11/08/1999 Baltimore Arena, Baltimore, Maryland

Baltimore’s a nice town and I’m starting to like it.  You can park for free not far from the venue if you try and at the venue itself the ticket-takers are friendly telling you to enjoy the show, leading you right to your seat and even letting you go outside for a cigarette without any hassle whatsoever.  I was amazed.

But not as amazed as I was when Larry Campbell started playing the intro to “Ring Them Bells” on his pedal steel.  My mind was saying could it really be, and as the band picked up the tune I knew it couldn’t be anything else.  The other songs, even “Visions of Johanna” seemed like just warm-ups in comparison.  (And like some other people here so I’ve heard for I have yet to check out RMD today, the thought crossed my mind that Dylan or someone very close to him is reading this group.)  Dylan sang it carefully, clearly and caringly, totally into it, totally shining that special Dylan light that just cuts right through you and into you, into your heart, your body, your soul.

But little did I know that was just the beginning of a rocking, reeling, rolling ride that in surprise factor alone would equal perhaps any Bob Dylan show I’ve seen.

And in Baltimore Bob Dylan was full of surprises, one after the other like the master magician he truly is.  The next surprise came right after “Tangled Up In Blue,” when the band started this very funky bluesy riff that sounded awfully familiar.  And I’m saying to myself, what is this, but I’m thinking Bob Dylan songs, not all songs, and given Dylan’s penchant for playing with his material it could’ve turned into any number of his blues based songs and so when he sang is just about as strong a voice I’ve seen at any ’90s show, “I taught the weeping willow how to cry cry cry,” and it turned into “Big River,” probably my favorite Johnny Cash song of all time that I even play myself, my mind was echoing one huge blasting Holy Shit!

And then the band played the intro–though sounding new and different probably because of Larry’s input–to “Joey” which at times was a little hard to concentrate on due the couple who was doing some kind of waltz on the walkway in front of me, that was not a typical Dead dance.  I contemplated leaning over and saying, “Are you aware you’re waltzing to a song about a mobster getting his head blown off in a clam bar, but didn’t.

Again the band was into a familiar blues riff I couldn’t quite place and again Dylan blew my mind when he started singing “Down Along The Cove,” and Lord Have Mercy Mama what a version it was with killer solos all along the song.

And then from out of nowhere “Man In The Long Black Coat” appeared, spooky as can be, marching to the crickets chirping in the shadows that may not really be all that far from the cove.

And then yet another nasty blues riff and wham you’re transported to a whole other place a whole other time of bald wigs and reincarnated horses sounding a warning all mixed up in some insane historical funhouse mirror with Charle Sexton scorching and searching, summoning the original Mike Bloomfield licks.

And what song could Dylan possibly do after that but “Like A Rolling Stone?”  Was there anything left to say?

So at last he brought out Phil Lesh and unified this crazy anything can happen tour that’s sadly been laden with rumors.

In one monumental, too-quick set that went by like some roller coaster dream, he touched on every decade of his career, almost all of his greatest albums and left me both happy and amazed.

 

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