s right to. At long last, Bob Dylan’s mouth is finally moving towards that harmonica!
The solo starts pretty two-note-y, but picks up, and it’s fun to watch his facial expressions (again with the eyebrows) as he plays. And, when the camera zooms out at 7:12, you get a good view of what he’s doing on the guitar as he’s playing harmonica. I realize he’s been doing this two-instruments-at-once trick for 30 years at this point, but it’s still impressive to watch.
Some more wiggly guitar and meaningful looks to Jackson takes us to the end of the video and the end of the show.
If you enjoy me analyzing random 1993 performances like they’re the Zapruder film, join the paid-subscribers list to get another set in your inbox tomorrow!
Bonus: Carol’s late husband Jon Casper was a taper too, of the audio-only variety. They went to over 200 shows together, often with her recording video right next to him recording sound. So in addition to the film footage, we’ve also got new audio of the shows taken straight from his DATs for these shows. Freshly remastered too! To my ears, these sound better than the circulating tapes (except Great Woods, which already circulates in soundboard and needs no improvement).
Update: Here is volume 2, from Saratoga Springs, featuring “Born in Time,” “Tangled Up in Blue,” the first-ever “Blackjack Davey,” and more.