07/30/2000 Waterloo Village, Stanhope, NJ

Dylan played Waterloo Village on September 10, 1988 in a tent.  It was very strange.  I can’t even remember if anyone opened.  I remember parking somewhere along some weird road and hiking through woods in the dark to get there.

In 2000 things have changed somewhat.  On the way there we got into a ten-mile traffic jam because of some hideous accident judging by what was left of the cars which happened in a furious rainstorm.  Finally we got there parking down some one-way road in a clearing in the woods, only to find out we had to take a bus to the actual venue.  This proved to be a major mistake.  The bus-driver some woman who could should but not think, immediately told everyone that once on the bus we could not get off.  Everyone asked, how long is the trip.  Ten minutes maybe was the reply.  The bus (a school bus) immediately got into a preposterous traffic backup.  The driver had a radio connecting her to the other buses and someone somewhere down the road.  The other drivers were letting people off.  Not ours.  Some people opened up the emergency door and jumped out.  It got worse and worse.  Someone begged to be let off and a 400-pound gorilla in a “Peace Keeper” t-shirt appeared and told him if he complained again, he’d make sure he didn’t get into the show.  The person on the radio told the bus driver to go into the other lane where immediately she ran into oncoming traffic, and then she had to squeeze back into the lane, not easy to do with a school bus.  Someone said, “Can we smoke?”  The bus driver said, “Yes.”  And several people started lighting up.  Someone said, “This is illegal, you can’t smoke on a school bus.  The driver said, “When it’s not being used for school you can.”  Someone else said, “I have asthma.”  “Put out the cigarettes,” the bus driver screamed.  We passed a big lot.  Someone said, “Pull in there and turn around.” The bus driver refused.  Someone else said, “I’m working for the opening band,” I’m supposed to be there right now.  The gorilla appeared again.  Ten minutes took 35 and finally we got to this big, not quite muddy field under threatening skies.

Dylan’s band took the stage at exactly 7:15.  Tony Garnier appeared to be smoking a cigar.  Bob appeared looking like he just woke up and they went into another fine version of “Duncan and Brady,” after which Bob, flashing a big smile said, “Thank you everybody in the great state of New Jersey,” and played a very moving and strong, “Song To Woody.”  “Desolation Row” again took the number three spot, but did not quite have the push of the previous shows, though Bob (perhaps considering the skies) emphasized “or else EXPECTING RA-IN.  Larry took the fiddle for a good version of “My Back Pages,” with Bob mixing up the words: “My confusion led by confusion boats,” and then picked up the harp for an excellent solo.

The harp appeared again on “Tangled” (two harp songs in a row for those who keep track of such things) and this time Dylan held onto his guitar with one hand, holding the harp with the other almost getting down on his knees.

It was back to “Country Pie” for the electric opener with both guitarists in excellent form, but we quickly realized we could barely hear Charlie Sexton.  We were on Larry’s side of the stage and for whatever reason Dylan’s soundmen emphasize Larry on his side of the stage and Charlie on his side.  The effect was like listening to a stereo album through one speaker.  A concert is not a stereo album.  A lead guitarist should be coming full force out of both speakers.

Larry took the bouzouki for “Blind Willie McTell,” with Dylan singing clearly, almost pausing before each line, taking a bit of care in getting it right.  “Tombstone Blues” was next, but would’ve been a lot better if I could’ve heard what Sexton was playing.  “I Don’t Believe You” followed.  It was okay, but I’ve never been particularly entranced by the beat Dylan chooses for this song these days, or for the past 28 years actually.  There are two electric versions of this song I love.  They happened ten years apart a long time ago.  They pretty much defined how this song should be done and nothing since has come close.

I was really hoping for “Wicked Messenger,” but the rearranged “Cold Iron Bounds” came next, followed by the now inevitable “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat.”

The high point of the encores was a quite lovely “One Too Many Mornings” with Larry on pedal steel playing a long introduction that left and Kevin Reilly and I trying to figure out what it was going to turn into.

Overall, it was a very good show.  Dylan was absolutely on, and pretty much appeared to be having a good time.  But it did not come near the peaks of the previous night in Maryland.

I drove home in an on again off again rain, got three blocks from my house, stopped to pickup a late night snack, and the only thing that worked in my car was the alarm which refused to stop working.  Fun.  Back to real life.

07/29/00 Merriweather Post Pavilion, Columbia, MD

The last time Bob Dylan played the Merriweather Post Pavilion was on June 14, 1981.  That was a pleasant, Sunday afternoon concert.  It was back when the Gospel singers were still opening his shows and not long after he started bringing the songs that made him famous back into the picture.  The show wasn’t that long, but it had quite a few surprises including songs from his not-yet-released new album, “Shot of Love,” such as “Dead Man,” and “Lenny Bruce,” as well as covers of “We Just Disagree” and “Abraham, Martin and John.”

