May 7, 2015
Review by Michael Nave
Sometimes What You Want Isn't What You Need
Bob Dylan in San Antonio - with some comments about Austin thrown in
So I had the good fortune to see Bob in Austin and San Antonio on successive
nights. It has been mentioned on this site and elsewhere the fact that what we
bring with us to a performance can certainly impact the effect the performance
has on us. In other words, it's way more than just Bob. One other thing that
can impact it, in my opinion, is something as simple as your location in the theater.
In Austin at the beautiful Bass Concert Hall I was on about the 6th row of the first
balcony. This made the set list of mostly newer songs that I wasn't as familiar with
less enjoyable than the next night from the front row in San Antonio.
Now I am no Bob neophyte. These concerts were my 56th and 57th since 1986.
But I have to admit I don't listen to the new albums (those after TOOM) as much
as I should. But a few words about Bob in San Antonio . . .
This was my second visit to the magnificent Majestic Theater. This has to be the
most beautiful theater that I have ever set foot in. It was built in 1929 and has
been lovingly renovated and is a beautiful setting for the kind of performance Bob
is bringing on the road these days. It was the first theater in the state of Texas
to be air conditioned and was designed to transport attendees to a "serene
Mediterranean village at twilight". Dylan has previously played the theater in 1995.
The gong is pretty loud. It signaled the beginning of the show at about 6 minutes
after 8, followed by Stu's acoustic noodlings as the band takes its place on stage.
I'll not go song by song since we all know the set list by now. But Bob's voice
sounded a bit rougher than the previous night in Austin but it was great to be
close enough to make out his facial expressions and see the blue of his eyes as he
looked around the theater.
Most of my observations have been mentioned here and elsewhere previously,
but I would still like to add my two cents. I noticed in about 2009 that Bob was
wearing a gold band on the ring finger of his left hand. I saw him 5 times that
year and noticed it each time and wondered why no one, including me, ever
mentioned it in their writing. But I noticed last night that there were no rings
on any fingers. I wonder if that could be behind the current show.
Like others have mentioned, I believe that he has very specific things he wishes
to communicate with his audience with this selection of songs and the care he
puts into his performance. While I don't have time to mine the lyrics to back up
my speculation, I remember thinking as I listened to the lyrics that last two nights
that he is not only communicating that things have changed, but that he has
been through some tough times, either recently, or perhaps summing up his
entire life. I figure he supposes we have too and that's why he things we will
appreciate this trip through the various hells that sometimes make up life.
As has been previously mentioned, his singing is vastly improved over the last time
I saw him in 2012 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The growl and bark has been replaced by
a subtlety in all of his singing, with dynamics I don't think I've ever heard in
concert from him. Sometimes a loud phrase, or sometimes almost a whisper,
depending on what the lyric calls for. I was impressed that he was putting that
much care and nuance into the performance.
The two closing songs, "Long and Wasted Years" and "Autumn Leaves" really
drive the sad, desperate theme home. The tour de force of the night, in my
opinion is the heart wrenching "Autumn Leaves". It can move you to tears.
It's a very odd choice for a show closer if you're just considering a typical show.
But of course, this is no typical performance and it works. The performance is
powerful and moving, albeit short. "Stay With Me" provides the perfect
plaintive plea that Bob, and I guess all of us, share with those we love. We
just beg for anyone who might be leaving for any reason to stay with us.
And I have to say Bob, that even though I found my mind wandering a bit
during your set at Bass Concert Hall on Tuesday night way up in my first balcony
seat, on Wednesday night from the front row, I resolved that, yes Bob, I will
stay with you. Through all the challenges you have thrown at us over the years
(going electric, going fundamentalist Christian, going crazy Christmas, going
Sinatra) I will stay with you. There has never been an artist that I have followed
who has challenged me, frustrated me, surprised me, disappointed me, and
ultimately impacted my life artistically any more than you. And because of that,
I will say with you.
