01/31/98 Mark G. Etess Arena, Taj Mahal, Atlantic City, NJ

Atlantic City, you know it’s a crazy place the minute you see the lights from the Casinos on the bridge leading from the Atlantic City Expressway.  Nobody on the main street, Atlantic Avenue at all, just blocks and blocks of massage parlors and porno stores, just lots of cars and lots and lots of stretch limos, and some that were really stretched.

The Taj Mahal is gigantic, bright white with big red neon and inside immediately are one-armed-bandits and a room with some type of game going on.  Had tickets waiting at the box office, long lines, ended up with not bad seats on the side,  perfect to see Bob and Larry, not so good to see Tony and Bucky.  There was pretty good music I didn’t recognize playing as we found our seats which was soon replaced by Hank Williams.

Bob came out and was on from the first note of “Sweet Marie,” his voice amazingly strong and clear. In fact the sound throughout the night was rather impeccable, none of the we’ll get it together by the third song stuff.  Bucky for once was coming through loud and clear, delivering some incredible steel on the second song “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You” punctuated by near-perfect country riffs from Larry.  As usual the two assholes who happened to sit behind me talked through every instrumental break.  Dylan was quite animated, not quite dancing, but certainly moving around, but it was his singing that truly dominated the show, easily surpassing the Saturday show I saw in NYC just two weeks ago.  There are some shows where he takes a few songs to warm up and some shows where he’s on from the first note.  Tonight it was from the first note and he didn’t stop.  And there are some shows where you think to yourself,  yes that is Bob Dylan up there and there’s some other shows where he’s BOB DYLAN and tonight he was most definitely BOB DYLAN.  He kind of rushed through a cool, smoothly executed “Can’t Wait,” and then delivered a stunning, show-stealing “Just Like A Woman.”  More than warmed up, he played around with his phrasing, chopping off some lines,  holding others, having fun, but extremely confident, on the last chorus adding “Yes you do” after each line.

Sylvio was its usual self, followed by a relaxed but solid”Cocaine,” with Dylan riffing nicely on the guitar.  But for me the highlight of the acoustic set was an intense “Masters of War,” with Bucky playing really spooky mandolin.  I started thinking how Dylan always seems to bring this out when the U.S. is on the verge of war, only to have my concentration broken by the assholes behind me.  They’d been silent for a while since one of them had left to get some beer, while the other one rolled a joint.  But now they were talking again and during the acoustic part!  So I had to turn around and say “Would you please be quiet,” and they were so wrapped up in their conversation that they didn’t notice until I said it louder.  Finally the guy looks at me and says “What?”  I repeated, “Could you be quiet, I’d like to HEAR the song.”  “Right on man,” was the reply.  I was seriously wishing Luca Brasi would magically appear and put a think silken rope around his neck, just as Larry kicked off “Tangled.”  The Trump security was having no stage rush on this one.  Million Miles came next with Dylan getting playful with his vocals again. After the line, “There’s plenty of people who’ll put me up for a day or too,” he added “At least I hope they do.”

He was equally playful for “Wheels On Fire” delivering an almost staccato mem-o-ry on “memory serves you well,” while the band was appropriate spooky.  Dylan then introduced the band without any jokes and went into a rather soaring Highway 61.

” ‘Till I Fell In Love With You” opened the encore set with Dylan taking off his guitar before the band stopped playing.  Returning, he pulled a nice surprise with “It Ain’t Me Babe,” repeating the “It ain’t me you’re looking for babe” line on each chorus.  The song was really going great until Bob started to practice his lead playing.  He hit the enivitable acoustic encore lead solo wrong note and it just kind of went downhill from there with him never really finding whatever it was he was trying to play.  He more than made up for it with a dynamic “Love Sick” with the band being astoundingly forceful on the little musical rise before each “sick of love.”

The lights came on with the drum intro to the usual closing song, and we exited into the make believe world of bright lights and gamblers.  It wasn’t the most incredible set list (wouldn’t have minded “Queen Jane”), but it was most definitely a great show.

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