There was a big time Deadhead scene in the parking lot accompanied by lots of cops and undercover cops.  We spent sometime before the show watching a guy get handcuffed his car get searched, and the very obvious undercover cop who fingered him.

Once inside the ground of the Pavilion itself, it was a lot mellower.

Now some people probably wonder, why go see Bob Dylan three nights in a row or as many times as you can?  Of course one of the reasons is it’s never the same show, but another reason is to catch that one performance where he really does it, captures that thing that only Bob Dylan can do, that magical moment in all its glorious essence.  And then maybe you don’t have to see him anymore for a while, or maybe you already have tickets for another show, or he’s playing close enough and you hope he’ll do it again but even better.  And sometimes he does and sometimes he doesn’t.

In Columbia Maryland tonight, he definitely did.  And sometimes you know from the moment he hits the stage how it’s going to go.  And tonight the audience also played a part and it’s really not a matter of dancing or standing up or not standing up, it’s a matter of being into it.  And tonight’s audience collectively was far hipper than the one the night before in Camden, who might’ve as well have been at any event.  Tonight the crowd knew when there was a great guitar solo happening and they also knew when it was a special song.

And again tonight Bob Dylan and his band hammered home the point during the first part of the show, that they may be playing acoustic guitars, but they are rocking and rocking hard, as he tore into “Duncan and Brady,” followed by a very nice “To Ramona,” with Larry on mandolin.

And then, “Desolation Row,” which had just been incredible every show I’ve seen this week, but before the first verse is out there’s this low but loud rumbly feedback noise, and Dylan’s mic cuts out, but they get it together really fast and he continues, spitting out the words and he’s into his guitar solo looking for whatever it is he’s looking for and then he finds it, and he’s going on and on, riding this solo like a rodeo rider and it’s like holy shit! What a solo!  And the crowd is going crazy.

And then back one album into “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue,” with Larry on pedal steel, and it’s not as fast as it once was, but it’s not as slow as it once was either, and there’s slow subtle, majestic groove building, and the steel is ethereal, heavenly and they’re really taking the song somewhere it hasn’t been before but they’re not quite there yet.

“Tangled” was “Tangled” with Dylan once again tangling up the order of the verses.

“Searching For A Soldier’s Grave,” was once again awesome.  It’s as if whatever Dylan’s been looking for over the past few years performing these old country songs, he’s really found it in this one.  The feel was perfect, the harmonies astounding, taking you back in time every one of those fifty-plus years.

And then, the night’s first big surprise, “Watching The River Flow,” but not the speedy country-rock version he’s done for most of the ’90s.  This version was more or less the way he originally recorded it—a rollicking blues and they are playing for all it’s worth and Sexton on guitar and Campbell on lap steel are soaring.

And then out of nowhere comes “Every Grain of Sand” and Sexton and Campbell have this guitar duet thing happening, and then (sigh) “Maggie’s Farm,” followed by a truly inspired “Dignity.”

And then once again it’s hard rock time for “Cold Iron Bounds,” and they take it even further than they did in Camden getting FUCKING LOUD in the process.

And again the closer was “Leopard-Skin Pill-box Hat.”

The intensity and volume continued through the encores with “Things Have Changed” standing out, and Dylan singing “Like A Rolling Stone,” like he really meant it, followed by “It Ain’t Me Babe,” and a thoroughly nasty “Highway 61 Revisited,” with the guitars reaching ear-splitting levels.

Tonight was one of those shows and it also left no doubt how great this band is.  This is by far the best of any of the “Never-Ending Tour Bands,” and easily one of the best bands Dylan has had.  Now that Charlie Sexton is stepping out more and more on lead guitar, the music is going somewhere else, reaching new heights.  The guy is a maniac and he’ll do whatever he has to do to get the sound he wants out of that guitar and he knows exactly what he’s doing.  He brings back to Dylan’s music that wild edge that was previously only provided by Michael Bloomfield and Robbie Robertson.

What a night!

 

07/28/00 E-Centre, Camden, NJ

First off, let’s get one thing straight geographically.  When Bob Dylan plays Camden, New Jersey, he’s really playing Philadelphia.  The E-Centre, an essentially hideous venue for a number of reasons is one river away from Philadelphia, a quick five-minute ferry ride.  And so as fate would have it, Bob Dylan played Philly just as it was being invaded by its first political convention in over 50 years.   Yes the Republicans were having their somewhat overblown party in one of the country’s staunchest Democratic cities and Philly’s been building to a fever pitch for practically the entire month of July.

