Now the last thing I remember I was in some internet café in Times Square that must’ve had a couple of hundred computers and I’d just posted a review of the night before to RMD through Google when all of a sudden the screen went dark and a couple of hundred people gave out a collective “whoa” as we realized that not only did the computers go dark but the lights went out. An alarm went off and everyone headed out to 42nd Street, but we still weren’t sure what was happening. Well there was nothing to do but walk and we went up to 7th Avenue and realized the lights were out on every store. Turning the corner on 7th Avenue and heading south towards 34th Street and the Hammerstein I still wasn’t sure what was going on until I looked down 7th Avenue and realized every red light was out as far as I could see. A feeling of doom entered my mind. On the next block someone had a car radio blaring and it became apparent that New York City had no electricity whatsoever. It was the beginning of rush hour and buildings were emptying fast. Now anyone who’s ever been to Midtown Manhattan knows there’s enough people on the sidewalks to begin with especially around Times Square, but when every single building empties out, well that’s another story entirely. A sinking feeling entered my mind about that night’s show. Reaching 35th Street, I suggested to my companion we duck down behind the Hammerstein and see if anyone was hanging by the busses, and sure enough Larry Campbell and George Recile were there. We hung out for a few minutes and went around the front when a friend rushed up to us saying, “This is it, the entire East Coast” is blacked out, which didn’t turn out to be true. So we got more or less in line, and I was keeping my eye on the Loew’s movie theater sign across the street hoping it would light up.
Someone said there would be an announcement at 6 o’clock. At 6:15 they announced the show was cancelled and would hopefully happen the next night. No one was exactly sure what to do, and the cell phone we had wasn’t connecting. My car was way on the other side of town where you can park all day, and I didn’t relish the prospect of driving in Manhattan, which is the world’s largest bumper car game without traffic lights, especially in rush hour, and I’d heard the tunnels were closed. I approached a cop, and said, I’m from out of town, can I drive out of here tonight. He said to take the George Washington Bridge. Fun. You couldn’t get a cab, the busses were more claustrophobic than the sidewalks. There was nothing to do but walk. So we headed south. I had family in New York and that’s where I was going. On top of all this the temperature was in the ’90s and we don’t even wanna talk about the humidity. We were headed south some 40 blocks to just below Canal Street. My companion known in some quarters of Dylan land by a moniker from “Subterranean Homesick Blues” wasn’t exactly thrilled, but I said, it’s not all that far, I’ve walked it tons of times. The main difference was there weren’t a few hundred people on the sidewalk the other times I’d walked it. At one corner a Fresh Fields was handing out orange juice, ice cream and fruit. Some people were directing traffic. Finally we reached the Village. It’s not that much further. Finally we reached our destination and all this time I was worrying because how do you ring a doorbell on a New York City apartment building when the electricity doesn’t work. Luckily the front door was open and out walked my sister-in-law, who had just walked from Brooklyn with my brother. Relief! We went upstairs to get something to drink and to sit down. My brother was lighting candles and getting out a transistor radio. I called my roommate in Philly to see if there was power there. Passing the Holland Tunnel on the way, I couldn’t help but notice they were letting cars get out of the city. I was gearing up for a very long walk to my car which was on the other side of town, another few miles. It was dark. Very dark. All of a sudden some lights came on across the river in Jersey City, but nothing in Manhattan. My brother went on the roof of his building to check the traffic into the tunnel, which was hideous on our walk down, Seventh Avenue a virtual parking lot. After about an hour I said, well I’m going to go get the car and come back. My brother who had to leave his car in Brooklyn had an idea and called a friend who lived down the street and borrowed his car. The streets were black. It was like being in the country. Slowly we made it over to the Lower East Side. I was at the entrance to the Holland Tunnel in less than ten minutes. The tunnel was empty and dark. The car in front of me was hesitant about going in. “Come on,” I yelled at him through closed windows, the AC blasting, “you will never be able to cruise through the Holland Tunnel like this again,” and I want out of this goddamn city. Finally we emerged into Jersey City. which was still dark, and suddenly a few blocks ahead there were traffic lights. And onto the Jersey Turnpike which was free. A true escape from New York.
The next morning we were checking the net, TV, the radio for news of New York. The power wasn’t on yet. Would it be on for the show. We had the Hammerstein scene scoped out. Knew what was a reasonable time to get there, where we were going to sit. The news said power was coming on in New York. All systems appeared to be go, though the news said the subways wouldn’t be running till the next day which made me somewhat dubious. We got in the car, and looked at each other, asking if we were insane. The obvious answer was yes. Back into New Jersey and onto the turnpike and had just passed Exit 5 when the cell phone rang. It was my friend we were going to meet. No show. Oh well. A day of rest.
