August 1, 2021

Peter Stone Brown Archives

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Hilton Hotel, Atlantic City, NJ 5/9/03

It was kind of this miserable raining and not raining and raining again day in Philly, the kind of rain that wets the roads just enough to make them slippery and traffic everywhere was crawling. I’m pretty sure this was Dylan’s fifth time in Atlantic City, not counting the times he did two shows in one night. It was also his first time at the Hilton. I’d been the Hilton a few times before to see the Everly Brothers and Dion and maybe somebody else somewhere along the way. Usually they have tables, though they don’t serve drinks which makes the table kind of useless anyway. The Waifs were already on by the time we actually got into the theater (shows run on time in Atlantic City) and we took our seats about midway from the stage to end up behind what appeared to be the only true drunken moron in the place who didn’t shut up once during the Waifs and had a mullet besides. The Waifs are actually pretty good, playing some sort of Australian/American roots rock. Good player singers, good songs and one of them plays a pretty mean harmonica. They played exactly 35 minutes. At one minute after 9. Dylan took the stage and opened with “Maggie’s Farm” On this tour, Dylan has perhaps the weirdest stage setup ever. He’s all the way over the left of the stage instead of being in the center. But he is Bob Dylan, so who’s going to tell him what part of the stage he should be singing from? Anyway the reason for this setup quickly became clear. It’s so Dylan can lead and cue the band, and perhaps keep an eye on his sometimes wayward drummer. Dylan seemed to be in good spirits and having fun. New guitar player Freddie Koella came right out (unlike previous new Dylan guitarists) and played a fairly funky lead. Next came “Tell Me That It Isn’t True” in an arrangement that was pretty close to the original with Larry Campbell on steel. Larry played a fine steel solo and it was Freddie’s turn to jump right in, but he didn’t seem to find whatever he was looking for at it took a while for him to get it. It wasn’t a big deal, but he should have been right on it and he wasn’t. Next came “Tweedle Dee” and “Tweedle Dum,” which was just fine, the band maintaining the groove. However on the second verse, Dylan went into what some people call the “singsong” mode, which when he goes high on the last word of a line. Unlike the fall tour, where he’d do it once and then stop, he kept it going kind of, but was also doing that thing he does where he’s looking for the groove to make the song happen, laying into stretching out some lines, breaking off others. It was back to “Nashville Skyline” for a decent “Lay Lady Lay” with Dylan singing strongly as well as convincingly with Recile staying reasonably close the original Kenny Buttrey drum part. Dylan concluded the song with a not bad harp solo that was just starting to approach the cosmic phase when he ended the song. Then it was back to rocking with “Things Have Changed,” and a not bad at all “Watching the River Flow” with Larry playing the slide part. An equally good “Blind Willie McTell” followed though it was kind of diminished by the mullet drunk who was dancing the entire show and started falling into the chairs behind him. A fairly run of the mill “Highway 61 Revisited” followed, and then came the sort of rearranged “Standing in the Doorway.” However this version was far better than the couple of mp3s I’d heard earlier in the tour. The double-time guitar part, which I thought was played by Koella is actually played by Larry and at Atlantic City, it wasn’t a lead at all, but a guitar part in the arrangement of the song and instead of dominating was in the background. As a guitar part it worked fine, as a lead part it doesn’t. Koella and Campbell had some really nice interplay going on in this song. Next came the high point of the show for me, a rather stellar rendition of “Dignity.” Though he kind of mumbled the opening line, the rest of the song was close to perfect. And this was followed by more than competent versions of “Just Like A Woman,” with a good harp solo, “Honest With Me” and a more than decent “Moonlight.” Now last fall, “Summer Days” was the perfect song to close the show. With three guitars going crazy, the song reached stratospheric heights – there were times I could’ve sworn I heard horns on it, though of course I really didn’t. At Atlantic City, it didn’t come close. Something I don’t know what, threw Dylan off early in the song and he started blowing lines. It took him a while to recover. Just as he did, Recili came out of a drum roll and kind of lost the beat. The guitars players tried to save it, but it never really took off. “Like A Rolling Stone and “Watchtower” were fairly predictable. After last fall’s Philly show (perhaps because I had very good seats) I kind of felt like the guy on stage was the closest we were going to see to the kid who rocked the talent show at Hibbing High School. I feel even more that way now. Dylan is clearly having a good time on stage. Every once in a while he comes out from the piano and does his Dylan walk shuffle and then goes back to the piano and leads his band. However his band is in a transitional phase. Some arrangements are the same, some are slightly different. There’s no doubt that Koella can play, and he can be both funky and tasty when he wants to be. He doesn’t seem to have a handle on the songs yet. And while he apparently has no problem stepping out, he does not have the edge and the fire that Charlie Sexton had not yet anyway. Gone at least for the moment are the harmonies, and also gone for the moment is the feeling of a band that had been together for years and knew exactly what it was doing. At the same time, it wasn’t a bad show by any means. It just wasn’t a truly great one. It was a great singer having fun with his songs and his band. That that singer is one of the greatest and probably the most influential songwriter of the last century, along with being on of the truly brilliant vocal stylists of the last 40 years is another story. Dylan did enough to let you know he can still do it. One last thing. Bob Dylan did not touch a guitar the entire night.