Category Archives: 2003

08/20/03 Hammerstein Ballroom, New York

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.

08/16/03 Tom Ridge Pavilion, Bushkill, PA

Now the last thing I remember I was in some internet café in Times Square that must’ve had a couple of hundred computers and I’d just posted a review of the night before to RMD through Google when all of a sudden the screen went dark and a couple of hundred people gave out a collective “whoa” as we realized that not only did the computers go dark but the lights went out.  An alarm went off and everyone headed out to 42nd Street, but we still weren’t sure what was happening.  Well there was nothing to do but walk and we went up to 7th Avenue and realized the lights were out on every store.  Turning the corner on 7th Avenue and heading south towards 34th Street and the Hammerstein I still wasn’t sure what was going on until I looked down 7th Avenue and realized every red light was out as far as I could see.  A feeling of doom entered my mind.  On the next block someone had a car radio blaring and it became apparent that New York City had no electricity whatsoever.  It was the beginning of rush hour and buildings were emptying fast.  Now anyone who’s ever been to Midtown Manhattan knows there’s enough people on the sidewalks to begin with especially around Times Square, but when every single building empties out, well that’s another story entirely.  A sinking feeling entered my mind about that night’s show.  Reaching 35th Street, I suggested to my companion we duck down behind the Hammerstein and see if anyone was hanging by the busses, and sure enough Larry Campbell and George Recile were there.  We hung out for a few minutes and went around the front when a friend rushed up to us saying, “This is it, the entire East Coast” is blacked out, which didn’t turn out to be true.  So we got more or less in line, and I was keeping my eye on the Loew’s movie theater sign across the street hoping it would light up.

Someone said there would be an announcement at 6 o’clock.  At 6:15 they announced the show was cancelled and would hopefully happen the next night.  No one was exactly sure what to do, and the cell phone we had wasn’t connecting.  My car was way on the other side of town where you can park all day, and I didn’t relish the prospect of driving in Manhattan, which is the world’s largest bumper car game without traffic lights, especially in rush hour, and I’d heard the tunnels were closed.  I approached a cop, and said, I’m from out of town, can I drive out of here tonight.  He said to take the George Washington Bridge.  Fun.  You couldn’t get a cab, the busses were more claustrophobic than the sidewalks.  There was nothing to do but walk.  So we headed south.  I had family in New York and that’s where I was going.  On top of all this the temperature was in the ’90s and we don’t even wanna talk about the humidity.  We were headed south some 40 blocks to just below Canal Street.  My companion known in some quarters of Dylan land by a moniker from “Subterranean Homesick Blues” wasn’t exactly thrilled, but I said, it’s not all that far, I’ve walked it tons of times.  The main difference was there weren’t a few hundred people on the sidewalk the other times I’d walked it.  At one corner a Fresh Fields was handing out orange juice, ice cream and fruit.  Some people were directing traffic.  Finally we reached the Village.  It’s not that much further.  Finally we reached our destination and all this time I was worrying because how do you ring a doorbell on a New York City apartment building when the electricity doesn’t work.  Luckily the front door was open and out walked my sister-in-law, who had just walked from Brooklyn with my brother.  Relief!  We went upstairs to get something to drink and to sit down.  My brother was lighting candles and getting out a transistor radio.  I called my roommate in Philly to see if there was power there.  Passing the Holland Tunnel on the way, I couldn’t help but notice they were letting cars get out of the city.  I was gearing up for a very long walk to my car which was on the other side of town, another few miles.  It was dark.  Very dark.  All of a sudden some lights came on across the river in Jersey City, but nothing in Manhattan.  My brother went on the roof of his building to check the traffic into the tunnel, which was hideous on our walk down, Seventh Avenue a virtual parking lot.  After about an hour I said, well I’m going to go get the car and come back.  My brother who had to leave his car in Brooklyn had an idea and called a friend who lived down the street and borrowed his car.  The streets were black.  It was like being in the country.  Slowly we made it over to the Lower East Side.  I was at the entrance to the Holland Tunnel in less than ten minutes.  The tunnel was empty and dark.  The car in front of me was hesitant about going in.  “Come on,” I yelled at him through closed windows, the AC blasting, “you will never be able to cruise through the Holland Tunnel like this again,” and I want out of this goddamn city.  Finally we emerged into Jersey City. which was still dark, and suddenly a few blocks ahead there were traffic lights.  And onto the Jersey Turnpike which was free.  A true escape from New York.

