Howard Fishman visits Dylan's basement
For Bob Dylan's 65th birthday, lots of celebrations were planned, including cakes being made in his old hometown in Minnesota. Surely, a lot of shows were being planned around this too but none may have been as unique or as thoughtful and endearing as a multi-night stand done to commemorate some of his greatest semi-official work.
He's a lovable old-timey New York folkie who doesn't get the recognition that he deserves and in a brilliant stroke, he came up with a concept that would get him noticed- for three straight nights at Joe's Pub, Howard Fishman decided to dedicate his shows not just to a one performer but one of his albums. Dylan isn't exactly a stranger to covers; other artists have devoted whole albums (not to mention entire careers) to him. Fishman isn't your typical Zimmie fan though.
His concept was a tribute to the Basement Tapes, once the ultimate rock bootleg item until Bobbie and Columbia released two records of it in 1975, eight years after the fact. The songs were never supposed to make up an album per se and floated around as demos and cover fodder for years before they came out. As much of a treat as the original release was, there was so much more that Dylan and the Band recorded in the summer of love. About 4 or 5 CD's worth actually, which eventually came out on box sets. Fishman got a hold of this material and absorbed it for years, wanted to do a show (or series) like this for a while. He came up with the idea of three evenings of songs: the first dedicated to the roots of the music, the second devoted to material that was unreleased from the sessions (most of it still officially unreleased) and finally an evening of the album itself that came out in '75.
As a music nut (and with no out-of-town plans for Memorial Day), I knew I had to go to one of these nights. Since my girlfriend's mom was a Dylan freak and she was going to be around on Saturday night, it seemed like the right time to go- this was the unreleased Tapes show, a natural for a fan of obscurist music like me.
While the show wasn't totally sold out, it was a good crowd, especially for a holiday weekend. When Fishman polled the audience, many said that they were there the previous night and that they'd be back the next night (including someone in front doing sketchings of the band throughout the whole show). And so, with a notebook at his feet (a cheat-sheet of lyrics) and folded copy of Greil Marcus' Old Weird America (covering the recordings themselves too) under his chair, Fishman led an almost all-acoustic band (including trumpet and violinist). And for the next hour and a half, he made a good case for these mostly unheard songs to be released, if not by Dylan than at least by Fishman.
That was not small accomplishment actually. Fishman fleshed out the songs well even if some of them were nothing more than jokes ("Flight of the Bumble Bee," "I'm A Teenage Prayer") and fragments ("Santa Fe"). Others are dead serious though- the beautifully eerie "I'm Not There," the rockin' rave-up of "Silent Weekend" and what's probably Zimmie's best religious song, "Sign on the Cross." The full set list was:
One Man's Loss
Baby Won't You Be My Baby
I'm A Fool For You
Quinn the Eskimo
Flight of the Bumble Bee
Don't Know Why They Kicked My Dog
I'm A Teenage Prayer
Gonna Get You Now
I'm Not There
All You Have To Do Is Dream
Sign on the Cross
Encore: Silent Weekend
Like I said, clean up tapes, get rid of the hiss and fog, balance the instruments, bring up the vocals and this would make a dandy album.