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Rainy Day Rumble
2010-05-31, Cemil Topuzlu Open-Air Theatre, Istanbul, Turkey
Flagging Down the Double E’s is an email newsletter exploring Dylan shows of yesteryear. Subscribe here to get a new entry delivered to your inbox every week:
Two points of housekeeping first:
1. Last week, I compiled a mixtape of songs Dylan only played once in the 2010s for Tyler Wilcox's great Doom & Gloom from the Tomb blog. And today’s is the first show from that decade I’ve covered here. Synchronicity! Check the mixtape out here.
2. My wife and I are expecting a baby in (checks watch) three days! Give or take. So I'm cobbling together a bit of a paternity leave after today. I have lined up a full month of guest newsletters, both from writers who've contributed before and from first-time guests. You're in good hands!
I was not optimistic about today's show when I looked at the setlist. A full 75% of the songs came from the '60s. On the rare occasions when Bob deigns to that sort of greatest-hits approach, it rarely bodes well.
Plus 2010 falls smack during the "organ years." Everyone who knows what that is has already groaned at the memory, but for everyone else: In the early 2000s, Dylan had started playing keyboard on almost every song. The rumored reasons ranged from arthritis to he just felt like it. That bummed out a lot of fans, but not as much as what he did next.
After a few years of this, he suddenly switched the keyboard's sound to what sounded like its built-in “organ” setting. It felt like he accidentally hit the wrong button and then forgot to turn it back off. For years. Every single song got a hefty dose of cheap-sounding fake organ. I actually liked it more than some, particularly on louder or bluesier songs. But at times, during slow acoustic songs especially, it could sound like a cat suddenly leaping onto the keyboard. "If you're traveling, in the north coun—BLATTTTTTTT."
The final straw on paper: He opens today’s show with "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35." I get it - it's a hit, people like it, I'm sure it goes over great. But personally, I can't stand that song. One juvenile joke that goes on and on, over an irritating riff and otherwise nonexistent melody.
Sure enough, beginning this outdoor show in Turkey, my eyes began to roll to the back of my head. But then, about halfway through the song, they rolled back forward.
Suddenly it wasn't "Rainy Day Women" I was hearing. Well, the words still were. But he was singing them over Link Wray's "Rumble." And not like, oh this reminds me of "Rumble." The band was literally playing "Rumble." They'd covered the song properly in 2005, shortly after Wray died, and five years later they were dipping Bob's own lyrics into its distorted stew.
Compare the two versions to see for yourself (Bob’s switch to "Rumble" doesn't start until about three minutes in - you can’t miss it):
This reminded me of a version of "Drifter's Escape" Bob played regularly when I first started seeing him, five years earlier. It had a killer electric guitar riff, hard and jagged. Turned out Bob had borrowed it from Cream's "Crossroads." And it hadn't been his idea originally either; Jimi Hendrix first tried that approach on a long-circulating “Drifter’s Escape” cover. With Jimi's, the connection is a little more buried - he might have just landed on a similar riff. But you can imagine Bob hearing that cover and deciding to make the "Crossroads" bit unmistakable. Compare all three:
This sent me down the proverbial rabbit hole to figure out other times he'd done this recently. It's widely known he's borrowed melodies for songs dating back to the days of "Masters of War" ("Nottamun Town") and "Blowin' in the Wind" ("No More Auction Block"). The great Paul William once noted that he "save[s] lines and riffs and chord sequences like bits of string…not consciously but just strewn around the back room of his musical awareness." But less widely known are the times he's done it for recent live rearrangements. With the help of some knowledgable fans on Dylan message board Expecting Rain (thanks!), I found a few more that seem pretty unmistakable.
Most recently, it appears Bob's been on a bit of a Beach Boys kick. On his 2019 tour, he borrowed riffs from two of their early songs for new arrangements: "Dance Dance Dance" for "Honest with Me" and "Shut Down Part 2" for "Thunder on the Mountain." Bob's music shares few obvious similarities with the Beach Boys, but the riffs incorporate seamlessly into his own material.
The year before, he took the same approach to "Gotta Serve Somebody." Twice, in fact. When he first dusted off the song after a seven-year hiatus, it came coupled with the immediately identifiable Peter Gunn theme.
It didn’t last. The next month, Peter Gunn was gone, replaced by a new arrangement. Former (and future!) guest newsletter writer Tim Edgeworth swears it comes from Tom Waits' "Big Black Mariah." I can hear the similarity, though it's less overt than these others, so I’ll leave it to you all to judge whether that was intentional (it probably goes without saying that Bob has never explicitly confirmed any of these).
The same thing has happened to "High Water (For Charley Patton)" a couple times. In 2016, he played a version over some familiar chords that were soon identified as likely coming from Warren Zevon's "Boom Boom Mancini," a song Dylan had covered once in 2002 when Zevon was ailing.
Two years later, sharp ears heard a new song incorporated: Robert Plant and Alison Krauss's "Rich Woman," produced by Dylan's old sideman T Bone Burnett. This reminds me the most of “Rainy Day Rumble,” in that he doesn’t just cherry-pick one riff; he basically lifts Plant and Krauss’s entire arrangement. (Sadly, he has yet to go all the way and sing "High Water (For Charley Patton)" over an actual Charley Patton tune.)
This entire exercise was inspired by Bob working in "Rumble" at the beginning of the decade. To bring it all back home here, at the end of the decade, he did it again, in a new arrangement of "Cry a While." But eagle-eyed listeners noticed he wasn't actually playing "Rumble," but "Ramble," Link Wray's similar-named and similar-sounding sequel.
One could go on and on with sonic nods and echoes in recent arrangements, but these struck me as the most undeniable. I came into this show grousing that it relied so heavily on the '60s. Then he flipped it on me, making a '60s warhorse fresh by bringing in a song even older.