Category Archives: 1990s

02/18/99 Bethlehem, PA

This was my third trip to the little town of Bethlehem to see Bob Dylan play at Stabler Arena.   I’d woke up about five times this morning in a driving rainstorm because of something I shouldn’t have eaten the night before and wasn’t exactly thrilled at the prospect of driving to Bethlehem in the rain.  The last time I saw Dylan at Stabler I ended up trying to race a snowstorm home and didn’t win and had a fun little white knuckle time slipping and sliding down the turnpike to a toll plaza that should’ve been an ice skating rink.   Luckily the rain stopped but my spirits didn’t lift until driving through Bethlehem to a friend’s house for dinner, past the Stabler turn-off, I saw a big gold tour bus probably delivering someone’s band to a sound check.  Once at my friend’s house the talk turned to a safe time to leave in order to miss Natalie Merchant.  I assured my friends 8 pm would be just perfect but they were a little nervous.  I told them I had it down having had a lot of practice during the Ani Di Franco tour, and how when Bob played the Mann I arrived there in time to be right behind Bob’s bus.  So we set out for Stabler at about 8 anyway which was maybe 20 minutes away and just as we’re about to turn into the last road leading to the arena, coming towards us from the opposite direction is a very familiar looking bus.  Well, it’s not every day I get the chance to give the right of way to Bob, so much to the annoyance of my friend’s wife who was following in the car behind us, I sat at the stop sign and let the bus pass and immediately turned in right behind it of course.

Dylan came on stage with his hair still sort of damp with a part in it that only he could have and started as usual with a reasonably strong “Serve Somebody,” can considering he has played just about every night this month, his voice was in pretty good shape.  They worked up a new pretty sharp ending.  “Million Miles” and a semi-countrified “Maggie’s Farm” built around a riff similar to Merle Haggard’s “Working Man Blues” followed, but were nothing special, though it did bring out his first smile of the night.  But on the fourth song, Dylan reached into his bag of tricks and pulled out a new version of “I Want You” that was the first highlight of the night.  It was played at a moderate pace that may have been a tiny bit too slow, but had lots of beautiful steel work from Bucky (who’s really starting to look like Jesse Ventura with a derby), especially in the beginning.  Imagine “I Want You” done at the pace of “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You” and you’ll have an idea.  Now I’ve seen Dylan drive this song right into the very depths of my soul, and it wasn’t like that, but he did seem to care about it.  “Memphis Blues Again” followed with Bob letting loose with some prime search and destroy guitar, but at the same time he was digging into the song and having a good time.  He seemed to be playing more with Larry Campbell than against him.  But I found myself thinking about when was the last time Dylan played two songs in the same order as on an album, and was kind of hoping that follow it with “Leopard Skin Pill-Box Hat” and “Just Like A Woman” for the sheer hell of it.

That wasn’t to be of course because he took of the Fender and put on the Gibson and went into a fairly intense and spooky “Masters of War”  that got one of the first real responses from the fairly sedate, standing crowd.  It was great but I found myself thinking it would’ve been even greater if I hadn’t seen him sing it who knows how many times over the past five or six years.  But then Dylan again pulled out another surprise, a beautiful “Mama You Been On My Mind,” and if he wasn’t knocking over the intensity meter, he certainly was treating the song with care.  “Tangled” was followed by a delicate “To Ramona,” with Dylan again making it plain he cared about the song.  Watching him, I couldn’t help but think of when I first saw him sing it a little over 33 years ago.

“Can’t Wait” followed featuring some nice Steve Cropper-esque licks from Larry Campbell and a strong vocal from Dylan who at this show was making effective use of the lower register of his voice.  “Positively Fourth Street” found Dylan playing around in his delivery and clearly enjoying himself.  As the song went on instead of playing rhythm which he usually does when he’s singing, he started to play lead while he was singing — all of a sudden there’s these guitar licks — which of course led into a solo. “Highway 61” was “Highway 61.”

All the encores were kept at a strong level.  “Leopard Skin Pill-Box Hat” had a new trick intro; the harmonies, make “Blowin’ In The Wind;” but in the grand show-biz tradition, Dylan saved the best for last with “Not Fade Away.”  Here he was clearly having fun and the sort of smiles he let loose the rest of the night turned into a broad one and he looked young for the first time all night, and all the baggage of being Bob Dylan seemed to slip away, and I felt like he was having the kind of fun he probably had with his very first band.

