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Bob Dylan’s Stunning ‘Outlaw’ Tour Set List: A Song by Song Guide

The Outlaw Music Festival Tour has generated much attention due to Willie Nelson’s extended absence from the first two weeks of shows due to illness, Lukas Nelson stepping in for his father with occasional help from guests like Derek Trucks, Susan Tedeschi, and Edie Brickell, the triumphant return of Willie on July 4, and the weird Bob Dylan shirt sold every night at the merch stand.

All of that has overshadowed the fact that Dylan is playing some of his loosest concerts in recent memory. After three years of delivering a show that featured nearly a complete performance of 2020’s Rough and Rowdy Ways along with a handful of the same older tunes night after night, he decided to rip up the set and start over. The Rough and Rowdy Ways material has been completely tossed out, replaced by tunes that date back to 1965’s Highway 61 Revisited and stretch all the way to 2012’s Tempest. He’s also spotlighting obscure cover songs from the Fifties he’s never previously played in concert.

The changes in the show aren’t limited to the song selections. Drummer Jerry Pentecost left the band and was replaced by Dylan’s gospel-era bandmate Jim Keltner. Pedal steel guitarist Donnie Heron also left the band after an 18-year stint. What remains is a lean quartet of Keltner, bassist Tony Garnier, and guitarists Bob Britt and Doug Lancio. They’re hitting large outdoor amphitheaters packed with Willie Nelson fans, and playing with a joy and abandon not felt at Dylan concerts in years. 

The opening night set in Alpharetta, Georgia, was completely unique and especially wild, but it quickly coalesced into a 15-song show he’s been repeating every evening. Here’s our song-by-song guide, including fan-shot videos, since audience members are allowed to film the show for the first time in many years.

1. “Highway 61 Revisited” (1965)
The tone for the night is set when Dylan walks onstage, often with his shirt unbuttoned practically to his waist, steps up the piano, and pounds out the opening notes to “Highway 61 Revisited.” He’s played this one over 2,000 times (topped on the stats by “All Along the Watchtower”), and this version isn’t wildly dissimilar from what we’ve heard at Never Ending Tour stops of years past. But the piano is mixed louder than usual, and the absence of Herron means it’s easier to hear exactly what each guitarist is playing. Most nights, Dylan is nodding his head along to Keltner’s beat, smiling off out of the corner of his mouth, and clearly having a blast. (It should be noted that Keltner is 82, just 13 months younger than Dylan. Neil Young and Crazy Horse drummer Ralph Molina is 80. This is the summer of the octogenarian drummer.)

2. “Shooting Star” (1989)
We jump 24 years in time after the opening number to “Shooting Star” from Oh Mercy. Prior to June, Dylan hadn’t played the song since 2013. It’s a slow, moving rendition of the ballad and that allows Dylan to enunciate every word very clearly. (Some of “Highway 61 Revisited” gets pretty garbled, especially the “Oh, the rovin’ gambler, he was very bored/Tryin’ to create a next world war” section.) It also includes the first harmonica solo of the night, which gets the crowd cheering. Like every song in the set, “Shooting Star” wasn’t a hit and won’t be recognized by casual fans. But it’s one of the most beautiful songs from the Daniel Lanois-produced Oh Mercy, which ended a dismal run of albums and kickstarted an amazing comeback period.

3. “Love Sick” (1997)
Dylan re-teamed with Lanois eight years later after Oh Mercy for Time Out of Mind, which won him a Grammy for Album of the Year and some of his best reviews in decades. But Dylan felt the final product was over-produced, and he’s re-worked the songs many times over the past quarter century. This latest redo of “Love Sick” is slow, haunting, and features little piano twinkles by Dylan. There’s also some new lines, like “You thrill to my heart/and you rip it all apart/You went through my pockets when I was sleeping.” Brutal.

4. “Little Queenie” (1959, Chuck Berry)
Dylan’s love of Chuck Berry goes back to childhood, and over the years he’s honored him by playing “No Money Down,” “Nadine,” “Roll Over Beethoven,” “Johnny B. Goode,” and “Around and Around.” But he didn’t attempt “Little Queenie” until the kickoff of the Outlaw Tour. It’s a chance for Lancio and Britt to trot out their best Berry riffs, and an opportunity for Dylan to party like it’s his senior year of high school. (This is now one of the few covers that both Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones have in their live repertoire.)

5. “Mr. Blue” (1959, the Fleetwoods)
In the early days of the Basement Tapes sessions, Dylan and the Band laid down a truncated version of “Mr. Blue” by doo-wop act the Fleetwoods. It would be another 57 years before Dylan revisited “Mr. Blue” on the opening night of the Outlaw tour. It’s a tender rendition where Dylan has little accompaniment from his band until the first chorus hits. The song was Number One for a single week in November 1959 when it managed to briefly topple Bobby Darin’s “Mack the Knife” from the top spot. Dylan returning to it in 1967 and again in 2024 is yet more evidence that the music we love at 18 stays with us forever. 

