It was not without some trepidation that I got in my car for the third time to go to the third Hammerstein show. Would some denying the responsibility inept power company in Ohio miss an alarm again? Would there be a massive 20 miles backup on the Jersey Turnpike? What could possibly happen? For once it wasn’t raining. It was in fact a beautiful, though oppressively humid day. So I breezed up the Jersey turnpike in possibly record time, sailed through the Holland Tunnel and found myself a free place to park my car. Grabbed a cab to the Upper East Side, well Midtown actually to sell an extra ticket to a friend who treated me to what I like to call “inspiration” and played me the SACD bonus tracks from the “Masked & Annonymous” soundtrack on a super duper sound system and grabbed a cab to the show. All seemed right with the world. Got in the same place in line I was in the other days with just about the same people, old and new friends and even got the seats I wanted.
Mary Lee Kortes and her band Mary Lee’s Corvette came on. Strangely she introduced herself as if she was someone else, saying something like “The Hammerstein Ballroom is excited to present…. ” that was both amusing and strange at the same time. They were okay, and probably would be a lot more effective in a smaller room.
The stage was quickly resent for Dylan with an extra microphone stand that was there for the first Hammerstein shows, but not for the second one or at Bushkill.
Dylan took the stage wearing the same red suit he wore the first night at Hammerstein and rocked “Maggie’s Farm” with a lot of energy. “Senor” followed with a harp solo at the beginning and then a couple of more. The show was off to a good start. Tommy Morrongiello was playing guitar from the beginning of the show. “Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum” came next and I thought it was the best version I’d heard on the tour so far. It seemed more than the walk through of the previous shows.
“Watching The River Flow” came next with a harp intro and suddenly Tommy wasn’t the guitarist, it was some other guy, but no one seemed to know who it was. He wasn’t bad at all, got in some hot solos, but did not have the excitement of Nils Lofgren the previous week. The mystery guitarist (who unlike everyone else on stage was wearing jeans and sneakers) stayed on for “Things Have Changed,” and then vanished for “Highway 61 Revisited which featured a very hot guitar solo from Larry Campbell.
The guitarist reappeared for the next song, “This Wheel’s On Fire.” Now this happens to be one of my all-time favorite Bob Dylan songs, and I was at the Madison, New Jersey show where he debuted it totally blowing my mind. The band ran through an entire verse with Dylan blowing fine harp before he started singing. However it was the way he sang it that made this version special, doing some sort of weird staccato-like enunciation throughout but really emphasizing the “If your memory serves you well” part of the verse. The mystery guitarist disappeared again and the familiar into to “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” started and my friend who might be known as Luke Einstein said, “Two ‘Basement Tapes’ songs in a row, is this a first?” This was easily the best version of the three I’d heard on this tour with Dylan taking an extra long, very wild harp solo that seemed to last at least two verses and choruses and maybe more.
Another guitarist, in fact the guitarist from the opening band, Andy York appeared on stage and the band went into “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues.” York took a very good if not spectacular solo and of course the crowed erupted at the “Goin’ back to New York City” line.
York disappeared and the sonic noises that can only mean “Cold Irons Bound” emanated from the stage and Freddie Koella, yes, Freddie Koella took a great solo.
Dylan then pulled a surprise by pulling out “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll,” with Larry and Freddie on acoustics. And while Dylan blew the key line on the last chorus (easy to do) it still was a good reading and brought me way back to the first time I heard this song a few months short of 40 years ago maybe 20 miles to the east in the next (sort of) big city across the Hudson.
Tommy was back on guitar for “Honest With Me’ and then came “Mr. Tambourine Man” with Larry and Freddie on acoustics and the mystery guitarist playing subtle electric. This version of this song just doesn’t do it for me, and again it took Dylan till the last verse to really start singing the way he can.
Bob then introduced the band and both guitarists, the mystery one being Chuck Loeb and the band went into a strong “Summer Days” with Tommy back on guitar.
They returned for a not bad at all “Like A Rolling Stone” with Bob really playing around with the vocal and then “Watchtower” with both Chuck Loeb and Tommy.
The audience, which seemed a bit smaller than the other two Hammerstein shows refused to leave and the lights stayed down, and after a short break the band returned to the stage. I was hoping that Dylan would pull out a real surprise like say, “Million Dollar Bash,” but it wasn’t to be and instead we got “Rainy Day Women” which as usual was more of a jam than anything else, but it was okay.
I don’t know if this show was the equal of the other two Hammerstein shows, but there was no way for Dylan (or any performer for that matter) to regain the momentum of a three-night stand almost a week later. The show had none of the weirdness reported at the intervening concerts.
I liked the Hammerstein a lot and thought it was the perfect place to see Dylan, though the security staff could be slightly less efficient about rushing people out of there. Closing the bathrooms before the end of a three hour concert that people paid a lot of money to see is not a decent way to treat your customers.
If this review doesn’t generate the enthusiasm I would like it to have, let me just say that I got home about 12 hours later than I wanted to with very little sleep and whatever you do, never break down on the New Jersey Turnpike after midnight.