The next morning we were checking the net, TV, the radio for news of New York.  The power wasn’t on yet.  Would it be on for the show.  We had the Hammerstein scene scoped out.  Knew what was a reasonable time to get there, where we were going to sit.  The news said power was coming on in New York.   All systems appeared to be go, though the news said the subways wouldn’t be running till the next day which made me somewhat dubious.  We got in the car, and looked at each other, asking if we were insane.  The obvious answer was yes.  Back into New Jersey and onto the turnpike and had just passed Exit 5 when the cell phone rang.  It was my friend we were going to meet.  No show.  Oh well.  A day of rest.

The next morning all seemed cool for Bushkill, an outdoor venue or so we thought.  The minute we got in the car it started to rain, just like it did the previous weekend for Holmdel.  All roads out of Philly in the direction we wanted to go were jammed.  But once we got past the city all was cool and finally came to Bushkill and stopped for gas.  A man approached me asking for a match.  Not really.  He wanted to know if I knew where the Mountain Laurel Center was.  I said you can follow me or I can give you the directions I have.  He said, “I’m looking for a blinking yellow light.”  I told him you haven’t gone far enough.  That blinking yellow light was at least 10 miles up the road and it was another few miles to finally in the middle of nowhere just west of the Delaware Water Gap was the Mountain Laurel Center and the Tom Ridge Pavilion.  Brand new, this was the second show there, it seemed like a nice place.  For the first time I wasn’t patted down as if I was criminal to go to a concert.  Inside the venue was covered except for the lawn, and even better they had a little area where you could go smoke.

After some local open act and meeting a whole bunch of people, the show started with the usual introduction.

“Maggie’s Farm” was the opener and Bob seemed in strong voice.  The next song was something of a surprise, “Senor.”  It turned out to be the condensed version as Dylan went into the bridge where the second verse should be.  But this also brought on questions of the strangeness of this summer tour.  What happened to all the cool arrangements that had been happening the past few years?  There are two fiddle players in this band.  Why is there no fiddle on this song?

“Tweedle Dee” came next, and then “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere.”  Now asides from the lack of harmonies on this song, again Freddie Koella’s guitar solo went nowhere, pretty much the way it did three nights before in New York where he couldn’t decide it he was going to play it rock or play it country and ended up being neither.  Now Koella can play the guitar.  He does have the chops.  But this song has a guitar part that was established long ago that has been played by tons of bands who either like Bob Dylan or country rock.  Was Freddie told, “whatever you do don’t play the Byrds’ guitar part”?  “Things Have Changed” came next.  It was pretty good, but the guitars just didn’t seem loud enough.  My friend whose name just happens to be Dylan went over by the soundboard to see if the sound was different, and it was.  Now this Tom Ridge Pavilion may be brand new, but looking at it, it didn’t seem like whoever designed it gave a single thought to acoustics.  It’s one of these summer/winter places and the ceiling was all these strange pipes and stuff that like of looked like an Escher painting.  The floor was concret.  The two walls were concrete.  This is really good for echoes and sound bouncing all over the place but not much else.

What seems to be the Bob Dylan summer boogie tour continued with “Highway 61 Revisited,” which featured some hot playing by Freddie and was one of the high points of the night.  This was followed by the new slow “Can’t Wait.”  It didn’t really work.  “What this is,” Dylan said to me, “is a really slowed down “Hit The Road Jack,” and I realized he was right on the mark.

Then it was back to boogying again with “Watching The River Flow.”  Now this set wasn’t all that different in some respects than the first night at Hammerstein, but the first night at Hammerstein featured Nils Lofgren who livened things up in such a way that the song selection just didn’t matter because his guitar playing was on fire.  A typical “Drifter’s Escape” came next with Ginger Recile flailing away like mad.  “Whatever happened to ‘Cold Irons Bound?’ ” Dylan said to me when it was over.

The intro to “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” started and things improved dramatically, with Dylan singing almost the entire song.  But again when it came time for the guitar solo, Freddie took it nowhere.  Now there’s all kinds of cool guitar things that can be done on this song starting with what Mike Bloomfield did on the original studio version though it will be hard to top what Robbie Robertson did on the version from Liverpool in 1966.  But if ever there was a song that was made for a great powerful guitar solo this is it.  And again, Koella appears to have the chops to do it, but doesn’t.

“Honest With Me” came next and well… was “Honest With Me.”  Now, I like this song, but whatever happened to “Lonesome Day Blues.”