6. “Early Roman Kings” (2012)
This Chicago blues song from Tempest has been played live more than any other track on the record, just over 600 times. The original recording features David Hidalgo from Los Lobos on accordion and Charlie Sexton on guitar. On this tour, Britt takes the lead. It’s not significantly different than the other versions we’ve heard over the past dozen years, but it has a new drive with this smaller band. 

7. “Can’t Wait” (1997)
We’re back to Time Out of Mind at this point for “Can’t Wait,” which hadn’t been played since 2019 prior to this tour. Every tiny bit of Daniel Lanois has been sucked from this one, and we’re left with Dylan slowly playing it on the piano, delivering the words almost spoken-word style. Accompaniment from the band is kept to a bare minimum. The result is remarkably stark and powerful. 

8. “Under The Red Sky” (1990)
Few people knew it at the time, but Bob Dylan had an infant daughter, Desiree Gabrielle Dennis-Dylan, when he created Under the Red Sky. It explains why the album was dedicated to “Gabby Goo Goo,” and why so many of the songs seem like nursery rhymes. The title track is about a little boy and a little girl that wind up baked together in a pie, and it hadn’t been played live since 2013. 

9. “Things Have Changed” (2000)
Dylan won an Oscar for this song from the 2000 Curtis Hanson movie The Wonder Boys, and it’s been a staple of his live show ever since. They’ve worked up a bluesier, guitar-driven arrangement for this tour that’s hard to even spot as “Things Have Changed” until the vocals start. He wrote the song from the perspective of the Michael Douglas character in the film, but it’s become a theme song to many during the insanity of the past decade or so: “People are crazy and times are strange/I’m locked in tight, I’m out of range/I used to care, but things have changed.”

10. “Stella Blue” (1973, Grateful Dead)
Dylan was a huge admirer of the Grateful Dead, and he was crushed when Jerry Garcia died. “To me he wasn’t only a musician and friend, he was more like a big brother who taught and showed me more than he’ll ever know,” he told Rolling Stone in 1995. “There’s no way to convey the loss. It just digs down really deep.” Last year, he added several Dead songs into his live show, including the Wake of the Flood gem “Stella Blue.” He brought it back into the mix this year. It’s one of the nightly highlights of the show.

11. “Six Days on the Road” (1963, Earl Green/Carl Montgomery)
The very month that Bob Dylan dropped The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan in 1963, country singer Dave Dudley landed a massive country hit with the trucker anthem “Six Days on the Road.” Over the years, it’s been covered by everyone from Jim Croce and Michael Nesmith to Steve Earle and Tom Petty’s band Mudcrutch. Dylan played the song on his Theme Time Radio Hour SiriusXM show, but there’s no record of him performing it prior to this tour. Debuting it while out on the road with Willie Nelson makes a lot of sense: It has a strong outlaw country vibe.

12. “Soon After Midnight” (2012)
On the actual 2012 Tempest tour, as opposed to the slightly fictional one advertised on the bizarre t-shirt available at the Outlaw merch stand, the Tempest ballad “Soon After Midnight” was performed at just two of 33 shows. It became a Never Ending Tour staple after that with over 480 live performances. Think about that. In that time, he hasn’t done “Mr. Tambourine Man,” “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” “I Shall Be Released,” “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” or “Forever Young” even once. And we get “Soon After Midnight” over 480 times. His complete and total disregard for what most audience members want to hear, especially at a show packed with casual fans like this one, is laudable and extremely rare. So, if you want to hear an oldie, punch it up on Spotify.

13. “Ballad of a Thin Man” (1965)
The show begins with Highway 61 Revisited, and he goes back to it near the end with “Ballad of a Thin Man.” This has been a live favorite for nearly 60 years, possibly because Dylan loves snarling out lines like “There ought to be a law/Against you comin’ around/You should be made/To wear earphones.” This new arrangement is a bit slower than usual, but it still packs a lot of sting.

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14. “Simple Twist of Fate” (1975)
The sole bit of evidence in the set that Bob Dylan created music between 1967 and 1989 is “Simple Twist of Fate” from Blood on the Tracks. This is a painfully personal song built at least partially around memories of his early Sixties girlfriend Suze Rotolo, who crushed his heart when she went to Europe in 1963 and met her eventual husband. (The original title was “West 4th Street Affair,” referring to the apartment they shared in the West Village.) In recent years, he’s added in these new lyrics: “Got out bed he put his shoes back on/Then he pushed back the blinds/Found a note she’d left behind that said/You should have met me back in ’58/We could have avoided this little simple twist of fate.” In other words, had Rotolo met him before fame overtook his life, things could have gone very differently. It’s a devastating addition to the song. (About a week into the tour, Nelson bandmate Mickey Raphael began coming out to play harmonica on the song.)

15. “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” (1967)
We go from sad memories of a lost romance to a sweet love song from John Wesley Harding to wrap up the set. It’s an unusual arrangement that starts with Dylan unaccompanied at the piano before it kicks into a rave-up, and then slows backs down and gets bluesy at the end. “Kick your shooooes off,” Dylan sings. Have no feaaaarrr/Bring that boootle/Overheeeere/I’ll be…I’ll be your baby toniiiiiiight.” It’s a great showcase for the band, and the perfect way to close out one of the best (and most unexpected) live sets Dylan has delivered in many years.

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