Category Archives: 1997

12/10/97 Trocadero, Philadelphia, PA

A remarkable show!  I can’t remember the last time I saw Dylan with a band this tight, but it was long ago.

The Troc kept a long line of people waiting in a pouring rain while theysearched everyone, but that was forgotten the minute Dylan launched into a lean, rocking “Maggie’s Farm.”  “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here” kept things moving, but the show changed dramatically with the first beat of “Cold Irons Bound.”  The band set up an impecable Howlin’ Wolf type groove and Dylan just totally leaned into the song, phrasing it a bit differently than the record.  He made each line count and the band just wailed and didn’t let up.  It was amazing.

A very strong “Born In Time Followed,” and like the three songs before it, it had a beginning a definite end, and Dylan seemed focused not only on the song, but his musicianship, leaving the majority of lead guitar in Larry Campbell’s Hands.

“Can’t Wait” took the show up another three notches.  Dylan is not doing my favorite songs from the album, but it doesn’t matter because the band is so damn hot on these songs, making every beat count and performed live, the songs do not have the doom ’n’ gloom mood of the album because Dylan is having such a good time playing and singing them.

Sylvio was Sylvio, but the first acoustic song was a terrific “Stone Walls and Steel Bars” with Campbell and Bucky singing harmony.  A total delight.

Dylan played the intro of Love – 0 over and over, making the crowd and quite possibly the band guess whether it was going to be that or (a rare acoustic) “If Not For You.”  The band even went to the minor chord that’s in “If Not For You,” but finally he started singing.  It was much faster than the last time I saw him do it (Patti Smith tour at Electric Factory), in fact it was damn close in feel to the Bringing It All Back Home original once he actually started singing it.

On “Tangled,” the show seemed to lose a little momentum and both Dylan and the song suddenly seemed tired.  He flubbed one of the verses, but then, magician that he is, he used one of his now famous three-note guitar solos to bring the song back up to speed and recapture the energy.

“Memphis Blues Again” was okay, nothing really special, but all that changed with a dramatic “Wheels On Fire” which was followed by a thrilling “Till I Fell In Love With You.”  Campbell somehow made his guitar sound like a blues harmonica, while Bucky made his pedal steel do wild organ tricks despite the fact that there was some kind of Vox Keyboard sitting by him that I never saw him touch.  Like The Hawks did so many years ago with the songs off Highway 61, this band takes the songs off Time Out Of Mind somewhere else entirely with Dylan leading the charge and knowing it.

They returned and did a simply kick-ass Highway 61 that feel-wise was also damn close to the original.  This was followed by a carefully sung “My Back Pages” with Dylan clearly making each line stand out, despite a couple of search and destroy guitar solos.  I actually started wondering if he hits the really bad notes on purpose, so when he finally gets it right (and he always keeps going till he gets it right) that the final solo will have much more impact.

Then came “Lovesick,” not quite as spooky as the record, but intense in a different way, with Bucky playing the organ part on steel.  Again Dylan was totally into the song, but unlike some of the other TOOM songs that night, he didn’t play around much with this one, delivering it straight and solid.

Dylan looked pretty good, and seemed to have lost in a little weight.  I thought his voice was in the best shape I’d heard it in since quite possibly the Supper Club shows.  He’s also holding his guitar a bit higher up on his body, the way he used to in the ’60s.  It was a show where he directed the focus to where he wanted it–on the music.  This tour is absolutely the one to catch.

08/24/97 Wolf Trap, Vienna

What a great, great show!  Easily the best of the 3 shows I’ve seen this summer (other two being Hershey and Philly).  Dylan was ON IT from the 1st note of “Sweet Marie” and did not let up with the same kind of energy he had in Philly.  There was no messing around of any kind, between songs and during songs.  I haven’t seen him do a show, so crisp, clean and concise since I saw him at the Supper Club.  And Dylan kept his guitar solos to a minimum for the most part and made the most of them.  Where his solo on this at Hershey was pointless noodling that went nowhere, tonight he played a cool little almost Chuck Berryish riff for one verse that fit right in and served as a good counterpoint to Larry and Bucky’s country riffs.

Very cool also was the second tune, “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You,” with Campbell playing the Charlie Daniels lick of the original version.  Dylan left the guitar work up to Campbell.  “Tough Mama” was really intense with Dylan really leaning into the words.