Finally they switched to acoustics for “Mister Tambourine Man.”  I think the last good live version of this was in Towson, Maryland.  I’m not even sure if it was a good version but it sure was fun to watch.  Dylan alternated between what is sometimes referred to as the “singsong voice” where he ends each line by going high and something approaching the New Orleans “Hard Rain.”  Now as far as I’m concerned the tempo of this song has been too slow for at least a decade, and whatever rhythm Dylan sets up on piano, well it’s okay, but the song needs to drive.

Finally near the end of the last verse when he hit the “circus sands” line he actually started to really sing, but the song was almost over.  He played a half-hearted harp solo, and it was into “Summer Days.”

The usual encores of “Like A Rolling Stone” and “All Along The Watchtower” followed and well, the Mountain Laurel parking lot looked like it would be a real mess to get out of.

08/13/03 Hammerstein Ballroom, New York

Bob Dylan’s 2nd night at the Hammerstein Ballroom lacked the special guest excitement of the first night, but was a good show none-the-less.

Starting off with “Tombstone Blues,” Dylan’s voice was clear and strong and the band rocking hard.  “If You See Her” featured another great harp solo.  The evening’s first surprise set list wise was “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere,” but if ever a song was written for more voices on the chorus this was it.  Even if the other guy’s in the band can’t sing, why isn’t Larry joining Bob on the chorus?  Other than that it was okay and included another good harp solo, though Freddie didn’t seem sure if he wanted his guitar solo to be rock or country and it ended up neither.

This was followed by “Things Have Changed” and the band seemed to be trying to match the excitement of the previous night, and they kept it up with a not bad “Most Likely You Go Your Way” that was superior the one a few nights before in Jersey.

Then came on of the true highlights of the night, “It’s Alright Ma” with Dylan strong on every line, though ultimately the current piano-based arrangement doesn’t come close to the original and tends to plod.

“Highway 61” as usual was rocking time and Koella used every solo to show that he really can rock and hard.  Then the guitarists switched to acoustics for a “Desolation Row” where again Dylan was making sure to give every line meaning and punch, and interestingly Tommy was providing cool electric guitar fills.

After a typical “Drifter’s Escape,” came a pretty damned good “Every Grain of Sand” that came close to celestial.  “Honest With Me” was also cool, but with three nights in the same city, why not “Lonesome Day Blues” instead?

Then came an acoustic based “Don’t Think Twice” that was okay but not spectacular and the harp solo was tame, especially compared to other recent NYC versions of this song.

From then on the show was typical but very well performed with Freddie stepping out on “Like A Rolling Stone.” By any standard it was an excellent concert.  If the electricity of the night before hadn’t happened, it might have been an amazing one.

 

08/12/03, Hammerstein Ballroom, New York

It was a reasonably mellow scene both outside the Hammerstein in line and inside.  Of course there were the typical hassles that come with any standup general admission show such as the 7 foot human wall in the grey Springsteen shirt with a 7 on the back who wouldn’t let people who he could easily see over stand in front of him, but so it goes. However then I happened to meet a couple of very nice guys, one named Israel and I’m not sure if I got the other one’s name and they invited us to come and stand with them.

The Waifs came on around 8 pm and delivered their usual excellent set and they know just how to keep it short and sweet but interesting at the same time.

Bob Dylan and his band took the stage around 9:15, Dylan wearing a dark red almost maroon western suit and started into the current version of “Silvio.”  “I Don’t Believe You” was an okay surprise, but then “Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum” followed and it seemed like it was going to be a typical show with the new “It Ain’t Me Babe” following that.  I was spending a lot of time trying to find a clear line of vision but then the curtain with the Egyptian eye lifted and someone walked on stage though it was hard to tell who.  There was a guitar player standing in Tommy’s space, but I couldn’t make out at first who it was.

“Things Have Changed” started and this guitar player tore into it in such a way that the song was lifted energy-wise 100 percent.  At the end of the song there were shouts of Nils and I managed to get a better view and sure enough it was Nils Lofgren and they went into “Watching The River Flow.”  Nils was starting to move out of the corner next to Dylan and doing his Nils thing of moving around and interact with the other musicians and then he started to play his Strat directly to Dylan.

Meanwhile Dylan’s singing was getting clearer and clearer and this low gruff voice he’s been using wasn’t nearly as much in evidence as it was at Holmdel.  They then went into “Love Sick” and there was no doubt that Lofgren was pretty much blowing both Larry and Freddie away and I think they’re both fine guitarists.  But this was excitement and it became quite obvious how much this band has been in sleep mode since Charlie Sexton departed.

A rather supersonic “Highway 61” came next and the songs are getting extended because of Lofgren and it’s clear Dylan is having a blast and not caring whether the songs are ending right or not because the music is so happening.

