It may be Bob Dylan’s goal to play every major town in Pennsylvania and Reading certainly is one of them, or once was anyway. We took our time getting out of Philly and arrived at the First Energy Stadium sometime in the middle of Junior Brown’s set. In fact we could hear him clearly a few blocks away where we parked. Reading was mellow compared to the last baseball stadium show I saw in Lancaster. The stage was a lot closer to the stands but the lack of the Willie Nelson contingent of fans made a big difference in the capacity crowd. People were downright friendly.
Jimmy Vaughan did an okay set of blues with cool little band, that would have been a lot more effective in a bar. In fact it reminded me of the great blues club in Austin, Antone’s. It went by quickly.
At ten minutes after 9, a hatless Bob Dylan took the stage and I had considered writing down “Maggie’s Farm,” but for some reason didn’t and they kicked into a not bad version of “Cats In The Well” with Don Herron on fiddle and it was obvious Dylan was on from the start. “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” was just as much of a surprise with the first harp solo of the night and then it was into a speedy “Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum” and then into “Lay Lady Lay” with gorgeous pedal steel from Don Herron. After a high energy “Watchin’ The River Flow,” Don Herron picked up a resonator-less five string banjo for a fairly wild version of “High Water,” with Dylan snapping out the lyrics staccato fashion.
Then came the night’s fourth surprise, a great version of “Not Dark Yet” that was close in both feel and sound to the album version, with Denny getting a tremolo sound on his start and also featured as did many of the other songs a lengthy harp solo from Dylan.
Then the next surprise, the highlight of the night, “Tangled Up In Blue,” in a majestic version that started off with acoustic guitar and bass with the full band kicking on the first “tangled,” and then not letting go and riding the song for all it was worth, with a little verse change with, “She was working at the Tropicana and I stopped in for a beer/I told her I was on my way to Atlanta…. ” – didn’t get the last part of the line.
Things came down a notch after that with “Make You Feel My Love,” which was redeemed by a harp solo and into a fairly swampy “Highway 61.” It was obvious that Dylan who was quite animated throughout the night was having a good time.
Then out of left field came “Lenny Bruce,” which was going along fine until Bob blew the taxicab verse, by singing that line too soon repeating it, and then followed with some line worthy of “I’m Not There” or “To Be In Love With You,” but came back strong for the closing verse.
“Summer Days,” did what it was supposed to do which is swing in a version that reminded me of the instrumental interplay of Western Swing band, Asleep At The Wheel as solos were deftly tossed back and forth across the stage as opposed to the chaotic frenzy of a few years ago. It was a more than fine show for a late August night in a forgotten town. Things are starting to get interesting right about now.