I had no idea when I woke up Tuesday morning that I was going to Scranton, but very quickly an email appeared with an offer from my friend Orlando that was hard to refuse, and so I found myself on my way to Scranton in mid-afternoon by way of Central Jersey resulting in a neat little 400 miles trek.
Montage Mountain is a fairly pleasant, not-too-large venue tucked away in the woods near the top of Pennsylvania.
Bob Dylan and his band took the stage to a theater that was about three quarters empty at exactly seven minutes after seven and proceeded to rock “Duncan and Brady.” It may have been acoustic instruments but they were rocking, Dylan singing strongly and clearly and there was no doubt that he was on. It was rather awesome.
“Song to Woody” followed in a performance that left you feeling he really was singing the song to Woody, and not just singing the song. The paced picked up with a driving “Desolation Row” with Dylan getting into it, singing DesoLAYSHUN Row, with Bob playing a fairly crazy guitar solo. Then Larry went behind the pedal steel, for a pleasant “Love Minus Zero.” And then into the inevitable “Tangled” which found Bob all tangled up in the verses, singing the fifth verse third and the third verse fourth, and leaving out the fourth verse entirely.
Then after what seemed like a set-list change, Larry picked up the mandolin and into “Searching For A Soldier’s Grave,” with high lonesome spooky bluegrass harmony throughout. I can’t remember Dylan ever doing a song before where his backing singers sang all the verses and choruses with him—Dylan another voice in a trio. It was both beautiful and great.
And then into the electric portion with a kicking “Country Pie,” which asides from being a lot of fun served to showcase Dylan’s two excellent guitarists as they threw licks to each other, Bob for once, sticking solely to rhythm guitar.
A mellow “Positively Fourth Street” followed, with “Maggie’s Farm” having a kind of Johnny Cash “Big River” groove to it. However Bob really spaced on the words mixing up Ma and Pa and whose bedroom window was made out of bricks. Charlie Sexton who is more out front than when I last saw the band in November played sizzling guitar with a couple of nods to Michael Bloomfield.
Then it was back to Nashville Skyline for “Tell Me That It Isn’t True,” but Bob sang the second verse again on the bridge part. Instead of singing “To know that some other man is holding you tight,” he sang, “I know that you’ve been seen with some other man/It hurts me all over (and then realizing) he came up with “I don’t understand,” and then when they returned to the bridge after an instrumental break, he sang the second verse again, but this time the final line was, “It hurts me all over, it’s telling me a lot.”
But that was quickly forgotten in the sudden jump to Jimi Hendrixland for a searing “Drifter’s Escape.” This was nothing less than stunning with the stage lights which basically were off sudden blazing blue highlighting the guitar riff after each line, and when the bolt of lightning hit the courthouse, there was lightning from Charlie’s guitar, followed by Dylan pulling out the harp for a solo unlike any other he has ever played. It was crazy like the ’66 solos, but it was a controlled craziness. He knew exactly what he was doing, and not only that, he knew what he wanted to do, and he did it, playing around with the melody of the song, yet digging deep into the rhythm. It reminded me of an early Stevie Wonder harp solo. After that, Bob got into a discussion with one of his roadie’s and did “Leopard Skin” without introducing the band.
And then came what has been referred to as “the formation,” with everyone just standing there holding their instruments staring at the audience. It was weird, and as has been reported at other shows, Larry was the first to break formation.
Returning they went right into “Things Have Changed,” with Bob singing almost immediately. This was another high point of the night, and Dylan seemed more into this song than just about any of the other electric songs, except “Drifter’s Escape.”
Bob finally introduced the band (with no jokes) and went into “Like A Rolling Stone,” and then, a waltzing, “My Back Pages,” with Larry on fiddle, which appeared to be another deviation from the setlist, and then the usual “Highway 61,” and “Blowin’ In The Wind.”
For this night, the acoustic set was definitely more energized than most of what followed. The show seemed to lose steam somewhere in the middle and though there were absolute high points, never quite regained the energy it started with.
In this ever-evolving band, on this tour, it seems that Charlie Sexton is moving much more to the front as lead guitarist.
But on the other hand, what other artist moves from bluegrass to blues to hard rock and back again, but if you stop for a second and think about the words and thoughts coming out, even with a slight loss of steam, it remains a remarkable experience.
But at the same time the loss of steam may have been due to the low roar of conversation that was ever-present throughout the night. Maybe if what seemed like the majority of the audience had bothered to pay attention and get into it, instead of talking about whatever they were talking about, that steam might not have been lost.