Sometimes it seems there are nights when Bob Dylan decides he’s going to out and show everyone exactly why he is… well… Bob Dylan and the first show at the Tropicana was one of those times. Dylan was on from the first note of “Duncan & Brady,” followed by an astoundingly beautiful “To Ramona” with Larry Campbell on mandolin, and then, a “Desolation Row” that rocked with Dylan finding what he was looking for on guitar and not letting it go in two different solos that kept building in intensity. But it was the singing that made the show. There were times when he was sailing and it didn’t matter that the set list wasn’t all that exciting, even standard compared to some shows on this tour because he made both “Don’t Think Twice” and the ever-present “Tangled Up In Blue” come alive.
“Country Pie” again served as a vehicle for Sexton and Campbell to show their stuff. Who ever would’ve thought an absurd song like “Country Pie” would be an opener for the electric set, but it works especially when Sexton and Campbell get into the call-and-response leads at the end.
Then came the show’s one surprise, a rearranged “The Man In Me” with Larry playing gorgeous steel followed by a reasonably strong, “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues,” with Dylan playing the lead—and he hit some funky crazy groove, but as good as it was I ended up wishing he’d let Sexton loose on this one.
The energy level was then brought down for “To Make You Feel My Love” which had into which made me thing it was going to be the superior “Simple Twist of Fate,” but this may have been part of Dylan’s plan, “playing the master arsonist” as Sam Shepherd said in order to make the blast of Cold Iron Bounds all the more effective and the guitars were cranked and they were loud and Dylan is clearly having a good time, but then the band introductions and triple sunburst Strat attack on “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat.”
The energy level stayed high for an excellent “Things Have Changed” and another great “If Dogs Run Free,” masterfully delivered with Dylan changing lyrics: “My ears hear a reverie of rhyme” and stretching out, If doggggggggggggggggggs run free.”
The set ended with a more straight-ahead “Like A Rolling Stone” than the previous night in Princeton before the rather hysterical formation lineup.
The songs and even this review don’t tell the story—Dylan’s singing tonight was on a spectacular level.
Now the Tropicana is one very crowed and claustrophobic casino and getting out of this theater was no easy task and once outside back in the casino you couldn’t even stop to talk to people because the security wanted the line to keep moving. And everywhere you went in the casino whether it was on an elevator there were just tons of people.
For the second show the band appeared in matching sort of maroon suits with Dylan dressed in a black suit with a black shirt and a tie that matched the band’s suits. He immediately changed things by opening with “I Am The Man Thomas,” and then “My Back Pages” with Larry on fiddle. But halfway through, maybe less than halfway, there was a loud pop—the kind of sound when a very loud electric object is unplugged and Dylan’s mic went dead and he kept singing, hearing himself in the monitor apparently not realizing that the audience couldn’t hear him. This was followed by a very long instrumental break and I kept wondering if anyone was doing anything about the sound and if Dylan knew something was really messed up but then he started singing again and no one could hear. And then he started “It’s All Right Ma” but no one could hear and everyone started to wonder how long this was going to go on. Then a stage hand said something to Tony and Tony said something to Bob and then finally the sound came back for the last verse. But when something like this happens it’s kind of like letting the air out of balloon and it takes a while to get things back to where they were. However Dylan is of the old school of performers, those who believe you do not stop the show for anything.
Like the first show (and just about every show on this tour), “Tangled,” “Soldier’s Grave” and “Country Pie” were next. Then came “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight,” one song that I’ve never particularly cared for live. On John Wesley Harding, the song is pure C&W going right back to Hank Williams, but in concert Dylan turns it into this bluesy shuffle. Tonight they did a little more with it especially on the bridge, but the best moment came when Dylan finally brought out the harp—the first time I’ve seen him play harp on this that I can remember and it was a great solo.
“Tombstone Blues” brought the energy level a bit higher followed by “Trying To Get To Heaven,” and then instead of “Pill-Box Hat,” a very funky and rocking “Cats In The Well” to close the first set.
Then something really weird happened, perhaps the strangest thing I’ve ever seen at a Dylan concert. While everyone was waiting for the band to return for the encores all of a sudden Tropicana people were on stage and made an announcement that all the people in the front of the stage had to clear out or the show would stop! They said the fire marshals were there and would stop the show. The house lights came about three quarters of the way up and we wondered if the show was going to continue or not. This was really bizarre and totally unprecedented, but then Dylan shows in Atlantic City have built up a rather bizarre history no matter what casino he plays.
Finally the band and Dylan reappeared and Dylan rescued what was left of the show with an mighty “Things Have Changed” during which he kept smiling, prompting my friend Andrew to comment, “Only he would never crack a smile on “Country Pie,” and smile throughout “Things Have Changed.”
The remaining songs were good but standard, but despite a good performance by Dylan and his band, the sound problems at the beginning and the Tropicana people at the end kind of put a damper on this show.