All posts by psbtourarchive

12/03/18 The Met, Philadelphia, PA

It was another good, though not transcendent show at the brand new rehabbed Met in Philly. As he did in Atlantic City, Bob came out vocally strong and stayed that way throughout the night. Again the first few songs were pretty much warmups with nice harp on “Simple Twist Of Fate”  The “Rumble” version of “Cry A While” was fun, but I’m still not sure this arrangement is better than the original. “When I Paint My Masterpiece” seems designed to be a highlight, but in this version, it comes a little short of hitting the mark. The song really needs the beat it originally had, and the lyric changes seem like changes simply for the sake of changing. That said, one of the thing happening on this tour and “Masterpiece” was a fine example, is Bob’s developed a cool habit of answering his vocal with what he’s playing on the piano.

“Scarlet Town” was one of the key high points of the show with Bob standing at center stage using the microphone stand as a prop, with Charlie Sexton adding guitar punctuations, and Donnie Herron sort of playing Chinese music on the banjo. Dylan has changed the melody slightly so the very last line of each verse now goes up instead of staying the same which makes the verses more effective, and the way he stands there hand on hip during the brief between verse interludes is simply fun.

The lyrics of “Pay In Blood,” easily the nastiest of any of Dylan’s more recent songs are diminished by the current arrangement, though he put a lot into the line, “Show me your moral virtue first.”

“Like A Rolling Stone” was quite good with the emphasis going to the last word of each verse with him stretching out meal, deal, steal and conceal as long as he could and putting a lot into it as well. It was the one song where the incessant talker sitting in front of me shut up and tried to clap along until she realized it was useless.

The second high point of the show was again “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” with Dylan on piano backed by bowed bass and very subtle pedal steel with the full band only coming in at the very end. It is an astoundingly beautiful arrangement that truly brings out the sadness inherent in the lyrics.

“Thunder On The Mountain” was quite good and a lot of fun, as was the revved up “Gotta Serve Somebody.”

The third highlight was the first encore, a slow simmering, “It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry” that found Charlie Sexton playing a Les Paul Gibson, taking his best solo of the night.

That said, there’s something missing from the band right now I can’t quite put my finger on. The easy answer would be Stu Kimball. But there’s a force that was there that’s missing, though one of the people I went to the show with who saw some of the shows on this tour in the South said it didn’t happen in the smaller theaters.

At the same time Bob Dylan is singing a hell of a lot better than he did ten years ago and I’m trying to figure out how he pulled that trick off.

 

 

 

11/17/18 Etess Arena, Atlantic City, NJ

After a 20 second fanfare signaling the beginning of the show, Bob Dylan took the stage at the Mark Etess Arena, a cavernous room buried in the Hard Rock Casino which once upon a time was the Trump Taj Mahal.  On the way in there was a sign with a bunch of No’s.  New Jersey has always been big on signs with a long list of No’s.  Go to any beach and you can’t miss them.  In this case the list included no cell phones which was pretty funny since ticket bastard was pretty much forcing everyone to have their tickets on their cell phones unless you had them mail you real tickets for an absurd price.  The list also included no talking, no posting to social media, no tweeting, no recording, no cameras and no filming.

Anyway, standing at the piano Dylan sang “Things Have Changed” with a new arrangement in a shockingly strong and clear voice.  He then sat down for “It Ain’t Me Babe” which now included four no’s in the chorus.  Then it was back to standing up for a cool “Highway 61 Revisited.”  However all three songs seemed like warm-ups.

Bob sat again for “Simple Twist Of Fate” which featured fine harp solos and a cool piano interlude at the end.  On all the songs Dylan’s piano was overriding the mix.  I’m not sure if this was intentional or just how the sound was where we were sitting.

Then came the new “Cry A While” which is sung to Link Wray’s “Rumble.”  On one hand it’s fun and sort of interesting, especially how Dylan fits the words in to this arrangement, but I’m not sure if it really works in the long run.

Throughout the first portion of the show there was some guy four rows ahead of me who would stand up every 15 seconds, wave his arms in some weird motion above his head, sit down and get up 15 seconds later and do it again.

Then things slowed down slightly for a rearranged “When I Paint” with a lot of lyrical changes.  It was simply too dark to write them down, and I’m not sure they were necessarily better, but it was fun to listen to.  Then it was back to rocking for “Honest With Me.”

