August 1, 2021

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12/10/97 Trocadero, Philadelphia, PA

A remarkable show!  I can’t remember the last time I saw Dylan with a band this tight, but it was long ago.

The Troc kept a long line of people waiting in a pouring rain while they searched everyone, but that was forgotten the minute Dylan launched into a lean, rocking “Maggie’s Farm.”  “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here” kept things moving, but the show changed dramatically with the first beat of “Cold Irons Bound.”  The band set up an impeccable Howlin’ Wolf type groove and Dylan just totally leaned into the song, phrasing it a bit differently than the record.  He made each line count and the band just wailed and didn’t let up.  It was amazing.

A very strong “Born In Time” followed and like the three songs before it, it had a beginning a definite end, and Dylan seemed focused not only on the song, but his musicianship, leaving the majority of lead guitar in Larry Campbell’s Hands.

“Can’t Wait” took the show up another three notches.  Dylan is not doing my favorite songs from the album, but it doesn’t matter because the band is so damn hot on these songs, making every beat count and performed live, the songs do not have the doom ’n’ gloom mood of the album because Dylan is having such a good time playing and singing them.

Sylvio was Sylvio, but the first acoustic song was a terrific “Stone Walls and Steel Bars” with Campbell and Bucky singing harmony.  A total delight.

Dylan played the intro of Love Minus Zero over and over, making the crowd and quite possibly the band guess whether it was going to be that or (a rare acoustic) “If Not For You.”  The band even went to the minor chord that’s in “If Not For You,” but finally he started singing.  It was much faster than the last time I saw him do it (Patti Smith tour at Electric Factory), in fact it was damn close in feel to the Bringing It All Back Home original once he actually started singing it.

On “Tangled,” the show seemed to lose a little momentum and both Dylan and the song suddenly seemed tired.  He flubbed one of the verses, but then, magician that he is, he used one of his now famous three-note guitar solos to bring the song back up to speed and recapture the energy.

“Memphis Blues Again” was okay, nothing really special, but all that changed with a dramatic “Wheels On Fire” which was followed by a thrilling “Till I Fell In Love With You.”  Campbell somehow made his guitar sound like a blues harmonica, while Bucky made his pedal steel do wild organ tricks despite the fact that there was some kind of Vox Keyboard sitting by him that I never saw him touch.  Like The Hawks did so many years ago with the songs off Highway 61, this band takes the songs off Time Out Of Mind somewhere else entirely with Dylan leading the charge and knowing it.

They returned and did a simply kick-ass Highway 61 that feel-wise was also damn close to the original.  This was followed by a carefully sung “My Back Pages” with Dylan clearly making each line stand out, despite a couple of search and destroy guitar solos.  I actually started wondering if he hits the really bad notes on purpose, so when he finally gets it right (and he always keeps going till he gets it right) that the final solo will have much more impact.

Then came “Lovesick,” not quite as spooky as the record, but intense in a different way, with Bucky playing the organ part on steel.  Again Dylan was totally into the song, but unlike some of the other TOOM songs that night, he didn’t play around much with this one, delivering it straight and solid.

Dylan looked pretty good, and seemed to have lost in a little weight.  I thought his voice was in the best shape I’d heard it in since quite possibly the Supper Club shows.  He’s also holding his guitar a bit higher up on his body, the way he used to in the ’60s.  It was a show where he directed the focus to where he wanted it–on the music.  This tour is absolutely the one to catch.