The next morning all seemed cool for Bushkill, an outdoor venue or so we thought. The minute we got in the car it started to rain, just like it did the previous weekend for Holmdel. All roads out of Philly in the direction we wanted to go were jammed. But once we got past the city all was cool and finally came to Bushkill and stopped for gas. A man approached me asking for a match. Not really. He wanted to know if I knew where the Mountain Laurel Center was. I said you can follow me or I can give you the directions I have. He said, “I’m looking for a blinking yellow light.” I told him you haven’t gone far enough. That blinking yellow light was at least 10 miles up the road and it was another few miles to finally in the middle of nowhere just west of the Delaware Water Gap was the Mountain Laurel Center and the Tom Ridge Pavilion. Brand new, this was the second show there, it seemed like a nice place. For the first time I wasn’t patted down as if I was criminal to go to a concert. Inside the venue was covered except for the lawn, and even better they had a little area where you could go smoke.
After some local open act and meeting a whole bunch of people, the show started with the usual introduction.
“Maggie’s Farm” was the opener and Bob seemed in strong voice. The next song was something of a surprise, “Senor.” It turned out to be the condensed version as Dylan went into the bridge where the second verse should be. But this also brought on questions of the strangeness of this summer tour. What happened to all the cool arrangements that had been happening the past few years? There are two fiddle players in this band. Why is there no fiddle on this song?
“Tweedle Dee” came next, and then “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere.” Now asides from the lack of harmonies on this song, again Freddie Koella’s guitar solo went nowhere, pretty much the way it did three nights before in New York where he couldn’t decide it he was going to play it rock or play it country and ended up being neither. Now Koella can play the guitar. He does have the chops. But this song has a guitar part that was established long ago that has been played by tons of bands who either like Bob Dylan or country rock. Was Freddie told, “whatever you do don’t play the Byrds’ guitar part”? “Things Have Changed” came next. It was pretty good, but the guitars just didn’t seem loud enough. My friend whose name just happens to be Dylan went over by the soundboard to see if the sound was different, and it was. Now this Tom Ridge Pavilion may be brand new, but looking at it, it didn’t seem like whoever designed it gave a single thought to acoustics. It’s one of these summer/winter places and the ceiling was all these strange pipes and stuff that like of looked like an Escher painting. The floor was concret. The two walls were concrete. This is really good for echoes and sound bouncing all over the place but not much else.
What seems to be the Bob Dylan summer boogie tour continued with “Highway 61 Revisited,” which featured some hot playing by Freddie and was one of the high points of the night. This was followed by the new slow “Can’t Wait.” It didn’t really work. “What this is,” Dylan said to me, “is a really slowed down “Hit The Road Jack,” and I realized he was right on the mark.
Then it was back to boogying again with “Watching The River Flow.” Now this set wasn’t all that different in some respects than the first night at Hammerstein, but the first night at Hammerstein featured Nils Lofgren who livened things up in such a way that the song selection just didn’t matter because his guitar playing was on fire. A typical “Drifter’s Escape” came next with Ginger Recile flailing away like mad. “Whatever happened to ‘Cold Irons Bound?’ ” Dylan said to me when it was over.
The intro to “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” started and things improved dramatically, with Dylan singing almost the entire song. But again when it came time for the guitar solo, Freddie took it nowhere. Now there’s all kinds of cool guitar things that can be done on this song starting with what Mike Bloomfield did on the original studio version though it will be hard to top what Robbie Robertson did on the version from Liverpool in 1966. But if ever there was a song that was made for a great powerful guitar solo this is it. And again, Koella appears to have the chops to do it, but doesn’t.
“Honest With Me” came next and well… was “Honest With Me.” Now, I like this song, but whatever happened to “Lonesome Day Blues.”
Finally they switched to acoustics for “Mister Tambourine Man.” I think the last good live version of this was in Towson, Maryland. I’m not even sure if it was a good version but it sure was fun to watch. Dylan alternated between what is sometimes referred to as the “singsong voice” where he ends each line by going high and something approaching the New Orleans “Hard Rain.” Now as far as I’m concerned the tempo of this song has been too slow for at least a decade, and whatever rhythm Dylan sets up on piano, well it’s okay, but the song needs to drive.
Finally near the end of the last verse when he hit the “circus sands” line he actually started to really sing, but the song was almost over. He played a half-hearted harp solo, and it was into “Summer Days.”
The usual encores of “Like A Rolling Stone” and “All Along The Watchtower” followed and well, the Mountain Laurel parking lot looked like it would be a real mess to get out of.