July 12, 2013
Review by Mike Frayer
As I pulled into Toyota Park with 3 Dylan show novices I admit I was
excited! I've seen Bob more times than I'd care to admit. My first show
was in 1994 in Ann Arbor. I've criss-crossed the country. Seen him in
many different iterations in the last 19 years from Vegas to Ottawa and
from Florida to London England. Each and every time I have seen him I'm
excited to see one of my heroes take the stage. I couldn't help but feel
the same sense of enthusiasm as I settled into my seats.
Shortly after I arrived, I was treated with Wilco hopping on stage.
Tweedy and company did a very good job. Playing fan favorites and mixing
up their playlist to keep their show fresh. My only issue with Wilco is
their predilection to go off on extended jams. It is my opinion that
Wilco is a band better suited for a smaller/medium venue. Toyota Park is
a largish venue. I don't think that extended jamming works for them in
this kind of setting. I'm sure Wilco fans may disagree. But a few of the
songs I have to admit had me tuned out as soon as they went off on
extended solos. But I was delighted to hear live: "At my window, sad and
lonely" and "California Stars." Two of my personal favorites.
At roughly quarter to 9 with very little fanfare and a strumming
guitar Bob and the band took the stage. Leading off with Things Have
Changed. I knew immediately that we were in store for an identical or
nearly identical set list that has dominated the entire Summer tour. I'm
not going to review every song as the set list is right there before you.
But I will say that highlights from the show include for me included Love
Sick, High Water, Tangled Up in Blue, A Hard Rain's a Gonna Fall and She
Belongs To Me. In particular She Belongs To Me stands out in my mind.
Very delicately worked out and deftly played by the band. Low lights for
me include Tangled Up In Blue. Yes I include it as a highlight because
it's been lovingly re-worked. I also include it as a low light because
Bob has changed large sections lyrically in 2 verses of the song. But the
new lyrics are indecipherable. And I feel that I'm fairly fluent in
Dylan-ese! But I couldn't catch a word. Other low lights include the
plodding numbers like Simple Twist of Fate, Blind Willie McTell and
Ballad Of A Thin Man. The low lights lead me to my main point.
Bob's performance. Hmm. How shall I put it? At best his performance is
workmanlike. I think that would be the most favorable way I could
describe it. I recall back in the day when I started to see Bob that his
shows and by very essence himself seemed to suggest a sense of anarchy.
Last night I saw a perfect t'shirt. This t's shirt said: "I own 1000's of
Bob Dylan bootlegs but I still have no idea what he's going to play!" I
feel that this sums things up perfectly. Or used to. I hate to say it.
But in all truth Bob's show was dreadfully dull. Boring. It seems odd to
me. Bob has a great band. The musicians that are in it are top notch.
However, the way the stage is set up and the way the musical direction is
controlled these days makes it seem that the speed governor is definitely
on. No one really solos, and the band just stands on the assigned 'x' on
the stage. I think that this is the greatest shame. The band reminds of
the fake "Murph and the Magic Tones" from that Chicago movie The Blues
Brothers. All these great musicians standing around in the flamenco room
not being allowed to display their true chops! In a way, it seems strange
and maddening to have Charlie Sexton return and then at same time
handcuff his performance. In a sense, I wonder what they say to each
other when Bob is not around or after another show in which they play the
same songs again and again. They must be terribly bored. They seem
terribly bored. Consequently, so was I.
So, I think this is my final show. I knew it had to come to the end
someday! To all those Dylan followers still out there I admire your
tenacity and your enthusiasm! Have fun. Count all the ladies wearing
Leopard Skin Pill Box Hats and enjoy the road!
Review by Bob Clark
Here comes Bob and his Band on one more pass on the Tour that Never Ends.
I figured I was in for a long day having driven well over 300 miles round
trip earlier to land a couple of wily Wisconsin trout - kind of a stretch
to find good trout water when you live in Northern Illinois........but I
did land a nice 13" Brown (for any of you Trout Fishermen out there).
But I can drive Man. A Sales Guy never lets the road get to him.
