September 17, 2021

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11/19/99 Sands Casino Copa Room, Atlantic City, NJ

Copa Room First Show

Atlantic City to put it quite simply a bizarre place and here was Bob Dylan appearing there for the fourth time at a place he already played earlier this year, the Copa Room in the Sands Casino.   I left Philly in the middle or rush hour, miraculously didn’t hit any traffic jams and made it to A.C. in the usual time: one hour flat.  I strolled past the gamblers in the one arm bandits easily found the line to the Copa Room and wandered down it till I found my friends the Double-D couple just where they said they would be.  Now the Copa Room is pretty small with lots of tables and chairs and these booth-like lounge things which they keep reserved for the heavy gamblers who get comped to the show.   They have some sort of seating chart and it takes a while for everyone to get in.  Sometimes it helps to tip the Maitre d’ to get a better spot.  We got a pretty good table a little to the left of the center of the stage and had a good 45 minutes to kill before show time.  I spent it getting something to eat in the Casino (they give you passes out), and wandering the Copa Room in search of various RMD-ers though I didn’t know what they looked like, and found the one who did give me a description, Kevin Reilly who as it happened was sitting at the table next to mine.

So right around 8 PM the curtain came up and there were the roadies tuning the guitars.  About 8 minutes after, Dylan and band appeared and launched into a spirited “Roving Gambler,”  a totally appropriate song for the setting.  Dylan seemed very loose and in good spirits smiling broadly.  An okay “Mr. Tambourine Man,” followed and then Dylan said hello to someone in the audience whose name I already forget and said he was the president of the International Bob Dylan fan club, and then went into the Stanley Brother’s “Cold Walls and Steel Bars” and it was good too.  The thumping rhythm he uses these days for “Desolation Row” came next and it was he was singing strongly and clearly and this was followed by the now familiar, clean picking of Larry Campbell introducing “Mama You Been On My Mind.”  A powerful “It’s Alright Ma” came next followed by a nice gentle “Tomorrow Is A Long Time.”  And about this time we started looking at each other.  Six songs and not an electric guitar in sight.  Could it be?

Now let’s backtrack a bit.  When Dylan played the Copa Room at the end of his tour last February and people found it was a small 700-seat room, speculation ran high.  Would he make it special?  Would it be another Supper Club?  As it turned out those shows ended up being typical tour shows, though a little shorter and fairly lackluster ones at that.  Was this the night he would make up for it?

“Masters of War” came next.  And then they started something unfamiliar, something I couldn’t place, something almost jazzy.  And Dylan said something encouraging to the band like “you got it” or something like that and stepped to the mike and the words didn’t come.  And the band kept jamming with Larry on steel and Dylan stood there still in a good mood, but whatever song it was, the words didn’t come and it sort of collapsed, and he said, “Well here’s my version of it,” and went into a delicate “One Too Many Mornings.”  This was followed by a fairly roaring “Tangled,” and they took off their guitars and left the stage, returning for a quick “Blowin’ In The Wind.”  There were no band introductions in this show.

Now at some point in the show, (I forget between which songs) a woman jumped on stage to talk to Bob, and then she motioned to some other guy who came up and then they left.  I don’t know what it is about this particular room that makes people think they can jump on stage.

Anyway, “Blowin’” didn’t have its usual long introduction where the band runs through and entire verse and chorus before Dylan starts singing, just a tiny little intro and he was into it.  At some point during this song Bob’s guitar tech snuck on stage and grabbed Bob’s Strat from behind the drums.  The lights went down after “Blowin’,” and there they were back on stage again but in the shadows you could see this time they had electric guitars, and wam! into “Not Fade Away,” and then real deja vu time, as all of a sudden there’s one, there’s two, no there’s 50 people on stage just like last February’s late show at the Sands.  And Dylan is surrounded and you can’t see him.  But unlike last time, he didn’t stay on stage and very quickly you saw a roadie take his guitar and lead him off stage and the song collapsed.  End of show.  Again.

