page by Bill Pagel
Review by J. Matthew Martin
Brother Bob drove the 250 miles from Cary across the "heart" of Carolina,
arriving in Asheville just in time for a slice of pizza and the trek to
the Asheville Civic Center. The Civic Center is a concrete bunker, built
in the early 1970's and, if the City Council dithering will cease, could
be slated for demolition any day now. That fact, and the less than
enthusiastic reviews of the "piano man," lowered my expectations.
I should have known better. Bro. Bob and I had a great time. For one
thing, we had possibly the best seats in the house, first balcony row,
directly diagonally across from Big Bob and the piano. The floor was SRO,
and I can understand how some folks might have been disappointed that they
couldn't see the man that well, as the piano is set about15 feet or so
back on the black and white checkerboard stage, but, heck, even a blind
hog will find a truffle every now and then. Tonight we were lucky.
Asheville is promoted widely as the "freak" capital of the universe, and
for sure the rainbow people were out in droves tonight. Brother Bob
allowed as how it was a completely different group than last night's more
buttoned down affair in Cary. I am terrible at estimating crowds, but
there were fewer folks than in 2001 for this show, and fewer than I would
have expected. The crowd was, however, appreciative and loud.
The sound was excellent, given the venue, better than in 2001, for sure.
Big Bob has, for the longest time, had excellent opening acts. The Waifs
were no exception. They seemed genuinely excited to be on the same stage
as the man, and were very sincere to the crowd. One of the ladies in the
band can really play the harp. I thought that was nice.
A brief break and then some fanfare for the common man, and the lights
went back out. I wish someone would post what the announcer says when he
introduces Bob. Gone is the old "Ladies and Gentlemen, Columbia Recording
Artist, Bob Dylan." In its place is this very funny rap about how Bob
fused folk and rock in the '60's, found Jesus in the 70's, fell into
substance abuse in the 80's, and bounced back in the '90's. It is a
scream, but I didn't catch it completely.
Bob was attired in his now usual black cowboy shirt, trimmed in white,
with a white belt, black trousers with a white strip on the outside and
those cool black and white cowboy boots. If only all 62 year olds could
be this cool. The voice was on this evening from the beginning with
Maggie to Watchtower at the end. Bob didn't play very much melody on the
piano, but rather was banging out chords, using the instrument as a
percussion tool. The three exceptions to this style formed the core of
the show, a lovely Every Grain of Sand, followed by a strong Dignity
(although the Man did muff one line, saying "Someone handed me a
photograph and I had to laugh, Dignity never been photographed."), and
concluding with the best song of the night, Blind Willie. On these,
particularly Blind Wille, Bob played deliciously, weaving back and forth
in that unique, herky-jerky, leg twitching juking that makes you think
perhaps a big bolus of Ritilan might be in order.
The rest of the time he was content to clang out chords. I am pretty sure
he never touched a guitar, but he did treat us to some harp solos,
whacking away on the piano with one hand, while blowing with the other
one. Right before Things Have Changed, he walked around the stage and
came back with the Oscar, placing it behind him on a piece of equipment.
Brother Bob and I thought that was hilarious. It is also a nice touch.
Most of us in the crowd will never have a different opportunity to see an
Oscar in person, even from a distance.
Positively 4th Street was another highlight, sounding, typically, totally
different. The band was rock solid. Larry showed once again, why he is
one of the best pedal steel players around. I have to admit that I loved
Charlie Sexton, have from his early recordings, and was sad to see him go.
I didn't know Freddie, but his playing was strong, and on Like a Rolling
Stone, I thought he really shone, with a syncopated riff, that had Bob
Moonlight, Summer Days and Honest with Me stood out, for me, not
necessarily because they picked up the tempo, but because they were
written for this voice. The Love and Theft elements continue, now almost
two years later, to be exceptional.
After the show, a number of people were hawking bootleg posters, t-shirts,
cds, etc... It was like a little grey market, right downtown. Brother Bob
was so charged up that he decided to go ahead and drive back to Carrboro
tonight, and so, as I was getting out and wishing him a safe journey, I
remarked that he wasn't travelling alone tonight---somewhere, Bob Dylan
was out there too, moving on. That made us both feel good.
J. Matthew Martin
Review by Joe Moore
Here is my take on it. It is unexplainable to me how two years ago at this
venue, there was a sell-out crowd and tonight there were only a couple
thousand people there. The venue was about 25% full. A smaller venue would
have been much nicer. Anyway, it felt as though it was disappointing to Bob
in the beginning and therefore the show lacked energy. However, around the
forth song (It's All Over Now, Baby Blue), Bob seemed to start capturing the
vibe that while there weren't many people out there, the ones there were true
fans and were hanging on to every phrase. And so he treated us to some
outstanding rare tunes. However, I couldn't help but think if there was any
irony and sarcasm during Positively 4th Street as he sang about how it might
feel to be standing in his shoes. Bob treated us with Blind Willie McTell
and an Every Grain Of Sand (the first of the tour/year). Both of which were
show highlights for me personally. Bob sang with such passion and conviction
as he laid out the lyrics with a powerful Honest With Me. The Band had a few
musical highlights, but in general seemed to lack continuity and flow. It was
obvious they had to work at the music; it wasn't just flowing out effortlessly.
By the time the band got into the song, the lyrics were over and Bob moved to
the next song. While I'm critical, I still had a blast and always stand in
awe of the greatest poet of my generation. The fact he has a lousy voice
doesn't matter. Bob is a poet; an entertainer; and sings with passion.
Jerry Garcia and Neil Young don't have great voices, but their music is
powerful because of the passion and conviction from which they sing and play.
I must say, Bob is a much better guitar player than piano player. I agree
with a lot of the reviews: either he's not playing a lot of the time, or
they have him turned down so low you just can't hear him. I anxiously await
my next Bob show in 10 weeks with the Dead. As always, Thank you Bob!
page by Bill Pagel
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