On a beautiful July night to see my Childhood Hero: travelling protest
troubadour, Woody's protégé , electronic rock protest surrealist, Country
Man turned soul barring-divorce survivor turned Born-Again turned
non-relevant blah 80's pap turn resurgent middle age reflector of
mortality turned Icon of Blues and "Americana" turned road-worn concert
professional with a voice abused to a lunching rasp (but still writing
some pretty amazing songs) here I am again......with a spouse who's a
sport and likes to give things a whirl.
OK - I first got Bob Fever at the age of 15 or so.......I heard "Hard
Rain" in Grammar School when our hippy bearded Priest teacher put it on
the turntable for us kids in Religion Class.....(I know, it's just the way
it was). And I felt like something hit me that was unique, personal and
just plan cool. Forgot about it the following summer when I played Bob's
set from "Bangladesh"......that was it. "I'd like to bring out a friend to
us all Mr. Bob Dylan......RRRRRRROOOOOOAAAARRRRRRRRR!!!!!!!!!!" Then here
comes this travelling, cool "Everyman" with a kick-ass Blue Jean Jacket
and a harmonica and an acoustic guitar and THESE SONGS......"Hard Rain",
"Tamborine Man", "Blowin' in the Wind (I remembered that one from Peter,
Paul and Mary). Well. Suddenly I wanted to know who the HELL is this
guy...and I started by buying all his records and THEN, thank you Anthony
Scaduto for the first really good stab at a Biography (landmark book).
So - when the 74' concert tour kicked off in CHICAGO (yea) I was there
with a buddy on night two and so it began.
I was a Dylan Freak from about age 15 till a gradual wean-down around the
time I met the mother of my kids and things settled as other more
important priorities started to take precedent (you know, kids, career,
etc) but I still went to all the concerts and bought all the albums and
kept an eye on this interesting fellow who seemed to be connected somehow
to my life.
So - the show. Got there as MMJ was ending because of the tortured crawl
past Midway to get to God Knows Where on the Southwest Side. The Toyota
staff was in no great hurry to move things along....Got to see all of
Wilco. Saw them before and am kind of familiar with their stuff - I like
it when they reign it in a bit and don't fly off into the stratosphere
with the excessive percussion and cacophonous overkill of feedback and
whatever else they throw in there. But I like songs like "Misunderstood",
"Handshake Drugs" others.......they were good last time with Andrew Byrd
at Kane County Stadium.....Richard Thompson....eh......Anyway - great
Back to Bob. It ain't "Bangladesh" my friends. Or Rolling Thunder. Or The
Band "66 (or even '74). It ain't the great small shows he did at the end
of the 90's. It ain't MTV "Unplugged" or even (Thank God) Live or Farm
Aid. It sure wasn't the historic concerts at The Supper Club in '93. It
was just Bob at 72. I think the gradual slide started when he put down the
guitar. But, arthritis don't take "no" for an answet.
Not that he didn't try folks. His voice actually was BETTER than the last
four or five times I've heard him. And he did dance around a bit, so that
was cool,but..........for me anyway, the luster has somewhat faded.
There's no magic in his performance anymore. And that's probably because
I'll never be in the same place I was at the age of 15 when Bob Dylan
opened up my mind to music.
And, you know, I still think he is the most important American Artist of
the 20th Century - my respect for his transcendental body of work is
beyond description. I would love to shake the man's hand - it would be a
highlight of my life. If I'm not conveying the impact Bob Dylan had (as
probably still has) on my life then I'm not a very good writer (which is
also probably true). I just want to be honest.
I know he can't play "Hard Rain", "Tangled", "Thin Man", "She Belongs",
"Watchtower" etc. the same way........my God - he's been doing this 50
Years!! And, unlike McCartney, he can't sing much anymore (as we all
So - I liked the Tempest numbers OK. (And I like the record - some very
good stuff. Although Love and Theft to me eclipsed anything else he's done
since Blood on the Tracks). And some of the songs still sounded pretty
damn good. (Things have Changed, High Water, Early Roman Kings, Watchtower
stand out).The band did their part - though they seem to be kind of going
through the motions. After the second or third song, some of the younger
and just curious crow started leaving. Rowdies got a little drunker.
