Bethlehem, Pennsylvania

Sands Bethlehem Event Center

July 9, 2016

[Mike Skliar], [Ryan Ferguson], [Peter Smith]

Review by Mike Skliar

Bob Dylan, Mavis Staples Bethlehem PA- July 9 2016 by Mike Skliar
Not wanting to chance bad weather, I elected to go to Bethlehem, Penn. 
for this indoor show (at a smaller venue, too) rather than the outdoor 
Forest Hills Stadium. (and a friend had an extra great last minute ticket, 
too!)  The short review- spectacular show, from beginning to end, and 
including Mavis Staples' opening set which was a real revelation.

Starting with that opening set, Mavis and her band were just tremendous. 
She turned the age of 77 one day after this show, but sounded 20 years 
younger, at least. She has an easy rapport with the audience, radiates pure 
joy and had a great band with her.  For me, her set kicked into high gear 
with the third song, Talking Heads' "Slippery People" and didn't let up from 
there. Her guitar player had that reverb-drenched rock Telecaster sound, 
(reminiscent of her father, Pops Staples' playing) and the two backup 
singers added a great deal. From there, it was just a joyful party for the 
rest of the set, including a strong 'The Weight' sung by the entire band, 
(which I hear they don't do every night) and an audience participation-filled 
'I'll Take You There".  Just a joy from beginning to end.

And then… Bob. Going down to the venue, I started doing the math- it had 
been a year and a half (December 2014-Beacon Theater NYC) since I had 
seen Dylan. A hard-to-believe 38 years since my first Dylan show in 1978, 
30 years since I saw the Dylan/Petty shows that summer of 1986, and one 
could go on and on. (I've averaged about once or twice a year in the last 
few years). And here he is at the age of 75, more than double the age he 
was when I first saw him in 1978.  When I had last seen him in 2014, he 
was performing one track from the soon-to-be-released "Shadows in the 
Night". Tonight, those Sinatra songs were much more prominent in the set 
(2 from "Shadows", 3 from "Fallen Angels" and 2 from maybe the next album
or two not released yet?)  The two not-yet-released songs were in the spirit 
of both "Shadows" and 'Fallen Angels' maybe Fallen Angels a bit more, as 
they were more upbeat then most of "Shadows".

Those so-called "Sinatra Songs", perhaps more accurately called 'standards' 
or 'jazz standards' were the latest new ingredient in what now must be, if 
Bob Dylan music was software, version 15.2 or something like that.  Each of 
those songs was done with extreme care, subtlety and grace, and every line 
he delivered felt fully 'lived in' and thought out. They were all delivered with 
Bob alone at the mic, wearing a white hat, and sometimes with the 
background lights configured like a vast field of stars. One could imagine the 
singer, alone, in a giant Midwestern field, under a starry sky, pouring out his 
heart to himself about the vagaries of love and the human condition, ruefully 
revisiting both recent and distant past. During the instrumental sections, Bob 
would do some interesting walking/shuffling around the stage, sometimes 
taking the mic stand with him to sing.  (and twice the mic stand fell over 
after he moved it) 

These moments were broken up by Bob performing many of his more recent 
original songs in more familiar (for him) blues/country/rock stylings and 
sometimes adding these chromatic runs on piano to spice things up. 
Arrangements on these songs were similar to recent year's arrangements, 
perhaps a bit louder than they were last time I saw them. "Early Roman Kings" 
was particularly strong, as was, of all things, "Spirit on the Water" where he 
played these busy chromatic runs during most of the song, syncopated with 
his vocals, all quite odd and a bit off-kilter but it somehow worked.  I still feel 
that "Tangled" as great as it is, would benefit from having him sing the original 
last lyric instead of whatever he's singing now, which, as he sits down to play 
piano for that last verse, gets drowned out a bit by his somewhat busy piano 
playing. (And I wish he's play six verses instead of four).

 The end of the show was notable for a few things. First, he closed the main 
 set not with a 'big rocker' such as "All Along the Watchtower" or even 
 "Love Sick" or 'Long and Wasted Years" but with the quietest ballad 
 imaginable, 'Autumn Leaves'. It's almost like Frank Sinatra's exit in the song 
 "Angel Eyes"---'excuse me while I disappear'.  The encores were a strong and 
 piano-led 'Blowin' in the Wind' and a powerful "Love Sick" that sent everyone 
 on their way with a good sized jolt. 
And Bob's still on the road, "heading for another joint…" Stay tuned! 
Mike Skliar


Review by Ryan Ferguson

The Sands was a neat place to see a show.  It is small venue but had a
great crowd.  