Now who knows whether they would have done another song?  But given the things that have been happening on this tour, especially in the last two weeks, it wasn’t out of the question.  While “Not Fade Away” has been the show closer for most of this year, in Philly he came back after it.  So anything is possible, and given that this time around he was attempting to make the show something unique and special by doing the whole thing (except for NFA) acoustic anything was possible.  But we’ll never know.

Copa Room 2nd Show

It was out of show number one and back in line for show number two, this time with Kevin Reilly while my other friends went off in search of food and gambling having decided that getting in line was a waste of time.  The line moved somewhat faster and we were joined by some other friends of mine.  Once inside we had a choice of tables and chose one a little closer to the stage, but also because Kevin had shared his table with the two guys seated there and said they weren’t talkers.  So we had a table of no talkers which was something of a problem at the first show.

Just as the lights went down, a human wall in the next row in front of us decided to stand up.  “SIT DOWN!” came the shout from not one but at least two tables.  He ignored it.  “SIT DOWN” came the collective shout again.  (I loved it.)  Finally on about the third or fourth shout he realized he had no choice.

Dylan and the band came out and were into “Oh Babe It Ain’t No Lie.”  There was a force to it, and a tightness that wasn’t there on the first show.  What could have been the intro to either “Girl From the North Country” or “Boots of Spanish Leather” came next.  I wrote down “North Country,” then said to my friend, “No it’s ‘Boots.’ “   It was a beautifully played and sung “North Country,” followed by a splendid “Visions of Johanna.”  Then came a nice surprise, “Rock of Ages,” the hymn done more or less in a haunting bluegrass version that was truly beautiful.

Then what sounded like the typical Never Ending Tour intro to “Times They Are A-Changin’” followed, except it wasn’t, it was “Hard Rain,” and a truly excellent “Hard Rain” with Dylan getting more and more into it with each line digging in really deep on “the song of a poet who died in the gutter.”

And then out came the electrics and into a blues riff and both Kevin and I wrote down “Tombstone Blues,” but it was “Maggie’s Farm.”  But playing around with intros weren’t the only tricks Dylan had up his sleeve, the next song was a total surprise, “The Man In Me.”  And it was just a gorgeous version, particularly the bridge which he did twice, changing the line from the original to “From my toes right up to my hair.”  On the rest of the song, Dylan echoed each line he sang with a guitar line, almost like a blues singer, though this isn’t exactly a blues song.  And then came a killer rendition of “Tombstone Blues,” with Charlie Sexton stepping out on lead guitar.

A better than the record version of “To Make You Feel My Love” came next, followed by band intros and a typically rocking “Leopard Skin Pill-Box Hat.

“Love Sick” as usual was the first encore featuring a tough guitar solo from Dylan and then “Like A Rolling Stone.”  And again with each line it became clear that this was one hell of a version, especially on the second verse with Dylan really leaning into “You say you never compromise with the mystery tramp but now you realize” and then after the chorus a woman walked on-stage and then another woman.  And the first woman actually went up to the mike and sang off-key and out of time “How does it feel,” and then the sound guys turned the mike down.  And one of the roadies led away the second woman and there was another roadie crouched behind the drums ready to pounce into action, and this woman just stood there and Bob’s standing there playing making those crazy faces that he makes and the band keeps playing and she doesn’t leave and finally she’s led out of the way but still stays on stage dancing to the crowd and finally Dylan sings the last verse and she’s still up there pumping her arms and Dylan sings, “You’re invisible now.” looking right at her and then adds “Oh yeah” and everyone seemed to get it but her, but what might’ve been one of the most amazing recent versions of the song was ruined.  The lights went down and the band left the stage.

They returned a few minutes later with Dylan wearing a cowboy hat and blasted out “Not Fade Away” uninterrupted.

A friend of mine had the best analogy.  “You don’t lean out from the stands and catch the ball during a no-hitter.  You get ejected from the game and banned from ballparks.  This was fan interference.  You don’t interfere with the show.”

I can’t put it any better than that.  And so it seems to go with Bob Dylan and the Copa Room.  But until that point, that late show was one hell of a show.