Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Mann Center for the Performing Arts (The Mann Center)

July 13, 2016

[Peter Stone Brown], [Barry Gloffke]

Review by Peter Stone Brown

It was raining all day in Philadelphia, sometimes in torrents – which
was not the original forecast – finally stopping about 90 minutes before
the show. But since people in the City of Brotherly Love have never
learned to drive in the rain and didn’t pay attention to things like
braking distances and hydroplaning when they learned how to drive, there
was a serious crash that closed a key road for getting to the Mann Music
Center, which left us sitting in parking lot traffic and missing the
opening of Mavis Staples’ set.  

Now in its 40th year, the Mann Center for the Performing Arts has never
been a great venue.  Built on the best sledding hill in the city, the
acoustics are great if you’re in the first 20 rows, but after that, a
lot of the sound can get lost and jumbled depending on various factors
from what kind of band playing to how noisy the crowd is, and how large
the crowd is.  

The audience was pretty noisy for Mavis Staples with many people still
arriving and looking for their seats. There an ongoing conversation
happening a few rows behind me for a good deal of her set and people
already seated leaving them for whatever reason.  At 77, Mavis Staples has
her vocal skills intact and more energy than a lot of people a third of
her age.  Backed by guitar, bass, drums, and two backup singers, one of
whom added percussion, Staples was at her best the deeper she got into
gospel with the high point being “Freedom Highway” which went right
into “For What It’s Worth.”  She closed with the hit, “I’ll Take
You There.”  

Dylan’s set started with Stu Kimball alone on acoustic while the other
band members and Dylan took the stage, as usual starting with “Things
Have Changed” which had a slightly different arrangement, that was not
quite the rockabilly train beat of the last few years.  Dylan seemed in
good spirits and was throwing emphasis on the final word of various lines,
like jitterbug RAG and DRAG.  “She Belongs To Me” had similar phrasing
on alternate lines, and there was a cool harp solo while Donnie Herron
played organ licks on the pedal steel.  Dylan then went to the piano for
“Beyond Here Lies Nothing,” where Herron’s electric mandolin was
high in the mix.  

The first Sinatra song of the night, “Full Moon and Empty Arms”
highlighted by the interplay between Herron’s steel and Tony Garnier’s
string bass, which was followed by the most rocking song of the night,
“Pay In Blood.”  Amazingly, following that with “Melancholy Mood”
made sense, as did the next song, “Duquesne Whistle” which featured a
cool twin solo by Charlie Sexton and Herron.  Dylan then returned to
center stage for one of the more moving songs of the night, “How Deep Is
The Ocean,” which was followed by “Tangled Up In Blue,” which had a
quickly abandoned false start.  Dylan sang it very well though I’m not
thrilled by the lyric changes in the version that he’s been doing for
the past few years. He delivered a fairly wild harp solo before ending the
song at the piano and breaking for intermission.  

Returning to the stage for a set where Tony Garnier never touched an
electric bass, Donnie’s banjo dominated “High Water (for Charlie
Patton),” and while what he was playing was great, the arrangement
missed the power chords of previous arrangements that were totally
effective in emphasizing the lyrics.  A fine “Why Try To Change Me
Now” was followed by a fairly dramatic “Early Roman Kings” with
Sexton playing a Les Paul Gibson, and Stu Kimball a Stratocaster with
everyone including Bob on piano and Herron on steel taking it out on the
solos. It was easily the funkiest romp of the night.  

“I Could Have Told You” came next and at this point the show started
to drag a little.  “Scarlet Town” was not as spooky as it could have
been, and while Bob appeared to be having fun on “Spirit On The
Water,” clearly enjoying his quite good piano solo, the best part of the
song was the instrumental work by everyone involved.   

The high point of the rest of the set was easily the closer, “Autumn
Leaves.”  Returning for the usual encore of “Blowin’ In The Wind,”
Dylan then pulled a surprise ending replacing “Love Sick” with the
always moving “Stay With Me.” 

Dylan shows these days are about showing how good his band is, and at this
point they can play pretty much anything, and also about singing.  In the
interview in AARP magazine before Shadows In The Night came out, Dylan
said he is not so much “covering the songs as uncovering them.”  It is
clear he enjoys the challenge of singing these pop standards, and at times
the way he sings clearly shows his appreciation of the wordplay in that
type of lyric writing.  

However, as well planned and performed as these concerts are, there’s
another indefinable thing that only Bob Dylan can deliver that is not
happening on this tour or perhaps it’s being channeled in a different
direction.  If there’s one thing that 53 years of listening to Bob Dylan
has taught me, it’s that nothing stays the same for long.  He may yet
have a couple of more tricks up his sleeve. 


