Now the last time I saw Bob at the PNC Bank Arts Center, it wasn’t the PNC Bank Arts Center, it was simply the New Jersey Arts Center and was a bit more mellow than it is now and a lot less corporate, but such is life in America. Back in ’91 we got treated to one of the infamous versions of “New Morning.” Tonight was a bit more focused.
Dylan opened with “Silvio,” which by some point in the mid-’90s I’d hoped never to have to hear live again, but it wasn’t bad at all and worked as an opener in getting things off to a pretty rocking start. Both Larry Campbell and Freddie Koella took good solos and while the song didn’t quite reach the psychedelic heights of the mid-’90s versions with John Jackson (probably his shining moment) it worked.
This was followed by a not bad at all “If You See Her Say Hello” that wasn’t quite as fast as the versions from a decade ago where it almost had a Creedence Clearwater tempo, but not quite as slow as the album. It was hard to tell whether Dylan was making up half the verses as he went along, but he had little for every verse and when he sang an actual line from the original lyrics such as the “Sundown Yellow moon, I still replay the past” it was more of a surprise than the new words. Dylan also did two pretty good harp solos, the second reaching some wild proportions.
On Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, Dylan sang in this low guttural Tom Waits-ish register sometimes going high into what sounded like his sort of regular voice. It was fairly strange, and he didn’t really hit the groove until midway through the song. Because he would work his way out of it, it was sometimes hard to tell if this was yet another new style of singing which perhaps he hasn’t mastered yet or if there is some kind of serious voice/throat problem happening.
Next came “Joey” which was pretty much a surprise since Dylan seems to reserve this song for some bizarre reason for Deadheads. Anyway for what it’s worth, he nailed it. It was easily one of the highlights of the night. I really don’t notice what verses he doesn’t do while a show is happening and while he didn’t do all of them, he did sing the verses in order and delivered one lengthy, quite good harp solo while the guitars rocked hard behind him at times almost sounding like Rolling Thunder.
“Highway 61” was pretty strong but was accompanied by a couple who thought they were on American Bandstand, even though everyone in the entire section was sitting down. But these assholes could have given a shit if they were blocking anyone’s view, and were not just dancing but dancing in a manner that only said look at me. Now asides from the fact that there really isn’t all that much room to dance in a row of seats, if they really went to the show to dance there was a whole big lawn to dance on, since the whole time they were dancing they didn’t look at the stage once. However, Bob did do the 5th daughter on the 12th night verse.
Chord-wise, the next song could have been “You’re A Big Girl Now,” but it turned into the newly re-arranged “It Ain’t Me Babe,” though slower than the other version I heard from this current tour. It was good, but nowhere as strong as the versions from last year’s fall tour, but it might be the leader in the song with the most arrangements in Dylan’s catalog with the possible exception of “Maggie’s Farm.”
Next came “Hard Rain” with an exaggerated vocal similar to the one from New Orleans earlier this year, though not quite as outrageous as that version. The song was going along strong but somewhere in the middle some Petty arrivals appeared in the next aisle trying to figure out which seats were their’s and discussed it for at least an entire verse as which point the usually mild-mannered RMD-er of some repute sitting next to me exploded and I was praying the pieces wouldn’t fall on me. The guy behind us testing out his new cell phone didn’t help either, along with the running commentary on everything but the show that went on next to the new cell phone guy. So much for “Hard Rain” and I spent the beginning of “Drifter’s Escape” trying to figure out whether a verse got left out of “Hard Rain or not. However, “Drifter’s” was intense with Dylan pretty much leaving whatever Tom Waits aspirations he had at the beginning of the show behind.
Next came the show’s spookiest moment, “Can’t Wait” in a slow spooky version, with Dylan’s keyboard standing out and a vocal that was damn close to the album version in voice and feel, even though the song was much slower.
Dylan ended the show with three rockers, “Watching The River Flow,” “Honest With Me” and “Summer Days.” Dylan, dressed in a black sparkling western suit stood on stage for about a second of what was once known as the formation and then walked off. There was a pretty long wait for the encore, but when the they returned they were joined by Tom Petty, Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench for “Rainy Day Women,” and then a fairly scorching “Watchtower” with Campbell playing some spectacular guitar.
It was a good show, with a couple of great moments. The atmosphere at the PNC Bank Arts Center…. well, there isn’t any atmosphere.