Thursday, April 16, 2009

Bob Dylan Song #94: Yea! Heavy and a Bottle of Bread

I'd have to strain pretty hard to think of a goofier song in Dylan's almost bottomless canon than "Yea! Heavy and a Bottle of Bread". There's lines like "pack up the meat, sweet, we're heading out" and "slap that drummer with a pie that smells", lines with just much surrealism as anything on Blonde on Blonde, only less informed by drugs than by...well, probably still drugs, but much lighter fare to be sure. There's the vocals to the song, Dylan's voice containing an audible smile, the backup vocals seemingly always half a step behind (possibly because they were trying to keep up with Dylan improvising, who knows), and that hilarious basso profundo on the last "bread" in the song. And there's the arrangement to the song, Manuel's pie-aner just clinking away, the boys bashing out two chords (three, if you want to be generous), all the perfect for those loose and casual vocals belting out a wacky little tune about who the hell knows what. It's two minutes in and out, a quick little jam to crack the boys in the room up, and it works great in the context of the Basement Tapes sessions, like a sorbet to help cleanse the palate.

As most of the really deep-vault Dylan fans (or - ugh - "Bobcats") amongst us probably know, Dylan has very, very performed the song live, with the most and probably most famous outing being during his 2003 Brixton Academy run (the same run where Dylan played "Romance in Durango" for the first time in almost 30 years). The performance I linked to is a whale of a time - Dylan seems engaged and amused, and his crack band gives the whole thing the same casual air as the album version. Even Dylan's amateurish piano playing, which has been the butt of criticism and jokes ever since he chose to lug an organ out on stage, works well in the context of the song, because it nicely matches the intentionally simple piano line of the Basement Tapes version. And the audience seems thrilled to hear the song, giving it a nice ovation during the opening bars, which helps give the song an added special vibe. All around, it's great fun to listen to, even for those of you that aren't the biggest fans of current-tour Bob Dylan.

It's also a little window into the minds of us crazy Dylan fans (and I include myself in that group 100%). You can hear how thrilled a lot of those fans are to hear that song, and while I'm quite sure a lot of them are thrilled because they really like it quite a bit, I would guess that there are at least a few that are thrilled becaues they can tell their friends and other Dylan fans "hey, I was there when he busted out 'Yea! Heavy and a Bottle of Bread' that one time!" And that's something that, while certainly common to a lot of fans of artists with long careers, is probably at its strongest when it comes to ol' Bob. Believe me, who amongst us isn't a little jealous when we hear that Bob's pulled out "Subterranean Homesick Blues" or "Dear Landlord" from mothballs (usually in Europe - as his current setlists have chosen, it's usually the overseas audiences that get to hear these rarities, the bastards), and that some lucky jerks in Grand Rapids or wherever got to hear the novelty while you got to hear the whole damn Modern Times album, along with most of Greatest Hits, at the show you went to last week? I don't think it's an unreasonable reaction to have, and I think that rarity envy plays a big part in why people so religiously follow setlists and hope to beat the show where a slice of history is made.

And that's certainly not a feeling unique to the fields of music. We all know that, in general, it's a lot more fun to watch a big sporting event on TV than in person. The interminable stretches of dead air live can be mitigated with bathroom breaks and e-mail checking; you don't have to sit next to obnoxious fans that might spill beer down your shirt or yell obscenities next to your kid; you're not spending an arm and a leg for the privilege of terrible seats, overpriced food, and the possibility that you might have spent all that to see your favorite team get their asses kicked right in front of your face. Back in the day, in fact, there were legitimate worries that televising sports would hurt the pro leagues in general, because who would want to come out when they could stay home and watch for free, with TV cameras giving you an eye for the action you can't get from your stationery spot in the stadium? Of course, that is a bunch of nonsense, and any sports fan can tell you why - nothing beats being there for the moment. You could offer any Steelers fan in the stands of Super Bowl XLIII a million dollars in exchange for the memory of seeing the Roethlisberger-to-Holmes game winning pass in person, and they almost certainly wouldn't do the deal. Memories like that simply cannot be replicated.

And that, I think, ties in to why there are so many devoted Dylan concert fans, people that plan out trips around his touring schedule, whose total shows attended have reached double digits, and who can proudly recount the time they had to borrow a car from a stranger to make it to Detroit to watch Dylan play "John Brown" in person (that would be me - and the best part is that I accidentally left the car lights on and needed a jump in a Detroit parking garage, not particularly the safest place on the planet). We all know that we're gonna get people screaming "Everybody must get stoned!", that we'll hear "Like A Rolling Stone" for the thousandth time, and that the odds of us hearing our favorite song are not always all that high (I have been lucky to have heard "High Water" twice, but I am in a minority in that regard). But then there's always the chance, the very slight chance, that Dylan might play something he's rarely or even never played before (like the show he just played where "Billy" - "Billy!" made its live debut), and then you'll have that moment for the rest of your life, where you can say "I was at the 'Billy' show" or "I was at the 'Black Diamond Bay' show" or some other such rare song that instantly brands the show it appears in. Every show is a chance to hit a special kind of lottery. That's a heck of a deal, when it comes to your favorite artist of all time.

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5 comments:

Stablejelly said...

I believe he did John Brown and Master's of War in that same concert in Detroit..I was there thinking he was really playing up the anti-war theme..best show recently in Detroit, though, was 2004..I guess we can call it the "Get out of Denver" show..

F.G. Marshall-Stacks said...

'BobCats' or 'Bobsessives', who cares what label, it is impossible to be ambivalent about him.

I was at a 1966 show when the music 'went electric' and Folkies stomped out in disgust.

Anonymous said...

Every song on Bob Dylan's album Basement Tapes rated & commented

Tom Montgomery said...

damn folkies!

Pulp Revolution said...

Is this a more comical version of "I'm Not There"?