Despite a clunky title, this is a great fan-compiled set of one of Bob's underrated Never Ending Tour years, 1998. The band is tight and rocking, featuring the last stand of multi-instrumentalist Bucky Baxter (just as well, if you ask me - every song doesn't need swimming steel guitar).
1. Absolutely Sweet Marie (May 21, LA) - Bucky plays the signature riff loud and strong, bringing a country tinge to the otherwise rock song. This concert also features the second (and last) Restless Farewell of the NET.
2. Million Miles (January 21, NYC) - A crunchy blues riff from Larry changes the dynamic of this Time Out of Mind gem, providing a bare backbone for Bob to lay down some understated and weary vocals. It's more of a mood piece than anything here, the solos being more like instrumental wanderings (though the mix may have something to do with that too), but listen to him bark out "don't dare wink" as he accentuates it by some wild guitar lines.
3. Simple Twist of Fate (January 16, NYC) - Bob's guitar noodling sounds a little out of place here, but the vocals more than make up for it. Some tinkly solos by Bucky are nice, though David Kemper's drumming seems a little heavy.
4. To Be Alone With You (June 10, Goteburg) - Performed the day after the famous "At the Globe Arena" Stockholm show, this sounds like a variation on Sweet Marie until the lyrics come in, the band turns a little country into something more lively and explosive, bringing it all in in just four minutes (the second shortest track here).
5. You're a Big Girl Now (January 18, NYC) - The best song of the set so far, as the instruments blend together seamlessly (yes, even Bob's) as he gives it a faithful but emotional reading. Listening to the Blood on the Tracks original you'd never think it could work electric, but they perform it tastefully.
6. Tears of Rage (June 4, Rostock) - That quick guitar line that opens the song sounds like it could be a new riff to the song all by itself and should have been developed more. The band is top-notch here, everyone playing individual lines simultaneously that combine to form a unified backdrop. Bob's singing is fine, but this seems to be an example of a lot of '98 stuff, where listening to the instruments in the way to go (as opposed to, say, '95 where it was all about the singing).
7. Rank Strangers to Me (July 5, Rome) - Nowhere near as good as it would become with Charlie Sexton.
8. Just Like a Woman (October 23, Minneapolis) - Finally, a little harmonica in a brilliant intro to a song with equally inspired singing by Bob. For some reason the subtlety with which he is performing this one makes me thing it should have acoustic backing though. Check out the "oh yeah you do" perfectly mirrored by the guitar in the third chorus.
9. Silvio (May 22, LA) - A little less rocking than this warhorse normally is, it benefits as a result of Bob compensating by putting more into the singing. A pair of dueling guitar solos complement the pedal steel wonderfully in the best version I've ever heard of this one.
10. Shooting Star (June 11, Copenhagen) - Incredible. The band is pulled way back on this one focusing all the attention on Bob's vocals, which are gorgeous without being too timid. Bucky's steel guitar fits perfectly underscoring everything Bob sings.
11. This Wheel's On Fire (May 22, LA) - First acoustic version of this song ever. The backing vocals are nice, with a little different treatment than they would get with Charlie. Other than its slight historical significance though, it's not too impressive.
12. Forever Young (October 25, Chicago) - The last song of a 17-song show, it has some nice guitar interaction and better-than-average singing. I think the song is as sappy as always though.
1. One Too Many Mornings (June 9, Stockholm) - Ah, finally, the famous Globe Arena show. Any track from here could go on a '98 comp, but this one is still an excellent choice. Some gorgeous acoustic guitar interplay, with Bob's erratic strumming and soloing adding immensly to its unorchestrated feel. His singing brings out whole new tunes in this song which are better than the original, harmonies that have been there all along but you never would have thought of. You just never want it to end, and neither does Bob as he pulls out a long harp solo.
2. If You See Her, Say Hello (May 22, LA) - This comes from another big show--it must be, it's the third song from this 12-song set already. And worth every second, as a light electric backing and some beautiful slide work lays the foundation for some clear and focused singing by Bob. He's intent on not losing any of the words even as he plays with them. One of the best versions I've heard of this, which he should bring back.
3. The Ballad of Hollis Brown (June 16, Essen) - Gopherstick describes this version as one that "will chill your ears and have you stabbing wildly at the repeat button". That praise might be a little high, but it's definitely an awesome version. The guitar work in between lines are by far the best part, as the singing is pretty straight (but well-done). When the drums kick in it definitely goes up a notch.
4. Knockin' On Heaven's Door (???) - The liner notes say this one is from Essen too, but he didn't play it that night, so it's a mystery. For a song that I generally wouldn't mind never hearing again, the band does a nice version with gorgeous harmonies that help keep it fresh. What really makes it is his enthusiasm, especially at the end where he just keeps repeating "just like many times before".
5. You Ain't Goin' Nowhere (June 4, Rostock) - The first dud of the disc, this seems run-of-the-mill and a little too solo-heavy for my tastes. Unlike Knockin', the backing vocals don't really add much and just seem to constrain Bob.
6. Born in Time (January 20?, NYC) - Once again, another date mix-up as it claims to be from the 16th, when he didn't play it, so it's probably from the 20th. It is pretty similar to the original Oh Mercy outtake, and unremarkable. Nicely delivered, but nothing too exciting.
7. Senor (Tales of Yankee Power) (May 30, Nurnberg) - Bob's vocals are tight and on-target, but I can only think of how much better it would be without Bucky's sappy steel sliding all over the place. It just becomes too much, a too-sweet backing for Bob's pointed singing. That crashing slide down down after "it's the real thing" is pretty cool though.
8. Blind Willie McTell (June 11, Copenhagen) - This starts about as slow and dirge-like as it could be, but Bob uses the quiet backing to really concentrate on the vocals. It builds a little every verse, but Bob's singing continues to be the highlight. He's not taking many risks, but focusing on the basic melody, which works just fine with a song this good. A little lyric flub with "There's a...I can hear them tribes a-moaning," but nothing serious.
9. Lay Lady Lay (May 23, Anaheim) - I'm not entirely clear as why this one is on here, as the sound quality is subpar and it would have to be a damn good rendition to make this song exciting, which it isn't. Next.
10. Boots of Spanish Leather (July 4, Verona) - The arrangement of this one hasn't changed much in nine years, and it doesn't need to. Tony's bowed bass adds a whole other dimension to the sound, and Bob's vocals float along beautifully with some nice guitar fills thrown in for good measure.
11. Love Minus Zero (June 11, Copenhagen) - I've never been particularly impressed with a version of this song before (though they're never too bad either), but this one is great. Just lively enough without losing the nuances of the song. The interplay of the two acoustic guitars is once again a highlight.
12. My Back Pages (June 4, Rostock) - Some interesting guitar noodles lead into an inspired vocal delivery, Bob lengthening and shortening words as he sees fit, and adding lots of tune fluctuations. Lots of upsinging from back when it was new and fresh. The arrangement is pretty uninspired though, basically just the chords.
13. Pretty Peggy-O (June 6, Malmo) - Bob jumps into this one with almost no musical intro, eager to tell the story he's told so many times before. It's gotten plenty of excellent performances, but this one has to be up there. For once, Bucky is doing something less play-by-numbers than usual, and some backbeat guitar chords only help to add some texture behind Bob. Just an example where band and singing blend perfectly.
14. Highway 61 Revisited (January 21, NYC) - While nothing ground-breaking, this is a solid choice to end the set. The bad is loose, the vocals are on, and Bob is feeling fine.