I think it was during “Honest With Me” that a walking mountain who turned out to be some sort of subhuman primordial creature with a really terrible high and tight haircut sat down in the seat slightly to the left of me. The primordial creature immediately began moving his 100 pound head from right to left and back again which considering that whatever this creature was, was blocking my sightline meant I had to start moving my head back and forth.  At the same time the creature took out his cell phone and holding it high above his head, while never looking into it was probably shooting the ceiling.  The guy next to me who’d already been warned by security, who clearly had a bad case of CCPUD (Compulsive Cell Phone Use Disorder) since he was unable to go four minutes without looking at his cell phone and also had spent the entire concert having a muted but annoying conversation with his girlfriend who clearly had absolutely no interest in the show, leaned over and told the guy security would pop him, so the cell phone vanished.  The primordial creature then announced to no one in particular that he was a retired cop and a stagehand at The Beacon.

Meanwhile Bob Dylan was singing “Tryin’ To Get To Heaven” in an arrangement that seemed halfway between the original and the jazz version he did in fall of 2,000.  I’d love to tell you more about the performance but the walking mountain and the guy next to me decided it was a good time to talk to each other.  At first I tried the kinder, gentler approach, leaning over and asking them if Bob Dylan was interrupting their conversation.  It worked for about 30 seconds.  Of course the primordial subhuman true to form would stand up and shout after every song, “We love you Bobby” or see you at The Beacon Bobby” at the top of its lungs after every song, living up to my friend Seth’s maxim that the people who shout the loudest between songs are the ones who never listened to the song in the first place.

Next came “Scarlet Town,” a song that is entirely dependent on how Dylan phrases it since the music is one repetitive thing throughout.  It would have been nice to hear it, but the subhuman primordial walking mountain decided it was time to have a conversation with the female species that came with him.  After three or four verses, I couldn’t take it anymore and shouted quite loudly at them, “Shut up already, some people come here to listen.”  The primordial creature turned around and said, “Shake my hand.”  “I don’t want to shake your hand,” I responded.  The creature then threatened physical harm, at which point Seth got out of his seat and went for security, who came and stood at the end of the aisle.

Dylan by then was singing “Make You Feel My Love,” during which the security person got into an extended conversation with the people behind me about shooting the concert with their cell phones.  “I understand totally,” she said, “I do it myself.”  Meanwhile the primordial creature had taken out his cell phone and was filming the show again.  I started tapping gently on the security person’s back, but she was still conversing with the cell phone users behind me.  Finally she turned around and I pointed to the primordial creature.

By then Dylan was into the new version of “Like A Rolling Stone” which was pretty good, but the emphasis on the “La Bamba” beat strip the song of the angst, the desperation and the cry of the original arrangement.

Then it was into an okay “Early Roman Kings” and by this time the primordial creature had finally settled down.

The highlight of the show, a sad slow “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” came next. His singing was truly beautiful and this new version brings a sense of regret to the lyrics.

A fairly strong “Love Sick” came next, but at this point band-wise, I found myself missing the guitar of Stu Kimball.  When I saw this song a year ago, the added stops were truly dynamic, even breathtaking, but that extra force, that wham that should have been there was absent.

“Thunder On The Mountain” and “Soon After Midnight” were both pretty good, and then came a new rocking arrangement of “Gotta Serve Somebody.”  It’s probably based on some obscure rockabilly guitar lick, but I’ll have to find a copy of this version and get it to some friends who are encyclopedias of guitar licks to identify it.  The song is now a full-fledged rock and roll song with continually revised lyrics and Dylan was clearly having a good time singing it, taking it very far from its original gospel origins.  At the song’s conclusion Dylan briefly walked for the first time to the front of the stage, and stood there for a few seconds.

“Blowin’ In The Wind” was in the usual arrangement and followed by a semi-reggae “All Along The Watchtower” that was interesting because of the arrangement, but simply didn’t reach the heights it could have.  “Watchtower” works because the song is inherently spooky and the best versions can scare the shit out of you.  Maybe if this arrangement develops a bit more, it will hit that mark, but it didn’t at this show.

There’s a thing Bob Dylan does where when the forces are right, he can drill a long right into you in a way you can’t forget and can’t help but react.  But it’s also a thing that can’t be forced and has to happen naturally which Dylan is no doubt well aware of.  It’s a matter of churning up the magic and once the magic happens sustaining it.  When the forces are right, Dylan is a total master of this.  That didn’t happen in Atlantic City.

