Bob Dylan’s Never Ending Tour began all the way back in 1988 and is still going strong today. With over 3,000 shows played over the 135 legs of the tour so far, the first night of this wild journey began in a unique fashion when Neil Young joined Dylan on stage.
At the time of the tour, Dylan’s career had traversed through a difficult period in the years prior to this performance. With some doubt about his live act, the tour dates prompted a man reignited after many had questioned whether he had finally lost his golden touch. Dylan, as he often has throughout his prestigious career, answered some of his vast number of critics with this astounding performance on the first night of the tour.
His so-called ‘decline’ began in 1986 with the almost universally slammed album Knocked Out Loaded which, despite some impressive moments like ‘Brownsville Girl’, was filler rather than killer. Being panned critically, the record also performed poorly commercially and failed to even break into the top 50 on the Billboard Chart.
Shortly after, 1988 effort Down in the Groove was even more widely criticised than it’s predecessor and, somehow, performed even worse commercially. This was unchartered territory for Dylan, who was facing criticism from multiple angles. Not content to back down, the musician bounced back with The Travelling Wilbury’s alongside George Harrison, Roy Orbison and Jeff Lynne and released a record to universal adoration. A year later, Dylan was back with his 1989 effort Oh Mercy which saw a reinvigorated artist truly return to form.
When Bob Dylan made the decision to return to the road in June 1988 he did so with a completely new band in tow, with unknown players. The original line-up saw him accompanied by G. E. Smith on guitar, Kenny Aaronson on bass and Christopher Parker on drums. However, for the very first night of the tour, Bob had a very special guest in Neil Young assisting on guitar to make sure the tour got off to the right start.
The tour began at the 12,500 capacity Pavilion outdoor amphitheatre in California and Dylan knew, with the anticipation surrounding him, that with his fanbase were hesitant over the new material. The singer that he had to deliver a showstopping performance to kickstart his tour and that’s exactly what he did.
He blitzed through a glorious 13-song set which saw Young assist him on ten numbers including track’s such as ‘Maggie’s Farm’, ‘Like A Rolling Stone’, ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ and ‘Gates of Eden’. If you listen very carefully during ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ you can also hear Young being unable to resist adding some backing vocals to the Dylan favourite.
Listen to the bootleg of the full-show below and check out the tracklist from the evening which helped restart Dylan’s faltering career.
Setlist (Neil Young plays on tracks 1-6 & 10-13)
- ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’
- ‘Absolutely Sweet Marie’
- ‘Masters Of War’
- ‘You’re A Big Girl Now’
- ‘Gotta Serve Somebody’
- ‘In The Garden’
- ‘Man Of Constant Sorrow’
- ‘Lakes Of Pontchartrain’
- ‘Boots Of Spanish Leather’
- ‘Driftin’ Too Far From Shore’
- ‘Gates Of Eden’
- ‘Like A Rolling Stone’
- ‘Maggie’s Farm’