Review by Melanie Young
I've only recently been touched by Bob Dylan and his music. I'm 27, and
have been familiar with the big hits - "Rolling Stone," "Rainy Day
Women," "Watchtower" (the Hendrix version), etc. - for most of my life,
but I didn't receive my true Dylan epiphany until about a year ago. I
heard "Positively 4th Street" on the radio, really listened to it, and was
so astonished by the words I was laughing out loud. It completely
described the way I was feeling about a person in my life at the time, and
I decided I needed to give Dylan a closer look. I bought Greatest Hits 1,
2, and 3, listened to them, and set them aside, allowing them to percolate
on the back burner for a while. About six months ago, during a momentary
fit of melancholy, I went out and purchased my first studio album, Time
Out Of Mind, mainly on the strength of one song - the exquisite "Not Dark
Yet." I listened to the album non-stop for a week, moved deeply and
entranced by its cathartic quality. Now it was official - I was a Dylan
convert. I haven't looked back since.
When I found out that yes, there would be a tour this year and he would be
stopping in my home state (I believe the Never-Ending Tour missed us last
year), I was both excited and nervous at the same time. I've read the
accounts of his concerts being hit-and-miss affairs, some good, some not
so good, some great; I've read the barbs thrown at him about his voice,
his age, his appearance. Seeing an artist you admire in the flesh is such
a chancy thing; if the experience is not a good one, will it ruin your
appreciation of their art? What was I to expect?
Well, folks, if you are having these same concerns about this current
tour, have no fear - buy your tickets and go! I can honestly say I had
the time of my life. The Song and Dance Man and his
kick-ass-and-take-names band put on a show that I will never forget.
Our seats were not right on up the stage, but were in the first section of
boxes right off of stage right. We could see everyone well, except for
poor Donnie in the back to the left of George's drum set. Dylan's
keyboard was set up to where he was facing directly at us; we were close
enough to make out his features, but far away enough that we couldn't see
clearly the lines in his beautifully aged, character-and-story-filled
face. From our vantage point, the way he was grooving and getting down
with that keyboard, you would never guess he was 64. What energy he has!
It was exhilarating to see.
I thought it was interesting to see as well how they entered and left the
stage, on a set of stairs from our side of the Coliseum (I couldn't resist
raising a shout as soon as my mother, who accompanied me to the concert,
said to me, "There he is!"). His band members walk very closely around
him, almost protectively. I was charmed by that, and by watching the
interplay between them throughout the concert. These guys obviously adore
It's true that "every girl's crazy 'bout a sharp-dressed man," and with
these gentlemen it was no exception. Bobby wore a wide, flat-brimmed
white hat (reminiscent to me of a bigger version of the one from his
Rolling Thunder Revue days, except of course without the flowers and
feathers), black suit jacket, white pants, and white-tipped-with-black
cowboy boots (my mom spotted those). The boys in the band were themselves
slickly outfitted in head-to-toe black. Very, very nice, boys!
The music cooked, these guys were on, they were tight, right with him at
all times. I loved hearing the new arrangements and trying to guess what
the songs were. I was able to spot most of them within a few lines; the
one that really tricked me was "Just Like a Woman." I thought surely we
were getting "Every Grain of Sand" - which I was secretly hoping for - but
as soon as I heard the opening lyrics it clicked, and I wondered how I
could have mistaken that one. No matter - this is a song I've loved for a
long time; it sits almost too close to where I am ("And she aches just
like a woman/But she breaks just like a little girl"), and the arrangement
and Bobby's harp solo were just gorgeous. I couldn't hold back the tears.
"Maggie's Farm" - they started out rocking hard with this one, which is
apparently the standard opener this year, and never let up. "I knew right
away he was not ordinary" - all trepidation as to whether this concert
would be unforgettable was blasted away!
"She Belongs to Me" - when he sang the lines "Bow down to her on Sunday,"
he cut loose with an organ riff that sounded like Sunday morning; a cute,
humorous touch that I loved. There were other moments too where the organ
was not buried in the mix. There's just something about rock organ that
gets to me, can't explain it, and though I can't say either what the music
sounded like on the previous tours where he was playing a piano set-up, I
definitely like this sound.
"Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum" - the only example of the night of the
much-dreaded (by some) "upsinging." It didn't bother me; it seemed to fit
the character and mood of the song. What does he jump on the end of each
line, a 5th?