Characters abounded. My wife and I worked our way up from Nose-Bleed City
to the back of the pit to get a better view of old Hero.
The remaining faithful - like me - just stood there and stared (and not
"me with my belt-rope wrapped around my head and you just sittin' there" -
sorry). Honestly, and it pains me to write this.....it was kind of like
looking at a treasured museum piece or because one day you can tell your
Grandkids that you saw BOB DYLAN (in my case, oh, about 18 times I'm
guessing). And - since it's basically been the same show/feel for the last
five or six I wasn't expecting much more than I saw.
But - thanks the memories Bob. And Keep On. 'Cause I'm there till the end.
(Next time maybe play at a little more convenient venue please. I'm
telling you, getting there was a bear!!)
Review by Bob Shiel
First, so that I do not forget or get distracted while I get off my chest
some comments about all of our main act...
Richard Thomson and My Morning Jacket were/are great acts that seen solo
in a smaller indoor/nightclub venue, would get 5 stars...On the other
hand, and this says way more about your truly than Thompson and Jacket, in
an enormous soccer stadium while simultaneously awaiting Wilco (who I have
always wanted to see) and Bob (55th show but who's counting), there was no
way as in impossible that this man was going to be able to give proper
attention to these more than decent opening acts...the energy, both in the
chasms of Toyota Park and in the canyons of my inner landscape were much
too scattered to give them rightful due...
Wilco was outstanding, especially their country numbers...that's the best
country I've heard since Levon Helm's last 4 or 5 years after Larry left
Bob's band...their extended jams were lost on the crowd, which sorely
needed a jumbo screen...
As for King Bob (sorry Elvis) there is much to say, vent, lament, weep
over, give thanks, feel, write and cover songs and pray about, share,
catharticize (non-word in Scrabble dude, I know), let go, accept, and
The set list, as we know, has not varied much this or last tour...we got
Summer Days instead of Thunder On The Mountain in the 13 spot and Ballad
Of A Thin Man instead of Blowin' in the Wind as an encore...Soon After
Midnight, Duquesne Whistle, and Early Roman Kings from the latest CD were
nice to hear live, as back in November I recall only hearing Scarlet Town
from the new album...
Finally, let me say....please Bob, and I can talk directly to our good
friend because it is not the first time (irrelevant long story), please
consider letting Charlie out of his cage, as so many previous reviewers
have alluded to...even in Watchtower, which was 98% muted, Sexton merely
came out for 3 or 4 seconds as the ending creshendoed...the word pathetic
actually left my lips...Charlie Sexton is doing hard time in maximum
security at Joliet State Prison my friends, and like the reviewer before
me stated, one wonders what the inner dynamics are backstage amongst
Charlie, George, Stu, Donnie, and Tony...it is a far cry from Charlie's
"farewell" in the fall of 2002, when he, Larry, and Bob dueled our gee-tar
(accent on the first syllable) lead extraordinaires for 4 or 5 minutes on
Summer Days with Charlie falling to his knees and actually lying in supine
position on his back jiggling his lower legs in the air with Tony
(twirling his double bass like a spinning top) and Larry dancing comically
and Bob giggling like an innocent teenager who was being a bad boy and
letting his bandmates "act out" of control...
Now, it seems that everybody's guitars are turned down to about 5
(oooohhhh that schoolboy riff on Love Sick, come on man!!) in order to,
and here I must take an utter stab at explaining the inexplicable, dare I
say it, allow Bob's feeble vocals to be audible over the mix of the rest
of the band...especially in a large outdoor arena, I am guessing that Bob
and the boys know and are resigned to the data that playing softly and
jazzy as opposed to rock and roll is the only workable formula to keep the
never ending tour from screeching to a permanent halt...well, you get the
picture...I may be wrong, and quite likely am, yet I cannot go without
getting that off my chest...
Having said that, I have just got to be wrong...due to the fact that if I
were correct, these obstacles could rather easily be overcome by the
seasoned pros in the band, all of whom obviously are willing to serve Bob
to the best of their God-given ability, not to mention the talented guys
working the sound board....
Suffice it to say, we are witnessing yet another head-scratching riddle in
the career of Bob Dylan...why is he doing this ? ? ? ? ? ? ?
