October 10, 2009
Review by James Strohecker
* New sound
* New lead guitarist
* New energy
On a cool night, a cool, revitalized Bob Dylan and his band took the stage in
Berkeley with new energy, a new look, new sound, and a new kick-ass lead
guitarist. Make that a new-returning guitarist: Charlie Sexton is back as
the lead axeman, and he helped deliver a rockin’ Bob Dylan rock and blues
review, with occasional bossa-nova overtones, to the packed Greek Theater crowd.
It was a full house at the Greek Theater – a place where The Grateful Dead
used to play three-day shows, and pack the house. Tonight however, it was a
more sublime, relaxed crowd – passionate about Dylan and expectant of a good
show. The band emerged wearing all black suits (Bob looking dapper with a hot
pink shirt on under his suit), and Stu, Tony and Bob were all sporting flat
black round Stetson hats.
The band opened with Gonna Change My Way of Thinking, which was a powerful,
refreshing change from openers in years past. This was hard and rocking, loud
and big from the start. Out of the chute you could see that this was a changed
group of musicians: Charlie Sexton jumped to the center and immediately began
rocking. The band collected out stage-front in a semi circle – something
you’d never see in the past – and followed Charlie’s hot lead, as Bob
bounced up and down as he played and at times spat out the verse, “Gonna make
myself a different set of rules . . . !”
They headed into The Man in Me, that started and finished big and bold, and
confirmed that rock is back in Bob. For the first of many times that night,
Charlie moved over and played toe-to-toe with Bob as the latter pounded his
keyboard and sang.
They followed Man in Me with Beyond Here Lies Nothin', where Bob moved to
center stage to croon, play the harp and gesture with his hands as he sang and
stepped with the music. Bob sang this long and soulful – while the
band countered with a bluesy-rockin’ jam around the verses. The audience
This hard/strong version and Bob’s move to center stage for many of the songs,
seems to be a trend in this tour (see Seattle reviews by Steve Rostkoski and
Drew Kampion [source: - Bob Links]. Bob spent a lot of time at center
stage – unusually so. And he seemed to enjoy it – crooning and belting out
riffs on his harmonica. At times captivating the audience and owning the song
(the master showman) and at other times playing collectively with the band.
Next, the group moved into Mama, You Been On My Mind, with Bob playing electric
(the neck pointing up in the air – similar to how he played a couple shows in Reno
back in ’99 [thanks to source: Stires for reminding me of this]) and the band
following along. Bob – maybe to demonstrate his statements in the recent Rolling
Stone article that nobody could play guitar as well as he or the band could – riffed
away on his guitar while the band followed along: Charlie on his hollow-body Gibson,
Stu on acoustic, Tony on standup bass and Donnie on violin. Collectively they
delivered a great rendition of this song.
The band followed with Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum, that in the past could be a
“throw-away” song. At the Greek, it took on new energy – and became an explosive
rock guitar fest with a Stu-Charlie-Donnie Strat-go-round, combined with a drum and
bass back-beat, that was both tight and rockin’. Stu ripped the lead while Charlie
headed to center stage to play back towards Bob.
They rolled into I Don't Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met), that was
one of the songs where the rest of the band stood back on down-stage-right in a
group and let Bob play the harp and piano, and croon it ballad-style with a sing-song
finish that was really well done.
The band followed this with a bluesy My Wife's Hometown that was marked by some
special early and late guitar licks by Bob, then into Spirit on the Water, that was
capped by an agile, spirited [sic] Bob delivering some soulful harp melodies and lyrics
that led the blues-rock arrangement of this song from center stage. Hard and low;
country and rhythm and blues, capped with Bob’s ringing harp – all combining in this
new sound/arrangement. Very interesting and entertaining.
From here, the band headed into a new arrangement of Cold Irons Bound that
featured strong backbeat and skin-pounding by George (as in the past), combined
with more bluesy hard guitar playing and Bob’s harp/center stage singing and finish.
His new showmanship – center stage crooning and leadership – added a fine new
dimension and was more than entertaining . . . it was good to see him out there
smiling and jamming around with the band.