Review by Jamie Alexander
I first saw Mr. Dylan live when he was playing "Gotta Serve Somebody" at
the Warfield in San Francisco. There have been numerous shows across the
years that stand out in my memory. The EL Rey in Los Angeles is an all
time favorite, among others. In recent years, it is difficult to express
how much I have enjoyed his concerts and evolution. I now allow myself an
occasional holiday where I explore a new city and savor his performance
San Antonio's, Majestic Theatre, was another of the beautifully classic
venues that Bob & company have chosen, so carefully. I loved his
performance. His voice, expression and harmonica are so very good, these
days. His piano playing blends so meaningfully with his talented and
accomplished team. At this show, Bob's stage presence and stance were so
confident and bold, on occasion. Mr. Dylan is looking and sounding
exceptional, as is the whole band. I'm so glad he writes and/or
interprets fresh material, rather than just playing his greatest hits.
As a long-term fan, I am embarrassed to admit to having developed an
unusual quirk. Although never professionally diagnosed, I have a phobia
of security people and sometimes ushers, so would find it unbearably
intense to talk to security people at a concert.
Since I had chosen to sit at the back of the ground floor at the Majestic,
thinking I might dance a bit, I was surprised to find the ushers standing
directly behind the back row. This isn't usual at concerts I've attended.
Given my personal phobia challenge, I did not feel comfortable there. At
intermission I moved up and was told by a woman in the audience that there
was an empty seat on the side next to her by the wall aisle. The view was
excellent. As I moved in my new seat briefly, she told me angrily that if
I wanted to dance I had to go to the back. I apologized and sat still in
my acquired seat.
The one disadvantage to these beautiful venues is that Mr. Dylan's
audience has become "the establishment" and will not tolerate dancing. I
too am the successful, highly educated "establishment" but carry my
social justice/artist/dancer/poet credentials from the past. We must all
remember tolerance and loosen up the prohibitions we ourselves did not
like as young people. I think it's okay for individuals to dance at Bob's
concerts. Individuals in one aisle seat in each row (near the wall) should
be allowed to dance (in front of their own seat) or at seats in the back
or high upper balcony. These allowances could be standardized &
understood, so that individuals would not be disturbed by security or
harmful to others. I doubt that this policy will be instituted but it's a
loss when there is no dancing, at all, at a concert.
As for my phobia, I had mutual friends and met Mr. Dylan's years ago.
Experiencing the intensity of the phobia I would never feel comfortable
going to say hello at a concert or any location that required my
initiation. I feel the need to write this because in the enthusiasm of a
concert I sometimes think that I'd like to go and congratulate him. I'm a
positive supportive verbal person in my daily life but it's not my shy
nature to do things like that, additionally, I have a phobia that I can't
Review by Nancy Hernandez
*A Spring Waltz through Texas with Bob Dylan*
Houston, May 5, Bayou Music Center
Austin, May 6, Bass Concert Hall
San Antonio, May 7, Majestic Theatre
Things have really changed, and Bob Dylan’s so-called “Never Ending
Tour” has evolved into a sophisticated concert experience bathed in
golden moonlight. Gone are the rowdy general admission shows, fans buckles
to butts, 20 rows deep, holding forth at the foot of the stage or
stage-rushing at seated venues to get up close, where Dylan seemed to
delight in the energy, as fans danced and rocked to classics like *Summer
Days*, *Like a Rolling Stone*, and *Highway 61*. This is no longer even a
rock ‘n roll experience, and it’s probably time to put to rest the
phrase Never Ending Tour, which Dylan never bought into anyway. It’s
over folks. Dylan now brings forth a very mature show for a seated
The experience is much like a theatrical production, with Dylan the
orchestral band leader, an actor in a play, moving around the understated
and elegant stage taking the audience on a cinematic-like journey. During
*Long and Wasted Years,* I heard Al Pacino coming through Dylan’s voice
as he emoted and sang, “Come back baby if I ever hurt your feelings I
apologize . . . We cried on that cold and frosty morn, We cried because
our souls were torn, So much for tears, so much for these long and wasted
On this visual and musical journey, Dylan is just passing through,
bringing some old-school Hollywood jitterbug rag and the best of every
other mid-century and beyond genre he has been honing for decades. “He
ain’t taking no shortcuts or dressing in drag. . . He’s got nothing to
prove. He’s an artist, he don’t look back.”
