After a 20 second fanfare signaling the beginning of the show, Bob Dylan took the stage at the Mark Etess Arena, a cavernous room buried in the Hard Rock Casino which once upon a time was the Trump Taj Mahal. On the way in there was a sign with a bunch of No’s. New Jersey has always been big on signs with a long list of No’s. Go to any beach and you can’t miss them. In this case the list included no cell phones which was pretty funny since ticket bastard was pretty much forcing everyone to have their tickets on their cell phones unless you had them mail you real tickets for an absurd price. The list also included no talking, no posting to social media, no tweeting, no recording, no cameras and no filming.
Anyway, standing at the piano Dylan sang “Things Have Changed” with a new arrangement in a shockingly strong and clear voice. He then sat down for “It Ain’t Me Babe” which now included four no’s in the chorus. Then it was back to standing up for a cool “Highway 61 Revisited.” However all three songs seemed like warm-ups.
Bob sat again for “Simple Twist Of Fate” which featured fine harp solos and a cool piano interlude at the end. On all the songs Dylan’s piano was overriding the mix. I’m not sure if this was intentional or just how the sound was where we were sitting.
Then came the new “Cry A While” which is sung to Link Wray’s “Rumble.” On one hand it’s fun and sort of interesting, especially how Dylan fits the words in to this arrangement, but I’m not sure if it really works in the long run.
Throughout the first portion of the show there was some guy four rows ahead of me who would stand up every 15 seconds, wave his arms in some weird motion above his head, sit down and get up 15 seconds later and do it again.
Then things slowed down slightly for a rearranged “When I Paint” with a lot of lyrical changes. It was simply too dark to write them down, and I’m not sure they were necessarily better, but it was fun to listen to. Then it was back to rocking for “Honest With Me.”
I think it was during “Honest With Me” that a walking mountain who turned out to be some sort of subhuman primordial creature with a really terrible high and tight haircut sat down in the seat slightly to the left of me. The primordial creature immediately began moving his 100 pound head from right to left and back again which considering that whatever this creature was, was blocking my sightline meant I had to start moving my head back and forth. At the same time the creature took out his cell phone and holding it high above his head, while never looking into it was probably shooting the ceiling. The guy next to me who’d already been warned by security, who clearly had a bad case of CCPUD (Compulsive Cell Phone Use Disorder) since he was unable to go four minutes without looking at his cell phone and also had spent the entire concert having a muted but annoying conversation with his girlfriend who clearly had absolutely no interest in the show, leaned over and told the guy security would pop him, so the cell phone vanished. The primordial creature then announced to no one in particular that he was a retired cop and a stagehand at The Beacon.
Meanwhile Bob Dylan was singing “Tryin’ To Get To Heaven” in an arrangement that seemed halfway between the original and the jazz version he did in fall of 2,000. I’d love to tell you more about the performance but the walking mountain and the guy next to me decided it was a good time to talk to each other. At first I tried the kinder, gentler approach, leaning over and asking them if Bob Dylan was interrupting their conversation. It worked for about 30 seconds. Of course the primordial subhuman true to form would stand up and shout after every song, “We love you Bobby” or see you at The Beacon Bobby” at the top of its lungs after every song, living up to my friend Seth’s maxim that the people who shout the loudest between songs are the ones who never listened to the song in the first place.
Next came “Scarlet Town,” a song that is entirely dependent on how Dylan phrases it since the music is one repetitive thing throughout. It would have been nice to hear it, but the subhuman primordial walking mountain decided it was time to have a conversation with the female species that came with him. After three or four verses, I couldn’t take it anymore and shouted quite loudly at them, “Shut up already, some people come here to listen.” The primordial creature turned around and said, “Shake my hand.” “I don’t want to shake your hand,” I responded. The creature then threatened physical harm, at which point Seth got out of his seat and went for security, who came and stood at the end of the aisle.
Dylan by then was singing “Make You Feel My Love,” during which the security person got into an extended conversation with the people behind me about shooting the concert with their cell phones. “I understand totally,” she said, “I do it myself.” Meanwhile the primordial creature had taken out his cell phone and was filming the show again. I started tapping gently on the security person’s back, but she was still conversing with the cell phone users behind me. Finally she turned around and I pointed to the primordial creature.
By then Dylan was into the new version of “Like A Rolling Stone” which was pretty good, but the emphasis on the “La Bamba” beat strip the song of the angst, the desperation and the cry of the original arrangement.
Then it was into an okay “Early Roman Kings” and by this time the primordial creature had finally settled down.
The highlight of the show, a sad slow “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” came next. His singing was truly beautiful and this new version brings a sense of regret to the lyrics.
A fairly strong “Love Sick” came next, but at this point band-wise, I found myself missing the guitar of Stu Kimball. When I saw this song a year ago, the added stops were truly dynamic, even breathtaking, but that extra force, that wham that should have been there was absent.
“Thunder On The Mountain” and “Soon After Midnight” were both pretty good, and then came a new rocking arrangement of “Gotta Serve Somebody.” It’s probably based on some obscure rockabilly guitar lick, but I’ll have to find a copy of this version and get it to some friends who are encyclopedias of guitar licks to identify it. The song is now a full-fledged rock and roll song with continually revised lyrics and Dylan was clearly having a good time singing it, taking it very far from its original gospel origins. At the song’s conclusion Dylan briefly walked for the first time to the front of the stage, and stood there for a few seconds.
“Blowin’ In The Wind” was in the usual arrangement and followed by a semi-reggae “All Along The Watchtower” that was interesting because of the arrangement, but simply didn’t reach the heights it could have. “Watchtower” works because the song is inherently spooky and the best versions can scare the shit out of you. Maybe if this arrangement develops a bit more, it will hit that mark, but it didn’t at this show.
There’s a thing Bob Dylan does where when the forces are right, he can drill a long right into you in a way you can’t forget and can’t help but react. But it’s also a thing that can’t be forced and has to happen naturally which Dylan is no doubt well aware of. It’s a matter of churning up the magic and once the magic happens sustaining it. When the forces are right, Dylan is a total master of this. That didn’t happen in Atlantic City.