The last time Bob Dylan played the Merriweather Post Pavilion was on June 14, 1981. That was a pleasant, Sunday afternoon concert. It was back when the Gospel singers were still opening his shows and not long after he started bringing the songs that made him famous back into the picture. The show wasn’t that long, but it had quite a few surprises including songs from his not-yet-released new album, “Shot of Love,” such as “Dead Man,” and “Lenny Bruce,” as well as covers of “We Just Disagree” and “Abraham, Martin and John.”
There was a big time Deadhead scene in the parking lot accompanied by lots of cops and undercover cops. We spent sometime before the show watching a guy get handcuffed his car get searched, and the very obvious undercover cop who fingered him.
Once inside the ground of the Pavilion itself, it was a lot mellower.
Now some people probably wonder, why go see Bob Dylan three nights in a row or as many times as you can? Of course one of the reasons is it’s never the same show, but another reason is to catch that one performance where he really does it, captures that thing that only Bob Dylan can do, that magical moment in all its glorious essence. And then maybe you don’t have to see him anymore for a while, or maybe you already have tickets for another show, or he’s playing close enough and you hope he’ll do it again but even better. And sometimes he does and sometimes he doesn’t.
In Columbia Maryland tonight, he definitely did. And sometimes you know from the moment he hits the stage how it’s going to go. And tonight the audience also played a part and it’s really not a matter of dancing or standing up or not standing up, it’s a matter of being into it. And tonight’s audience collectively was far hipper than the one the night before in Camden, who might’ve as well have been at any event. Tonight the crowd knew when there was a great guitar solo happening and they also knew when it was a special song.
And again tonight Bob Dylan and his band hammered home the point during the first part of the show, that they may be playing acoustic guitars, but they are rocking and rocking hard, as he tore into “Duncan and Brady,” followed by a very nice “To Ramona,” with Larry on mandolin.
And then, “Desolation Row,” which had just been incredible every show I’ve seen this week, but before the first verse is out there’s this low but loud rumbly feedback noise, and Dylan’s mic cuts out, but they get it together really fast and he continues, spitting out the words and he’s into his guitar solo looking for whatever it is he’s looking for and then he finds it, and he’s going on and on, riding this solo like a rodeo rider and it’s like holy shit! What a solo! And the crowd is going crazy.
And then back one album into “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue,” with Larry on pedal steel, and it’s not as fast as it once was, but it’s not as slow as it once was either, and there’s slow subtle, majestic groove building, and the steel is ethereal, heavenly and they’re really taking the song somewhere it hasn’t been before but they’re not quite there yet.
“Tangled” was “Tangled” with Dylan once again tangling up the order of the verses.
“Searching For A Soldier’s Grave,” was once again awesome. It’s as if whatever Dylan’s been looking for over the past few years performing these old country songs, he’s really found it in this one. The feel was perfect, the harmonies astounding, taking you back in time every one of those fifty-plus years.
And then, the night’s first big surprise, “Watching The River Flow,” but not the speedy country-rock version he’s done for most of the ’90s. This version was more or less the way he originally recorded it—a rollicking blues and they are playing for all it’s worth and Sexton on guitar and Campbell on lap steel are soaring.
And then out of nowhere comes “Every Grain of Sand” and Sexton and Campbell have this guitar duet thing happening, and then (sigh) “Maggie’s Farm,” followed by a truly inspired “Dignity.”
And then once again it’s hard rock time for “Cold Iron Bounds,” and they take it even further than they did in Camden getting FUCKING LOUD in the process.
And again the closer was “Leopard-Skin Pill-box Hat.”
The intensity and volume continued through the encores with “Things Have Changed” standing out, and Dylan singing “Like A Rolling Stone,” like he really meant it, followed by “It Ain’t Me Babe,” and a thoroughly nasty “Highway 61 Revisited,” with the guitars reaching ear-splitting levels.
Tonight was one of those shows and it also left no doubt how great this band is. This is by far the best of any of the “Never-Ending Tour Bands,” and easily one of the best bands Dylan has had. Now that Charlie Sexton is stepping out more and more on lead guitar, the music is going somewhere else, reaching new heights. The guy is a maniac and he’ll do whatever he has to do to get the sound he wants out of that guitar and he knows exactly what he’s doing. He brings back to Dylan’s music that wild edge that was previously only provided by Michael Bloomfield and Robbie Robertson.
What a night!