Category Archives: 2008

08/13/08 Asbury Park Convention Hall, Asbury Park, NJ

Asbury Park, New Jersey is kind of a strange place, as if it’s in another zone of the universe. And if Bruce Springsteen hadn’t sung about it, it would be relegated to being some lost, once grand town of the Jersey Shore. It’s easy to see why Tony Soprano dreamed about it, and I wanted to find the probably non-existent Boardwalk fish market where Big Pussy turned into a talking fish and offered his confession but that didn’t happen.

On the not-so-long drive down I-195, the radio was blasting the news with all the criminals in their coats and ties, or maybe not ties,and probably not coats either talking about how Russia had the audacity to invade another country. I kept thinkin’ it might be fun if Bob suddenly resurrected “Talkin’ World War III Blues,” or whipped up a swing instrumental version of “Marching Through Georgia,” kind of like when he opened some shows a long time ago with “The Marine Hymn.” But I knew none of those things were gonna happen.

Anyway, I found a reasonably close free parking space in some of some depressed bowling alley and got hustled by some old street hustler who promised he’d make sure my 14 year old car was safe and wanted to know who Bob Dylan was and I headed up the street to Madame Marie’s and ended up in some too classy restaurant and never bothered to find the ghost of Big Pussy’s fish head.

Now I’d actually been to the Asbury Park Convention Hall before, a few centuries ago to see The Band – and even then it was kind of a strange place for them to play. But I remember Asbury Park being a lot more lively.  This was back in the years of no live Dylan and The Band were the next best thing.  Anyway after hanging out on the Boardwalk chatting with this guy I met years ago at Hammerstein Ballroom and have run into at various Bob shows ever since, we decided to go in the hall which meant getting in line to get a totally useless wristband.  The security guys shouted out the usual no cameras, no recording equipment, but they didn’t search anyone and so we proceeded to the balcony. Convention Hall really isn’t that big and has pretty cool Art Deco chandeliers.

Our seats were on the side of the stage where you could see Bob and the guitar tech was tuning up some not to be used Fender Telecaster with an F-hole, which he laid on top of two amps in front of the drum kit.

Not long after we sat down, a row of never ending talkers sat down right behind us.

At 8:25, the lights went down and Dylan and his band took the stage to a rather blurry, indecipherable introductory announcement.  I knew what it said anyway, but it was a sign of things to come.  Dylan kicked into a not bad “Rainy Day Women,” with the audience shouting out “Everybody must get stoned,” but to put it simply, the sound sucked.  It was just a blur of noise, with the drumbeats echoing off the walls, so you’d hear each drumbeat at least twice.

It wasn’t much better for what seemed like a cool version of “It Ain’t Me Babe,” and Dylan seemed to be really singing, but all kinds of noise was reverberating along with the never ending talkers chatting away about whatever and the other people in our row deciding to finally show up.

The sound got a tad bit better for “Rollin’ And Tumblin’ ” and “Spirit In The Water” and sometime during this, all the people who had just taken their seats decided  to go out and get drinks.

Donnie put on his banjo and they started into a pretty charged “High Water” with Bob changing his phrasing a bit.  Under better circumstances it would have been intense.  Next came “Tryin’ To Get To Heaven,” which was also good, and this point the people who left for drinks decided to return.  Once upon a time people knew to wait until the end of the song to go back to their seat, but those days are long gone with the general erosion of society.  And of course the never ending talkers who also went out and came back continued talking as if they were in their living rooms. Actually they were talking louder than in their living rooms, and  telling them nicely to shut up didn’t work.  There are some songs that you really shouldn’t talk during and “Tryin’ To Get To Heaven” is one of them. It wasn’t too long ago that Bruce Springsteen did a tour, a solo acoustic tour, his fans refer to as the “Shut The Fuck Up Tour” where you could not enter during a song and he even said from the stage, “If someone next to you is talking, you can tell them to shut the fuck up.”

Meanwhile, Dylan was playing “Honest With Me,” and the sound while a little better was still bouncing all over the room. Then Stu started the acoustic intro to “Tangled Up In Blue” and Dylan early in the song got into that chanting whatever the hell it is he does on this song now, and took it to extreme levels.  On one hand, it’s kind of funny, but on the other, it gets ridiculous especially when it goes on for several verses.

