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Review by JM Swedburg
The show on June 13th was excellent. The weather was 85-90 and sunny. The
Gorge Amphitheater is beautiful and definitely deserves its reward as "Best
Outdoor Concert Venue".
Paul Simon started the show with a slow "Bridge Over Troubled Water" which
was well received by the crowd. Most of the people in my section were there
to see Simon, and were not disappointed. I was very impressed with his
show. His band was great, with the three percussionists and the horn
section, as well as guitars and keyboards. Simon played his black acoustic
most of the show. "Diamonds On the Soles of Her Shoes" and "You Can Call Me
Al" brought the crowd to their feet. Then Dylan almost sneaked on stage
wearing sunglasses, a very relaxed looking shirt and jeans with white shoes.
Almost looked like tennis shoes. They started into "The Sound Of
Silence". The crowd laughed and cheered when the familiar 'gravel' voice
came across the loudspeakers. The two were great together, though they did
watch each other a lot. It seemed at times that Dylan would sing, and Simon
would follow along. All in all it sounded great.
In his set Dylan came out wearing a black suit and started with "Hallelujah,
I'm Ready To Go". The much smaller band than Simon was tight and sounded
very nice. "Mr. Tambourine Man" was changed a lot from the familiar
version. When "Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again" was
played, I did'n even recognize it until I heard him say "the post office has
been stolen, and the mail boxes are locked". The rendition sounded great.
"Highway 61 Revisited" was a great closer and bought the crowd to their
feet. The encore started with "Love Sick" and "Like a Rolling Stone". The
crowd came alive and sang along on this one. The crowd surprised me. They
were very laid back. This may have been my perspective since at Dylan's
show last year I was lucky enough to get free tickets in the front row. (I
even got to park next to him in the VIP parking lot!) That show Dylan
seemed to be a little more into the crowd. He moved around a lot more and
interacted with the crowd. This year he stayed pretty much in the center of
the stage and did his 'leg waddle' the whole time. With the new set up of
his band he seemed to be concentrating on playing a little more. The band
did not seem like they were sure of where they were going at times. The new
guitar player played to Dylan's left and
gave Dylan most of the solos. I don't think that Dylan was used to soloing
so much. On one song it sounded like he started a solo in the wrong key.
He just smiled and then cranked away another familiar lead. The solo that
he did on "Highway 61 Revisited" was excellent, and he looked great as the
crowd cheered him on. Another great show by the greatest artist. I look
forward to going next year.
Review by Ward Serrill
It would be a hostile land without the Columbia River flowing through it.
Night has come on. I sit in the back of my 79 Chevy "Van Morrison" and
look out over a grizzled landscape of desert bluffs and canyons. From my
campsite I look down on the Gorge Amphitheater where Bob Dylan will
play the next day. The lights across the grass parking lot below and in
the distance look like candles on a big birthday cake. All around me
frogs have taken up the night in an ear-filling symphony of power
welcoming the coming of the great Frog-king, Bob.
I am here with my brother Louie, the third trip to the Gorge we have made
this century to see Bob. The first was in 1987, which was the first concert
venue at the Gorge and it was an event you only get to experience once.
In those days, the "best outdoor venue" was a new thing, owned by a
local winery. There was only one rule: You could only take in one bottle
of wine per person. It was sweltering hot all day and people drank wine in
line. If you ran out, you ran over to the winery for another bottle of
Beaujolais. There were 15,000 people in a place that could hold 13,000
comfortably and they had 15,000 bottles of wine. Tracy Chapman opened
and soothed a mellow vibe over the wine-sipping club. Then night fell and
Bob came out and put on an 80-minute rock and roll lesson that left
people roaring like for the Pharaoh, and falling off of terraces and steps.
It was wonderful, mad and out of control beautiful.
Ah, but it's the nineties now. And the Gorge is owned by Universal Studios.
Louie and I figured the concert take was $750,000. The campground
charged $25 per vehicle and we figured they raked in a cool 100 grand.
Ticketmaster evil empire took $125,000 from our pockets in "convenience"
fees. Everything is controlled. But that didn't stop Louie and me from
sneaking in two bottles of wine in a method that is so good we will never
divulge it. Just know that the girl on the search squad at the front gate took
three long minutes dissecting every thing in and around me and didn't find
my stash of Wild Pig red.
While in line-we were in pole position and going to be the first into the
amphitheater when it opened at 3-we were entertained by some really bad
but uninhibited rock 'n roll from a group called Jumping Johnny. Jumping
Johnny was a middle aged balding 70's guitar guy, who with his two
daughters, one on drums the other on bass, thrashed out Hendrix, Dylan
and Janis tunes. Last year, at the little stage by the entrance, when Louie
and I came to see Bob, Joni Mitchell and Van Morrisson we had been
entertained by three guys one wearing bright yellow, another all red and
the third green, playing drums, dijereedoo and guitar respectively calling
themselves Mustard, Relish and Ketchup.