 

11/06/99 Bryce Jordan Center, Penn State, PA

There must be some way out of here I thought to myself as downtown Philadelphia was completely gridlocked and every road heading West was a parking lot.  “Big trouble on Philly highways,” said the guy on the traffic report.  For some reason on a preposterously warm November Saturday afternoon, a bunch of different people in various key locations decided to crash into each other.  10 minutes later the traffic guy said, “What is going on today?”  And I tried all the roads and every shortcut and no matter where I went I ended up sitting taking almost an hour to drive what should take 20 minutes.  Finally I made it to the meeting place in Valley Forge and picked up my friends the double-D couple who had come from even farther from somewhere in the middle of New Jersey.  We hopped on the Pennsylvania Turnpike which prides itself on being the oldest such road in the nation.  About the only thing that’s changed since it was built sometime in the beginning of this century is the price of the tolls and occasionally the speed limit.  This year in the annual trucker’s poll Pennsylvania came in third for worst roads in the country only because Arkansas and Louisiana roads have apparently deteriorated over the past year.  The turnpike was miraculously free of traffic and for the most part state troopers and my car was in the mood to go a good 15 miles above the speed limit.   Stopping at the last rest area we exited the car where we were playing my more or less “Dylan Country” tape which is Self Portrait and Dylan along with other stuff thrown in in a different order to notice the temperature had dropped a good ten degrees.  Then off the turnpike for a short hop on I-83 to the gravel, up-hill wonders of US 322 West, a mostly two-lane road made out of some sort of gravel material so every 10 feet the wheels go bumpety bump.  By this time Dylan-in-Nashville had been replaced by live Otis Redding  and I was never able to get the bumps to synchronize rhythmically with the music.  75 miles of this.  But it was a nice day and we were in good spirits.  Soon we were met by the hundred mile Winnebago caravan coming from the Penn State football game.  “Serious tailgating,” said Mr. D.

And then the caravan ended, but as we got closer there were Winnebagos everywhere in fields in ditches, thousands of them and finally there we were in line for the lot with plenty of time to scope out a space for the all-important quick exit.  We chose the Winnebago lot.  We got out of the car to find the temperature had dropped again, about 20 degrees, maybe more.  It was freezing.  Time to pull out the hooded sweatshirts.  “The hood is up, don’t talk to me,” said Mr. D.  In the distance loomed the Bryce Jordan Center like some great Spielbergian spaceship landed in a cornfield in the Pennsylvania blue mountains.

“Never seen no place like this before,” I said quoting a rambling gambling evangelistical song traveler, who said the same thing when centuries ago he played a similar edifice also located next to a giant football stadium located in the middle of what everyone knows is the Mafia burial ground of the state where anything is legal as long as you don’t get caught.  Hoods up and not talking we were more or less blown towards the spaceship box office as some wicked Canadian wind appeared to make things even colder.  Obtaining the tickets with lots of time we headed for the congregation in the parking lot to secretly partake of the sacred plant.  “Are we there yet?”  someone might have said.  “If you have to ask, you’re there,” came an answer.  We stood up and all of a sudden we were back in 1968.  Someone had gathered all the Volkswagen busses that had been in hiding for the past two decades and plop them all down together in the Bryce Jordan Center.  Bongos were bonging and drums were drumming and all sorts of items grey flannel dwarfs would prefer to see banished were in display in decorated cases like treasures from pyramids embedded in ice.  There were people everywhere.  Music in all directions.  Lots of hair.  Dreadlocks, too-long floppy flappy jeans, a circus-meeting of the tribes.  There must be some way out of here I found myself thinking for the second time that day, as from out of nowhere some authority loudspeaker boomed, “keep the passageways clear.”

It wasn’t getting any warmer, so we headed for the great looming spaceship arena, check out the souvenir stand, hamburgers for only 3 bucks and into our seats.  The floor is maybe almost half full, the soundboards enclosed by a fence.  Warren Haynes comes out to check his gear to huge applause.  Finally the lights come down and the band comes out, “Viola Lee Blues,” and Derek Trucks is immediately noticeable on guitar and Haynes echoing him and off into some more or less blues-based jam and it’s really okay and somewhere in the middle they find “My Favorite Things” and leave that and come back again  and Phil is right there digging in and I suddenly realize I’m really hungry and go out to wander up and down the lonesome town of the spaceship perimeter ’cause I can’t see a thing anyway because the people in the next section are standing up especially this 7 foot tall guy who’s not even paying attention to the show and I don’t understand why when there’s a whole half a dance floor not being used these people have chosen to get seats.  Something just doesn’t add up here.