Next up was The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll – a bit of a surprise – that was
performed slowly and with passion. Bob passionately delivered every word of this
poetic story as Stu’s acoustic guitar notes and Donnie’s mandolin added resonance.
The group headed into their final pre-encore segment with a rockin’ Highway 61
Revisited where they all literally stepped on the gas and hammered their guitars and
the drums as the crowd screamed.
They followed with a solid, I Feel A Change Comin' On (this is a good song and a
good reason to buy his latest album) into a bossa-nova version of Thunder On The
Mountain where Charlie stepped over and challenged Bob with call-and-response
playing as he hammered his white guitar and Tony and George pounded a backbeat.
They finished with a well-articulated, tight, electric Ballad of a Thin Man that left the
fans breathless as the stage darkened and the band left for their predictable encore.
The wait and the encore were interesting – and almost embarrassing. If there
was a downer to this show, it was the long wait and the short encore. The crowd
expected more than just a short encore; I mean, it was Saturday night, the energy
was terrific, the venue was packed, and then the band just walked offstage without
a word . . . After a really lengthy departure, the band came back out and played
their typical Like A Rolling Stone / Jolene / Watchtower set. The encore was good
but surprising; nothing new or different. For gosh sakes, they dropped Dignity
into the encore in Hannover this year (source: Bob Links").
Especially at the Greek and especially after the long wait. No dice.
Perhaps, the lack of another song led to the disappointment of some of the
audience, “Boy, the show seemed short!” was a common statement made by
people as we filed out.
For the last six years (after the departure of Larry Campbell and Charlie
Sexton), Dylan’s band most often resembled a Leisure Suit Larry lounge act
with occasional flashes of symbiosis. Sometimes, it seemed like they had a
musician-of-the-month on tour with them (violinist, drummer, various guitarists).
But last night, they found it.
Last night, it was clear that a revitalized Bob, the addition of Charlie, and a
cadre of excellent musicians playing together (and enjoying it) can create a
completely different sound and energy than what they’ve had for the past six
years. Together they delivered some tight-fisted rocking guitar energy and
hard-bass backbeat that both captivated the crowd and provided a new
energy to Dylan’s songs and voice.
This was the sound that Bob seemed to be searching for – one that since 2002
they only occasionally found. It’s really worth checking out – if you can
get over the “short” show length (the only complaint I heard on the way out;
but let’s face it – it’s the Bob Dylan Band not three acts, and it’s
only $50, not $100), you’ll be both impressed and surprised.
Bob’s marketing people used to promote the phrase, “Don’t Miss it!” on
the posters and as. I’d say that the phrase is appropriate for this new
iteration of Bob’s band and his music. Don’t miss it.
Review by Rick Greenwald
Whoa – what was this? Based on reviews of the earlier shows in this leg of the
tour, and my experience last night, something has dramatically changed Bob as a
performer. He was more animated and involved than I have seen him in a
decade – even to the point of almost prancing off stage at the end of the set,
rather than the shuffle I have seen in the past.
It might be Charlie Sexton was the secret sauce, or maybe Bob is just feeling
better physically. In any event, it was a great show, filled with surprises.
Bob opened with Gonna Change My Way of Thinking, full of spirit, and followed
with The Man In Me – a real nice version of a personal favorite of mine, completely
inhabited. The new material, including Beyond Here Lies Nothing, really came to
life, with Charlie adding a extra dollop of roadhouse which perfectly complemented
the feel of the latest album, and Bob taking center stage with harp to really deliver.
Next up – Mama You Been on My Mind, with Bob seeming to enjoy it as much as
the audience, and even throwing in some duelling guitar with Charlie.
I have to admit it, Tweedledum and Tweedledee has to be my least favorite recent
Dylan song, but the version Bob put out on this night was by far my favorite. He
played some harp, seemingly on the spur of the moment, and Charlie shone again.