“Make You Feel My Love” came next and was followed by one of the craziest “Drifter’s Escapes” ever.  At the end they just kept alternating solos and Nils just wouldn’t stop.  Bob went for the harp, wrong one, he cracked up and got the right one, and then Nils just kept going and going and would not stop and finally the song ended in a way that wasn’t typical and Dylan just exploded into hysterical laughter.

Then the band started to play “Bye and Bye” and then stopped.  Instead they played “Moonlight” and all three guitar players are alternating solos and Dylan is really singing it and taking chances.  In fact it may have been the best live version of “Moonlight” ever.

This was followed by a re-energized “Honest With Me” and then “Baby Blue” with Larry on steel and Nils singing on the end of the chorus right at Dylan.

Then “Summer Days” with Nils sitting on the drum riser with his Strat on his lap and playing slide.

This was a show where the set list didn’t matter, the songs didn’t matter.  It was all about the performance.  Lofgren was beyond phenomenal, but his presence reminded the band what it was all about and most important of all he inspired Dylan to give what was quite possibly his best performance this year.

 

08/10/03 PNC Bank Arts Center, Holmdel, NJ

Okay, so Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers are done their set and you know something’s gonna happen because in the darkness you can see an extra mic has been set up on stage and extra amp which when the lights come up turns out to be an old tan Fender Bassman and the Heartbreakers file back out and there’s this guy in white, white cowboy, white shirt and off-white pants and white snakeskin cowboy boots and he’s like shimmering, the white is glistening and this roar erupts from the crowd and whoever he is he’s got this thing that’s been missing from the stage for the past 90 minutes or so and that thing is presence.  So a roadie plugs this guy’s Fender Stratocaster into that tan amp and the band starts to play “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” and this cowboy dude, well he don’t care if Mike Campbell’s on the stage or not, he’s gonna play that Strat and take one of his raunchy maybe I’ll find maybe I won’t solos and well… it was kinda like old times.

Thirty-three minutes later more or less after the roadies have rolled up the Petty rugs to reveal the black and white checkerboard stage the cowboy dude is back, but this time without a hat a dressed in black, and he’s behind that piano that’s behind the lap steel and into “Maggie’s Farm” and it’s kicking along nicely and on the last verse he even stretches out a bit with a long “nooooooooooooooo more,” and then just like the previous night song two is “If You See Her Say Hello,” but this version is a bit more alive and he takes a really crazy harp solo where he does that up and down thing with a whole bunch of notes in between and after a couple of more verses does it again and while the harp was pretty wild the night before it wasn’t quite this wild.  At some point in the song Tommy Morrongiello joined in playing a Strat which he kept on doing throughout the night, each time apparently waiting for Dylan’s invitation.

Then again like the night before he’s into “Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum” and again he’s going from this low husky voice where he sounds like he’s gasping for breath but on the next line shows he isn’t at all and the best part of the song was when he sneered the “you’re obnoxious to me” line.

That was followed with “Just Like A Woman” with Larry Campbell on pedal steel and after all the verses Dylan reached for the harp and started to play, then stopped and let the verse go by and just as you thought the song was about to end, he then takes a truly insane harp solo that in its own way went all the way back to Free Trade Hall.

“Highway 61” was “Highway 61,” and the best thing about it was Freddie trading solos and these guys mesh like twin brothers, switching rhythms and leads effortlessly.  Next came a nice surprise, “Most Likely You Go Your Way” which was going good until the second bridge where the entire band seemed to get lost, but the recovered quickly and jumped right into “High Water” which again was marked by great guitar work, though I still find the original arrangement preferable.

Next came a sort of strange version of  “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” that started off with just the bass and drums.  Larry played a very cool Western swing influenced pedal steel part but Recile’s drums just never fit with the arrangement, which wasn’t quite the sort of boogie rocker it’s been in live performance for the past couple of decades but wasn’t quite the country song of “John Wesley Harding” either.

“Wicked Messenger,” “Bye and Bye” and “Honest With Me” were all fine though nothing really special, but “Summer Days” started to approach its former glory.  Dylan was far more animated than he was on Saturday night, sometimes bopping back and forth across the stage throughout the show and he was into “Summer Days” with a vengeance, but it was a Freddie Koella solo that took the song higher.  All of a sudden during his solo, he found what he was looking for and hammered this one wild bending chord letting it soar and repeated it over and over and the band just kicked into another gear with Larry and Tony providing the line from Joe Turner’s “Roll ‘Em Pete.”  Now it still wasn’t on the level of the versions with Sexton, but this may have been the best version of the song this band has done yet.

