Category Archives: 2007

09/28/07 Merriweather Post Pavilion, Columbia, Maryland

The first time I saw Bob Dylan play Merriweather Post Pavilion was in June of 1981.  That show was the last time I saw Dylan play new unreleased original songs from the forthcoming Shot Of Love.  Almost 20 years later he returned to Merriweather in the summer of 2000 for a fully charged show.  This time around was marked by a 30 minute (at least) wait to get into the parking lot, arriving in time to hear a terrific intense, highly political and emotional set by Elvis Costello. I didn’t get all of the song titles so I’m not going to go into it in detail, but he brought the crowd to their feet several times.  He was great.

To new music behind the usual intro Bob Dylan and band took the stage and launched into a not bad “Rainy Day Women” which was immediately followed by a very good “Senor.”  Dylan’s voice was undoubtedly rough but strong. Then came one of the songs I was hoping to see, the new speeded-up but it works arrangement of “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” with Bob taking a couple of well, Bob Dylan guitar solos.  During the song he found some riff he obviously liked and stayed with it and also handed a solo over to Denny Freeman.  From where our seats were it was hard to see the entire band at one time.

Dylan then moved to the keyboards for “Simple Twist of Fate.”  The arrangement was good, but the feel didn’t come close to the one at Continental Airlines Arena last November.  During the song it became evident that his voice was just not in great shape. Every now and then a line would ring out, but overall I felt the song lost steam.

The energy returned big time however with a very hot “Rollin’ And Tumblin” with very funky slide by Denny on his Les Paul Gibson.

Then came what was for me the highlight of the evening, an exquisite “Workingman’s Blues #2” with Donnie Herron on electric mandolin.  There was no doubt Dylan and the band were treating this song with extra special care.  Not a note was misplaced, and Dylan not only sang, but almost read the lines like a poet in a way that made each word stand out. It was perfect.

Almost immediately they went into a very strong “Desolation Row,” with new very nice Mexican flavored solos by Denny Freeman.  Though the song started with the usual rhythm, by the end it had taken on a distinctly Latin feel.

Next came another song I had yet to see, “Beyond the Horizon.”  But something just wasn’t happening.  After an intro that left me unsure what song it was going to be, they went into a kind of “Don’t Fence Me In” rhythm – the same rhythm the Who use on “Soon Be Gone,” but it seemed to be abandoned pretty fast for something approximating the rhythm on the album.  It was almost as if they couldn’t hear each other.  Whatever it was they didn’t seem to be in sync, sort of coming together when Denny would solo.  Bob kind of saved it at the end with a harp solo.

A hard rocking “Honest With Me” came next with George Recili playing very loud drums.  This led into “When The Deal Goes Down” where the waltz rhythm at times was a little too prominent, with beautiful guitar work from Denny.

A hard grooving “Highway 61” led into another high point, “Ain’t Talkin” with Donnie on viola.  Dylan’s singing was great and intense letting certain lines (“walkin’ through the cities of the plague”) truly stand out but stumbled almost comically on superfluous, but then quickly got it right.

A western swing meets rockabilly “Summer Days” led into a very powerful “Masters of War,” and for all his claims of what the song is supposed to be about when he sang, “The young people’s blood flows out of their bodies and is buried in the mud,” you couldn’t help but think of Iraq.

After a fairly long break, they returned for “Thunder on the Mountain,” and “Blowin’ In the Wind.”  When I saw this arrangement of “Blowin'” in Atlantic City in June, it seemed like they were trying for sort of the Stevie Wonder arrangement meets Fats Domino, but this time around it settled down into a sweeter, softer and way more soulful groove with Stu Kimball doing a cool descending riff before the last line. Dylan was truly singing like he meant it, with extra effort and definitely on the last chorus, the old voice, the one that could effortlessly send chills down your spine emerged, and then for one last time he reached for the harp for one last very cool solo to end the night.

