page by Bill Pagel
Review by Librado Castro
Easter Sunday found Bob Dylan and band nestled in the Texas hill country,
a relaxed state of mind pervading all around as the 2003 tour of America
unwinds. A crowd of 3,500-plus at the Backyard, its live oaks framing a
gold lit stage filled with a haze of incense, mirrored the laid back
attitude of Bob's latest touring incarnation, which now invites an
excellent new multi-instrumentalist in Freddie Koella. In the audience, a
pack of Austin's legendary singer-songwriter's gathered in homage around
the stage--from Asleep at the Wheel's Ray Benson to members of Fastball
("The Way")--as twilight brought Bob's bus down a dusty back road during a
terrific opening set by the Waifs, an Australian outfit featuring the
Simpson sisters, Donna and Vicki.
The Waifs, at first glance, have an image of typical college-town street
buskers, sweet harmonies and acoustic finger-picking with a shuffling
spice of blues. But as Vicki Simpson reaches for her harmonica, the Waifs
morph into a charged five-piece outback orchestra that is atypical in the
folk-rock genre. Her harp riffs are singular, and coupled with Donna
Simpson's strong Bonnie Raitt-laced vocals, drive the engine which is in
equal measure fed by a solid drum-bass-acoustic lead accompaniment. A
short thirty minute set is enough to show the band's promise--"Flesh and
Blood" underlines the sister's shared enthusiasm for, and command of, R&B,
while "Crazy Train" spotlight's Vicki's road-worn chops--and leaves an
impression that makes the following set change seem the shortest in Bob's
recent history. The Waifs are sure to charm (at least a dozen of Bob's
road warriors at front center-stage made a beeline for Waifs CDs during
the intermission) so don't be late in arriving.
As the ubiquitous Oscar trophy and a trio of Mardi Gras beads were laid on
Bob's amp, it became apparent by the mic grouping that the artist is
introducing a new path for fans familiar with his set. Bob's piano is far
left as one faces the stage, while Larry Campbell's pedal steel marks the
right boundary. The grouping is a testimony to Bob's study of the mid
twentieth-century masters; the floor director (be he Louis Armstrong or
Little Richard) over here, the subordinates over there. The move is also
another in his long history sure to offend purists who demand a
traditional pop band format with the singer front and center. From
appearances, Bob has become a de facto Big-Band leader who, though quite
distant from the players, instructs their music instinctively. A glance to
Tony Garnier and Larry Campbell, who stand shoulder to shoulder
sandwiching Freddie, was enough to spark a movement, yet Bob often ambled
across the wide space, raised hands waving with an invisible baton ala
This is the master bridging two centuries of musical craft. Selections
from "Love and Theft" and "Time Out of Mind" accounted for half of
tonight's set (and about the same on the previous nights), pointing
directly to Bob's current emphasis on returning to the roots of not only
his own generation's music but that of his father's, and even grandfather
Zimmerman. For those expecting the predictable guitar exchange, fans would
be wise to examine closely the haunting arrangements which feature a
violin-guitar/piano-guitar combo. Tonight's "It Ain't Me Babe" allowed a
unique dueling strings shootout as Bob, on acoustic guitar, edged toward
the violin toting Freddie, challenging him to an exchange of cascading
notes which left two incandescent players gasping for breath at song's
end. It was a joyful exchange that yielded nothing but beauty. The set
list, while heavily informed by the last two studio albums, perhaps points
to Bob's future while it tips its hat to the past. From the outset Bob
instructed those assembled to ease into this new era with "Watching the
River Flow." "Tweedle Dee"--Saturday night's opener--followed with a nod
next to "Highway 61 Revisited/"Blonde on Blonde" fare. By this time in the
set, murmurs could be heard from the puzzled throng of whether Bob would
leave the piano for more familiar poses with the guitar. He answered them
with "Love and Theft." Obviously, an album penned on the piano. This is
the "New Bob," circa Duluth, Minnesota, 1941.
