So finally I’ve had enough sleep for the first time in days (must’ve been those strange cookies I ate in some casino hotel room the night before) and my friend Train and his friend Jody pile into my car for another trip down I-95 South to the college town of Towson, a tiny bit west of Baltimore, where I’m going for my all-time record of four shows in three days. Train and I had made almost the exact same trip just a little over a year ago and after a bit of confusion finally find the arena and there are the busses and the semis all lined up and it being a college, once again are the separate lines for men and women to get in. I have to meet the Mystery Man from Maryland who has my ticket and we’re supposed to meet at Will Call except they’re kicking everyone out of Will Call and there’s two lines on either side of the building to get in, and we didn’t know that when we made the arrangements. But it was loose and I just kind of wandered up and down the lines looking for the Mystery Man and finally there he is by Will Call and everything’s cool. And we’re ignoring the men/women division thing and everyone else is too, and Train wants to stand in line with Jody since she’s his fiancé but just as we get near the door the split up the sexes for the search and the security guy says to me, “I gotta make sure you ain’t bringin’ in no recording devices,” and it’s a college gym and we get up pretty close to the stage, and there’s all kinds of people, college kids, ancient hippies, all talking Dylan, and jostling for position and there’s lots of time because they let everyone in around 7:30 and the show doesn’t start till 8:30, and finally the roadies in their jumpsuits come out and do the final guitar check and then they’re on stage and then the announcement, and then “Oh Babe It Ain’t No Lie,” and it kind of makes sense because the Seeger family was living somewhere around these parts when Mike Seeger was floored when Elizabeth Cotton picked up one of his guitars turns it upside down and starts playing it.
And again Dylan is very much alive and very much on, so on he can barely stand in one place and then into “Mr. Tambourine Man,” with sort of a different opening than the last time, and then on the second verse, whatever it is that possesses Dylan took possession and he’s messing with the phrasing and the melody big time and there’s no real way to explain it on paper the way he sang “magic sailing ship” and “my senses have been stripped,” but it wasn’t like any “Tambourine Man” I’ve heard before and I’ve heard many different “Tambourine Man’s.”
Then it’s the thump thump beginning of “Desolation Row” and the once upon a time and maybe still hippie next to me explains to his uncomprehending companion “kind of a surrealist view of life” and the intensity is building with each line but Dylan is doing his comic thing on stage, constantly shifting position of the guitar, making a new face every second and it’s getting better every minute to lead to a sublime version of “One Too Many Mornings” and then “Tangled” which for some reason has been great at every show and then when you think it’s gonna end he picks up the harp and this time it’s none of that two-note stuff he likes to do to start a solo, he’s really blowing the harp and it’s great.
“Searching For A Soldier’s Grave” came next and for the past two nights I’ve been watching what Dylan does with his guitar, hitting this double rhythmic strum between the verses, but also answering his vocal with little licks sliding up the neck and it’s just perfect.
“Country Pie” again tonight is a blast, and it doesn’t matter at all if the song isn’t probing the lyrical depths because it’s so much fun watching Campbell and Sexton try to outdo each other playing superb string-bending licks taking Charlie Daniels’ original solo to new heights every time.
A near-perfect “Blind Willie McTell” came next followed by a killer “Seeing The Real You At Last” and Dylan is savoring every line and having one hell of a good time shouting out “Oh Yeah!” at the end of the two of the verses. Throughout the show it’s obvious he’s having fun and unlike at Princeton, he’s not trying very hard to suppress his smiles.
“Trying to Get to Heaven” with Larry excelling on the jazz-flavored guitar fills, was also quite good, but keeping with his habit of mixing up all the verses, he didn’t (as usual) sing “Mary Jane’s got a house in Baltimore” which of course would’ve brought an easy cheer from the crowd.
They roared into “Wicked Messenger” and Dylan is pulling out all the stops on his phrasing and then getting almost on his knees for the harp solo. Then after very quick band-member introductions, they kept the energy with a “Cats In The Well” that to put it mildly kicked ass.
“Things Have Changed” was a pretty standard version, but on “Like A Rolling Stone” also of a sudden Charlie Sexton lets loose with this truly stellar guitar solo, the kind that perhaps hasn’t been heard on that song since a certain legendary show in 1966.
And then once again “If Dogs Run Free,” and this time Dylan got the words all mixed up, but it was still great. His delivery and the expressions he makes are simply a riot and at the end of the song he walked over to Sexton and as he turned from the audience you could see he was cracking up.
Dylan barely had his Strat back on when Sexton kicked off “Watchtower,” then back to acoustics for “Don’t Think Twice” which was followed by a “Highway 61” for the record books. A few years from now when Dylan fans on the net are still arguing about what’s the best live “Highway 61,” someone’s gonna say. “Towson Maryland, November 19, 2000.”
“Blowin’ In The Wind” again featured Dylan ending each line on a high note, but on the final verse, what Columbia once called “the emotional wallop” in an early ad for “Freewheelin’” crept in, and at the end as Dylan went to stand in line, he actually took a quick bow.