We knew we we’re in for a special night when they rolled the organ on stage. Then Bob came out wearing, jeans, Beatle boots, an old sports jacket and his black wayfarer shades accompanied by none other than Jim Dickinson on keyboards! A guitar-less Bob blew one wailing note on the harp and they launched into an unbelievably rocking Black Crow Blues. As if that was surprise enough, the guitar roadie then brought out an ancient Gibson J-50 acoustic and Bob slipped on finger picks while the band watched him with the most caution they’ve displayed since 1991. Another roadie brought him a stool that was next to the monitor mixing board and he sat down and slowly began the lick to Highlands, and did the whole damn song. I pulled out the 45 I’d bought in a hock shop earlier that day and shot the three people talking behind me just in time to hear the restaurant verse. The song went on for over 20 minutes and he did all kinds of verses not on the album. My notebook with the set list had fallen out of my hands onto the floor. At the very end after “it’s good enough for now,” he whipped out a slide and played the best slide solo he’s played since “In My Time of Dyin’.” At the song’s end, the roadie brought him his regular Gibson acoustic and someone took the stool.
Bob took off his shades, peered at the crowd and said, “We’re really happy to be in a gamblin’ town tonight,” as Kemper kicked off a rockabilly train beat and Dylan strummed real fast like he does on the outtake of “That’s All Right Mama,” and played a frenzied two minute harp solo before singing, “Come around you rovin’ gamblers and a story I will tell…. ” “I think I’m going to have a heart attack, I can’t believe he’s doing “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Willie’,” I said to my friend, a bluegrass singer by the name of Train. Then it went into the “Ride Willie Ride” chorus with Larry and Bucky joining in, with Bucky providing a dazzling mandolin solo. Most of the audience didn’t know what the hell was happening except for a few scattered hard-core rmd-ers who were writhing in ecstacy. The song ended with Bob with the harmonica holder once again around his neck trading off licks with Larry and Bucky. At the songs end, Dylan laughed and said, “This sure is a hell of a town. I haven’t seen this many bright lights since San Francisco. I saw 150 card games just outside this room. Here’s one we haven’t done for about 20 years, this is for all those people playin’ cards,” and began another high flying version of “Lily Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts,” that was unbelievably incredible until the jam at the end where Bob tried to play lead guitar and harp at the same time. The lights got real low, with the rest of the band in shadows and a sole spotlight on Bob. Kemper clicked his sticks together four times, hit the kick drum and Larry played an incredibly soulful reminiscent of Steve Cropper solo and Bob began singing a stunningly intense “Tryin’ To Get To Heaven,” remembering the two note harp solo, followed by an equally incredible “Cold Irons Bound,” which got twice as amazing when they segued into Howling Wolf’s “How Many More Years,” in the middle before going back to the last verse.
The inevevitable “Sylvio” followed. Then the roadie brought back the Gibson and a very curious thing happened. All of the band left the stage except for Tony and Jim Dickinson. Dylan spoke again, “I was down in another gamblin’ town, not too long ago, uh Washington DC. They’ve got some very strange people in Washington.This is for them. And slowly with the guitar in open E tuning, he began a slow, mournful “Idiot Wind,” and when he got the “Grand Coulee Dam to the Capitol,” line he held the “tol” part as long as he could ’66 style, the rest of the band snuck on stage and kicked in during the last verse. The guitar roadie appeared again and handed Bob a shining Gibson12-string. At this point I was about 95 miles past eternity as Kemper hit the drums with a crack almost as powerful as Mickey Jones’ on the 9-minute “Like A Rolling Stone,” and Kemper shot out the opening lick to “Caribbean Wind.” The audience virtually exploded when he sang, “Atlantic City by the cold grey sea.” Dylan introduced the band minus the usual Bucky jokes and closed the set with a searing, ” ‘Till I Fell In Love With You,” taking off his guitar and just standing there while the band finished the song. They returned a few minutes later of course and before they began to play, Dylan said, “This one’s for Donald Trump,” as Tony launched into a loud heavy blues riff that turned out to be “Groom’s Still Waiting At The Altar.” Once again the roadie brought out the acoustic, Larry picked up a fiddle, Tony the double-bass, and with Kemper brushing the drums, played an absolutely celestial “Restless Farewell.”
The lights went down, but you could see the band huddling near the monitor mixing console before they returned for “Love Sick,” but it wasn’t “Love Sick” at all, it was a triumphant “Changing of the Guard” with Bucky playing the sax part on the steel. The house lights came on with the band still on stage and I waited for the usual drum kick-off to Rainy Day Women, but Dylan had one more surprise in store, “We’ve got a special friend here tonight,” he said, as the roadies brought out an extra mike stand, “drove 200 miles just to be here,” Levon Helm walked out smoking a cigarette and holding an old Gibson mandolin, he and Larry looked at each other intently, then began a perfectly executed intro to a completely raucous, “Please Mrs. Henry.” Levon, alternating verses with Dylan completely ignored his own mike during the choruses, sharing Bob’s instead while Dylan was trying his very best not to crack up laughing. Then they were gone. We walked out into the bright lobby assaulted by one-armed bandits, dressed up people wearing fancy clothes, and 100 card games happening all at once.