First surprise was “I’m A Rovin’ Gambler” which I’ve had for years on an old Jack Elliott album.  They did it in a bouncy country version with Campbell and Baxter singing harmony on the last line (which repeats) and added a neat stop there too, with fine bluegrassy guitar from Larry.  Dylan’s version is longer than Elliott’s with additional verses about a poker game and a murder.  It was superb.  “Tangled” followed and though it was the same version they’ve been doing on this tour, Larry wasn’t playing the opening rhythm quite as hard, making the song more flowing and it worked out great.  Dylan was mugging and making faces and having a good time singing it.  He kept cracking up Campbell both during the singing and when Dylan was soloing.  They seem to be developing a real rapport with each other.  I was a little sad that the acoustic set included two covers, but it didn’t matter.

“Watching the River Flow” followed and if there was a weak spot in the show, this was it, but only ’cause the song and the arrangement itself just weren’t on the level of the other tunes tonight, though Campbell and Baxter were trading great country riffs and when they slowed it down to a blues at the end it turned the whole thing around to a powerful conclusion.

In the darkness between songs, I saw Campbell trade his guitar for a bouzouki and I knew what was coming.  The one song I’ve been waiting something like 10 years to see Dylan do “Blind Willie McTell.”  He does it an an arrangement that’s a cross between the Infidels takes and the Band’s version (as stated here before) with the added “I know one thing” No One Can Sing the blues like Blind Willie McTell as opposed to I know no one can can sing…  When the Band sings it, it’s slightly awkward but Dylan had no such problems.  It was phenominal!

At the songs conclusion he mentioned that folklorist supreme Alan Lomax was in the audience.  I wasn’t able to get everything he said, but his closing comment was, “If anybody unlocked the secrets of this music, it’s Alan.”  A strong tribute to an extremely important person to folk music.  A blistering Highway 61 (a song that rarely captivates me in live versions–I prefer the humor and the beat of the original) closed the show with Campbell and Dylan both tearing it up on guitar with funky dirty licks.

The show could’ve ended right there and it wouldn’t have made a difference.  “Like A Rolling Stone” followed and was almost anticlimactic.  Campbell seemed surprised when Dylan threw the solo over to him and didn’t quite catch the ball and they seemed to lose the thread a tiny bit.  A nice version of “Forever Young” was the acoustic encore with Dylan really singing and holding the notes.  He didn’t seem to take his solo at the end quite where he wanted, but it didn’t matter.  “Rainy Day Women” was the usual with Dylan singing maybe 2 verses and the rest being a not bad blues jam.

I’ve been seeing the Never Ending Tour now for 9 years (Dylan for way over 30) and this was one of the tightest shows of the tour I’ve seen him do.

08/13/97 Hershey, PA

Music can be a magical experience both for the listener and the player and when it’s really happening and it can take you away to places that can’t be described and make you forget everything else.  Nobody and I mean NOBODY is better at churning up that magic than Bob Dylan.  These days it’s when he wants to and he lets the magic happen the way it should happen–naturally.  He rarely tries to force it which is the way it should be because the magic can’t be forced it has to happen.  A truly great Dylan performance should blow you away to the degree that you’re not thinking of anything at all, that you’re in a daze not only on the way to the parking lot but for hours, maybe days afterwards.  At Hershey the magic happened in moments.

All day the threat of severe thunder storms hovered over Pennsylvania.  Luckily the torrential rain happened on the way to the show, not at it, like it did on another Wednesday night in Hershey 3 years ago.