"Positively 4th Street" - what a treat to hear live the song that really
started it all for me. I read a review by Jon Pareles on nytimes.com
yesterday of the opening day of JazzFest ("Many Friends Help Open New
Orleans Fest") that referred to this song as sounding like "an indictment
of the government's response to Hurricane Katrina," and I could certainly
concur with that. I'd count "Don't Think Twice" in there, too; he played
this at both stops as well - "I ain't saying you treated me unkind/You
could have done better but I don't mind/You just kinda wasted my precious
time/But don't think twice, it's all right." Amen, Bobby, amen.
" 'Til I Fell in Love With You" - something made him laugh on the line
"Girls like birds flying away." I have no idea what, but I loved seeing
and hearing that. He really seemed to be in good spirits last night.
After the very next line, "When I'm gone you will remember my name," I
raised another cheer before I could stop myself. I wanted to cheer as
well after those lines in "Desolation Row" - "You wouldn't think it to
look at him/But he was famous long ago," but I held it back until the end
of the verse. I tried to contain myself, really I did; I'm acutely aware
and sensitive to how other's actions can ruin a concert experience, so I
restrained my grooving to my seat, tapping time with my feet and clapping
my hands in turns, and singing along with Bobby silently to myself. The
folks on the floor, however, were up on their feet getting down, folks of
all sorts - from aging hippies to cowboys to younger parents with their
children and teenagers headbanging. It was a sight to see!
"It's Alright, Ma" - what a kick this new arrangement is. The steady,
driving, hammering beat laid beneath the vocals pounded straight into the
center of my chest; I was having trouble breathing by the end of this one!
And smack behind it - the one-two-punch knockout of hearing "Highway 61
The highlight of the concert for me, without a doubt, was "Desolation
Row." I spotted this one immediately, and I couldn't get over it - we got
a 2006 NET premiere of one of my all-time favorites. And how achingly
beautiful it was, with an interesting beat - could you call it
calypso-like, almost? Greatly, greatly moving to hear it here; the first
time I ever listened to the Highway 61 Revisited version (my favorite,
before last night's), it was while I was driving through the countryside
near here just at sunset, looking at fields of trees downed by Katrina -
"When you asked me how I was doing/Was that some kind of joke?" I noticed
that he left out the "Praise be to Nero's Neptune" verse. Could that have
been on purpose? Neptune's the Roman god of the sea . . . all I know is,
folks, if you want to see Desolation Row, take a drive along Mississippi's
Highway 90. Thank you, Bobby, from the bottom of my heart, for singing
that one last night.
"Cold Irons Bound" - easily the best vocal performance. Deep,
bass-baritonal, lovely, even oily; the vocal line was connected, not
choppy - can I say sexy? WOW.
"Summer Days" - another fun one to hear live. They just smoked it. Was
it here that Tony spun that stand-up bass? What a trip! And, of course,
the encores - "Like a Rolling Stone" and "All Along the Watchtower" were
thrills for me to hear as well. No words to the crowd, besides thanking
his friends and introducing the band. As they left the stage for the last
time, my heart full to overflowing, I allowed myself a teeny-bopper moment
and shouted, "We love you, Bobby!"
Merle Haggard and the Strangers were wonderful, too. I grew up listening
to this style of country music, and I loved hearing songs that I'd known
from childhood live - "Twinkle, Twinkle, Lucky Star," "I Think I'll Just
Stay Here and Drink," "Mama Tried," "Are the Good Times Really Over," "As
Time Goes By" - but no "Jackson," alas (I'd heard he'd sung this with his
wife at one of the stops). He sounds marvelous, as good as he ever has,
and The Strangers kicked ass. Funny aside: there was this dude sitting
right above us who, before the concert started, kept plaintively calling
out "MERLE! MERLE!" I don't know if he was drunk, high, or just putting
on. I guess some people on the floor got tired of hearing it, because at
one point someone down there answered him with "WHAT?!" which drew a laugh
from the crowd. Someone else answered him back too with "DYLAN!" Once
the concert started, however, he was never heard from again.
I honestly treasured every moment of this concert - there are so many
musicians, but so few LEGENDS, as much as I know Bobby hates labels. I
count myself privileged to have been able to see him even once. I'm happy
to no end as well that my mother, who was not a Dylan fan before, had the
time of her life, too. When we left the Coliseum, we had poison
headaches, but we felt all right. We pledged our time to Bobby, and he
came through in grand style. If the Drifter passes this way again next
year - do, Bobby, please do! - we will definitely be back.
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