6/30/07 Bethel Woods Center For The Arts, Bethel, NY

Back in 1969, you couldn’t get Bob Dylan anywhere near the Woodstock Music & Arts Festival which was held in the little village of Bethel, some 60 miles from Woodstock, New York. Hippies, pilgrims and vagrants were climbing on his roof, so he moved his family to some hidden mountain on the other side of Woodstock and while the festival in Bethel was happening went as far away as he could get to the Isle of Wight.  Unbeknownst to most, there actually was a music festival in the town of Woodstock that summer where a little-known Irish refugee named Van Morrison performed who had moved into a house just down the road from Dylan’s, but that’s another story.

And so 38 years later Bob Dylan finally came to Bethel, to perform at the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, a sort of impressive summer shed built on what once was Yasgur’s Farm, the site of Woodstock on some tiny country road.

On the ride in we tried to figure out if the ponds were the ponds. What once were fields now were parking lots, lots of ’em and since we arrived very close to show time, apparently the latecomers were able to park closer to the venue. Still you had to walk endlessly to the venue toll gate and then even further past souvenir stands and tons of food stands and lots and lots of picnic benches before you even saw what appeared to be a concert venue.  At the entrance there was a long list of rules and troopers with big black German shepherds, but you were allowed to bring in your own bottled water and even better, you could even keep the cap on the bottle, which is illegal in similar venues in the neighboring states of Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

At 8:35 more or less, Bob Dylan and his band took to the stage and launched into a reasonably upbeat “Leopard-Skin Pillbox Hat,” that seemed a bit more energized than the version played a couple of days before. This was followed by a delicately arranged “The Times They Are A-Changin'” and a not bad “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” leading up to a fiercely delivered “It’s Alright Ma” with Dylan nailing every line.  His voice was strong but rough, resorting to an occasional growl, but at the same time his singing was clear.

Dylan then moved to keyboard for a quickly intro’d “Just Like A Woman,” with several audience members attempting to sing along on the chorus. Dylan typically and comically would either delay or rush his lines making the sing along impossible.  He also left out the introduced as friends line on the last verse, and then capped the song with a cool extended harp solo.

They then jumped right into “The Levee’s Gonna Break” with standout instrumental work from guitarist Denny Freeman and Donnie Herron on electric mandolin with Dylan putting particular emphasis on the key lines, “Everybody say that this is the day only the Lord could make;” “Some people on the road carryin’ everything that they own.” The performance was relentless.

This was followed by a tightly arranged “Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll.” The band quietly played an intricate almost waltz figure, with Stu Kimball’s acoustic weaving out of the tightly interlocked lines of Herron’s mandolin and Freeman’s low volume electric, with Dylan’s keyboard riding underneath. This allowed Dylan, his voice rough in contrast to what was happening instrumentally to deliver a superbly effective and hard-hitting reading of the song, his contempt for the justice system clearly intact. The audience, at least where I was sat quietly throughout.

A wildly charged “High Water” changed the mood immediately. With Donnie Herron’s jazz-grass banjo dancing in and out, and Tony Garnier’s string bass high in the mix, Dylan found some crazy rhythmic riff early in the song, the entire band soon picked up on it taking the song to a new place.

A fairly flowing “Spirit on the Water” came next and was followed by “Tangled Up In Blue” and then a near-perfect “Blind Willie McTell” with Herron on banjo. Then came a nice surprise, a rearranged moderately rocking “I Don’t Believe You.” This may have been Dylan’s best vocal of the night, as the roughness in his voice seemed to evaporate and he let the notes soar.

“When The Deal Goes Down” was the only time the concert seemed to lose steam. At the end of the first verse Dylan used his hand to count out the waltz rhythm he wanted, the band fell in line, but the song, one of the best on “Modern Times” wasn’t as effective as it could have been.

“Highway 61” revived the energy and “Blowin’ In The Wind” was far more meaningful than it was in Atlantic City.

At the end of “Thunder On The Mountain,” Dylan (possibly for the first time this tour) introduced the band, and then said something like, “It’s good to be back. Last time we played here, it was in the mud and the rain at six in the morning.” I thought it was hysterical myself and possibly in reference to an article in a local paper the day before about local residents bitching that he didn’t play the original festival.  They then went into a fine version of “All Along the Watchtower,” which now resolves on a major chord.