The band returned for the usual version of “Watchtower.”  Dylan took the stage wearing his cowboy hat, carrying his jacket over his shoulder in a manner similar to the way Jack Fate carries his clothes bag, looked at the crowd for about five seconds and was gone.

08/09/03 PNC Bank Arts Center, Holmdel, NJ

Now the last time I saw Bob at the PNC Bank Arts Center, it wasn’t the PNC Bank Arts Center, it was simply the New Jersey Arts Center and was a bit more mellow than it is now and a lot less corporate, but such is life in America.  Back in ’91 we got treated to one of the infamous versions of “New Morning.”   Tonight was a bit more focused.

Dylan opened with “Silvio,” which by some point in the mid-’90s I’d hoped never to have to hear live again, but it wasn’t bad at all and worked as an opener in getting things off to a pretty rocking start.  Both Larry Campbell and Freddie Koella took good solos and while the song didn’t quite reach the psychedelic heights of the mid-’90s versions with John Jackson (probably his shining moment) it worked.

This was followed by a not bad at all “If You See Her Say Hello” that wasn’t quite as fast as the versions from a decade ago where it almost had a Creedence Clearwater tempo, but not quite as slow as the album.  It was hard to tell whether Dylan was making up half the verses as he went along, but he had little for every verse and when he sang an actual line from the original lyrics such as the “Sundown Yellow moon, I still replay the past” it was more of a surprise than the new words.  Dylan also did two pretty good harp solos, the second reaching some wild proportions.

On Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, Dylan sang in this low guttural Tom Waits-ish register sometimes going high into what sounded like his sort of regular voice.  It was fairly strange, and he didn’t really hit the groove until midway through the song.  Because he would work his way out of it, it was sometimes hard to tell if this was yet another new style of singing which perhaps he hasn’t mastered yet or if there is some kind of serious voice/throat problem happening.

Next came “Joey” which was pretty much a surprise since Dylan seems to reserve this song for some bizarre reason for Deadheads.  Anyway for what it’s worth, he nailed it.  It was easily one of the highlights of the night.  I really don’t notice what verses he doesn’t do while a show is happening and while he didn’t do all of them, he did sing the verses in order and delivered one lengthy, quite good harp solo while the guitars rocked hard behind him at times almost sounding like Rolling Thunder.

“Highway 61” was pretty strong but was accompanied by a couple who thought they were on American Bandstand, even though everyone in the entire section was sitting down.  But these assholes could have given a shit if they were blocking anyone’s view, and were not just dancing but dancing in a manner that only said look at me.  Now asides from the fact that there really isn’t all that much room to dance in a row of seats, if they really went to the show to dance there was a whole big lawn to dance on, since the whole time they were dancing they didn’t look at the stage once.  However, Bob did do the 5th daughter on the 12th night verse.

Chord-wise, the next song could have been “You’re A Big Girl Now,” but it turned into the newly re-arranged “It Ain’t Me Babe,” though slower than the other version I heard from this current tour.  It was good, but nowhere as strong as the versions from last year’s fall tour, but it might be the leader in the song with the most arrangements in Dylan’s catalog with the possible exception of “Maggie’s Farm.”

Next came “Hard Rain” with an exaggerated vocal similar to the one from New Orleans earlier this year, though not quite as outrageous as that version.  The song was going along strong but somewhere in the middle some Petty arrivals appeared in the next aisle trying to figure out which seats were their’s and discussed it for at least an entire verse as which point the usually mild-mannered RMD-er of some repute sitting next to me exploded and I was praying the pieces wouldn’t fall on me.  The guy behind us testing out his new cell phone didn’t help either, along with the running commentary on everything but the show that went on next to the new cell phone guy.  So much for “Hard Rain” and I spent the beginning of “Drifter’s Escape” trying to figure out whether a verse got left out of “Hard Rain or not.  However, “Drifter’s” was intense with Dylan pretty much leaving whatever Tom Waits aspirations he had at the beginning of the show behind.

Next came the show’s spookiest moment, “Can’t Wait” in a slow spooky version, with Dylan’s keyboard standing out and a vocal that was damn close to the album version in voice and feel, even though the song was much slower.

Dylan ended the show with three rockers, “Watching The River Flow,” “Honest With Me” and “Summer Days.”  Dylan, dressed in a black sparkling western suit stood on stage for about a second of what was once known as the formation and then walked off.  There was a pretty long wait for the encore, but when the they returned they were joined by Tom Petty, Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench for “Rainy Day Women,” and then a fairly scorching “Watchtower” with Campbell playing some spectacular guitar.