Mavis Staples was fantastic.  Her encores of The Weight and I'll Take You
There brought the crowd to its feet and left everyone in the venue wanting
more.  What a pleasant surprise. I am so happy Bob gave us the opportunity
to see her.  

The man came out at 8:50 sharp.  He looked and sounded great.  Things Have
Changed, She Belongs to Me, and Beyond Here Lies Nothin' had the concert
off to a great start.  Tangled Up in Blue had the crowd rocking as Bob
took us to intermission.  

Bob and the band returned with High Water.  I thought the band sounded
very sharp.  The performance was well executed.  Unfortunately, and this
is only my opinion, it was really hard getting through the next 8 songs.  
It saddens me to say this being a very loyal Dylan fan.  It wasn't how Bob
preformed them, or how the band sounded.  It was just a long stretch of
very low energy.  A few people around me actually fell asleep.  The crowd
was dying to cling onto a little something, but the moment just never
seemed to come.  

Blowing in the Wind and Love Sick closed the show.  

There's still something special about getting out and seeing Bob each
year.  However, I don't think I will be making multiple visits this tour. 


Review by Peter Smith

Note to a longtime friend:

Not entirely sure I’ll work this into a Bob Links review, but I have to
say that I was as excited seeing this double bill perform Saturday night
as I have been in going to a concert in a long time.  Mavis turned 77 the
day after the show and Dylan of course is 75.  I am well into my 61st
year, as are you.  If we would have imagined going to see Mavis and Dylan
in 2016 back in 1975 when we were wearing the grooves out of the LP record
of Blood on the Tracks, we certainly would have had some laughs and made
some jokes about an old folks home.  So for starters these two are an
inspiration just for showing up to the venue.

But they both managed to deliver the goods like the icons of rock and roll
they are, and more.  A classic Americana two way package.  Mavis added a
layer of genuine Gospel and spirituality to rock and soul and Bob managed
to layer his sincere delivery of the American Songbook on top of his well
established folk, rock and blues credentials. Their excellent bands made
their movement between genres seemless.

Like the other reviewer on Bob Links, we were hoping to go to the Forest
Hills show, but the weather on Friday was poor and travelling from Jersey
through the City to Queens is never easy, much less on a stormy Friday
afternoon.  So I resigned myself to watching the Olympic track and field
trials on NBC at home on Friday.  With the weather still rainy and dark
Saturday morning, I looked at Bob Links Saturday morning for some review
of the Forest Hills show and saw seats were still available for the Sands
Bethlehem show.  I also saw that with a capacity of  2500 it was one of
the smaller venues on the current tour.  It was a quick trip on Rt 78 to
the show (after a stop at Chick fil A in Phillipsburg for dinner) and just
2 miles off the highway exit to the casino.

We managed to pick up 2 seats in the second row of the right wing from a
nice young man a few minutes before show time (at a discount that left
money for a tour poster and beer inside the venue!)  The main floor is
sunken below the stage and the left and right wings are level with the
stage. So we had great sight lines of Mavis and Bob.

Mavis and her band were awesome and equalled in 47 minutes the heights of
the great show she delivered at Newport to close the folk festival 2 years
ago.  She dedicated The Weight to Levon Helm and poked her chest as she
sang “Put the Load, Put the Load, Put the Load on me.”

Two moments stand out in the Dylan performance -- during The Night We
Called it a Day, he knocked over a microphone stand.  Instead of bending
over to pick it up he moved to another microphone.  He moved so delicately
around the stage that I wondered whether he was physically able to bend
down and pick up the microphone -- after all this man no longer plays
guitar due to reports of arthritis.  But as the stage lights dimmed before
the next song, he bent over and picked it up.  I guess he did not want to
interrupt his performance.

The other moment was during Tangled Up In Blue, once again my favorite of
all the night’s songs.  After he stood center stage and sang and played
his harp, when he moved to the piano and sang some modified last verse
about the future and the past and the present -- “still on the road”
-- there was an energy and a voice that seemed to come from somewhere else
- maybe it was just a different microphone, maybe it was a chord on the
piano. But it was like Dylan was looking at his whole career and
explaining passionately how and why he keeps at it night after night, year
after year.


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