On the way out of the venue, the full moon was clouded over and a sudden chilly rainstorm erupted and the temperature dropped several degrees. It lasted exactly as long as it took to reach the car, for the endless crawl back to the main road. Luckily at that main road, we were headed for the back mountain roads of Pennsylvania, and didn’t have to join what appeared to be an extremely long line of cars inching towards the New York State Thruway.

And so, almost four decades later, Bob Dylan finally made it to the site of Yasgur’s farm. I don’t know whether he got back to the garden, but he delivered the goods.

06/24/07 Hershey Park Star Pavilion, Hershey, PA

It was about eight minutes after eight and still daylight when Bob Dylan took the stage at the Star Pavilion in Hershey, PA.  Wearing a black suit with white piping on the pants, a yellow shirt, open at the collar, and a black hat with a red, green and yellow orange feather, he opened with “Cats In The Well.”  His guitar strap was twisted which he never adjusted, and on his left hand were two humongous rings.  A not bad at all “It Ain’t Me Babe” followed, continuing the arrangement that debuted this spring in Europe. His voice was reasonably strong, hitting quite a few low notes. “Watching The River Flow” came next serving its usual purpose as bluesy filler to get the energy going with Dylan spouting out the lyrics.

“It’s Alright Ma,” had a couple of lyric flubs, some that he caught and some that he didn’t. At times it was comical, when he realized he sang the wrong line, then rushed in the right one, only to blow the next one resulting in something like: mumble mumble busy being born is busy dying.

A slightly fast “Lay Lady Lay” followed with Dylan starting to lean into the lyrics with a staccato emphasis on certain lines that would become more pronounced as the night went on with Donnie Herron resurrecting the original album version pedal steel fills on the second part of the verse.

The audience where I was sat down for “Lay Lady Lay” but stood up for “Rollin’ and Tumblin’.”   Donnie Herron was playing his mandolin riff right to Dylan who had moved to the keyboard.

Next came a rearranged “My Back Pages,” done as a long slow waltz. Dylan sang quite clearly but the staccato emphasis took a firmer grasp as he matched words to the rhythm, “My existence led by confusion BOATS.” Also rearranged was “Honest With Me” with the original guitar lick totally gone.

A relaxed “Spirit On The Water” came next.  It wasn’t as loungy as the casino version in Atlantic City and had a minor lyric change, “I’m wild about you gal, I’d be a fool to let it be.”  Dylan was clearly having a good time singing and his stage demeanor was often comical. This song also serves as an inducement to audience reaction on the “You think I’m over the hill line,” and the Hershey audience was clearly familiar with Modern Times.

“Highway 61 Revisited” came next followed by “Most Likely You Go Your Way,” with more rhythmic vocalizing.

A near perfect, carefully played “Nettie Moore” was the emotional peak of the night, and almost as if on cue with the song’s chorus, all vestiges of daylight were gone. Dylan’s voice had a tender almost vibrato sweetness on key lines which he contrasted with gruffness on others: “The judge came in, all rise.” Herron’s viola work was simply beautiful.

“Summer Days” was instrumentally pure western swing with Herron inserting steel riffs from Bob Wills & The Texas playboys and Tony Garnier spinning his string bass the way he once did in Western Swing Band, Asleep At The Wheel. A return to “Like A Rolling Stone” closed the set in an alright performance with Denny Freeman playing the original guitar riff right before the chorus.

The intro to “Thunder On The Mountain” served as the unveiling of the gigantic eye as the stage backdrop. Dylan was clearly having fun on this one and Freeman played some wild solos. “All Along The Watchtower” was an effective closer and the band’s use of dynamics throughout the song was excellent providing Freeman the perfect ambiance for some stratospheric solos.

The last time I saw Bob Dylan in Hershey, Pennsylvania was almost 10 years ago at this same venue. That night he pulled out to my amazement and delight, “One Of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later).” Nothing like that happened tonight, but it’s a different time and a different band and things have changed. This band is not as loud, but perhaps tighter and definitely subtler and Dylan is perhaps more confident as band leader. Throughout the night he was throwing little signals, a hand movement, a nod. There’s all kinds of textures and sounds going on with interplay between Herron and Freeman, and rhythmic changes, pauses and stops, but it’s never overt.

