Review by James Strohecker
It's the start of the year and the start of another (new) Bob Dylan tour. In Reno, no less.
At the Reno Center, near where the LEGENDARY Reno Turf Club used to be.
Frankly, given the last few years, I expected less. In fact, what we saw was pretty darn good
and back to the Bob basics. If nothing else, I was surprised - Bob and his band sounded good,
fairly tight and interesting.
Bob sounded really good. His voice is strong. He's singing well.
Most of the songs have been re-arranged to fit the style and capabilities of this new band
Adding pedal steel to most (if not all) songs, adds a wistful light to the words.
The band is playing well together. Less like a bunch of studio musicians looking for direction from
Bob, and more like a group of competent, focused players who are interested in the outcome.
I had the general trepidation on the first show and these assumptions:
1. I never go to the first show of the tour. It's a throw-away or test. I avoided it in the
U.S and Europe for years - just a, "see what he's practicing."
2. Last tour there were a few changes + short sets. Uli and Lutz in Germany were less
3. All Bob piano. No guitar. Deal with it. Santa Clara a year ago was an anomaly.
4. No Larry. Period. Get over it.
5. Not folk. Not Bob rock. Moving towards a sultry R&B approach to the songs. Strong lyrics
and the guitars/bass/drums enhance. Interesting new sound.
The show started late and slowly -- Maggie's Farm was very predictable and flat. Un-inspirational, good
and clean. No more.
Bob came out in a white cowboy hat and black suit while the Boys were resplendent in their grey
suits - they scattered to their positions around the stage. In this show, Donnie, the pedal steel guru,
was on Bob's immediate left while Stu, the lead guitarist, was across the stage from Bob near Tony
and George and Denny was right behind him. Donnie was in a "Larry position," but only played lead
She Belongs to Me was bouncy in tone. Bob sounded good and carried the melody -- and the band was
tight, but again, like Maggie's, somewhat listless. Heck, this was the first concert of the tour - you'd think
they'd be a little full of adrenalin . . . but that was to come. Bob blew a good definite, staccato harp that
provided tight emphasis to the song. Well done
Lonesome Day Blues followed and the re-arrangement now has a Big Band Beat. No Larry, no old stuff.
New, pounding approach with a nice lead riff by Stu. Hard hitting and Rhythm and Blues ' the story of
the night. It sounded good with the new arrangement; and it was clear from this early implementation,
that Bob was now integrating the individual capabilities and sounds of the new band members as much as
he was presenting the Bob show. No voice harmony, of course, but better instrument harmony than in
years past - with his words arranged around the tunes.
The band quickly slipped into Queen Jane Approximately. (Frankly, I had to look up how many times this
was played last year - only seven times in the past three years). It was out of the blue, tight and
remorseful. Bob began with an enticing, soulful harp solo that had me writing, "Trying to Get to Heaven . . .
"in my notebook, before I realized I'd been artfully duped. He's made this a Ballad with electric undertones.
Melodic and full. With the only challenge being the lack of harmony on the vocals (no Larry, no Charlie).
So be it. Well done. Wow.
By the way, there's only one Microphone on the stage. It's for Bob. The harmonies are gone, unless the
band changes. That's just the way it is.
The band moved into 'Til I Fell In Love With You, which was a pure-Bob lyric song. Excellent and clean.
Well performed and appreciated by the people around me.
They broke into a disguised, It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding), that was soft and sultry. Heck, there was
no Eleana on fiddle, but Donnie did a pretty good job. Interesting. No Cittern, but lots of the band banging.
They'll get this one down in a few shows.
To Make You Feel My Love was all Bob. Harp with panache and feeling. Strutting and complete, Bob
brought meaning to the song. The Reno Arena was deathly silent as the people soaked it up in waves,
with Tony and George adding the backbeat strength to this.
There were a few re-arranged clunkers in the show. And Highway 61 was one. It didn't work. Bob has
created a new arrangement based on the rhythm guitar and not the lead. As a result the song sounded
more downbeat, bluesy and flat. Not wild, or upbeat ' "OUT ON HIGHWAY 61!!!!" like you'd expect. During
the song, Bob was pointing to Stu a couple times to crank it up - but to no avail. The band didn't get it. It
was an interesting arrangement but it didn't work on the crowd in Reno. People wondered, "Was that the
same song that I've heard before?" Well . . . yes and no. Clearly, this is one song that needs refinement
for the tour.
Next, the group moved into a surprising Tears of Rage, a song that Bob and the band have only played five
times in the past couple years - including once in Hamburg in front of meine freunds, Uli und Lutz.
Tears of Rage was out of the blue. Strong lyrics and dominated by Bob's deft (cheesy-organ-sounding)
piano and Stu's lead guitar licks. No harmony singing to assist left Bob out there with his words hanging in
the cold Reno night - impactful and interesting. Not sure whether most of the people knew this song; but
like the respectful crowds in Europe, the people listened with intensity and awe.
The band moved into its closing set with a re-arranged Honest With Me that was more bouncy and less
hard-core slide guitar. It was clear that in the post-Larry era, Bob has focused this band on making the best
with what they have. And to make them sound good.
At one point, during the myriad re-arrangements, I looked at Bob like he was Jimmy Stewart in "The Glenn
Miller Story" film. That Bob had looked at his available band members and had re-arranged his "String of Pearls"
and "Tuxedo Junction" songs to fit the band.
The group dropped into an interesting Boots of Spanish Leather, that most people didn't recognize - highlighted
by an excellent Bob harp solo. I literally wrote in my notes, "I like this sound." The song really sounded good,
and so did Bob. They followed Boots with a hard-driving High Water with Donnie's banjo licks twinkling
throughout. Again, like the other songs, this has been re-arranged to have a heavy R&B big band beat, that
was pounding strongly with intermittent band solos. Excellent.