Dylan in seemingly good spirits looked good and was quite animated throughout.  He seemed trim and not at all puffy like he sometimes looks these days.  He started out with a reasonably rocking “Absolutely Sweet Marie” in a reasonably strong voice.  The sound was a little weird at first, his voice almost distorting, but the sound guys eventually got it together.  They never really got the guitar sound together.  For some reason Bucky Baxter always seems to get sent to the right-hand speakers (facing the stage) with Larry Campbell in the left-hand speakers.  We were in the center not far from the stage a little more towards the left and Bucky got lost in the mix–or maybe he’s not playing as much as he did a while back.  It was hard to tell, but there weren’t any of the cool pedal steel organ sounds he excels at.  I personally don’t understand that way of mixing a concert.  It’s not a CD.  There should be equal amounts of all instruments in all speakers.  Anyway, Dylan sang the second bridge first and mixed up a bunch of verses leaving out a couple too.  The same thing happened on an ok “Ballad of a Thin Man” where the audience who had been standing decided to sit down.  Next came an alright, but not astounding “Tough Mama.”  It had none of the power or force of when he did it in ’74 with the Band.  Again he totally mixed up lyrics.  Actually the wait between songs was almost more exciting wondering whether he was going to do it or do “Watchtower” like he did the night before in Scranton.  Next came “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” which lacked the charm of when I saw him do it in Boalsburg in the rain earlier this spring.  He also left out the “buy me a flute verse.”  Now “Nowhere” is a 2 to 3 minute song with only four verses.  On some of the long songs with several verses (like say “Memphis Blues Again,”) I can see leaving out or forgetting a couple of verses.  And when Dylan’s really on, you don’t even notice it.  Not so at Hershey.  Instead we got Dylan’s guitar noodling.  Now asides from the facdt that the tone of his Les Paul was totally wrong for the song, way too crunchy or something, he has this ace guitarist there not to mention Bucky on pedal steel, both of whom can easily deliver the guitar work necessary to make that song really happen, but does he let them play, NO!  Again it was ok, but not the special song it could be.  Boom, right into “Sylvio” which is the only time I miss JJ.  JJ and Dylan took this song to some amazing almost psychedelic heights.

“To Ramona” was a nice surprise, though Campbell’s guitar was too loud in the mix, his rhythm overshadowing Dylan’s pseudo Mexican licks.  Dylan’s singing was really good on this one, but he mixed up the verses again.  He finally found what he was looking for in his solos about the third time around after a couple of dramatic errors, but when he finally found it, it was great.  Don’t get me wrong, I like the fact that Dylan searches for a sound or feel on-stage.  It’s one of the truly great and wonderful things about him.  Campbell set up a cool funky riff for “Tangled” but the song never really took off.  I’ve seen Dylan play great two-note leads on this that built incredibly in intensity, but he never really found what he was looking for.  “Cocaine” followed and Dylan finally really started singing.  It was a relaxed fun version with Campbell and Baxter joining in on the chorus and Dylan really leaning into each verse.  “God Knows,” evidently back in its traditional and transitional spot was also pretty cool and rocked hard when the band really kicked in after the first verse.  This was followed by an absolutely beautiful “Simple Twist of Fate” with stunning echoey guitar work by Campbell and Dylan delivering on the vocals–the first time all night he actually sang a complete song without messing up the lyrics.  “Highway 61” was “Highway 61,” but the first encore was the high point of the night “One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later).”  Done at a moderate place, not as slow as “Blonde or Blonde” and not as fast as the ’78 versions, but somewhere in between, this song had obviously been worked on.  Dylan finally let Campbell handle the leads and he provided Steve Cropper styled guitar with more of the echoey delay he used on “Simple Twist of Fate.”  It was truly wonderful and if they keep doing it every night, by the middle of next week it should be amazing.  This was followed by a beautiful acoustic version of “Heaven’s Door” and suddenly the energy and passion that would appear only sporadically the rest of the night suddenly coalesced and the magic was happening, proving once again that it really doesn’t matter what song he’s singing as long as he’s really singing it.

When Dylan lets his band, or his band takes the incentive to actually work up an arrangement as they did tonight on “One of Us Must Know” and as I’ve seen and heard them do on “Wheels on Fire” and “Seven Days,” the results can be absolutely mind blowing and a lot more satisfying than when they just bang out a tune without thinking about it.  And if he started packing his set lists with those tunes (as he slowly appears to be doing) leaving out the songs he’s played five million times, what heights could be reached.  But maybe that’s like hoping he’ll bring back the harmonica which in my opinion he plays a lot more emotionally than he does guitar.  And don’t get me wrong, I like the way Dylan plays guitar.  But he has players with him who are wasting their talents while he noodles away.  I’ve seen Dylan play some amazing guitar where I couldn’t believe he was doing it.  But if he could somehow get it together to save them up and deliver solos on just a couple of songs and really let loose, it would be so much more effective.  But that’s probably not gonna happen.  But then again, I never thought he’d ever perform “Blind Willie McTell” live either.

It was on okay concert with a couple of strong moments, especially near the end.  But it wasn’t anything special.

 

04/27/1997 Boalsburg, PA

First off, it wasn’t an amphitheatre, but a ski mountain with a stage at the bottom.  Second, if you have another chance to see a show there, don’t take it unless you reallylike sitting in your car in the parking lot in the rain.  It took two hours just to get out of the parking lot which was longer than Dylan played.  That said, there weren’t any metal detectors as reported though they were confiscating food so they could sell their own, and it rained starting right before Bob who pulled up right at showtime took the stage, though it wasn’t a hard rain (that was saved for the ride home) merely an annoying rain.