All in all, it was an okay concert, not a great one.  The energy level seemed to be lagging a bit, the band never got into 5th gear.  But after “Not Fade Away,” it didn’t really matter.

11/05/98 College Park Maryland

Dylan’s show at College Park was for the most part a high energy affair with occasional, fleeting glimpses of the bone-chilling intensity he is capable of.  Dylan is clearly having a lot of fun on stage these days, and why not?  He certainly doesn’t have to prove anything at this point.  If anything he’s trying to disprove those who would say he just stands there and sings.  Constantly-in-motion, his stage moves are an almost comic combination rock star guitar slinging swagger and once again Charlie Chaplin, perhaps with a bit of Harpo Marx and WC Fields thrown in for good measure.  After all this time, his sheer presence is magnetic and riveting.  You don’t want to take your eyes off him.

Musically, thing were a bit speedy.  “Serve Somebody” roared to live with Dylan singing in a shockingly strong voice.  The song rocked and rocked hard, considering Dylan — judging by his curious hair style — looked like he just woke up.

A fairly speedy “I’ll Remember You” followed making it even clearer that he was in good vocal form, getting into his low scary voice on the “Didn’t I try to love you?” bridge.

Fairly typical renditions of “Memphis Blues Again” and “To Make You Feel My Love” came next.  On all these songs, Dylan took every single guitar solo which is unfortunate.  Sometimes his solos are fun, sometimes the three-note repetition serves to take the energy level up a few notches, but too often they are just meaningless.  He has a superb lead guitarist in Larry Campbell — easily his best live lead player since Robbie Robertson — and he ought to let him step out instead of hogging every solo.

The standout musician of this particular night was easily Tony Garnier who was playing amazing, driving and intricate runs throughout the night whether on “I’ll Remember You” or one of the evening’s true standouts, “I Can’t Wait.”

The acoustic set began with an okay “Stone Walls and Steel Bars.”  This was followed by yet another re-arrangement of “Mr. Tambourine Man.”  It began at a moderately slow pace, and slowly built up to a rousing peak on the last verse.  Having reduced the melody to two notes, as only he can, he phrased those two notes to build and build to a stunning climax.  However, this is a song that never needed to be rearranged period.  The melody is one of the most beautiful Dylan ever came up with, the original tempo perfect.  It would be nice to see him return to it.

A brisk intense “Tangled” followed with Dylan really leaning into the lyrics in a close to intense clipped fashion.  An epic song by any standard it was made even more epic by two Dylan guitar leads and finally a harp solo that started off very slowly and tenuously and just kept building and building till he hit whatever it was he was looking for and once he found it, he didn’t let go.

“Don’t Think Twice” started with Campbell finger-picking the original “Freewheelin'” guitar part.  Sounded pretty cool until Bob led it back to three-note-solo land, destroying the original mood, making what could’ve been a really gorgeous version a typical one.

Then in a surprise move the intro to “Blind Willie McTell.”  And it was strong, and it was powerful and it was fine through the first stanza and then Dylan forgot the words, and no he didn’t get thrown off by the guitar.  He just forgot the next line and it’s too bad Tony or someone couldn’t have said to him “East Texas” and it would’ve come back.  Then he went into the fourth verse or something and couldn’t remember that did the part of the last verse twice and thankfully ended it.  And it was too bad because he was actually singing the chorus the way he originally wrote it “And I know no one can sing the blues like Blind Willie McTell” instead of the Band’s version “I know one thing, no one can sing……”

What really made it a shame was the next song was “Every Grain of Sand” which would have been an incredible one, two punch.  But the McTell gaff clearly rattled Dylan and kind of let the air out, and for a second we almost thought he’d forgotten the words to this as well, but he pulled it out.  The momentum was gone however, and “Highway 61” whether it was scheduled next or not was definitely the right move to get the energy back.

“Lovesick” had kind of a strange beginning, but they pulled it out with Campbell finally stepping forward to take a solo.  However, this is one of the songs where Bob’s solo like the one he took on the Grammys really works.  Oh well it’s one of the joys of being a Dylan fan.  The one time you want him to take a guitar solo, he doesn’t.

Bob still had some surprises up his sleeve as everyone was expecting the inevitable “Rainy Day Women” and instead he pulled out “Leopard Skin Pill Box Hat” in a way to make everyone think it was going to be “RDW.”