By song two, we are hypnotized, marching forward to the beat, as the
stellar band colludes with Dylan, and the storyline unfolds to a sexy
Latin-tinged *She Belongs to Me*. The “Egyptian ring sparkles as he
Dylan owns the stage in a different way these days, opening the show
center stage with microphone in hand and harmonica at the ready. The pace
is slowed down and vocals much clearer, the delivery focused and precise.
Moving over to the grand piano, seated at the end of the horizontal side
of it, the bench trailing behind him, *Beyond Here Lies Nothing* is
performed next. The narrative continues with the opening line, “I love
you pretty baby . . . come close,” he sings. “There is nothing but the
moon and stars, the mountains of the past.” It’s a moment so in the
present and so about to be in the past. The narrator will be moving along
after midnight, leaving the only love he’s ever known, moving down
“the boulevards of broken cars, past windows made of glass,” the flame
still kindling but “nothing done and nothing said.”
Back at center stage again, Dylan shifts to the realities of life in
*Working Man Blues #2.* The narrator is “feeding his soul with
thought,” the lament of Donnie Herron’s lap steel, Charlie Sexton’s
lead guitar and Tony Garnier’s masterful bass playing moving the
storyline forward. It’s back to the grind of work and the ravages of
life’s toil. He prays the “fugitive’s prayer,” relying on his
higher power to help him through this earthly struggle. In life “you can
hang back or fight your best on the front line, sing a little bit of these
Dylan shuffles back to the piano and the story picks up speed as the train
chugs through town to the snappy sounds of *Duquesne Whistle*. The band
takes the audience on a spirited ride -- Donnie sliding down the rails on
lap steel, Charlie always on point, George Recile steering on drums and
Stu Kimball rhythm guitar, all as solid as they come. Bob’s left leg
rising up and down as he rides this train out of town. He knows exactly
where he’s going.
With Bob still at piano, the train ride transitions into a waltz. The
audience is now experiencing what feels like a carousel ride to *Waiting
on You*. The magnificent lighting washes the band in a soft moonlit glow,
the narrator still pining away, waiting for his love to return.
The complicated love story and everything else go rogue on center stage in
*Pay in Blood*. The audience loves this one. The working man comes
unchained and reveals the dark, biting, nasty backstory. “The more he
thinks, the more he gives.” There are threats. Someone’s wife is shot,
but his conscience is clear. He “paid in blood, but not his own.”
Awesome performance all three nights.
After the bloodletting above, the mood transitions into a slowed-down
version of *Tangled Up In Blue*, including new lines -- “digging in my
pockets” in Houston and “blasting of the news” in Austin. Dylan’s
masterful harmonica playing enraptures, taking the song into flight, and
then he segues from center stage to piano as the song revs up in grand
style, Dylan passionately blowing the reeds again. The heart-pounding
*Love Sick* follows, and the band digs into a gnarly and twisted groove,
Donnie conjuring up frustration and layers of emotion on mandolin. Badass
Bob and band tear it up. Love still out of reach. It’s time for
Dylan’s current show began shape shifting into being in late 2013, and
by the end of 2014, a complete transformation had taken place. The
atmospheric lighting is magnificent. The cohesiveness of the same golden
color used throughout the show ties the theatrical feel together. The
lighting changes from song to song with the use of giant globes, standing
lights, small caged lights, spotlights from above, and diffused floor
light. The band is stationed in a precise wide crescent shape. Very
orchestral. Every detail is well thought out, and the result is subtle and
effective. There is a maturity and stripped-down honesty to the songs and
the interaction between artist and audience. The way the show closes
reveals in song this new place and time we have entered in our journey
with Bob Dylan.
