Campbell’s Field sits on the Delaware Waterfront right next to the Ben Franklin Bridge in the shadow of what was once the RCA Tower where Little Nipper listening to the Gramophone is still visible on all sides of the tower and where both Jimmie Rodgers and The Carter Family among many other artists once recorded.
Inside the rather nice stadium with a wall blocking the Philadelphia skyline, the crowd was sparse at first when the Greencards, and Austin-based band of three Australians and one Englishman came out and did an okay set of bluegrassy tunes. Instrumentally they were fine, particularly the fiddler though they broke one of the cardinal rules of the great bluegrass bands by smiling before the played a note. In a tradition probably started by Bill Monroe, the original bluegrass bands were stoic throughout. Willie Nelson’s harp player, Mickey Raphael joined them on their last song.
Willie Nelson then came out and played a typical Willie Nelson set. Sister Bobbie was missing from the band and at this show anyway the hat and bandanna throwing were cut down quite a bit from last year, though Willie’s guitar playing was back in full force.
At approximately 9:03 the lights went down and about two minutes after that Bob Dylan’s band took the stage, followed by Dylan dressed in black with an apparently new flat-brimmed black hat slightly tilted to one side and the band in matching black short-sleeved shirts with a great stripe in front on the sides.
Opening with “Drifter’s Escape” with Don Herron on electric mandolin, both they and Dylan were on from the first note. Stu Kimball took the first solo with some Robbie Robertson-styled leads, with Donnie taking the second break followed by Dylan on harp. The sound in the stadium was excellent and clearly heard in the mix was Dylan’s keyboard.
“I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” was next and Dylan was quite animated stretching out the last word on the chorus so it was tooooo night, and watching his phrasing, smiling at Stu after “bring that bottle over here,” and coming out for a center-stage harp solo.
A not bad “Tweedle Dee” and “Tweedle Dum” was followed by a stellar “Love Minus Zero” with Stu on acoustic and Dylan singing the song as if he remembered why he wrote it.
Dylan then introduced Willie Nelson’s son Lukas for what has to be the craziest and longest version of “Down Along The Cove” ever. At first Lukas was understandably nervous, and he’s looking at Dylan the whole time he’s playing waiting for the nod to take a solo, but then after Lukas’ second solo which was actually quite good and worthy of a bit of applause which someone finally started, something cracked Dylan up and he could not stop laughing, and he kept adding verses and Lukas would take a solo and by the sixth verse which was something about “words you never heard” it was obvious he was making them up on the spot and then Donnie took a slide solo and back to Lukas and it was just one of those great spontaneous moments, with Bob walking out to shake the kid’s hand.
Then came a shimmering “Girl From The North Country” with Stu on acoustic and Dylan again truly singing and phrasing lines like remember HER best, topping it off with a great harp solo. Lukas Nelson again came out for “Highway 61 Revisited” which was followed by Kimball again picking up acoustic and playing a little Carter Family lick to kick into a tremendous version of “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” Dylan skipped a line somewhere in the second verse, but it didn’t matter, each line, grew in impact and each verse became stronger and strong the last verse bringing the song to a stunning climax.
A superb “Floater” followed with Herron playing the violin part perfectly, the band nailing the right groove and Dylan having a great time spitting out the lyrics toying with the phrasing at the same time, and answering each line with little bass note riffs on the piano, heightened by a jazzy guitar solo from Denny Freeman who then tossed it back to Heron. At the end of the song Dylan said something like, “Not a bad little story, that.”
“Honest With Me” came next with Herron reaching for but not really getting the wild high notes I heard at the Beacon, but Dylan reminded me of the song’s original power and humor.
Next came “Forever Young” with Bob blowing the may you build a ladder to the stars line, and what I thought was going to be imminent disaster never happened with Kimball playing a perfect solo and then Dylan ending the song with an extended harp solo which started off as one of those two note harp things where it seems like he’s almost testing the instrument, but then on the second go-round he went into this rhythmic thing and he turned around to the band and go them to follow the rhythm and it went to a whole other plane.
A stellar “High Water” came next with Don Herron’s jazz-grass banjo stealing the show and on the instrumental break he was so into it that when the stop came, he kept on going for a couple of beats and again Dylan cracked up into a broad smile and 40 years left his face and it was one of those great moments, and they left the stage.
Coming back out, I swear he said something like, “Doesn’t everybody just love this piano player?” And then came “It Ain’t Me Babe,” basically in the arrangement from last year, but not quite as rhythmically harsh, but building to a grand chorus and it wasn’t the “No No No’s” that hit it you but the way he sang “It ain’t me you’re looking babe” in beautiful descending pattern that sailed perfectly.
And while I was waiting and speculating on what the next song would be I suddenly remembered it was the 40th anniversary of the recording of “Like A Rolling Stone” and sure enough and again he sang it as if he remembered why he wrote it and enhanced it with little keyboard runs and Kimball playing the original Mike Bloomfield fills on the chorus and he was on and he knew it and the band was on and he knew that too and what had started out as a show threatened by rain had turned into some kind of magnificent victory and as they got into the formation Dylan tried at first to keep his usual straight face, but that smile just wouldn’t leave and he kind of turned around to hide it and you could see he was laughing and the crowd actually started chanting “Dylan, Dylan” hoping he’d come back out, but it wasn’t to be.