A moving “Blowin’ In The Wind” came next with strong harmony from Larry and Bucky following Bob’s phrasing stretching wind.

Then it was back to the electrics for “Till I Fell In Love” and as it was getting pretty late and close to midnight and we weren’t sure whether they were coming back or not, Larry seemed to think the show was over — but come back they did for a gentle “Forever Young.”

It was a show more entertaining and fun than moving, but it was fun I’ll take anytime.

01/31/98 Mark G. Etess Arena, Taj Mahal, Atlantic City, NJ

Atlantic City, you know it’s a crazy place the minute you see the lights from the Casinos on the bridge leading from the Atlantic City Expressway.  Nobody on the main street, Atlantic Avenue at all, just blocks and blocks of massage parlors and porno stores, just lots of cars and lots and lots of stretch limos, and some that were really stretched.

The Taj Mahal is gigantic, bright white with big red neon and inside immediately are one-armed-bandits and a room with some type of game going on.  Had tickets waiting at the box office, long lines, ended up with not bad seats on the side,  perfect to see Bob and Larry, not so good to see Tony and Bucky.  There was pretty good music I didn’t recognize playing as we found our seats which was soon replaced by Hank Williams.

Bob came out and was on from the first note of “Sweet Marie,” his voice amazingly strong and clear. In fact the sound throughout the night was rather impeccable, none of the we’ll get it together by the third song stuff.  Bucky for once was coming through loud and clear, delivering some incredible steel on the second song “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You” punctuated by near-perfect country riffs from Larry.  As usual the two assholes who happened to sit behind me talked through every instrumental break.  Dylan was quite animated, not quite dancing, but certainly moving around, but it was his singing that truly dominated the show, easily surpassing the Saturday show I saw in NYC just two weeks ago.  There are some shows where he takes a few songs to warm up and some shows where he’s on from the first note.  Tonight it was from the first note and he didn’t stop.  And there are some shows where you think to yourself,  yes that is Bob Dylan up there and there’s some other shows where he’s BOB DYLAN and tonight he was most definitely BOB DYLAN.  He kind of rushed through a cool, smoothly executed “Can’t Wait,” and then delivered a stunning, show-stealing “Just Like A Woman.”  More than warmed up, he played around with his phrasing, chopping off some lines,  holding others, having fun, but extremely confident, on the last chorus adding “Yes you do” after each line.

Sylvio was its usual self, followed by a relaxed but solid”Cocaine,” with Dylan riffing nicely on the guitar.  But for me the highlight of the acoustic set was an intense “Masters of War,” with Bucky playing really spooky mandolin.  I started thinking how Dylan always seems to bring this out when the U.S. is on the verge of war, only to have my concentration broken by the assholes behind me.  They’d been silent for a while since one of them had left to get some beer, while the other one rolled a joint.  But now they were talking again and during the acoustic part!  So I had to turn around and say “Would you please be quiet,” and they were so wrapped up in their conversation that they didn’t notice until I said it louder.  Finally the guy looks at me and says “What?”  I repeated, “Could you be quiet, I’d like to HEAR the song.”  “Right on man,” was the reply.  I was seriously wishing Luca Brasi would magically appear and put a think silken rope around his neck, just as Larry kicked off “Tangled.”  The Trump security was having no stage rush on this one.  Million Miles came next with Dylan getting playful with his vocals again. After the line, “There’s plenty of people who’ll put me up for a day or too,” he added “At least I hope they do.”

He was equally playful for “Wheels On Fire” delivering an almost staccato mem-o-ry on “memory serves you well,” while the band was appropriate spooky.  Dylan then introduced the band without any jokes and went into a rather soaring Highway 61.

” ‘Till I Fell In Love With You” opened the encore set with Dylan taking off his guitar before the band stopped playing.  Returning, he pulled a nice surprise with “It Ain’t Me Babe,” repeating the “It ain’t me you’re looking for babe” line on each chorus.  The song was really going great until Bob started to practice his lead playing.  He hit the enivitable acoustic encore lead solo wrong note and it just kind of went downhill from there with him never really finding whatever it was he was trying to play.  He more than made up for it with a dynamic “Love Sick” with the band being astoundingly forceful on the little musical rise before each “sick of love.”

The lights came on with the drum intro to the usual closing song, and we exited into the make believe world of bright lights and gamblers.  It wasn’t the most incredible set list (wouldn’t have minded “Queen Jane”), but it was most definitely a great show.

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.