While the show wasn’t raging in intensity, it wasn’t necessarily trying to be. It was a well performed entertaining concert on a near perfect summer Sunday night and maybe that’s good enough for now.

06/22/07 Borgata Hotel Casino and Spa Event Center, Atlantic City, NJ

I think it was back on one of those minor league baseball stadium tours that they started calling it the Bob Dylan show. And while the concert at the Borgata in Atlantic City was listed simply as Bob Dylan and his band, what it was, was the Bob Dylan Show. And so on some, well, 21st Century level it was as good a place as any to start the Bob Dylan summer tour of the USA.

The Borgata sits alone in the marshlands before Atlantic City, an entity unto itself. It’s huge, it’s loud, and even though there’s exit signs all over the place you can wander around it forever looking for the way you came in and it’s designed that way on purpose.

Inside the event center it’s dark casino red and there’s just this slickness about the whole place and atmosphere that somehow jibes perfectly with the show you are about to see –  a legend – and the music that’s emanating from the stage seems to get louder and softer at key moments. And finally it gets to the fanfare and the lights go down and the band takes the stage and there’s that sliver of fear of what is he going to sound like, and they’re into “Cats In The Well” and he’s back on guitar and pretty much sounding like Bob Dylan and it’s sort of swing that’s slightly rocking or maybe rock that’s slightly swinging and it’s okay.

And then it’s “Don’t Think Twice” and he’s kind of messing around with the vocal and the phrasing and having fun, and half talking, half singing, half doing a parody and forgetting halves of lines and then turning around and nailing others. “Watching the River Flow” followed. The main purpose of this song has always seemed to be to use up six or seven minutes with a cool beat and some guitar solos.

“It’s Alright Ma,” played in the same arrangement that was changed during the European tour took things up considerably. The arrangement built, with Donnie Herron’s violin becoming more prominent on each verse and Dylan singing with authority.

That was it for Bob on guitar and he moved to the keyboard for a rearranged “Moonlight” that played up the lounge music aspects of the song in comical fashion. New stops have been added to the chorus emphasizing “Won’t you” and “Meet me.”

A speedy “Rollin’ and Tumblin” came next in a version that ended up being closer to rockabilly than blues complete with a train beat from George Recili.

The next song had an extended intro that sounded familiar but you couldn’t place it, and just when you thought it was going to be, “You’re A Big Girl Now,” it turned into a dramatically, rearranged, slowed down, half-jazz version of “Shelter From The Storm.” The arrangement suggested a waterlogged tropical storm. This version has the potential to become something interesting, but Dylan didn’t seem sure of what he wanted to do on the vocal and resorted to some of his lazier tendencies.

Then it was pretty much auto pilot for “‘Til I Fell In Love With You” which featured a fairly hot solo from Denny.

“Spirit On The Water” which simply should not be in the same set as “Moonlight” was followed by a ho hum “Memphis Blues Again.” Things kind of got back on track with “Nettie Moore,” but it didn’t have the impact of the versions from last fall or even the recent ones from Europe. It was followed a typical Canned Heat boogie on “Highway 61 Revisited” where the groove was more important than any meaning the song might have had.

The set closed with “Blowin’ In the Wind” in an arrangement similar to the last tour, though perhaps slightly slowed down. The arrangement is sort of like the Stevie Wonder version meets Fats Domino and they go to jam with Duane Eddy on the edge of some Ray Bradbury carnival at the collapse of the world. It served no apparent purpose except that the people at the show would be able to say they saw Bob Dylan sing “Blowin In The Wind.”

“Thunder on the Mountain” had the longest intro ever while a roadie did something to Bob’s keyboard. Dylan seemed about to say something, like maybe introduce the band, decided not to, and the band started the atmospherics that led into a reasonably intense “All Along the Watchtower.”

There was nothing really to complain about, some highlights here and there, and in the end, a show – and shows are one of the things Atlantic City and casinos are about.