Spirit on the Water had a lovely bounce to it, with the audience literally roaring
denial when Bob sang that he was past his prime – for good reason. A line that
may have seem prophetic a couple of years ago now seemed laughably ironic.
I don’t know if this is my favorite version of Bob’s recent bands (I like the Charlie/
Larry combo better), but the pluses far outweigh any lack. For instance, I really
loved the power that Charlie and Larry used to put into Cold Irons Bound. Last
night’s version was not a full of fire, but the more sedate version played up the
feeling conveyed by the song itself, with Bob adding some great harp.
One of the big differences in this show was Bob’s musical contribution. Lots of
harp, the organ showing up better in the mix, and even some solo guitar. For
the most part, Bob’s playing was dead on. With one exception (Ballad of a Thin
Man), Bob was actually playing something on harp, rather than the
dog-toying-with-a-tuggy noodling of some shows in the recent past. You are
left continually catching up with the musical ideas out there, as well as enjoying
Next up – Hattie Carroll, with Dylan’s organ riff leading the tune. This version of
the song seemed to work at some cross purposes to the song, but it served
again to highlight the greatness of this one. Dylan’s vocal brought back all the
tragic glory of the song, with him coming out from behind the keyboards to
center stage and tossing in a couple of harp solos thrown in for good measure.
What more can be done with Highway 61? Put Charlie Sexton in the lead,
watching the events from a roadside bar in Texas – great version, with the
band really jelling behind Charlie and Bob going from spitting out lyrics to almost
yodeling and back. Towards the end, Bob’s organ syncs up with Charlie’s
riffing, until Charlie takes flight to bring the song along to a rollicking conclusion.
It’s a completely updated version, but it sounds as perfect as the original.
That’s no small matter.
Next up, a loping I Feel a Change Coming On. As with the other TTL titles,
Bob is completely on target on this one. As Bob shows so much more in these
new songs than appears these recent records, it’s a good sign that Dylan
obviously has loads left in his creative tank. And I couldn’t help but think that
in some ways, TTL was not really complete until Charlie added his piece on this
leg of the tour.
Thunder On The Mountain takes on a slightly different air with Charlie in the
mix, and Dylan plays and sings it more casually, in keeping with the new
The set closes with Ballad of a Thin Man, which didn’t live up to the rest of
the show, IMHO, primarily because of the harp solo, where Bob displayed
musical tics that have always bothered me. But you can’t confuse a step
down from the heights of this show with a real disappointment.
The encore continued the high level of the show, with Bob even making a
quip or two in the band intros. The crowd once again was on target with
the biggest applause for Charlie, followed closely by George, who really
powered the band all night.
When the band did Jolene, it seemed so natural that it explains Dylan’s
apparent fondness for the song – it fit perfectly into the sound realized all
night, and Bob’s keyboard solo, picked up and amplified by Charlie, brought
it all home. Bob even threw in some new phrasing on All Along The
Watchtower, bringing this supremely musical night to a close.
It’s kind of amazing. If you could have played me this show three years
ago and told me that this was where Dylan would have been, I wouldn’t
have believed you. Catch this leg of the tour when it comes to your town!
Review by Mark Stevens
Unusual juxtaposition of songs tonight, which seemed to combine with the
unusually cold evening in subduing both Bob and the band just a bit through the
first half, breath was visible all around and having grown up here I can tell
ya' it was chillier than normal. Second half strong throughout, and what a gift
to have Charlie back in the family! Being at the barrier, I was able to see he
and Bob work off each other up close, lots of smiles and eye contact, and tasty
sexton picking galore (I copped a few new guitar techniques from watching
Charlie tonight, so was psyched to get a fun show and guitar tips in one
evening) The complete Stu joke was "Stu gave up a promising career in baseball
to join this band, and we're glad he did".
Oddest version of "hattie carroll" I've heard in my 19 shows.but then again Bob
was in a funny mood all night.
Was able to hear part of soundcheck in line this afternoon, seems like they
were actually going through "most of the time", the chords were there and you
could sing over it. Also heard a bit of "it's alright, ma" without vocals.
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