The artist's ear is pointed to Scott Joplin and George Gershwin with a
whisper of Bill Monroe in place of Woody Guthrie and Jimi Hendrix. Love it
or leave your prejudices at home. "Moonlight," "Honest With Me," "Floater"
and "Summer Days" are part of the ninety minute reel of America's musical
landscape that this tour promises to feature. "Cold Irons Bound," "Love
Sick," and "Standing in the Doorway" only strengthened Bob's argument that
this is the stuff of which rock 'n' roll was made. Bob took up the guitar
on only two occasions the past couple of nights (during songs seven and
eight in the list) with tonight's "Cold Irons Bound" and "It Ain't Me
Babe" fulfilling his appetite for the six stringer. With his guitar tech
lurking in the shadows, the silver suited Bob time and again waved him
off. During the scorching encore of "Like A Rolling Stone" and "All Along
the Watchtower," the dutiful assistant finally turned away sheepishly
--Fender in hand--as if to imply, "okay Bob, I get the message: no
This is a work-in-progress tour, no doubt. While there will be pitfalls
along the journey, you can be sure that a new musical period has arrived
for our man. Bob Dylan, pianist? Bob the Big Band maestro? Words hard as
steel, perhaps, for some. For those bold enough, who've been down this
road before, there is the challenge of accepting this extraordinary
individual in all his incarnations. As Bob reminds, ending last night's
set with these words: "None of them along the line know what anyyy!. . .
of iiiit!. . . issss. . . worrrrrth!"
Review by Bob Kinney
"He not busy being born - is busy dying."
Bob Dylan has done went and reinvented himself again. His April 20
concert at the Backyard in the Hill Country outside Austin gave us a
new Dylan persona - a piano-playin' bandleader fronting and
orchestrating a kick-ass five-piece band. It was a stunning surprise
that grew on me greatly as the show went on.
Since the mid 60s when I first saw him in Chicago (backed by the Paul
Butterfield Blues Band), every Dylan show I've seen has been rooted
in his acoustic and electric guitar playing. Previous shows may have
included, for example, "Ballad of a Thin Man," played on the keyboards
but then he'd pick up a guitar for the next song.
Not so on this current tour that began April 18 in Dallas. Only two
songs of the 16-song set featured Bob on the guitar. The rest of the
time he was standing behind an electric piano at the left side of the
stage playing a wicked piano that varied from funky and rock 'n roll
to blues and honky-tonk. Being real close to the stage, I particularly
enjoyed watching his gestures before he played many songs - at times
kind of shaking and squaring his shoulders to focus at the beginning
of a song or stretching and bending his arms, pumping himself into a
"ready to play" position.
The sound mix was great - balancing Dylan's voice and piano with
scorching guitar leads, solid bass and thumping drums. As noted by
Michael Gordon in the previous review, Dylan did wander off-stage
during the intro to "Honest with Me." I simply figured he walked off
for a brief smoke. Speaking of smoke, the smoke machine that kept
going off during the show obscured the wonderful background of the live
oak trees behind the stage.
The Easter weekend shows in Austin were very different than the concert
he gave a few months ago in town. I came to the Backyard expecting about
the same but in a much better venue - outside among the live oak trees
and not inside a basketball arena.
I left with a wide grin on my face after witnessing yet another
transformation of Bob Dylan.
"He not busy being born - is busy dying."
Review by Michael Gordon
I can't even think about that Dallas nightmare, at The Granada. Thank God
the venue was beautiful, the people in line were pleasant and the oysters
after the show were chilled to perfection, because Bob Dylan was out to
I know better than to think it was a one time occurrence, a little
oversight on ole Bob's part. Bob is every bit of his nearly 63
years...stubborn & set in his ways.
That's not fair. I guess the piano thing is an effort on His Highness'
part to shake things up. But if you're reading, Bob, I'm begging you,
please, abandon ship and quick! Your band NEEDS you!
Before I go on any further, I just want everyone to know that The Waifs
are great and worth showing up for.
For those who are unfamiliar with the Back Yard, as I was, it is a
wonderful outdoor facility. Enclosed, but with plenty of room to move
around. Gnarly oak trees are scattered about, providing shade for those
below and unique tree house fixtures for those of us who wished for a
birds eye view. The view beyond the open-air stage looks more like
Tennessee than Texas. The crowd was relaxed and feeling groovy. A
peaceful, Easter weekend attitude was apparent as I conversed and joked
with neighbors. The threatening rain held off. Not too hot, not too
cold. Just right. Once again, atmosphere would save the day.
I'll give you folks another heads-up: For those looking to get on the
good side of Bob, head towards the left side (facing) of the stage. That
is where he has decided to set up shop for this tour. There he stands, so
removed from the other 4 members of his band, that they practically need a
cell phone to communicate with him. It is a laughable sight - it's all
laughable, really - to see Tony, Larry, and the ghost of Woody Guthrie,
heads cocked to the right in unison, staring over at Bobberace, searching
for a clue.
