I have this really good friend who knew that the thought Bob Dylan playing a mile from my house and not being there would be a bit upsetting, so he got me a ticket. Actually, he got me the ticket, front row center, slightly to the right (looking at the stage) of Bob’s microphone or as the case may be on this tour microphones. And with the ticket came a backpack, well it’s not really a backpack, but it’s a shoulder pack with a whole lot of pockets and it might be really cool for carrying guitar cords and stuff like that and also this laminate in the shape of a really big tortoise shell guitar pick, so it’s hanging on this bulletin board that has a bunch of really ancient press passes, buttons from bands that no longer exist and Buck Owens’ autograph is on there somewhere.
Anyway having that front row seat had its advantages and disadvantages. The stage is really high and the seats are really low, so while I could see Bob at center stage just fine, I could only see the guys in the band from the waist up and couldn’t see Donnie at all, except when he played banjo for about 30 seconds because the piano was in the way. At the same time, I could hear the acoustic guitar and the piano without the sound system.
So tonight’s show was again different than the first two. Bob’s voice especially at the beginning was slightly rougher than the second show and not quite as animated. The guy behind me decided to sing along with “Things Have Changed,” and then clap his hands to the beat. He tried the stuff a couple of times and thankfully gave up. The woman next to him was having a conversation with the person she was with, until I gave her my best Michael Corleone stare, the one he gives Al Neri while he’s embracing Fredo at their mother’s funeral.
Luckily that guy didn’t sing along on “She Belongs To Me” because Dylan was singing it great and Charlie Sexton who was particularly on tonight, was adding nice fills complementing Bob’s harp.
“Working Man’s Blues #2” again was very strong with Bob putting out on the last verse. On “Pay In Blood,” there was added emphasis on the line (not on the album): “But they’ll hang you in the morning and they’ll sing your song.”
“Tangled Up In Blue” may have been the best version of the three Philly nights. While the harp didn’t reach the 1966 craziness of the first show, being that close I could see he was actually treating the lyrics a lot more gently than it may have sounded elsewhere in the hall. And with his hat down close to his eyes, there were more than a few times during the song that I couldn’t help but think of the video version from Renaldo and Clara.
There were various other high points. “Forgetful Heart” was the strongest of all three shows, and “Long And Wasted Years” was by far the best version with Dylan acting out certain parts with broad arm gestures.
The thing about this tour is while the shows may have the same set list, there were differences every night. There were certain things the band did on Saturday night that didn’t happen tonight. Watching the show, I wasn’t even thinking about the set list or what song came next. Sometimes the little tuning and noodling thing the band does between each song would remind me or cue me in. Tonight Dylan seemed to give extra care to the two songs from Blood On the Tracks. But that doesn’t mean “Scarlet Town” or “Soon After Midnight” was any less beautiful. And speaking of that song, while the melody and the arrangement are beautiful, the line Dylan really emphasized tonight was “I’ll drag his corpse through the mud.”
The thing is these are some of the strongest shows Dylan’s given in the 2,000s. And for those who want to hear the old songs or for him to shake up the set list, well he did that for a really long time. The thing is this show is like a play. It’s theatrical without being overly theatrical. And if you ever acted in a play, well you go out and you perform the show and some nights you really hit it out of the park and the other nights it cruises along. Music is the same way, you go out and play the same set every night and after a few nights you’re really sailing, and everything’s second nature. They may be playing the same songs, but there’s little variations that happen each night. Ultimately, the current tour is about Bob Dylan giving consistently good and great performances every night, and that is what it’s about.