The banjo reappeared, and a blistering version of “It’s Alright Ma” came next with Dylan totally leaning into the song, clearly making every word count, and Denny delivering an excellent solo. The talkers, tired of talking with each other pulled out cell phones and started calling people to talk to them.  At this point the scene from ” The Godfather” where Michael Corleone’s hit-men burst into Phillip Tattaglia’s hotel room with machine guns kept entering my mind as the rest of the audience was cheering the “even the president of the United States” line.

“Beyond The Horizon” which might have been appropriate if this was an outside show with the ocean behind the stage came next, and while the sound of Bob’s organ echoed the carousel at the opposite end of the boardwalk, it just didn’t work.  For whatever reason, more often than not, this song just does not come together onstage.

“Highway 61” came next and one of the talkers decided to bellow out some of the lyrics, so at least one of them sort of had some sort of an inkling of why they were there.

A very strong rendition of “Nettie Moore” came next, during which a whole lot of people decided it was time to get drinks again.  This was followed by a fairly typical “Summer Days,” where most of the vocal tricks Dylan had tried on the song in Philly were lost in the non-acoustic haze of the building.

The main part of show ended with a truly stunning, perfectly delivered “Ain’t Talkin’,” with every chilling aspect of that song totally intact. Of course all the people who went out for drinks during “Nettie Moore” decided to return in the middle of it.

After the usual wait, Dylan returned for a not bad “Like A Rolling Stone,” with the audience chanting out the chorus, followed by an insanely speedy “Thunder On The Mountain,” and a reasonably good “Blowin’ In The Wind.”

Of course at this point, since everyone was clapping, the never ending talkers, conditioned to clap at the end of the show, clapped too, at which point my friend Max said, “Why are you clapping? You didn’t listen to a single song.”  This caused one of the non-listening husbands to follow Max down the stairs, but some local hero intervened.

Asides from having a hard time believing some people were ever alive, I have a hard time understanding why people will pay a lot of money to see a show and not pay attention to any of it.  They could’ve stayed home and watched a home renovation reality TV show or something, and probably would’ve paid a lot more attention to a designer talking about polished nickel plated faucets or something.  But such is life in modern times.

Outside on the boardwalk, fireworks were going off over the ocean and people were talking about how Bruce Springsteen was watching the show from the floor behind a black curtain and made his escape at show’s end.  We made it back to the depressed bowling alley where the same street hustler again tried to hustle us, and in the murky at times foggy night, away we did drive. Sure was glad to get out of there alive.

08/08/08 Electric Factory, Philadelphia, PA

It doesn’t seem like all that long ago, that every night when the set lists would appear, a good friend of mine would inevitably complain how the sets were weighted with songs from the ’60s.  Well, for the opening show in the cradle of liberty, the majority of songs were written from 1990 on. The show was over maybe an hour before the complaints from people who weren’t there were already posted. Now if history has taught us anything, especially on the Never Ending Tour, opening shows of a tour are rarely the shows were un-played songs are introduced or other surprises happen. There are exceptions of course such as 1996, when Dylan began his spring tour in the little town of Madison, New Jersey, and started the show playing only harp and debuted “Wheels On Fire.”  Or a little more recently and more dramatically, the fall 2002 tour where Dylan started the show playing keyboards, pulling out “Solid Rock” for the first time in ages, and played three Warren Zevon songs, as well as “Brown Sugar.” But generally such shows to open a tour are fairly rare.

The pre-show music set the tone for this one with lots of Bob Wills intermingled with Howlin’ Wolf, Hank Snow and various other artists.

Dylan and band took the stage at 8:05 by my watch, starting with “Cats In The Well.” Dylan’s was singing low volume-wise and his voice was low in the mix as well. Things picked up with a not bad “Lay Lady Lay,” with Dylan increasingly leaning into the vocals as the song progressed and maybe on purpose/maybe not mixing up some lines such as “You can eat your cake and have it too,” which he did twice.

An insistent “The Levee’s Gonna Break” followed with the energy moving up a few notches and the band getting into an extremely funky mode, Chicago blues kind of funky, without it really being Chicago blues. But it had the feel of Chicago blues, crazy wild Chicago blues with the dual electric guitars getting nasty, but never flashy with the rhythms accented, and propelling the song at the same time.