As the Jester orchestrated from the sideline, it suddenly started to occur
to me that there is something missing. Missing was the opening acoustic
set of old standard and gospel songs, as well as a middle set and a couple
to close it out. Gone. Missing is a drummer with style, finesse and the
correct hat. Missing are the 3 part harmonies, an all out Fender
Stratocaster electric guitar attack, and the matching suits. Missing was
a guitarist who doesn't need Larry Campbell to tell him when to play a
lead. Missing was a guitarist who, when does play a lead, is actually
contributing to the song being preformed. I'm sure the new guy will be
great in time. I remember when Bucky left the fold and I probably felt
the same way about Charlie. Then again, maybe not. It just hurts me to
pay fifty bucks to watch band rehearsals. Missing was an 18 to 21 song set
list. Nope, you get 16 for your hard earned dollar these days. Also
missing, was the knee twitch, the Chuck Berry duck walk and the harmonica
shuffle. Remember that? Guitar wielded around to his back, one hand on
the neck, the other on the mic. Hand waving, finger pointing, knee
bending, gut wrenching, heartbreaking, never long enough, please blow that
damn thing all night long harp solo. Gone, gone, gone. Missing was the
reason that I'm down here with the masses, jockeying for position and an
eyeball view in the first place...That of Mr. Dylan himself. Center stage
where he belongs, commanding his band and preaching to the faithful. Bob
has confined himself to a cubicle. Reminding me too much off my own life
and bursting my freewheeling fantasy of his.
Is it all that bad? Of course not. But no one can tell me that there
isn't a noticeable difference of night & day from when Bob is hacking away
on the keyboards to when he is playing guitar - electric or acoustic.
There is no comparison. And of the 42 songs that I have heard over the
last 3 days, he has played guitar on 6, at the most - and that is just not
enough. It's like I said to my friend last night, "We used to cheer when
he went for the harp, now we're cheering when he reaches for the guitar."
It seems unconceivable. Not because he's the great guitar player,
though I do take back everything I've ever said about Bob's erratic
playing, it simply sounds better.
OK, here are the good things:
The Texas landscape. I've been all over, but never to these parts and
right now it's darn pretty. Even the locals are say'n so. Blue Bonnets
are in bloom, as well as Indian Paint Brush and Bitter Weed. Apparently
you folks got some rain. Everything is lush and green, making for nice
traveling. The Macris', my hosts, every single last one of ya, though
Michael's voice does give me a headache. You are kind people. Thank you
ever so much. Abby the dog, at The Granada. "Good girl." Cheryl & Bubba
from the Sac n' Pac. Once again, The Waifs. We bought both of your CD's.
Larry Campbell. Those of you who know him or of him, will never
appreciate the guy more than you will right now. It's got to be tough.
Talk about know'n when to lay back and when to step up. He is a genius
and as smooth and talented as they come. Tony Garnier. A bit automatic,
but still the man. Dignity. Always a good thing. Standing In The Doorway,
x3. My favorite song of all time. Now butchered and rushed, but what the
hell, it's still my favorite. Bob skipping out from behind the keyboards
on the first night, guitarless and doing a little dance at the end of
Honest With Me. Bob disappearing from the stage completely during the
intro of Honest With Me, on the second night. The sound mix at The Back
Yard was OUTSTANDING. Wish I could say the same about the Granada. Some
pretty good harp playing. Sometimes playing harp with the right hand and
keyboards with left. The girl from The Waifs, some very good harp
playing! The second nights set list. Three songs from the great TOOM.
Giving hope to Houston. Maybe he'll remember Blonde On Blonde. Everybody
still really digging on the "Love & Theft" tunes. The new poster design
and picture, misleading as it is. That weird preamble at the beginning of
the show. I think it's getting shorter. All the girls in Austin have that
Lucinda Williams thing going on. Free Parking. The fact that Bob Dylan
still continues to tour, release great music new and old, and remain a
major musical and social influence. Not to mention, in my opinion, one of
the few remaining American living legends.
Just do me one favor, Bob. Next time you're buzzing around Nashville &
Mississippi, look up Bo Ramsey and Jerry Lee Lewis.
Next stop, Houston. Bob Dylan...Forever!
Review by Dusty White
Holy-Shit!! We have Lift Off!! Sundays show at he backyard was to say the
least, "Magical". After reading through the setlists of Dallas and
witnessing the night before, I was prepared for the repeated songs.
Opening with "Watching The River Flow" was only the begining of the
changes to come. Gone were my thoughts of keyboards and where's Charlie?
Because when Bob rattled off "Throw my ticket out the window", I knew,
"Tonight He'd Be Staying Here With Us." Bob and the boys just seemed to be
in more of a grove this evening than the night before. If your thirst was
"Time Out of Mind" then your cup runeth over. It was just one of those
nights that you didn't want to end. Satarday's concert was the reherseal
but Sunday was the show.
page by Bill Pagel
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