Dylan and band came on laughing, Dylan dressed in black pants with white stripe down sides, wearing a white cowboy hat, a truly ugly charcoal grey/black jacket and a ridiculous old-style western tie, black with white polka dots.  He looked fairly healthy for his almost 56 years.  Both Dylan and Larry Campbell were playing through tiny red Matchless Lightning 40 amplifiers, Dylan his usual strat and Campbell a telecaster.  For the electric portion Garnier was playing a Rickenbacker bass.

Dylan took off his hat put it on the drum riser, revealing an incredible case of hat hair and they were of into a fairly jaunty Absolutely Sweet Marie with Bob pretty much mangling the lyrics, doing the wrong bridge verse first and pretty much forgetting where he was after that, but it didn’t matter, it was cool and his singing was fairly strong.  This was followed by a careful Pretty Peggy O with Campbell providing subtle and tasteful Steve Cropper type licks.

AATW (of course) followed–as many times as I’ve seen Dylan do this–he usually manages to make it exciting.  Not this time though.  A pretty routine run-through.  By the way, it was Campbell, not Dylan playing the leads with Dylan underneath doing his usual search and destroy (just kidding folks I LIKE THE WAY BOB PLAYS) guitar underneath.  You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere followed.  Campbell again provided the main country lick while Dylan did something on guitar–I’m still not sure what–between the verses.  Campbell and Bucky who pretty much stayed in the background the whole show (it could been the mix, but I was very close to the stage) sang harmony. The acapella chorus ending was a nice, friendly touch.  It was nice to see him do it, but it wasn’t Basement Tapes mystical or anything.

Watching The River Flow Followed, pretty much the way he’s been doing it the past few years, but as Bill Parr mentioned with more of a Sun Records rockabilly feel to it with Campbell playing cool fingerpicking lead and Kemper providing a solid train beat.

Sylvio was short and sweet compared to the versions I heard last year at Madison and at the Electric Factory shows, with none of the almost psychedelic guitar explorations or the impact.  I personally could care less whether he does this or not, but at the last shows I saw (with Jackson) it had become something of a showpiece.  Wasn’t that way this time.

The acoustic set was okay, but nothing special.  By the acoustic set, it was apparent that Dylan’s voice was pretty well shot, but he gave it a good go anyway.  But it was here that Bob as lead guitarist started showing up.  He opened with slow, steady Friend of the Devil, and followed with fairly routine versions of Tangled and Don’t Think Twice, providing some nice runs on the latter and his usual funky four note exploration on the former.  He does have a way of playing the same notes over and over until they start to mean something, but I’d still prefer to hear him play the harp instead.  “Don’t” ended with a slowed-down blues jam that all band members, Bob included, grinning.  Dylan seemed to be trying to stop himself from smiling all night, but ended up letting quite a few slip out anyway.

Next came a fairly funky and rocking Real You At Last with Bob letting loose on electric, which was followed by a close to magnificent Wheels On Fire.  It was slow and almost spooky.  Dylan played his best solo of the night–it was obvious the band had worked on this song.  A romping Leopard Skin Pill-Box Hat closed the show with three encores, a why bother Alambama Getaway, a very nice, acoustic Forever Young, and of course RDW.

It was a good, but not great show.  A show of special moments rather than one long conintuous high.  Dylan appears to be enjoying himself, the music and his band, and generally having a good time, occasionally dancing around.

As for the band, the recent changes are definitely for the better.  Kemper is a much more sympathetic drummer.  Gone is the thunderous bombast of Winston Watson’s often over-powering drumming.  Kemper has a much better clue to the roots of Dylan’s music, following his quirky changes closely and playing what’s necessary and rarely what isn’t.In Larry Campbell, Dylan easily has his best on-stage guitar player since 1974.  GE Smith could play, but he was a hack and a ham, and rarely played what was right for a song, preferring to show off speed and dexterity over taste.  Jackson on the other hand had a contagious enthusiasm and was a risk-taker, but ultimately he came off as second-best.  In Campbell, Dylan finally has a professional guitarist who knows what to leave out and who has that all-important understanding of the roots of the music, whether country, rock or blues and what the appropriate guitar lick and/or style is to play to accompany that song and do it in a way that puts taste and the song first.  It’s about time.