11/12/17 Tower Theater, Upper Darby, PA

Woke up kind of tired, and all day I was thinking, do I really want to see the same show again? And the answer to that question of course is it’s Bob Dylan. But that really wasn’t the answer. As it turned out the answer really was because it’s FUCKING BOB DYLAN man! The energy at the show tonight was on another level entirely.

Saturday night, Mavis Staples was a bundle of energy. Tonight she was a fireball that never let up, and she did some different songs. A couple of songs in she pulled out the Staples Singers version of “For What It’s Worth” which was amazing in itself, but then a couple of songs later she did an extended version of “Freedom Highway” that not only brought the crowd to its feet, but turned the Tower Theater into a revival meeting. It was an incredible moment.

When Bob Dylan took the stage tonight as Stu Kimball was winding down his acoustic rendition of “Royal Canal,” he didn’t go right to the piano, but walked to the front of the stage and then went to the piano as the band launched into a thunderous version of “Things Have Changed” with Dylan paying attention to every line, phrasing like a madman, stretching out the last word so it was “Lots of water under the bridge/Lots of other stuff tooooooo.”  And he kept that kind of phrasing up the whole night.

He sat down for “It Ain’t Me Babe,” in another strong straight forward version, considering that this is a song that had innumerable arrangements, and I couldn’t help but think that maybe this was the way he really wanted to do it with The Hawks back in 1965.

“Highway 61 Revisited” brought the crowd to its feet midway through the first verse, with Dylan shooting out the lyrics at machine gun pace with both anger and humor in his phrasing as if it was 50 years before and on top of that, he pounded out some very cool piano solos.

Then it was to the front of the stage for “Why Try To Change Me Now” with Dylan almost acting out the words and tonight the audience was not only expecting it, but they got it.

Then it was back to the piano for the new arrangement of “Summer Days,” but again his delivery was just smoking, with every verse phrased in a different way, again placing emphasis on certain words and lines: “Seems like it’s stuuuuck,” and then later, pretty much with a smile, “Politician got on his jogging shoes/He must be RUNNING for office, got no TIME to LOSE. Midway through the song it hit he, he’s playing like Jerry Lee Lewis, who’s had a fiddle in his band for something like 50 years, and I started thinking it’s too bad a producer didn’t suggest Lewis do this song 16 years ago.

After “Melancholy Mood,” came as explosive “Honest With Me” and once again he was emphasizing key lines, “The Siamese twins are comin’ to town,” and especially “When I left my home the sky split open wide/I NEVER WANTED to go Back There–I’d rather have died,” and on the last verse, “Well, my parents warned me not to waste my years/And I still got their advice ooooooozing out of my ears.”

I started to warm to the new arrangement of “Trying To Get To Heaven,” and maybe because my seats tonight were a few rows closer to the stage, I was able to notice some of the things the band puts into it, like the steel lick Donnie Herron does at the stop at the end of each verse. It’s just a tiny little lick, but it adds a lot to the arrangement. And again, Dylan was emphasizing key lines, “When you think that you LOST everything.”

Then it was back out front for a truly moving “Once Upon A Time,” and when Dylan went for the low notes at the end of the song, the audience stood and cheered. Throughout the night, the pace was we’re going to slow it down for a ballad and then we’re going to rock and rock hard.

After a searing “Early Roman Kings,” as the band was doing its tuning and noodling in the darkness, I suddenly heard a banjo, and instead of “Soon After Midnight,” came a dramatic “Scarlet Town” during which I started thinking of certain senate candidates. Donnie Herron’s banjo part was a bit different than it was previously, as he played frailing licks in the background, and the second part of the melody has changed giving the song a less repetitive feel. Then came “Desolation Row,” and Donnie stood right behind Dylan smiling and watching what he was doing on piano like a hawk. I was waiting to see if he’d do the descending mandolin riff again, and at one point Dylan turned around and said something to him, and instead of it happening on the “Across the street they nailed the curtains” verse, it happened later on the “At midnight all the agents” verse, and this time it turned into a mandolin and piano duet that went on for a bit after the verse.

“Thunder On The Mountain” brought the energy level up even higher and featured a terrific solo from Charlie Sexton. Then as Dylan returned to center stage for the last time, an interesting an unexpected thing happened, as the band played the intro to “Autumn Leaves,” the audience stood and cheered and cheered wildly.

The energy stayed high for the final three songs, and again Sexton’s B-bender solos on his Telecaster for “Blowin’ In The Wind” were a delight.