It was a good show, with a couple of great moments.  The atmosphere at the PNC Bank Arts Center….  well, there isn’t any atmosphere.

 

 

 

05/17/03 Jubilee Jam, Jackson, Mississippi

It was raining in Memphis all day and some said that a tornado had touched down the night before on Union Avenue, and there were tornado warnings on the TV when my friend Link picked me up and we headed south to Jackson.  This was my first time in Mississippi and every Mississippi fantasy I’d ever had was running through my mind as the rain poured down in torrents.  We passed Jerry Lee Lewis’ town and I kept expecting the ghost of Howlin’ Wolf to emerge from behind a tree, but instead I saw lots of Mississippi cops and lots of fender benders as we passed something back and forth below window level.

Jackson was a couple of hundred miles south of Memphis almost in a straight line, but I didn’t see any cotton fields or we were on Nissan Boulevard passing a Nissan plant that seemed to stretch for a mile and then found ourselves in the center of Jackson, parking by the state capitol.

The main stage of the Cellular South Jubilee Jam was situated at the end of some downtown mall in the shade of the Bell South building and the Southern Trust Band, while a yellow Pearl River Resorts blimp hovered overhead with “PearlRiverResorts.com” painted on the bottom.  What would’ve been a nice corporate park under non-tornado circumstances to catch a cigarette during coffee breaks was instead a field of mud, deep soggy mud.  A “Cellular South” banner hung at the back of the stage onto which stepped Bob Dylan who launched into a blistering “Maggie’s Farm” which I thought was pretty funny considering the completely corporate setting minus the mud.  The band sounded amazing.  Rocking hard, totally together.  Dylan followed up with “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You” which featured a great harp solo and then it was into a totally kick-ass version of “Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum.”

He stayed at the piano for “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” while some loud drunk started complaining about the songs, so I moved away and sank into even deeper mud that had a quicksand consistency.  At first it seemed like Dylan kept coming in too early to start each verse, but by the third verse the song seemed to settle down and out came the harp for a strong lengthy solo.

Then it was back to rocking for “Drifter’s Escape” and Dylan picks up the harp and it’s the wrong one, but he made up for it quickly with an exceptional solo and the band is loud and ferocious.

Given the setting, and since there was apparently no chance of Dylan actually singing “Mississippi,” “Floater” seemed like an appropriate choice, at least lyrically.  However it seemed to go right over the crowd’s head, and it should be noted that the crowd was not exactly a typical Dylan crowd, whatever that is, being an outside, downtown show and all.  The one good thing about outside shows is if someone is obnoxious, you just move somewhere else, except in this case each step meant sinking further into mud.

Whatever energy had been lost on “Floater” was resurrected by a stunning “Highway 61 Revisited” and Dylan was having a great time boppin’ and rockin’ behind his keyboard.  He never stopped moving once and the guitars were smoking.  He slowed it down for “To Make You Feel My Love” with the beginning instrumental making me hope beyond hope that it would turn out to be a slow majestic “Simple Twist of Fate,” but no such luck, though Dylan brought out the harp again for another way better than decent solo.

He closed the abbreviated set with high energy versions of “Honest With Me’ and “Summer Days,”  and of course returned for “Like A Rolling Stone” which featured a terrific solo from Freddie and “Watchtower.”

Whatever problems this band may have had making things click earlier on this tour seem to be gone and they were one, very tight, very rocking unit.  Whatever the show didn’t have on the Dylan mystical intensity meter, it compensated for in energy and I wasn’t expecting any great revelations in this situation.  I decided as we slogged out through the mud onto Mississippi concrete that this is Dylan’s “I’m gonna have fun tour,” and there’s no doubt that that’s what he was doing.

A couple of hours and hits later we were crossing “Elvis Presley Boulevard” in a Tennessee fog and I couldn’t help but think the show I’d just seen and this tour had a lot more to do with Elvis Presley than it did with Arthur Rimbaud.

 

05/10/03 Hilton Hotel Grand Theater, Atlantic City, NJ

Something weird seems to happen every time Bob Dylan plays Atlantic City.  Tonight it didn’t matter at all.  The difference between Friday’s show and Saturday’s was like night and day with the energy level rising like “High Water.”   The show was inspired on all fronts.

Starting again with a rocking “Maggie’s Farm,” they then went into “I Don’t Believe You,” and with the opening songs both having shades of 1965, I wondered where the show would lead.  When it came time for the guitar solos the difference in the band became apparent.  Larry Campbell and Freddie Koella had obviously worked out parts and I began to wonder whether they’d spent the afternoon playing.  And Dylan was on playing a fine harp solo.

“Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum” brought things back to the present in a perfect version with the guitars really ripping and then it was a perfect “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You” with Larry on steel and Dylan playing not one, but two harp solos and since the arrangement was so close to the original, like the night before on “Lay Lady Lay,” I couldn’t help but think if he had played these harp solos on the original record, it was would have been a whole other experience.

“Things Have Changed” was nothing short of amazing, Dylan tearing through the vocals with unbelievable intensity.  It may well have been the best live version I’ve seen of this song.  Then unlike the night before, Dylan put on his Strat for “Drifter’s Escape,” and again the guitars are happening, and Dylan’s into his guitar solo and Freddie does something I’ve seen no Dylan guitar player do, he goes right up to him and plays with him, playing around and with what Dylan is doing on guitar and then Dylan has the harp and he is playing to the crowd and the level of the show went up another few notches.

The lights go down and in the darkness you heard the unmistakable strum of Dylan’s Gibson J-45 and it’s “Don’t Think Twice,” and again it’s time for Dylan’s solo and again Freddie goes right up to him and starts playing with him, and Bob shoots him a glance, but it’s a glance of “hey we’re playing guitars,” and Dylan finds this groove and Freddie goes right along with him and Dylan sings another verse and then it’s back into the guitars again with Dylan finding the same groove and you knew something special was happening.  And the lights go down again and you wonder what’s going to be next and then there’s prolonged silence, and then a voice announces, “Ladies and Gentleman, the fire marshal has determined that the show cannot continue until the aisles are cleared and people return to their assigned seats.  The lights go up.  Plot of the eternal bring down.  But after about 10 minutes they go down again and Dylan and the band came out and rip into a “Highway 61 Revisited” that made you forget what just happened.  The song is soaring.

Then there’s deep, dark ominous piano chords and a swamp groove appears that turns out to be an incredible version of “High Water (For Charley Patton) and Dylan is laying out each line ferociously, and maybe it was after the second verse he comes out from behind the keyboards and does this strange little Dylan shuffle dance moving his hands around, kind of pointing them and then goes back to the piano to repeat the same thing a couple of verses later.  But it was the singing, the voice, almost coming from somewhere else, that thing that makes music be a magical experience, and that thing that Dylan – when he wants to and the stars are aligned – does better than anyone else.

The energy stayed for “Honest With Me,” and then they shifted gears into “Bye and Bye” which was both lounge jazzy and extremely funny with Dylan actually cracking up on stage when he sang the line, “I’m not even acquainted with my own desires.”  Now I’ve seen Dylan laugh when he tells a joke or something to a band member away from the audience, and there’s been a couple of times I’ve seen him where it seemed like he was trying his best to keep a straight face for most of the show and not exactly winning, but the last time I remember him actually cracking up into laughter during a song was at Philharmonic Hall in 1964.

This was followed by an excellent “Summer Days” that more than made up for the one the previous night, with both Freddie and Larry going down on their knees at one point!  And then it was encore time, with a fairly average “Like A Rolling Stone” followed by a standard but at the same time quite good “All Along The Watchtower.”

Now while Dylan was on from the first note singing with not only true conviction, but fire, the difference was in the band.  Tonight, they seemed like a band and jelled like a band and they were having fun.  There were no missed cues, no glaring mistakes.  It is obvious that Campbell and Koella are working out parts where they both trade off each other and play together.  They are onto something, something that could take the sound of this band to a whole other level.  Freddie Koella can play in a variety of styles and he’s not afraid to step out and let loose.  And perhaps at the same time he is challenging Larry, long the backbone of this band to some of his most inspired recent playing.

From talking to people who were there who’ve seen other shows on the current tour, tonight’s show quite possibly may have been the best one yet.

05/09/03 Hilton Hotel Grand Theater, Atlantic City, NJ

It was kind of this miserable raining and not raining and raining again day in Philly, the kind of rain that wets the roads just enough to make them slippery and traffic everywhere was crawling.  I’m pretty sure this was Dylan’s fifth time in Atlantic City, not counting the times he did two shows in one night.  It was also his first time at the Hilton.  I’d been the Hilton a few times before to see the Everly Brothers and Dion and maybe somebody else somewhere along the way.  Usually they have tables, though they don’t serve drinks which makes the table kind of useless anyway.  The Waifs were already on by the time we actually got into the theater (shows run on time in Atlantic City) and we took our seats about midway from the stage to end up behind what appeared to be the only true drunken moron in the place who didn’t shut up once during the Waifs and had a mullet besides.  The Waifs are actually pretty good, playing some sort of Australian/American roots rock.  Good player singers, good songs and one of them plays a pretty mean harmonica.  They played exactly 35 minutes.  At one minute after 9. Dylan took the stage and opened with “Maggie’s Farm”

On this tour, Dylan has perhaps the weirdest stage setup ever.  He’s all the way over the left of the stage instead of being in the center.  But he is Bob Dylan, so who’s going to tell him what part of the stage he should be singing from?  Anyway the reason for this setup quickly became clear.  It’s so Dylan can lead and cue the band, and perhaps keep an eye on his sometimes wayward drummer.

