And so what is apparently the last Bob Dylan concert of the 20th Century took place in the unlikely town of Newark, Delaware at the Bob Carpenter Center, a not so big concrete arena, where Dylan played in October ’92. Asides from being home to the University of Delaware, Newark was once home to George Thorogood & The Destroyers who once did what they called the 50/50 tour playing all 50 states in 50 days, traveling to most of them in a Checker automobile, best known for manufacturing taxicabs.
This show was actually a make-up date for a concert canceled due to Dylan’s 1998 Grammy appearance, and there were times when this show almost seemed to travel back in time.
The audience was extremely enthusiastic and after “I Am The Man Thomas,” Dylan went into a slow beautiful “My Back Pages” with Larry on violin. I’ve seen him do this song a few times over the last decade, but tonight’s version was easily one of the best if not the best. He sang it carefully, enunciating each word with great emotion.
An equally strong “It’s Alright Ma” followed and this arrangement gets better every time I see it with Larry playing intricate guitar around Dylan’s guitar punctuations while Charlie keeps the rhythm happening strumming a dobro. Dylan flubbed a couple of lines but it didn’t matter.
“Tangled” did its usual job of rousing the audience, but the real surprise of the night was a previously unheard by Dylan country cover, “This World Can’t Stand Long,” which I’m pretty sure is a Roy Acuff song (though I may be wrong) and somewhere in the back of my mind a distant memory of Dolly Parton singing it is bouncing around. Whoever wrote it or did it, it was truly great and one of those special Dylan moments and particularly memorable for the last line of the chorus: “We should know it can’t stand long because it’s too full of hate.” Larry and Charlie joined Bob on the choruses.
A gentle “One Too Many Mornings” preceded the switch to electrics with “Memphis Blues Again” with Larry on pedal steel starting the set, followed by an okay and sometimes slightly bluesy “Make You Feel My Love.”
Dylan then brought on opening act Susan Tedeschi to jam with the band on “It Takes A Lot To Laugh.” This was one of the real fun moments of the night. She is a very good and hot guitar player and she was just ecstatic to be invited on stage with Bob Dylan and Dylan was enjoying having her on-stage and absolutely getting off on her guitar playing. A true jam with Bob kind of as the encouraging overseer.
Next came “Joey,” but the version was much different than the other two I’ve seen on this tour. Larry played guitar instead of pedal steel and it rocked hard, with a choppier rhythm that was much more reminiscent of versions of this song from earlier in the ‘90s.
An exquisite “Not Dark Yet” followed with featured an ethereal guitar break from Larry that earned him well-deserved applause. It was easily the high point of the electric set. Dylan again introduced Tedeschi and said, “We’re gonna burn this one up,” as Kemper kicked off the rhythm to “Highway 61,” and burn it up they did. That road is going to need some repaving after this version. Dylan was having a lot of fun letting everyone take solos starting out with Larry on lap steel followed by Tedeschi and then Dylan nodded to Charlie who exploded with a piercing flurry of blazing notes. His solo was over fast, but it was absolutely amazing and inspiring.
And then it was into a fairly typical set of encores, “Love Sick,” “Rolling Stone,” “Don’t Think Twice,” and Blowin’ In The Wind,” followed by “Not Fade Away” with Tedeschi again appearing to sing on the choruses.
The lights went down and the crowd stayed put and they came back one more time for “Rainy Day Women.
Dylan didn’t touch his harp the entire night.
So this final show of this remarkable tour wasn’t as adventuresome set list-wise as some of the others and perhaps didn’t have those truly transcendent peaks. But the energy was there throughout and the songs were played and sung with conviction. And in the end you can’t ask for more than that. And once again, like every other show I’ve seen in the last two weeks, this one was completely different in every way. I can’t think of any other performer that I’ve seen who can pull that little trick off.