August 18, 2012
Review by Marty Traynor
We arrived in Sioux Falls, which is about 180 miles north of Omaha, in the early
afternoon after a quick drive made faster by the 75 mph speed limit in South
Dakota (and no one seemed to think 80 was slow). So we spent the afternoon
enjoying the falls themselves as well as the very interesting sculpture walk along
Phillips and Main Streets.
So after dinner at the Phillips Avenue Diner, we arrived at the Sioux Falls Arena
about 30 minutes before 8:00. This left time for the obligatory stop at the
souvenir stand. I already have too many Dylan t-shirts, so I was seeking a poster
only to be told that there were no posters - so there would only be ticket stubs
to commemorate the concert marking the 20th consecutive year I have
attended at least one Dylan show. Oh, well.
The venue was basically a hockey/basketball arena, with a stage at about where
a net would be located for those sports. We sat at the far right of the stage,
from our viewpoint, up a couple of rows, with a great view of Dylan's position
and the entire band behind him (from our vantage). The acoustics turned out
to be good for this type of venue.
I had no longer said that I hoped he would start with any song but Leopard Skin
Pillbox hat when, without the familiar intro (to add insult to the injury of being
without posters), that is exactly what the band struck up. Oh, well, again.
Happily, Dylan was in decent voice - better than many of the recent tapes I have
heard - this and Charlie Sexton's sharp guitar playing actually raised my opinion of
this one. Then Dylan went from the organ, where his back was to us, to the
grand piano, where we could see him in profile as the band swung into a very
nice Don't Look Back, It's Alright. The piano took the arrangement up to a nice
intensity, different but fine. My wife, Frani, observed that this was like a ragtime
arrangement. Dylan, by the way, has an odd way of playing piano as he faces
the audience, periodically lifting his left leg into the air, as if stretching it out. At
the end of the song, Dylan performed a rather unusual feat, playing harmonica
with his left hand, facing the audience, while still reaching back with his right
hand to play the piano.
Dylan, dressed in black coat, light colored trousers and light colored cowboy
boots, then stepped around the back of the piano to center stage where, mic
in left hand and blues harp in right, he led the band into Things Have Changed.
I searched for a couple of seconds to verify that Dylan's Oscar talisman was on
stage, and indeed, he was. After the lack of posters and "…Columbia recording
artist, Bob Dylan!" intro, this was reassuring. Charlie had another nice solo, and
Dylan deftly switched hands between the mic and his harp to play a couple of
nice breaks to the end.
Then Stu hit the signature guitar riff as Dylan, center stage, played a nice harp
intro to Tangled Up in Blue. I am not a fan of the very staccato singing Dylan
uses here, especially in the early section of the song. For some reason, as TUIB
progressed, Dylan walked to the back of the stage and shot an unhappy look at
either Donnie or Tony. I couldn't tell what triggered this, it was over in an
instant and he returned to center stage for another verse before walking back
to the piano to play to the end of the song. Dylan's piano style here is definitely
honky tonk - and it works great on TUIB. This is my favorite live version since the
Larry Campbell led version in 1997.
As Summer Days proceeded, it struck me that Charlie Sexton was born a couple
of decades too late. He is a great rockabilly player, and this song is a showcase
for his ability in that genre (as was, later, Thunder on the Mountain). In this
ragged arrangement, Dylan played the piano along with the guitars on the
signature run of notes, left leg jumping up in no apparent rhythm to the song.
As Dylan and Charlie played dit dot diddle DEE in chiming harmony for too long,
the song lost steam though faithful George and Tony chugged the rhythm to
Hattie Carroll started nicely, with Donnie's mandolin ringing out and Dylan singing
plainly, carefully. But then in the middle of the song his singing became staccato
and something seemed to be lost until the final verse brought home the song
along with a long, very dolorous harp solo, which was the best moment of the
night for me.
Highwater started out a bit rough but picked up as it marched along. Highlights
here were George Recile's drumming and the energetic harp playing by the master.
Then we heard a great Hard Rain, with Dylan's piano breathing new life into yet
another 60's classic. A treat.
Honest With Me benefits from its new arrangement, casting it more as a song
and less as a straight through riff romp. But the song still doesn't do much for me.
Wow! This night marked the first time I ever recall not recognizing a song in
concert and it's This Dream of You, which was a terrific arrangement with the
piano and tex-mex riff.
Then the show swung into the rather routine closing section. Highway 61 was
relaxed and fun. Charlie Sexton pranced the stage a bit as he waited for time to
solo. The amps were turned up to 11 for this one and Dylan's piano playing
channeled his inner Jerry Lee Lewis. Simple Twist of Fate saw Dylan at center
stage, playing his only guitar of the night, to the crowd's delight. A good but
standard Thunder on The Mountain followed. Then Dylan returned to center
stage for Ballad of a Thin Man with the echo vocal arrangement and, again, nice
harp playing. In the midst of Thin Man, Dylan moved back to his piano for some
saloon house key pounding. This is one song on which his burned out voice really
works well. As Dylan jammed at the piano, his left leg continued to sporadically
jump up. Thin Man ended with yet another fine harp solo. Then we hit LARS,
followed by band intros. AATW gave Stu Kimball a chance to shine on lead. As
many times as I have heard this song, it always has an energy that echoes the
spirit of Jimi Hendrix.
From our vantage point we could see behind the stage and when the band
stepped off stage for the pre-encore break, Dylan and his team held a brief
huddle. Then they stepped back for the encore, Blowin' in the Wind, which
featured Donnie Herron on fiddle in a sweet arrangement that sent us home
nicely, concluded by the final harp solo of the night.
Overall, I thought the show was very good. Highlights for me included Hattie
Carroll, Hard Rain and This Dream of You.
Next, we are off to Des Moines for another show.
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