Review by Barry Gloffke

After a 3 1/2 hour drive from NYC to Philadelphia (heavy traffic on  both
ends of the journey) I relaxed outside the Mann Center while  Mavis
Staples did her thing. It was a humid evening in Philly. The  Mann Center
is an open air auditorium holding approximately 5,000  people inside with
another 10,000 or so able to fit on the lawn. The  crowd was mixed in age,
upbeat and generally receptive to most of the  night's performance,
although there were the usual murmurings for old  Bob songs and too much
talking during the American songbook tunes. You  were even able to stand
and dance without anyone complaining. Overall  a fairly knowledgeable
crowd. The show started at 8:45 with Stu strumming his thing. Immediately 
when Bob started singing THINGS HAVE CHANGED I thought, 'Wow, he  sounds
amazing!'... something is different... no growl... no  gruffness... he
sounds... CLEAR. Bob was enunciating, emphasizing and  expanding on lyrics
from the get go and the Band was firing on all  cylinders right out of the
gate. A beautiful version of SHE BELONGS TO  ME, including a great harp
blast from Bob, was followed by an unreal  version of BEYOND HERE LIES
NOTHIN'. Bob was doing some magical piano  work on this one and the
Band... hot, tight, and explosive. Then Bob  absolutely nailed FULL MOON
AND EMPTY ARMS, while two girls behind me  carried on a deep conversation
about anything not having to do with  the Bob Dylan concert. From here on
in I call them the 'BITCH and the  HAG'. I am stunned by the crystal clear
sound of Bob's voice. Without  a doubt the best and sweetest I have ever
heard from him. Another gem  tonight is PAY IN BLOOD... smoother vocals,
but just as menacing and  mean. MELANCHOLY MOOD is a bit more subdued than
usual and slick as  oil with great work from Charlie and Donnie. A rousing
(as usual)  DUQUESNE WHISTLE features some wonderful piano playing from
Bob and a  great rollicking beat from TONY and GEORGE (George has grown on
me  after all these years). Bob is really hitting those keys well tonight.
 Next is a richly textured HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN? with more great vocal 
work from Bob. This amazing first set ends with a truly wonderful  TANGLED
UP IN BLUE (The Cough Song 2), which got off to a false start  and was
shut down a few chords in. I call it the COUGH SONG 2 because  Bob let out
a small but audible cough while singing and then did a  full cough off mic
once he delivered the lines. I've heard Bob do this  song over 20 times in
concert and tonight was one of the top five.  Great piano, great
individual runs by the Band, great harp work and  some magical singing.
The first set was probably the best of the four  I have seen on this tour
(still damned hard to beat Forest Hills  though)... and one of the best in
the last couple of tours because of  Bobs' singing. The second set would
find Bob back to his usual  gruffness.

A high energy, bluegrass infused, mandolin drenched HIGH WATER (FOR 
CHARLEY PATTON) opened the second set followed by a good version of  WHY
TRY TO CHANGE ME NOW which started awkwardly -- as either Bob's  mic was
off or Bob ate the first line of the song —- but ended  brilliantly.
Charlie rips EARLY ROMAN KINGS to shreds and Bob picks  the pieces up and
shreds them a bit more. I point to each of the girls  behind me, one at a
time, when Bob says 'I ain't afraid to make love  to a bitch or a hag'...
clueless as they were, there was definitely  something going on, but they
didn't know what it was. And don't forget  to wave your handkerchief...
Great rendition!!! Bob does a fantastic  version of I COULD HAVE TOLD
YOU... he has his growl back, always  hitting the tunes, but sometimes
missing the notes. I love the  juxtaposition of his voice against the
Band's music on the American  songbook tunes. SPIRIT ON THE WATER was fun,
with great Q&A audience  feedback and some very quirky piano tapping from
Bob. SCARLET TOWN  once again had a mean, menacing vibe and a strange
gypsy-like chord  progression. Bob hits a good version of ALL OR NOTHING
AT ALL while  the girls behind me are at it again. LONG AND WASTED YEARS
is superb  in a slowed down interpretation. A very powerful, even sad,
version of  AUTUMN LEAVES is breathtaking. So much so, that once again (as
in  Atlantic City) the crowd was bewildered as the stage went dark and Bob
 and the Band exited. Those of us that knew the set had just ended  jumped
in with loud ovations and eventually the crowd did the same.

The encores were great including a marvelous BLOWIN' IN THE WIND,  
which seemed stretched out a bit... it felt like the Band was all  
doing solos at the same time. And then a surprise ending of STAY WITH  ME
which Bob had taken out of rotation on this tour. He really puts  his
heart and soul into this one... you can feel the passion. A truly 
wonderful show. My last for the tour, I hope it wasn't your last one.  I
know it is selfish of me... but I want more Bob Dylan shows! I hope  to
see him on another tour next year. Thanks Bob.


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