Dylan’s appearance was barely mentioned in the press, a stupid sarcastic pan in one of the alternative weekly, and a decent preview in a major daily, while the other alternative weekly (which blared a huge “Go Home!” front page with a cartoon of a sanitation worker sweeping up elephant shit underneath.  The Convention and Visitor’s bureau was none too happy about that.  Major streets are closed, flags are everywhere, traffic is terrible, protesters setting up homeless tent camps on Muslim parking lots, the national guard and stage police hiding out on local college campuses and the thing doesn’t even start for two days.  At the E-Centre, I wasn’t allowed to bring the soft pretzel I was eating inside.

And Dylan, compared to every other show on this tour, came out late, at 7:27, and the place was not anywhere near being filled, though it ended up being full by the end of Dylan’s set.  The yellow-shirted security guards were quite present, looking up the aisles of seats for what I’m not sure, either tapers or dope smokers.

The audience stood up as the band came on stage led by jump=suited roadies who happened to be women, and Bob blazed into “Duncan and Brady,” his voice strong, confident, the band remarkably sure.  And then, “Song To Woody,” but wait, there’s no Larry playing and no Charlie playing, and no bass and no drums, they’re all standing there, holding their instruments, and its is Bob Dylan totally solo, just his voice and guitar for the first verse, and then they all kick in right on “Hey hey, Woody Guthrie, I wrote you a song,” and the girl in front of me starts shimmying and clapping her hands out of time.  And then a rocking “Desolation Row,” and even though this song has been played quite frequently this tour, at this show it was never more appropriate with the circus being in town, complete with blind commissioners in a trance, and restless riot squads who need somewhere to go.  And Dylan was spitting out the words, “I know them, they’re quite LAME!!!!”

And then one of the first surprises of an evening fairly fully of them, a beautiful, intensely gorgeous “Ring Them Bells.”

“Ring them bells, ye heathen
From the city that dreams,” and the guys behind me were having a conversation, and the security guys are still looking up and down the aisles and people are coming in.

“Oh the lines are long
And the fighting is strong
And they’re breaking down the distance
Between right and wrong”

And I’m wondering if anybody but me, and the three heavy-into-Dylan people I’m with and the six others I know are there is really listening.

And then it’s into “Tangled,” and now two other guys are having a big conversation and they’re both twice as big as I am, so I just shoot them my Michael Corleone stare and don’t say anything and try to hear “Searching For A Soldier’s Grave,” and wham they’re into “Country Pie,” which is over way too fast, and then it’s into “Senor,” and again I’m wondering, why tonight.

“Can you tell me where were headin’?
Lincoln County Road or Armageddon?”

This song is 22 years old, and there is a trainload of fools bogged down in a magnetic field, and the gypsies with a broken flag were busted last week by License and Inspections, and this place still don’t make sense to me no more, except it ain’t a dream no more, it’s the real thing, and three girls in front of me are eating a Domino’s pizza mad talking about something, but it sure didn’t have anything to do with what was happening on the stage, if they were even aware there was a stage, let alone musicians on it, not to even factor in who those musicians were.

And then into “Memphis Blues Again,” the first real why is he doing this song of the night and he didn’t even sing the Senator verse, but it led into an astonishing rendition of “Dignity” with Kemper doing the drum part right off the record and then the band is making strange noises and Dylan’s sort of wandering around, and there’s almost feedback guitar happening and I’m wondering just which song it’s gonna be and,
“I’m beginning to hear voices” WHAM!
“and there’s no one around” WHAM!

And it’s different and it’s strange, and a helluva lot better live than any CDR, and maybe the original arrangement wasn’t quite used up yet, but tonight on the Camden Waterfront this version is SMOKING.

“Up over my head nothing but clouds of blood.”

And then the band intros, this time with some David Kemper joke that I can’t remember, and then “Leopard-Skin Pill-box Hat,” and then they just stand there for a good long time, and my friend, Fielding is watching it and cracking up hysterically, and they’re back and it’s hits time, “Like A Rolling Stone,” a sad, slow “Tambourine Man,” and I’m not all that entranced by the way he does it now, except he really *is* singing in that way that only he can and “To dance beneath the diamond sky” tonight really is echoing down the foggy ruins of time, except now we’re ripping down “Highway 61,” and they’re putting bleachers in the sun, and all of a sudden, we’re back where we started, a folk song or one that will surely be one a hundred years from now, and then we’re back on the ferry looking at the Philly skyline where this night any way there’s four-million-and-forty red white and blue shoestrings.