But first, the band returns from intermission to the sound of Donnie’s
Act II begins slowly and warms up with *High Water (For Charley Patton)*.
The scene is set with the backdrop washed in shadowy clouds and sky. The
big globes diffuse moonlight on the stage, Bob with left hand on hip,
center stage, like he’s ready to pull his gun from its holster. In the
swathe of one song, the imagery roams from Southern California, the home
of Big Joe Turner, to Twelfth Street and Vine in Kansas City, to the
homeland of the Delta Blues, through the travails of Ole Man River on the
Mississippi River via Vicksburg. A grim reminder of our fragile humanity
against the power of Mother Nature, her fury greater than “every
conceivable point of view.”
*Thunder rolling over Clarkesdale, everything is looking blue*
*I just can’t be happy, love*
*Unless you’re happy too*
*It’s bad out there*
*High water everywhere*
The emotional roller coaster trails into a tender *Simple Twist of Fate*
with some stunningly beautiful harp playing, the best of each night. Bob
nails it and elicits the sound of crying, blowing his sadness away. He was
born too late, the arcade ride is filled with memories circling his brain.
He is like a blind man, who had been thrown a few coins of her love.
She’s gone, and we’re left with this gorgeous song of lament.
Filled with the blues, the narrator at the piano struts out *Early Roman
Kings*. With Stu Kimball shaking the maracas, this naughty ditty digs into
another story of the underbelly of life. It ain’t pretty, but Bob shakes
it down, helped by some tasty licks from Charlie on lead guitar and Donnie
on lap steel slide guitar.
The next quartet of songs digs deeper into the soul journey of the
narrator. The mournful *Forgetful Heart* finds comfort to his pain in a
harp solo that reminds one of *Man in the Long Black Coat*. Dylan sings to
perfection, and Donnie’s expressive and sad violin turns this into
another exquisite performance. The audience loves it. The door may have
closed forevermore, but that won’t keep this warrior down. He finds
lightness of foot in *Spirit on the Water, *as his spirit skips and
travels along, pushing the narrative forward. It’s complicated, folks,
but we can still have a “whoppin’ good time.”
Like a thief in the night, we are caught unaware by the sharp
juxtaposition of *Scarlet Town, *so engaging while announcing end times,
John the Revelator coming through with prophecy, warning in vivid imagery.
Whether up on the hill or at the bottom of the hill, the sky is clear,
“go yonder and pray,” make your amends, “for you know not what hour
your Lord does come.”
The sense of a carousel ride returns in the lilting *Soon After Midnight*.
We are transported to the 1930s or ‘40s. The tale is upbeat in its
nursery-rhyme telling, but the story is dark and seedy. Our hero is still
looking forward to rendezvous and find feminine consolation soon after
midnight with the faerie queen. Will the leading lady be found in this
“It’s been such a long, long time, since we loved each other and our
hearts were true,” the troubadour laments in *Long and Wasted Years*.
This song theater is like some kind of movie, the leading man coming to
terms with life’s fading days. Of Dylan’s recent compositions, this is
my favorite. His writing and singing are still so on point, the long days
and years have not been wasted. Bob Dylan’s gifts spring from a deep
well that is extraordinary. Blessed are we to live to experience them.
The tender goodbye begins with *Autumn Leaves. *This one comes deep from
the heart, the vocals beautiful and precise. It feels like a personal
message to the aging crowd. We are autumn leaves, and he still loves us.
He’s going to stand beside us, because he is one of us. Donnie Herron,
along with Charlie Sexton, are so talented, they catapult Bob to new
heights on this one in a very restrained and crafty way. The entire band
is par excellence.
Dylan sums up the musical journey encore with a slowed-down, high-impact
version of *Blowin’ in the Wind*. He asks the big questions. They remain
the same. They will always remain the same.
Bob humbly stands before the crowd for the final song of the night, *Stand
with Me*. It’s a prayer, a call to God summoning up his mercy, grace,
and forgiveness. In the end, one of Dylan’s greatest gifts is pointing
people to God. It takes courage and grace.
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