First off, it wasn’t an amphitheatre, but a ski mountain with a stage at the bottom. Second, if you have another chance to see a show there, don’t take it unless you really like sitting in your car in the parking lot in the rain. It took two hours just to get out of the parking lot which was longer than Dylan played. That said, there weren’t any metal detectors as reported though they were confiscating food so they could sell their own, and it rained starting right before Bob who pulled up right at showtime took the stage, though it wasn’t a hard rain (that was saved for the ride home) merely an annoying rain.
Dylan and band came on laughing, Dylan dressed in black pants with white stripe down sides, wearing a white cowboy hat, a truly ugly charcoal grey/black jacket and a ridiculous old-style western tie, black with white polka dots. He looked fairly healthy for his almost 56 years. Both Dylan and Larry Campbell were playing through tiny red Matchless Lightning 40 amplifiers, Dylan his usual strat and Campbell a telecaster. For the electric portion Garnier was playing a Rickenbacker bass.
Dylan took off his hat put it on the drum riser, revealing an incredible case of hat hair and they were of into a fairly jaunty Absolutely Sweet Marie with Bob pretty much mangling the lyrics, doing the wrong bridge verse first and pretty much forgetting where he was after that, but it didn’t matter, it was cool and his singing was fairly strong. This was followed by a careful Pretty Peggy O with Campbell providing subtle and tasteful Steve Cropper type licks.
AATW (of course) followed–as many times as I’ve seen Dylan do this–he usually manages to make it exciting. Not this time though. A pretty routine run-through. By the way, it was Campbell, not Dylan playing the leads with Dylan underneath doing his usual search and destroy (just kidding folks I LIKE THE WAY BOB PLAYS) guitar underneath. You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere followed. Campbell again provided the main country lick while Dylan did something on guitar–I’m still not sure what–between the verses. Campbell and Bucky who pretty much stayed in the background the whole show (it could been the mix, but I was very close to the stage) sang harmony. The acapella chorus ending was a nice, friendly touch. It was nice to see him do it, but it wasn’t Basement Tapes mystical or anything.
Watching The River Flow Followed, pretty much the way he’s been doing it the past few years, but as Bill Parr mentioned with more of a Sun Records rockabilly feel to it with Campbell playing cool fingerpicking lead and Kemper providing a solid train beat.
Sylvio was short and sweet compared to the versions I heard last year at Madison and at the Electric Factory shows, with none of the almost psychedelic guitar explorations or the impact. I personally could care less whether he does this or not, but at the last shows I saw (with Jackson) it had become something of a showpiece. Wasn’t that way this time.
The acoustic set was okay, but nothing special. By the acoustic set, it was apparent that Dylan’s voice was pretty well shot, but he gave it a good go anyway. But it was here that Bob as lead guitarist started showing up. He opened with slow, steady Friend of the Devil, and followed with fairly routine versions of Tangled and Don’t Think Twice, providing some nice runs on the latter and his usual funky four note exploration on the former. He does have a way of playing the same notes over and over until they start to mean something, but I’d still prefer to hear him play the harp instead. “Don’t” ended with a slowed-down blues jam that all band members, Bob included, grinning. Dylan seemed to be trying to stop himself from smiling all night, but ended up letting quite a few slip out anyway.
Next came a fairly funky and rocking Real You At Last with Bob letting loose on electric, which was followed by a close to magnificent Wheels On Fire. It was slow and almost spooky. Dylan played his best solo of the night–it was obvious the band had worked on this song. A romping Leopard Skin Pill-Box Hat closed the show with three encores, a why bother Alambama Getaway, a very nice, acoustic Forever Young, and of course RDW.
It was a good, but not great show. A show of special moments rather than one long conintuous high. Dylan appears to be enjoying himself, the music and his band, and generally having a good time, occasionally dancing around.
As for the band, the recent changes are definitely for the better. Kemper is a much more sympathetic drummer. Gone is the thunderous bombast of Winston Watson’s often over-powering drumming. Kemper has a much better clue to the roots of Dylan’s music, following his quirky changes closely and playing what’s necessary and rarely what isn’t.In Larry Campbell, Dylan easily has his best on-stage guitar player since 1974. GE Smith could play, but he was a hack and a ham, and rarely played what was right for a song, preferring to show off speed and dexterity over taste. Jackson on the other hand had a contagious enthusiasm and was a risk-taker, but ultimately he came off as second-best. In Campbell, Dylan finally has a professional guitarist who knows what to leave out and who has that all-important understanding of the roots of the music, whether country, rock or blues and what the appropriate guitar lick and/or style is to play to accompany that song and do it in a way that puts taste and the song first. It’s about time.