“Moonlight,” in the stop/start arrangement came next, with Bob starting to play around with his phrasing and bringing out the harp for the first time for a cool solo.

“Tangled Up In Blue,” in the arrangement debuted earlier this year came next. While the boot recordings of this arrangement didn’t thrill me, seeing it in person is a whole other story. Starting off with Stu Kimball on solo acoustic, with a kind of choppy rhythm, with just bass and drums, the full band doesn’t come in until the first chorus, and by the second verse you’re totally drawn in, essentially forgetting it’s a different arrangement. Dylan, who by now, had warmed up vocally, started really playing around with his phrasing, on the last two verses getting into a half staccato, half sing-songy emphasis, something he’d return to occasionally during the night. Sometimes it was to emphasize key words or key lines, but there’s also quite a bit of humor that goes along with it, and it was one of several vocal styles that would be revealed during the night.

“Things Have Changed” came next followed by “Spirit On The Water,” and then the rearranged “Honest With Me,” with both guitarists getting down and dirty. Again it wasn’t about flash, it was about sound and rhythm, combined with subtle interplay, and a band that is one of Dylan’s tightest. Then it was back to swing for “Beyond The Horizon.” At previous shows, I’ve seen this song walk on the edge of disaster, but tonight it was on the mark.

Next was a truly devastating “It’s Alright, Ma.” I was really happy when Dylan finally dropped the slow swampy version of this, and returned the song to something approximating its original arrangement and beat. Then he changed it again. Unlike some of the European shows, Denny Freeman was on electric, with Donnie Herron still playing jazz-grass banjo. The song built and built with Dylan thundering out each line, and then on a song that doesn’t need a guitar solo, Denny Freeman took a great one bringing the song up even further and then repeated it. The political mood of the audience was quite evident following the “Even the president of the United States sometimes must have to stand naked line,” equaling in volume audiences more than six times the size of the crowd at the factory. Whatever the indefinable magic thing is that happens, it happened during that song changing the feel of the show totally.

A truly beautiful “Tryin’ To Get To Heaven” came next, echoing the recent versions from Europe. While Dylan may have messed around vocally with some of the other songs during the night, on this song he was really singing in a clear voice from that place deep within.

Then it was back to the blues for “Highway 61 Revisited” with Stu Kimball taking a more pronounced role on guitar. By this time Dylan was quite animated, back to having fun with the phrasing, rushing some lines, drawing out others. On the golden gambler verse, he sang it: …”trying to create the next [long pause] world war.” It was quite effective.

“Nettie Moore,” was good, though not as powerful as some other versions I’ve seen. But on “Summer Days,” a quite interesting thing happened. Dylan had been trying out various phrasing throughout the songs, then about halfway through, he started each verse real low and moving to real high. I am not talking about what some people refer to as up singing. This was jazz influenced vocalizing, with a definite rhythm to each word, and there’s a lot of words in that song, moving right up the scale. Each time he’d get a little closer to what he was after and then on the last two verses, he totally nailed it. At the song’s end, as the lights went down, Donnie Herron stood up and applauded.

A very cool “Ballad Of A Thin Man” closed the main set. Dylan had become increasingly more alive during the night and on this song he became Bob Dylan the performer, playing to and acknowledging the audience. He’d sing a line, or play a riff and in the Chaplin-esque way he’s had from the beginning of his career, kind of step back from the keyboard, face the crowd, go back to singing or playing, and doing it again. Finally having the keyboard sound he wants, he even took an organ solo, much to my amazement and complemented it a verse later with a harp solo that ended the song.

As usual “Thunder On The Mountain” led off the encore, with a great solo by Denny Freeman, then Dylan moving into intensity mode for the line: “Shame on your greed, shame on your wicked schemes/I’ll say this, I don’t give a damn about your dreams.”

“Blowin’ In The Wind” closed the show, in the arrangement debuted last year. When I first heard this version, I was kind of skeptical, but now they have it down, and as a result it’s moved closer and closer towards Memphis soul, with the chorus building up in a way it wasn’t a year ago. Was this among the top Dylan shows I’ve seen? Probably not, but I’ve seen a lot of shows, some legendary. What it was, was a damn good start to a new tour.