The group followed High Water with a sultry, Never Gonna Be The Same Again, led by Bob's strong lyrics and a
fine fiddle backup by Donnie. It was smooth. Quiet. Toned down. Strong. And a good way to head into
the encore and wake up some of the people sitting in the Reno seats.
The final set was predictable. Frankly, Bob could do better. Summer Days was somewhat melancholy and
Rolling Stone and Watchtower were like the band was on remote control. Clearly, this isn't the same group
that used to perform 19-22 songs while on tour. But they could mix it up a bit.
Guess we'll have to see what happens in Stockton, Calif., on Monday. It's interesting that Bob has
circumvented the Bay Area in his tour - Reno, Stockton, Santa Rosa, and Bakersfield, but NOT San Francisco
or Santa Cruz, normally VERY appreciative and responsive venues for him/his band. Perhaps, like his arrangements,
things have changed.
I've defended Bob for years. In good times and bad. I had to stomach the changeover (at Grand Junction) of
Charlie, and the ultimate short-stint of Freddie Koalla (bear). And the eventual ejection of the
straw-that-stirred-the-drink, Larry Campbell. Not only is Larry multi-talented, he's a nice guy (we met him in
Munich and in Denver).
Ultimately, however, with Bob, it's been an interesting last eight years or so - from the top to the bottom of
sound. And now he seems to be moving back up.
Frankly, it was interesting to see him laugh on a sit-com U.S. TV show recently. It was like he finally dropped
If anything, the Reno show was a dropping of his veil. He's re-tooled his arrangements, and better-integrated
the band into the songs. Especially the pedal-steel and his plinko-plunky-cheesy-organ piano sound. It works.
They certainly are NOT the "Big Band" sound [Thanks to the Hawaiian Professor for this reference] of 1998-2003.
But they have collectively and individually adopted and adapted the sound, the lyrics and the songs.
They sound good, and so does Bob. They're worth checking out again. Especially if Bob is going to drop in
eclectic tunes on a regular basis - AND look like he's having fun, singing and playing well, and enjoying the scene.
I haven't been this intrigued in a few years. Check it out and go to a show. I think you'll see/hear something
new, something that is reflective, but also something that's relevant . . . from Bob.
Cheers. See you at a show.
Review by Peter Rice
BOB HITS THE HARMONICA SWITCH AND HIS BASS REGISTER Reno was a good show.
Similar to last years November shows in lots of ways. The differences were
in the sound of Bob's keyboard. Plinkty plonk is gone, replaced by an
organ type sound. Took a while to get used to. Sounded like a second
harmonica. Other noticeable thing was dpeth of Bob's voice. Generally he
sang strongly, and at times, especially on She Belongs To Me, he really
hit the bass tones really well. Most (maybe all) solos were Denny's. even
on High Water, where the banjo lead was overshadowed by Denny's guitar.
Bit of confusion in the line up. At end of the main set, band milled about
looking lost while Bob just walked off. After encore, again band stood at
the front of the stage. Tony called on Bob who was sneaking off to come
forward, and he stood in front of the band and looked quite gracious. All
in all, good show. My sister, seeing Bob for the first time, was surprised
that he put on a bit of show, hopping about behind the keyboard.
Review by Gerry Greeve
First saw Bob in Dec 1965 in San Jose - first electric tour..have seen him
25+ times since mainly in last 15 years...pretty much all phases including
Roseland Theatre in Portland with 500+ closer fans.
I have been living in Asia since 2003 and this is first opportunity
since Corvallis in 2001.
I was concerned about the switch to piano but I think I understand it and
JWS gets it right in saying "dropping the veil". It is clearly no longer
"The Bob Show" .. it is "the music" show or to be more precise "it's the
songs dummy".... I watched with binoc's glued and he seems to have finally
accepted that he has the pleasure and privilege to share with us his
genius...no ego, no guru, no method just pure genius that he feels totally
comfortable showing us. Perhaps its the fact that he's not front and
center - he is fully integrated and seems so relaxed even as he boogies
down behing the keyboard. Maybe it's that he doesn't have to be the "axe
man" and is content to let simple keyboard chorded rythms lead the pace -
Yes it was a soft evening ( I for one like to dance 80% of the time...so
love to hear more straight up fast tunes) - whatever the reason and the
sacrifice the result is "here it is listen to me - it's pretty damned good
isn't it - don't know where it came from but I am enjoying it as much as
It's impact on me for example: I have never realized, even after
listening to "QJA" at least 300 times and know its lyrics backwards and
forwards how much in love he is with her...nor in "Boots" how much she
will pine for her traveling man.
Additionally, his positive reinforcement of the band when they grooved
showed me a warm leader who knows how to share positive emotion...wow
I agree after so much good work the encore was flat...- I really don't
think we need to end with these songs for a few years anyway..(but I could
have sworn I heard Mitch Mitchell on drums in Watchtower - BRAVO
George)...and he really ought to be able to give us an added 15-20
Comments by Kathleen Kucharski
The highlight of the show was the banjo and pedal steel playing. It simply
was great and fits like a glove. "Tears of Rage" also sounded great. Dylan
had the electric/piano programmed to harmonica or was playing a recorded
tape over. I can't figure out what he is doing behind that set up.
Hope he got a good contract and gets some big bucks off the new
recording. No one should hate going back to work that much. He seemed
really mad. Dylan looked tired and the band watched his every move trying
so hard to get it right. It was pretty obvious from row two Dylan wasn't
very pleased with the feedback. Dylan also threw two harmonicas hard
into the side stage curtain, he " blew them out"(no notes). The drums
made him grimace during Watchtower. Seemed even with his black ear
plugs set up too close. The drumming is off and wrong. Not like in the
band days not subtle stuff.
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