07/25/00 Montage Mountain, Scranton, PA

I had no idea when I woke up Tuesday morning that I was going to Scranton, but very quickly an email appeared with an offer from my friend Orlando that was hard to refuse, and so I found myself on my way to Scranton in mid-afternoon by way of Central Jersey resulting in a neat little 400 miles trek.

Montage Mountain is a fairly pleasant, not-too-large venue tucked away in the woods near the top of Pennsylvania.

Bob Dylan and his band took the stage to a theater that was about three quarters empty at exactly seven minutes after seven and proceeded to rock “Duncan and Brady.”  It may have been acoustic instruments but they were rocking, Dylan singing strongly and clearly and there was no doubt that he was on.  It was rather awesome.

“Song to Woody” followed in a performance that left you feeling he really was singing the song to Woody, and not just singing the song.  The paced picked up with a driving “Desolation Row” with Dylan getting into it, singing DesoLAYSHUN Row, with Bob playing a fairly crazy guitar solo.  Then Larry went behind the pedal steel, for a pleasant “Love Minus Zero.”  And then into the inevitable “Tangled” which found Bob all tangled up in the verses, singing the fifth verse third and the third verse fourth, and leaving out the fourth verse entirely.

Then after what seemed like a set-list change, Larry picked up the mandolin and into “Searching For A Soldier’s Grave,” with high lonesome spooky bluegrass harmony throughout.  I can’t remember Dylan ever doing a song before where his backing singers sang all the verses and choruses with him—Dylan another voice in a trio.  It was both beautiful and great.

And then into the electric portion with a kicking “Country Pie,” which asides from being a lot of fun served to showcase Dylan’s two excellent guitarists as they threw licks to each other, Bob for once, sticking solely to rhythm guitar.

A mellow “Positively Fourth Street” followed, with “Maggie’s Farm” having a kind of Johnny Cash “Big River” groove to it.  However Bob really spaced on the words mixing up Ma and Pa and whose bedroom window was made out of bricks.  Charlie Sexton who is more out front than when I last saw the band in November played sizzling guitar with a couple of nods to Michael Bloomfield.

Then it was back to Nashville Skyline for “Tell Me That It Isn’t True,” but Bob sang the second verse again on the bridge part.  Instead of singing “To know that some other man is holding you tight,” he sang, “I know that you’ve been seen with some other man/It hurts me all over (and then realizing) he came up with “I don’t understand,” and then when they returned to the bridge after an instrumental break, he sang the second verse again, but this time the final line was, “It hurts me all over, it’s telling me a lot.”

But that was quickly forgotten in the sudden jump to Jimi Hendrixland for a searing “Drifter’s Escape.”  This was nothing less than stunning with the stage lights which basically were off sudden blazing blue highlighting the guitar riff after each line, and when the bolt of lightning hit the courthouse, there was lightning from Charlie’s guitar, followed by Dylan pulling out the harp for a solo unlike any other he has ever played.  It was crazy like the ’66 solos, but it was a controlled craziness.  He knew exactly what he was doing, and not only that, he knew what he wanted to do, and he did it, playing around with the melody of the song, yet digging deep into the rhythm.  It reminded me of an early Stevie Wonder harp solo.  After that, Bob got into a discussion with one of his roadie’s and did “Leopard Skin” without introducing the band.

And then came what has been referred to as “the formation,” with everyone just standing there holding their instruments staring at the audience.  It was weird, and as has been reported at other shows, Larry was the first to break formation.

Returning they went right into “Things Have Changed,” with Bob singing almost immediately.  This was another high point of the night, and Dylan seemed more into this song than just about any of the other electric songs, except “Drifter’s Escape.”

Bob finally introduced the band (with no jokes) and went into “Like A Rolling Stone,” and then, a waltzing, “My Back Pages,” with Larry on fiddle, which appeared to be another deviation from the setlist, and then the usual “Highway 61,” and “Blowin’ In The Wind.”

For this night, the acoustic set was definitely more energized than most of what followed.  The show seemed to lose steam somewhere in the middle and though there were absolute high points, never quite regained the energy it started with.

In this ever-evolving band, on this tour, it seems that Charlie Sexton is moving much more to the front as lead guitarist.

But on the other hand, what other artist moves from bluegrass to blues to hard rock and back again, but if you stop for a second and think about the words and thoughts coming out, even with a slight loss of steam, it remains a remarkable experience.

But at the same time the loss of steam may have been due to the low roar of conversation that was ever-present throughout the night.  Maybe if what seemed like the majority of the audience had bothered to pay attention and get into it, instead of talking about whatever they were talking about, that steam might not have been lost.