I think it was back on one of those minor league baseball stadium tours that they started calling it the Bob Dylan show. And while the concert at the Borgata in Atlantic City was listed simply as Bob Dylan and his band, what it was, was the Bob Dylan Show. And so on some, well, 21st Century level it was as good a place as any to start the Bob Dylan summer tour of the USA.
The Borgata sits alone in the marshlands before Atlantic City, an entity unto itself. It’s huge, it’s loud, and even though there’s exit signs all over the place you can wander around it forever looking for the way you came in and it’s designed that way on purpose.
Inside the event center it’s dark casino red and there’s just this slickness about the whole place and atmosphere that somehow jibes perfectly with the show you are about to see – a legend – and the music that’s emanating from the stage seems to get louder and softer at key moments. And finally it gets to the fanfare and the lights go down and the band takes the stage and there’s that sliver of fear of what is he going to sound like, and they’re into “Cats In The Well” and he’s back on guitar and pretty much sounding like Bob Dylan and it’s sort of swing that’s slightly rocking or maybe rock that’s slightly swinging and it’s okay.
And then it’s “Don’t Think Twice” and he’s kind of messing around with the vocal and the phrasing and having fun, and half talking, half singing, half doing a parody and forgetting halves of lines and then turning around and nailing others. “Watching the River Flow” followed. The main purpose of this song has always seemed to be to use up six or seven minutes with a cool beat and some guitar solos.
“It’s Alright Ma,” played in the same arrangement that was changed during the European tour took things up considerably. The arrangement built, with Donnie Herron’s violin becoming more prominent on each verse and Dylan singing with authority.
That was it for Bob on guitar and he moved to the keyboard for a rearranged “Moonlight” that played up the lounge music aspects of the song in comical fashion. New stops have been added to the chorus emphasizing “Won’t you” and “Meet me.”
A speedy “Rollin’ and Tumblin” came next in a version that ended up being closer to rockabilly than blues complete with a train beat from George Recili.
The next song had an extended intro that sounded familiar but you couldn’t place it, and just when you thought it was going to be, “You’re A Big Girl Now,” it turned into a dramatically, rearranged, slowed down, half-jazz version of “Shelter From The Storm.” The arrangement suggested a waterlogged tropical storm. This version has the potential to become something interesting, but Dylan didn’t seem sure of what he wanted to do on the vocal and resorted to some of his lazier tendencies.
Then it was pretty much auto pilot for “‘Til I Fell In Love With You” which featured a fairly hot solo from Denny.
“Spirit On The Water” which simply should not be in the same set as “Moonlight” was followed by a ho hum “Memphis Blues Again.” Things kind of got back on track with “Nettie Moore,” but it didn’t have the impact of the versions from last fall or even the recent ones from Europe. It was followed a typical Canned Heat boogie on “Highway 61 Revisited” where the groove was more important than any meaning the song might have had.
The set closed with “Blowin’ In the Wind” in an arrangement similar to the last tour, though perhaps slightly slowed down. The arrangement is sort of like the Stevie Wonder version meets Fats Domino and they go to jam with Duane Eddy on the edge of some Ray Bradbury carnival at the collapse of the world. It served no apparent purpose except that the people at the show would be able to say they saw Bob Dylan sing “Blowin In The Wind.”
“Thunder on the Mountain” had the longest intro ever while a roadie did something to Bob’s keyboard. Dylan seemed about to say something, like maybe introduce the band, decided not to, and the band started the atmospherics that led into a reasonably intense “All Along the Watchtower.”
There was nothing really to complain about, some highlights here and there, and in the end, a show – and shows are one of the things Atlantic City and casinos are about.