I ran to secure our position on the open terraces. At least five attendants
in crowd management uniforms said, "Please don't run sir," as I streaked
by. We ended up directly out from the stage and looking down on the
reserved seat section and the stage set against the lovely Columbia River
winding through the rocky sage and sand red canyon. It truly is one of the
great places on earth to soak in a world class landscape and good tunes
at once. Louie and I settled into three hours of sun baking and crowd
watching. A cool breeze blew up the warm canyon walls from the river.
Paul Simon opened. At first I was stirred as the sounds of Bridge Over
Troubled Water wafted over the landscape. It had a slight world music
percussive feel to it. But before I knew it, before the second chorus in
fact, I was bored. I should say at the outset, I'm not much of a Simon fan.
His sound is too clean to me. But I was definitely out of step. This was
clearly a Paul Simon crowd. Soft and nostalgic. As he sailed through
Mrs. Robinson, Me and Julio, Slip Slidin'Away and all, I felt progressively
like I was being taken on a tour bus through the past, but people in the
crowd were all lovey-eyed and many were dancing. They clapped over
their heads and from above on the terrace they looked like a bunch of
Monarch butterflies mating. It just wasn't connecting with me. But it was
Bob, not Paul Simon who came into my life in the eighth grade when I
got stoned with Bruce Yeager down at the Cove in Normandy Park near
Seattle and listened to It's Allright Ma, for the first time.
I contented myself with watching the landscape grow soft and wine
colored as the sun leaned toward the horizon. Simon ended his encore
with Still Crazy After All These Years and I didn't believe a word of it.
Nobody's crazy anymore. Not like that. People are psychotic and ready
to snap, but not just fun and crazy anymore. At least I don't' see it. Too
many Universal Studios and Ticktmasters and stock options around.
Too many SUV's. Too much comfort. And every person in this place
except three members of Paul Simon's band was white.
Don't let me mislead you. I was having a blast. Louie and I had only
made it through one fourth of our precious wine supply. A hawk was
soaring above the show and came down for a closer look. A seagull too
came up from the river to check out the scene and flying as Louie said,
"with no purpose, but just for the fun of it."
Then Bob came on stage wearing aluminum colored silk outfit and
tennis shoes and settled in with a duet with Paul on Sounds of Silence.
It was like two old dance partners trying to be ever so respectful to the
other and not step on toes. But it was sweet hearing Dylan's foggy
froggy warm voice join in and rough up Simon's sweet falsetto a bit.
And Dylan's rhythm guitar brought in a bass resonance that Simon's
sound lacked. Though Bob was understated the power onstage had
tripled. Then a sweet Moon of Kentucky, bluegrass ramble, followed
by Cash's I Walk the Line. This was two old folkies from Greenwich
Village at their best. They ended with a Knockin' on Heaven's Door
that made the hawk come back for another fly over and put a smile to
old dead Peckinpaw's face. To hear this song in these desert hills
was a magical thing.
During the break Simon's extensive set gave way to Bob's minimalist
setting for drums, two guitars and bass, nothing else. The sun shrank
below the horizon and made a pinpoint of light that flashed and
disappeared just as the house sound of ullian pipes ended. It was a
lovely god-like orchestration of beauty and harmony. Does music
make magic in moments? Does the world itself swing and dance
sometimes in tune with it? Yes.
It's twilight over the Columbia. The time of ravens and old sorcerers,
of Indian faces that appear in clouds over ancient bluffs. Dylan takes
the stage in a black outfit and supported by his small cast of
handsome characters. It's true in a lot of cases. Men get better
looking with age. The new guitarist Charlie Sexton looks like he
walked out of GQ. And Tony the bassman, a four year touring
bobman, is a suave New Orleans dark good-looker. Guitarist Larry
Cambell in long black hair and sweet face appears more confident,
knows his place now after a hundred or so concerts with Bob.
Bob opens his shows now with a handful of acoustic songs, which
brings me great joy, because the acoustic songs are the heart of
the show for me. These musicians are the best. Dylan always works
with the best and the string play of these guys is a joy to behold.
They open with a gospel tune Hallelujah, I'm Ready To Go, which
leaves the crowd befuddled and me ecstatic. What one expects from
Bob, you rarely get. Larry crooned a high lonesome Bill Monroe
harmony on this tune.
