Bob Dylan was totally on from the second he started playing tonight at the cavernous MCI Center. Dressed in black, with the band in matching gray suits, they tore into “Wait For the Light to Shine,” with Larry standing out on mandolin. This was no warm up song with Dylan trying to find his voice. He and the band were right there from the first note. This was followed by an exquisite “Girl From the North Country,” which led into a surging version of “Hard Rain,” with Dylan trying a new attack on each verse, sometimes rushing, the lyrics cascading, and then laying back, almost letting each line sing itself. The band was magnificent carrying the song like an ocean in waves that would glide and then pound at the shore, as Dylan sang each “hard” differently, sometimes adding, “Yes it’s a hard…”
A standard, but strong renditon of “Searching For a Soldier’s Grave,” brought the energy level back a tiny bit, but only to maximize the impact of the first electric song, “Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum.” The band had the groove right in the pocket with all kinds of crazy guitar stuff going on, with Dylan playing a search but not destroy lead, and finding what he was looking for, and when he found it, you wanted him to keep going but he pulled back and let Charlie take over. It was everything you wanted this song to be live.
Then it was back in time for a perfectly played “Tell Me That It Isn’t True,” with Larry Campbell shining on pedal steel. Larry remained at the steel for “Just Like A Woman,” which was heightened by David Kemper playing something very close to the original Kenny Buttrey drum fills. Near the conclusion, Dylan went back to his amp picked up the right harp the first time for a more than decent solo. Both songs were a little laid back after the blast of “Tweedle Dee,” but it turned out to be perfect pacing for the maximum impact of “High Water,” and where I was Larry’s banjo was strong and clear, while Charlie’s guitar was the perfect counterpoint providing an ominous sound throughout as the song kept building and building in intensity with Dylan delivering a spectacular vocal.
The lights went down and there was a tiny break between songs and what seemed like a slightly different intro emerged into “Floater,” and it was obvious that everyone was trying to make sure it was right with a deliberate almost banjo like rhythm throughout, and the instrumental break between the verses turning into something else entirely.
Then it was back to acoustics for a charged “Tangled Up In Blue” with the spotlight just on Dylan and Larry until the band kicked in at the end of the first verse. Dylan might have skipped some verses but it didn’t matter at all, and did sing the “she lit a burner” verse. He played a good solo in the middle, and then dropped it and let the band take over and from where I was it seemed like he was point with each hand to Larry and Charlie. Then after the last verse again picked up the harp, slowly finding his way into the solo and hitting it, and you were hoping he’d keep the solo going for another verse, and low and behold he did getting a little wilder this time around and bring the song to a strong conclusion.
A totally stripped down and powerful “John Brown” followed, which was just about as close as you’re going to get these days to seeing Dylan totally solo. The band was there but providing the most subtle accompaniment, all rhythm letting the story totally be the focus, the words, the images hit you as it ended right at the last line, no instrumentals, just the song. A cool “Don’t Think Twice” came next and I was hoping Dylan would again pick up the harp but it wasn’t to be.
However it didn’t matter at all because a super-charged, totally amazing “Summer Days” took the already high energy level up a few hundred notches. It kicked off in high gear and never let up with Dylan’s vocal incredibly powerful, funny, biting, snarling all at once, making sure he had the room to get in the “Whaddaya mean you can’t, of course you can line” at maximum impact. And then there were the guitar solos, with Charlie holding back at first waiting to see what Dylan would do and then playing around what he was doing and it kept getting higher and higher and then Larry stopped playing rhythm and joined in the fun and you had all three guitar players playing lead in one manic, glorious swing, jump, blues pure rock and roll moment of sheer joyous mania, never once colliding or getting in each other’s way driving it home to a phenomenal conclusion.
Now that in itself would have been enough, but then came a gorgeous and majestic version of Mississippi that simply soared. Now throughout the concert Dylan’s vocals had been strong, defined, emotional and to the point, but somewhere in the middle of this song on the second part of one of the verses, he just pulled out all the stops and started singing higher in that way that cuts right through you where his voice sails way above the band and takes you somewhere else entirely. It was completely magnificent.
Then wham! They were into a totally rocking “Wicked Messenger,” and again when Dylan goes for the harp on this tune, he’s right on it, no pausing, blowing a couple of notes first, he knows exactly what he’s gonna do and does it.
“Rainy Day Women” closed the initial set and for whatever crazy reason, Dylan is really singing this song on this tour as opposed to a few years ago where he’d maybe sing a couple of verses and have it basically serve as a jam. In fact, except for one changed line, he is actually singing the original lyrics from the album and not making them up as he goes along.
The encores started with a strong “Things Have Changed,” a fairly standard “Like A Rolling Stone,” a nice, moving “Forever Young,” and then kicked back into high gear for “Honest With Me,” bringing the level down a bit for “Blowin’ In The Wind,” and then returning for a searing “All Along The Watchtower.”
What was known as the formation appears to have blown away in the wind, as Dylan no longer just stands there and stares back at the audience. On this night, he (and the band) took several bows.
There was absolutely no doubt, though he let the songs do the talking that Dylan was totally aware of where he was and what went down. But interestingly enough while the cops decided to search our car going into the venue lot looking under the car with mirrors on sticks and popping the trunk — we considered it longhaired profiling when considering who the act was maybe the should have been looking for someone who looked more like Timothy McVeigh – there was no search (that I saw) entering the venue itself. Hopefully this show was captured my more than a few people. DC was a brilliant concert in every way. Madison Square Garden should be spectacular.