For those who have eyes and those who have ears Bob Dylan and his band conquered the Spectrum tonight in a show that never let up for a second from start to finish. The introductory music started at 8:59 and Dylan and band took the darkened stage and shook it with the debut of “The Levee’s Gonna Break. In a rendition that made the album version tame by comparison with Donnie Herron on electric mandolin, Dylan just nailed it. There was no getting the voice in shape warm up, he was roaring, and at the song’s end on the final few notes the keyboard sound was that of a piano. With barely a break the band then jumped right into “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues,” and it seemed that Dylan didn’t even wait for the intro to end before he started signing. It was a version startling in its urgency and its energy topped for by an extended harp solo.
Donnie Herron and just enough to pick up the banjo and they were into a fierce “Highwater,” that featured both a lyric change, “I’m preachin’ the word of God/ I’ll open up your eyes,” and this amazing jam interlude where Herron, Dylan and Freeman found this one groove and this one riff and were totally in sync playing together and taking it as far as it could go.
This was followed by a simply gorgeous version of “To Ramona,” where not a note was out of place. “Rollin’ and Tumblin’ ” followed with Denny playing slide on a blue Denny with Stu Kimball on a black Strat and Donnie again on electric mandolin and Dylan totally focused on how and what he was singing.
For the next song Kimball picked up his acoustic and started strumming alone with Dylan on harp. Dylan played a few bars and started walking back to an anvil case which held the harps and the Oscar statue, switched harps, Kimball kept strumming a sixties style Dylan rhythm with Dylan playing harp and thus began a version of “Desolation Row” that was amazing. Not only was Dylan again nailing the vocal with fierce intensity — the way he sang, “The good Samaritan, he’s dressing, he’s getting ready for the SHOW,” seemed to summon all the deep and dark evil spirits lurking in the crevices and cabinets of the songs landscape – the interplay between the musicians was intense. Donnie Herron had been coloring the song with subtle yet intricate mandolin riffs, but on this sing his role in this band became very apparent. His focus is totally on Dylan what Dylan is playing. His job is to pick up whatever riff Dylan might come across on the keys, then start duplicating it and transmit it to the rest of the band. And when it works as it was the entire night, he and Dylan are totally in sync with each other. Denny Freeman who’d been playing brilliantly all night contributed a with a Steve Cropper-esque guitar solo followed by another great harp solo.
A very funky version of “Most Likely You Go Your Way came next,” with Denny sounding like a combination of Roy Nichols and Robbie Robertson, while Dylan toyed with the lyrics. At one point I could swear he sang, “You say you’re tired and you’re always wired, but you know sometimes you lie.”
Then came an incredibly spooky version of “Hollis Brown,” which was the very first song Dylan performed in this venue when he returned to touring almost 33 years ago. While that version rocked hard, this version was all about sustained tension, with the two guitars acoustic, with Denny playing slide. Just as you thought the song was about to end, Dylan reprised the final line followed by a final few chords that even though the guitars were acoustic were as hard and heavy as anything played the entire night.
Then it was back into overdrive for “Highway 61 Revisited,” followed by a “Spirit on the Water” that was at once loose, and slyly sharp with Dylan have talking, having singing, almost deadpanning the vocal, giving the song a new meaning. When it came to the do you think I’m over the hill, the line, the audience shouted back, “No!”
“Tangled Up In Blue” was perfect with more excellent guitar from Freeman and led into another exquisite version of “Nettie Moore.” This song truly displays the strengths of this band because the structure of the song is so precise. Mainly based around Kimball’s finger picking colored by Herron’s viola, Freeman, Garnier and Receli, and Receli actually is playing a far more intricate pattern, on top of the incessant thumping of the kick drum. On top of this Dylan sang beyond the bounds of passion and as he did at the Meadowlands, almost sang a harmony part on the chorus It was stunning.
The band and Dylan pulled out all the stops on “Summer Days” and simply had a blast. There were broad smiles all around especially on the instrumentals, especially near the end where they again found one riff to work off and took it as far as they could.
“Thunder On The Mountain” picked up where “Summer Days left off, in a perfect version and again Dylan sang both “Like A Rolling Stone” and “All Along The Watchtower” with energy and commitment and both featured superb solos by Freeman and final jam where the sound seemed larger than the instruments being played onstage.
Meeting up with friends who sat elsewhere during the show, everyone asked the same question, “Was that as great as I thought it was?” The answer was yes.