In 1970 when I was 14, I got turned on to Bob Dylan via his Greatest Hits
volume 1 and the 7 albums that preceded it...in 1977 when I was 21 the
first song I learned on acoustic guitar was Rainy Day Woman #12 and 35...I
have covered either in the studio or live approximately 300 of the 6 or
700 Bob Dylan songs that we know about...I have gone into confusion and
depression after "bad" Bob phases and lived to tell about enough times to
fill volumes of abnormal psychology textbooks...moreover, I have been to
the mountaintop(s) of the fall of 1997 after histoplasmosis, the pope, and
the Kennedy Center, with an unobstructed view from 9 feet two nights in a
row at the Metro with scorching Maggie's Farm, I Can't Wait, and Cold
Irons Bound and Bob screaming "I'm gonna look at you until me eyes go
blind" while raising his eyebrows in an exaggerated fashion and burning
his baby blues into and through my soul in the first row at the United
Center....pumping his revolver index fingers at me repeatedly and
jabbering jokes with me at the Park West as he jestingly grabbed the
fistful of dollars in my hand after he asked me if I was writing him a
check....my cowboy boots felt like they were six inches off the ground as
I strolled to my car after that one...
Love, love, love, love, love, love you Bob...you are the only man whose
right hand I have kissed...cannot say that enough...
Aaaahhhh...that felt good...now, may I say, thanks for the show Friday
night...I cherished exposing you to Tim (Beatle nut, expert, and
collector) and Mike (Wilco teacher of mine)...loved the new staccato
lyrics and harmonica in She Belongs To Me...
Here's a suggestion...drop the superfluous (given what's going on now)
Donnie and Stu, replace Charlie with somebody like Bucky Baxter...a
quartet of George (on brushes), Tony (who can adapt to anything), and a
few country fills on pedal steel and mandolin from Bucky or whoever, and
turn it into a lounge act...the threads you guys are wearing nowadays
would be the perfect look...play joints no bigger than the Vic Theater in
Chicago and no smaller than the Metro or Park West...cut yourself some
slack and give your voice a chance to shine again...
If I go back (God I hate to say that, but I've said it before) it will be
indoors and not on a marathon bill like this...
Comments and commiserations welcome at email@example.com
Review by Peter Kirstein
The Dylan concert is somewhat indicative of recent years of his music.
Insipid albums, a mediocre band and a less-than-perfect voice. The exeunt
of Larry Campbell has left us a band with a tinny sound that cannot
reconstruct the music that Dylan has so brilliantly provided. However, the
most significant singer-songwriter of the twentieth century does stick to
his set list so the audience can follow his songs. I used my iphone to
track his set list from Peoria and it worked. Since his lyrical expression
is sometimes hard to fathom, having a pre-setlist is helpful. One of the
songs that resonated was “Blind Willie McTell.” That was the last song in
my eight-Dylan concerts that I so desperately wanted to hear. While left
off of Infidels and relegated to near obscurity until its resurrection
eight years later on The Bootleg Series vols 1-4, Dylan and his band were
quite effective with the masterpiece. Such genius which only occasionally
marries with the sound these days, did evoke passion, commitment and
eloquence. Along with “High Water (Charley Patton),” Dylan’s concert did
pay homage to the great blues musicians that influenced the Minnesota
native in his early development. More so than Hank Williams and Woody
Guthrie, it were African-American blues musicians that inspired the
emerging Dylan genius. While Woody rightfully was the persona that Dylan
imitated and incorporated, it was the Mississippi Delta, the Carolinas and
the Texas Blues that drove Dylan from the Midwest to Greenwich Village. I
had not heard My Morning Jacket before and consider them an outstanding
rock group. Of the three groups, Dylan, Wilco and MMJ, the latter, whose
music I least prefer, was the most entertaining, exciting and successful
in incorporating audience participation and engagement. I teach a course
on Dylan; I fully recognise his greatness and impact on twentieth century
music and history. He should if he wishes continue his never ending tour.
It is a testimony to his fitness and energy that he is able to do so.
Peter N. Kirstein
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