After some polite applause, Bob begins the chords of a very slow and
sweet Mr. Tambourine Man. People don't even recognize it until after a
long intro he begins the lyrics. As I listened I realized the difference
between Bob and Paul to me. Simon's old songs seemed like reprises
of his old hits, like TV reruns, whereas, Dylan's old tunes, like
Tambourine Man sound new. They are arranged and attenuated and
crooned for this place and time. They come with a feeling made real
now. At the ending riff, Bob picks up his harp and plays long and fine
literally doing a little soft show dance. This crowd has no idea what it
is getting or what is going to happen to them. They keep staring through
binoculars and sitting immobile. After the excellent music play of strings
and harp Bob steps forward and bows formally like a classical
The next song brings up another reason I am in Bob's camp. No one I
have ever seen carries such raw power onto a stage. Masters of War is
among the finest things he does on this tour. It resonates with deep big
ass chords that come from the center of the earth itself. It is rock turned
molten and pushing its way to the surface. The lyrics have never felt more
biting or relevant and are spit out onto the most warlike culture on the
planet, the world's bully, an empire crumbling from within. Maybe that's
what I don't connect with Simon much, I need an edge, a sometimes
righteousness, an undertoned anger that rises from time to time. That's
at the heart of rock 'n roll and Dylan at 58 can still do it.
The best part of these shows to me are the long intros, instrumental
bridges and guitar play outros. It doesn't get much better. Other writers
can talk about this lead or that being off key or whatever, but my ear is
not that attenuated. It seems like these players are all on the same
stagecoach to me. This song bowls people over. An acoustic song so
powerful you'd think back on it and believe it was electrified. I'm not sure
the crowd likes such an in your face song. Tickets are $125 for reserved
seats. We want simple things. Make us feel good. Don't distract us.
Give us nostalgia and tell us everything is okay.
Tangled Up in Blue is next and is followed by It's All Over Now Baby Blue,
but sweet and soft. He sounds like an old folkie, sitting alone on his porch
playing it for the crickets and frogs in the afternoon sun over the fields.
This was a sad song and played that way, Larry sitting down for a stint
on the pedal steel.
There is nothing like hearing music out of doors. Somehow, it weaves and
dances with the wind, with the soaring birds, with the Columbia winding
up the valley. As the band takes up All Along the Watchtower (again
rearranged and slow, the crowd does not recognize it until the chorus) I
look down the river and out on creation itself. No where as far as I can see
is there any sign of man's interference. The river cuts through the land like
a black snake. And it occurs to me that as a creative force Dylan is as
original and powerful as the Columbia. It's not a river to be kept inside its
defined banks for too long. Someday that damn is gonna break and them
waters is gonna get out and wash the landscape clean. Dylan like this
landscape continually remakes himself.
A blue light circles Bob and he looks like a marionette as he slows into
Just Like a Woman. Then it's time to dance with the clown down
mainstreet again as Bob's circus takes up Stuck inside of Mobile. I
dance on the terrace and notice most of the terrace tribe is doing the
same. I look over at Louie who has wine spilled on his shirt and a
mirthful grin on his face. He is doing just fine.
As Bob turns toward Not Dark Yet I breathe in the deep cool air of night
in the desert. This song is much more dirge like and stronger than I have
heard it before. It seems to be the anthem for our culture heading into
My sense of humanity is going down the drain.
By now the crowd is starting to come around as they get a sense that
something different but maybe better than they expected is happening
to them. It's time for Highway 61 Revisited. This song is revitalized with
the new band. Charlie Sexton doesn't seem like any stranger here.
The crowd is stunned as Bob leaves the stage. The fire was just getting
going. But we all know he's gonna come back and do a few more and
break into his standard closing of Love Sick (wicked), Like a Rolling
Stone (slow like a ballad-the electric guitar chords ride up the Columbia
like a blue heron), Blowing in the Wind (Bob framed in an iris purple light
and two dolphin blue spills on either side of him) and ending with a raver
send-up of Buddy Holly's Not Fade Away (dance dance dance.)
And then it's over. People still can't believe it. Yeah, it's short. One
expects more for the money, but the fact is people would have stayed
all night if Bob had kept playing. It seems short because we are
witnessing such raw creation at play. Who can get enough of that?
Bob has learned how to pace himself. How to stay out on the road
nearly continuously making it, keeping it alive.
Louie and me stay on the terrace while the place empties out. We
polish off the last of our wine and yuck yuck laugh like a couple of
clowns. Finally they send a nice security guy down to escort us out.
We walk out slow and reluctant to leave and we pause by the pond
beneath a footbridge and listen to crickets and frogs play music to
each other in the quiet of the night.
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