At this point, this band has been together longer than any other line-up of the so-called never ending tour. I think not only having to learn, but to play night after night the more intricate arrangements of the standards has made an already tight band even tighter, and in these new arrangements of the Dylan songs are all kinds of rhythmic changes and stops and starts that they pull off seamlessly. And for his part, Bob Dylan is rocking as hard as he ever has if not harder, and what he’s playing on the piano works all the time.

One other thing, it was a total pleasure to attend a concert and not see a few hundred cell phones waving in the air in front of me. And the audience both nights kept needless chatter to a minimum and actually paid attention to what was happening onstage.

 

 

 

11/11/17 Tower Theater, Upper Darby, PA

On a day that saw the temperatures dive into the 20s the night before, Bob Dylan and Mavis Staples played the first of two nights at the Tower Theater, just outside West Philadelphia in Upper Darby, PA, a theater Dylan first played in 1988.

Mavis Staples and her three piece band plus two backup singers took the stage at exactly 7:30, and for the next 45 minutes deliver a charged upbeat set featuring several new songs that had the crowd on their feet several times during the set.

After a 15 minute intermission and two announcements telling the audience to power down their cell phones, the lights went dark and Stu Kimball took the stage playing “Royal Canal” on acoustic guitar while the band took their places, and lights coming on slightly as a hatless Bob Dylan took his place at the piano. The stage setup has changed slightly so Dylan now plays facing the audience, and the drums have been moved to the left side of the stage and angled so drummer George Recile is facing towards Dylan, reminding me of Levon Helm’s setup with The Band (though Helm was on the opposite side of the stage). This setup allows the audience to get a much better view of what Recile is doing, and as it turned out, several songs were rearranged with the drums playing a major part.

This was evident on the opener “Things Have Changed” in a new thunderous and rollicking arrangement with Dylan standing at the piano, and at times you could almost see the kid who blasted his high school auditorium 60 years ago. Dylan was in strong voice from the first note and for the most part stayed that way throughout the night. A straightforward and fairly rocking “It Ain’t Me Babe” came next followed by “Highway 61 Revisited.” The opening three songs made it clear that all the songs are now tightly arranged with everyone’s part defined and built around what Dylan is playing on piano, and he took quite a few solos throughout the night. Gone are the interludes where Dylan would play a riff, and then pass it to the rest of the band. Instead the emphasis now on the original songs is on dynamics and sudden rhythmic changes which the band pulls off effortlessly.

Dylan’s turns at center stage are now reserved for the pop standards, and as it turned out, they provided some of the most moving moments of the night, especially “Why Try To Change Me Now” and “Once Upon A Time.”

Several songs, in fact most of them have been rearranged, some drastically. Perhaps a better description would be that they were re-dressed, sometimes in clothes other songs used to wear which made me think of the line from “Desolation Row,” “I rearranged their faces and gave them all another name.”  “Tangled Up In Blue” is part “If You Ever Go To Houston,” but it also has this sort of tick-tock rhythm during part of the verse like a clock loudly counting out the time quickly going by. “Trying To Get To Heaven” now has the emphasis on the last line, “Before they close the door,” with Dylan stretching out the last three words each time around. I’m not sure if these arrangements totally work, but they were adventurous and interesting, and particularly in the case of “Tangled,” refreshing.

What did work was “Summer Days,” which now, based around Donnie Herron’s fiddle is sort of bluegrass meets swing at a hoedown without being either bluegrass or swing, but some combination, and the crazy new riffs on “Honest With Me” and “Thunder On The Mountain” They were both hard rocking, in fact ferociously rocking with lots of roll intact, and a lot of the credit for the latter song has to go to George Recile who has a cool drum solo near the end that brought the audience cheering and standing. It had the wildness of the best rockabilly, but it wasn’t quite standard rockabilly either. But he sang it with such energy, clearly having fun, that I found myself thinking now’s the time to resurrect “Subterranean Homesick Blues.”

There were several other cool moments. Charlie Sexton’s guitar on “Early Roman Kings” was raw Chicago blues, and he also played a couple of sweet solos on “Blowin’ In The Wind”  On “Desolation Row,” midway through the song on the “Across the street they nailed the curtains” verse, Donnie Herron played a great descending riff on electric mandolin that changed the color of the song. On “Blowin’ In The Wind,” Dylan sang it like he remembered why he wrote it with particular emphasis on “too many people have died,” that made it hard not to think of recent events.

While there weren’t any deep into the mystic moments, it’s still pretty remarkable that at 76, Bob Dylan still keeps finding new ways to present and sing his songs, and on this tour he’s singing with a youthful clarity that hasn’t always been in evidence in the 21st century, with a band that is unbelievably tight.