The first time I saw Bob Dylan play Merriweather Post Pavilion was in June of 1981. That show was the last time I saw Dylan play new unreleased original songs from the forthcoming Shot Of Love. Almost 20 years later he returned to Merriweather in the summer of 2000 for a fully charged show. This time around was marked by a 30 minute (at least) wait to get into the parking lot, arriving in time to hear a terrific intense, highly political and emotional set by Elvis Costello. I didn’t get all of the song titles so I’m not going to go into it in detail, but he brought the crowd to their feet several times. He was great.
To new music behind the usual intro Bob Dylan and band took the stage and launched into a not bad “Rainy Day Women” which was immediately followed by a very good “Senor.” Dylan’s voice was undoubtedly rough but strong. Then came one of the songs I was hoping to see, the new speeded-up but it works arrangement of “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” with Bob taking a couple of well, Bob Dylan guitar solos. During the song he found some riff he obviously liked and stayed with it and also handed a solo over to Denny Freeman. From where our seats were it was hard to see the entire band at one time.
Dylan then moved to the keyboards for “Simple Twist of Fate.” The arrangement was good, but the feel didn’t come close to the one at Continental Airlines Arena last November. During the song it became evident that his voice was just not in great shape. Every now and then a line would ring out, but overall I felt the song lost steam.
The energy returned big time however with a very hot “Rollin’ And Tumblin” with very funky slide by Denny on his Les Paul Gibson.
Then came what was for me the highlight of the evening, an exquisite “Workingman’s Blues #2” with Donnie Herron on electric mandolin. There was no doubt Dylan and the band were treating this song with extra special care. Not a note was misplaced, and Dylan not only sang, but almost read the lines like a poet in a way that made each word stand out. It was perfect.
Almost immediately they went into a very strong “Desolation Row,” with new very nice Mexican flavored solos by Denny Freeman. Though the song started with the usual rhythm, by the end it had taken on a distinctly Latin feel.
Next came another song I had yet to see, “Beyond the Horizon.” But something just wasn’t happening. After an intro that left me unsure what song it was going to be, they went into a kind of “Don’t Fence Me In” rhythm – the same rhythm the Who use on “Soon Be Gone,” but it seemed to be abandoned pretty fast for something approximating the rhythm on the album. It was almost as if they couldn’t hear each other. Whatever it was they didn’t seem to be in sync, sort of coming together when Denny would solo. Bob kind of saved it at the end with a harp solo.
A hard rocking “Honest With Me” came next with George Recili playing very loud drums. This led into “When The Deal Goes Down” where the waltz rhythm at times was a little too prominent, with beautiful guitar work from Denny.
A hard grooving “Highway 61” led into another high point, “Ain’t Talkin” with Donnie on viola. Dylan’s singing was great and intense letting certain lines (“walkin’ through the cities of the plague”) truly stand out but stumbled almost comically on superfluous, but then quickly got it right.
A western swing meets rockabilly “Summer Days” led into a very powerful “Masters of War,” and for all his claims of what the song is supposed to be about when he sang, “The young people’s blood flows out of their bodies and is buried in the mud,” you couldn’t help but think of Iraq.
After a fairly long break, they returned for “Thunder on the Mountain,” and “Blowin’ In the Wind.” When I saw this arrangement of “Blowin'” in Atlantic City in June, it seemed like they were trying for sort of the Stevie Wonder arrangement meets Fats Domino, but this time around it settled down into a sweeter, softer and way more soulful groove with Stu Kimball doing a cool descending riff before the last line. Dylan was truly singing like he meant it, with extra effort and definitely on the last chorus, the old voice, the one that could effortlessly send chills down your spine emerged, and then for one last time he reached for the harp for one last very cool solo to end the night.