Dylan seemed to be in good spirits and having fun.  New guitar player Freddie Koella came right out (unlike previous new Dylan guitarists) and played a fairly funky lead.  Next came “Tell Me That It Isn’t True” in an arrangement that was pretty close to the original with Larry Campbell on steel.  Larry played a fine steel solo and it was Freddie’s turn to jump right in, but he didn’t seem to find whatever he was looking for at it took a while for him to get it.  It wasn’t a big deal, but he should have been right on it and he wasn’t.

Next came “Tweedle Dee” and “Tweedle Dum,” which was just fine, the band maintaining the groove.   However on the second verse, Dylan went into what some people call the “singsong” mode, which when he goes high on the last word of a line.  Unlike the fall tour, where he’d do it once and then stop, he kept it going kind of, but was also doing that thing he does where he’s looking for the groove to make the song happen, laying into stretching out some lines, breaking off others.

It was back to “Nashville Skyline” for a decent “Lay Lady Lay” with Dylan singing strongly as well as convincingly with Recile staying reasonably close the original Kenny Buttrey drum part.  Dylan concluded the song with a not bad harp solo that was just starting to approach the cosmic phase when he ended the song.

Then it was back to rocking with “Things Have Changed,” and a not bad at all “Watching the River Flow” with Larry playing the slide part.  An equally good “Blind Willie McTell” followed though it was kind of diminished by the mullet drunk who was dancing the entire show and started falling into the chairs behind him.  A fairly run of the mill “Highway 61 Revisited” followed, and then came the sort of rearranged “Standing in the Doorway.”  However this version was far better than the couple of mp3s I’d heard earlier in the tour.  The double-time guitar part, which I thought was played by Koella is actually played by Larry and at Atlantic City, it wasn’t a lead at all, but a guitar part in the arrangement of the song and instead of dominating was in the background.  As a guitar part it worked fine, as a lead part it doesn’t.  Koella and Campbell had some really nice interplay going on in this song.

Next came the high point of the show for me, a rather stellar rendition of “Dignity.”  Though he kind of mumbled the opening line, the rest of the song was close to perfect.  And this was followed by more than competent versions of “Just Like A Woman,” with a good harp solo, “Honest With Me” and a more than decent “Moonlight.”

Now last fall, “Summer Days” was the perfect song to close the show.  With three guitars going crazy, the song reached stratospheric heights – there were times I could’ve sworn I heard horns on it, though of course I really didn’t.   At Atlantic City, it didn’t come close.  Something I don’t know what, threw Dylan off early in the song and he started blowing lines.  It took him a while to recover.  Just as he did, Recili came out of a drum roll and kind of lost the beat.  The guitars players tried to save it, but it never really took off.  “Like A Rolling Stone and “Watchtower” were fairly predictable.

After last fall’s Philly show (perhaps because I had very good seats) I kind of felt like the guy on stage was the closest we were going to see to the kid who rocked the talent show at Hibbing High School.  I feel even more that way now.  Dylan is clearly having a good time on stage.  Every once in a while he comes out from the piano and does his Dylan walk shuffle and then goes back to the piano and leads his band.  However his band is in a transitional phase.  Some arrangements are the same, some are slightly different.  There’s no doubt that Koella can play, and he can be both funky and tasty when he wants to be.  He doesn’t seem to have a handle on the songs yet.  And while he apparently has no problem stepping out, he does not have the edge and the fire that Charlie Sexton had  not yet anyway.

Gone at least for the moment are the harmonies, and also gone for the moment is the feeling of a band that had been together for years and knew exactly what it was doing.

At the same time, it wasn’t a bad show by any means.  It just wasn’t a truly great one.  It was a great singer having fun with his songs and his band.  That that singer is one of the greatest and probably the most influential songwriter of the last century, along with being on of the truly brilliant vocal stylists of the last 40 years is another story.  Dylan did enough to let you know he can still do it.  One last thing.  Bob Dylan did not touch a guitar the entire night.