Woke up kind of tired, and all day I was thinking, do I really want to see the same show again? And the answer to that question of course is it’s Bob Dylan. But that really wasn’t the answer. As it turned out the answer really was because it’s FUCKING BOB DYLAN man! The energy at the show tonight was on another level entirely.
Saturday night, Mavis Staples was a bundle of energy. Tonight she was a fireball that never let up, and she did some different songs. A couple of songs in she pulled out the Staples Singers version of “For What It’s Worth” which was amazing in itself, but then a couple of songs later she did an extended version of “Freedom Highway” that not only brought the crowd to its feet, but turned the Tower Theater into a revival meeting. It was an incredible moment.
When Bob Dylan took the stage tonight as Stu Kimball was winding down his acoustic rendition of “Royal Canal,” he didn’t go right to the piano, but walked to the front of the stage and then went to the piano as the band launched into a thunderous version of “Things Have Changed” with Dylan paying attention to every line, phrasing like a madman, stretching out the last word so it was “Lots of water under the bridge/Lots of other stuff tooooooo.” And he kept that kind of phrasing up the whole night.
He sat down for “It Ain’t Me Babe,” in another strong straight forward version, considering that this is a song that had innumerable arrangements, and I couldn’t help but think that maybe this was the way he really wanted to do it with The Hawks back in 1965.
“Highway 61 Revisited” brought the crowd to its feet midway through the first verse, with Dylan shooting out the lyrics at machine gun pace with both anger and humor in his phrasing as if it was 50 years before and on top of that, he pounded out some very cool piano solos.
Then it was to the front of the stage for “Why Try To Change Me Now” with Dylan almost acting out the words and tonight the audience was not only expecting it, but they got it.
Then it was back to the piano for the new arrangement of “Summer Days,” but again his delivery was just smoking, with every verse phrased in a different way, again placing emphasis on certain words and lines: “Seems like it’s stuuuuck,” and then later, pretty much with a smile, “Politician got on his jogging shoes/He must be RUNNING for office, got no TIME to LOSE. Midway through the song it hit he, he’s playing like Jerry Lee Lewis, who’s had a fiddle in his band for something like 50 years, and I started thinking it’s too bad a producer didn’t suggest Lewis do this song 16 years ago.
After “Melancholy Mood,” came as explosive “Honest With Me” and once again he was emphasizing key lines, “The Siamese twins are comin’ to town,” and especially “When I left my home the sky split open wide/I NEVER WANTED to go Back There–I’d rather have died,” and on the last verse, “Well, my parents warned me not to waste my years/And I still got their advice ooooooozing out of my ears.”
I started to warm to the new arrangement of “Trying To Get To Heaven,” and maybe because my seats tonight were a few rows closer to the stage, I was able to notice some of the things the band puts into it, like the steel lick Donnie Herron does at the stop at the end of each verse. It’s just a tiny little lick, but it adds a lot to the arrangement. And again, Dylan was emphasizing key lines, “When you think that you LOST everything.”
Then it was back out front for a truly moving “Once Upon A Time,” and when Dylan went for the low notes at the end of the song, the audience stood and cheered. Throughout the night, the pace was we’re going to slow it down for a ballad and then we’re going to rock and rock hard.
After a searing “Early Roman Kings,” as the band was doing its tuning and noodling in the darkness, I suddenly heard a banjo, and instead of “Soon After Midnight,” came a dramatic “Scarlet Town” during which I started thinking of certain senate candidates. Donnie Herron’s banjo part was a bit different than it was previously, as he played frailing licks in the background, and the second part of the melody has changed giving the song a less repetitive feel. Then came “Desolation Row,” and Donnie stood right behind Dylan smiling and watching what he was doing on piano like a hawk. I was waiting to see if he’d do the descending mandolin riff again, and at one point Dylan turned around and said something to him, and instead of it happening on the “Across the street they nailed the curtains” verse, it happened later on the “At midnight all the agents” verse, and this time it turned into a mandolin and piano duet that went on for a bit after the verse.
“Thunder On The Mountain” brought the energy level up even higher and featured a terrific solo from Charlie Sexton. Then as Dylan returned to center stage for the last time, an interesting an unexpected thing happened, as the band played the intro to “Autumn Leaves,” the audience stood and cheered and cheered wildly.
The energy stayed high for the final three songs, and again Sexton’s B-bender solos on his Telecaster for “Blowin’ In The Wind” were a delight.
At this point, this band has been together longer than any other line-up of the so-called never ending tour. I think not only having to learn, but to play night after night the more intricate arrangements of the standards has made an already tight band even tighter, and in these new arrangements of the Dylan songs are all kinds of rhythmic changes and stops and starts that they pull off seamlessly. And for his part, Bob Dylan is rocking as hard as he ever has if not harder, and what he’s playing on the piano works all the time.
One other thing, it was a total pleasure to attend a concert and not see a few hundred cell phones waving in the air in front of me. And the audience both nights kept needless chatter to a minimum and actually paid attention to what was happening onstage.