11/16/04 Stabler Arena, Bethlehem, PA

Maybe it was all those shows this summer in baseball stadiums, but Lehigh University’s Stabler Arena seemed a lot smaller than I remembered it being.  What was sadly evident waiting for the show to begin was the amount of empty seats.

Sometime after 8:15 pm Dylan and band took the stage and started with Bob in good voice on a reasonably strong “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat,” that was mainly notable for the harp solo.  This was followed by the evening’s biggest surprise “Absolutely Sweet Marie,” in the number two spot.  It was okay though I wish he’d return to singing the opening line as “railroad gate” instead of “railroad bridge” which he seems to prefer now.  Bob ended the song with an extended harp solo.

“Lonesome Day Blues” came next, though the song didn’t sound as fiery as the version I heard from Rochester and it was becoming apparent that something was missing from the sound at least where I was sitting, which was pretty much slightly above stage level namely the bottom.  It wasn’t that you couldn’t hear the bass, but the whole bottom end should have been booming and it wasn’t.

Dylan moved into semi-growling mode for “This Wheel’s On Fire” particularly on the memory served you well line at the end of each verse, and again played really good clear harp, but the punch that should have been driving the band just wasn’t there.  Now this happens to be one of my all-time favorite songs by anyone and I was lucky enough to witness the live debut.  But tonight’s version was slightly on fire and barely rolling down the road.

Things should have continued rocking or perhaps gone even higher with “Seeing The Real You At Last,” but the energy level stayed pretty much the same.  This was followed by a nice version of “Positively 4th Street” with Larry on acoustic.  This would’ve been okay for any other song, but this song is supposed to be nasty, not nice.

Reaching the midway point with a sing-songy “Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum” the show could go up, down, or stay the same.  The show stayed the same, which meant keeping things at a reasonably smooth competent level.  There was to be no lightning intensity, not a phrase that truly leaped out and grabbed you, just the occasional hot guitar lick, and a band, that tonight sounded more like a group of back-up musicians, which was a shame because this summer, at shows where I least expected it, they sounded like a band and a great one.

So despite doing a bunch of songs I really appreciate such as “Under The Red Sky” which had a not bad solo from Kimball and good harp from Bob, and a “Masters of War” which brought up the intensity meter a couple of degrees, and an okay “Girl From The North Country,” introduced as a request from the mysterious Aladdin (who has his own story to tell).  And then at the song’s end came the evening’s second surprise sort of when Dylan asked, “Anyone else wanna hear anything?” but before anyone could respond, he said “It’s Too Late,” before launching “Summer Days.”

Ultimately Bethlehem was a show where the harp solos were way more interesting than the vocals, where the band never really jelled and the energy level, which began on a fairly high level never went higher than the initial five songs.