August 1, 2021

Peter Stone Brown Archives

Archives of musician and writer

08/12/03, Hammerstein Ballroom, New York

It was a reasonably mellow scene both outside the Hammerstein in line and inside.  Of course there were the typical hassles that come with any standup general admission show such as the 7 foot human wall in the grey Springsteen shirt with a 7 on the back who wouldn’t let people who he could easily see over stand in front of him, but so it goes. However then I happened to meet a couple of very nice guys, one named Israel and I’m not sure if I got the other one’s name and they invited us to come and stand with them.

The Waifs came on around 8 pm and delivered their usual excellent set and they know just how to keep it short and sweet but interesting at the same time.

Bob Dylan and his band took the stage around 9:15, Dylan wearing a dark red almost maroon western suit and started into the current version of “Silvio.”  “I Don’t Believe You” was an okay surprise, but then “Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum” followed and it seemed like it was going to be a typical show with the new “It Ain’t Me Babe” following that.  I was spending a lot of time trying to find a clear line of vision but then the curtain with the Egyptian eye lifted and someone walked on stage though it was hard to tell who.  There was a guitar player standing in Tommy’s space, but I couldn’t make out at first who it was.

“Things Have Changed” started and this guitar player tore into it in such a way that the song was lifted energy-wise 100 percent.  At the end of the song there were shouts of Nils and I managed to get a better view and sure enough it was Nils Lofgren and they went into “Watching The River Flow.”  Nils was starting to move out of the corner next to Dylan and doing his Nils thing of moving around and interact with the other musicians and then he started to play his Strat directly to Dylan.

Meanwhile Dylan’s singing was getting clearer and clearer and this low gruff voice he’s been using wasn’t nearly as much in evidence as it was at Holmdel.  They then went into “Love Sick” and there was no doubt that Lofgren was pretty much blowing both Larry and Freddie away and I think they’re both fine guitarists.  But this was excitement and it became quite obvious how much this band has been in sleep mode since Charlie Sexton departed.

A rather supersonic “Highway 61” came next and the songs are getting extended because of Lofgren and it’s clear Dylan is having a blast and not caring whether the songs are ending right or not because the music is so happening.

“Make You Feel My Love” came next and was followed by one of the craziest “Drifter’s Escapes” ever.  At the end they just kept alternating solos and Nils just wouldn’t stop.  Bob went for the harp, wrong one, he cracked up and got the right one, and then Nils just kept going and going and would not stop and finally the song ended in a way that wasn’t typical and Dylan just exploded into hysterical laughter.

Then the band started to play “Bye and Bye” and then stopped.  Instead they played “Moonlight” and all three guitar players are alternating solos and Dylan is really singing it and taking chances.  In fact it may have been the best live version of “Moonlight” ever.   This was followed by a re-energized “Honest With Me” and then “Baby Blue” with Larry on steel and Nils singing on the end of the chorus right at Dylan. Then “Summer Days” with Nils sitting on the drum riser with his Strat on his lap and playing slide. This was a show where the set list didn’t matter, the songs didn’t matter.  It was all about the performance.  Lofgren was beyond phenomenal, but his presence reminded the band what it was all about and most important of all he inspired Dylan to give what was quite possibly his best performance this year.