Out in the perimeter it’s gotten very strange.  Barefoot guys in skirts are dancing.  I get a burger and a no-coke pepsi and wander around.  Every ten feet there’s someone with their eyes closed moving around in some sort of trance-like circle.  It seems the same people are passing me over and over again and I can’t figure out how they got around the entire spaceship so fast.  Security guards are chasing some girl who is totally ignoring them wandering right back into the seats after they just got her out.  I suddenly realize I’m back where I started and go back to my seat.  “He just sat down 10 seconds ago,” Mr. D. says and wow, I can actually see the whole stage where the band will soon be arriving at Terrapin Station and back into Viola Lee Blues and Mr. D. says, “It’s called a sandwich.”

And they actually stop playing and start “Box of Rain,” and Phil can’t exactly find the melody but he means it so it doesn’t really matter and they leave and come back and do something else or maybe they did something else before, but now the lights are up though they’re still on stage.  And soon they are rolling away the equipment and rolling the Bob equipment on.

And soon they take the stage and there he is looking damn fine in his best riverboat gambler clothes with a Lester Flatt or Colonel Sanders tie depending on whether you’re coming from a bluegrass or chicken perspective and they’re into “I Am The Man Thomas,”  and it’s a fine upbeat bluegrass/gospel thing and Larry especially sounds a little stronger on it than Bob does and the lights go down and they’re taking their time before going into the Mexican cantina rendition of “To Ramona” that’s almost a little too cantina-ish but still okay and the nights go down and apparently another huddle and before the song starts I hear Bob play this tiny 3-note blues lick that could mean “It’s Alright Ma,” but they decide to do something else and the rhythm starts and it could be “Desolation Row” or it could be “Visions of Johanna”  and Dylan or someone is pushing the rhythm and he’s alternately singing it great and okay searching for that indefinable place where he can really drive it home and sometimes finding it, singing maybe half the verses and I wonder if he picks and chooses from different verses each time he does it, but I’m not that much of a statistician.  They’re right into “Mama You Been On My Mind,” with Larry picking out crystal clear like water running Doc Watson-ish leads until Bob takes over after the 2nd verse and he kind of seems more into playing it than he is in singing it and another verse and he goes back and picks up a harmonica and actually looks at it to make sure it’s the right one and goes into a really great but two short solo where instead of playing the usual two note thing he’s been doing lately to start (like check out the harp on “Trying To Get To Heaven” on TOOM for an example), he’s playing some really crazy up and down stuff, but it’s over too fast and he gave just enough to let you know he can still do it.  Then into Tangled and again he’s searching for that thing singing one verse or maybe even a line high and the next one low and on the “She lit a burner on the stove” verse he hits it and it’s that moment where he just nails the song right through you in the that way that only he can do and the show is going by really fast and it’s into Watchtower with Larry on lapsteel and it’s okay but nothing really special and another lights-down huddle and the intro to Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues appears and this one of those songs that he really cares about and sings every verse except “up on housing project hill,” getting in his best electric solo of the night.   And then Shelter with yet another arrangement, kind of moderately paced which leads to a burning “Real You At Last,” with great nasty guitar from Sexton followed by the night’s show-stopper, “Tears of Rage,” carefully done with beautiful back-up vocals from Larry and Charlie with Larry reaching way back summoning the spirit of those Basement recordings  and especially Richard Manuel.

And then after another huddle, and a fairly crazy intro, they bounced into a rolling roller coaster of “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat.”  And at the end, Bob lingered on-stage after the rest of the band had split and turned around to deliver a classic Bob Dylan-styled bow.

They returned to launch into “Love Sick” notable for “take to the road and plunder” being changed to “Feel like I’m being plowed under,” and into an okay “Rolling Stone,” and then “Blowin’ In The Wind,” and we looked at each other and with 200 miles for me to drive and another 75 or so for my companions made a quick exit into the even chillier Pennsylvania mountains night for the steep downhill drive discussing whether Charlie’s being under-utilized or not as we cruised by the run-away truck ramps.