October 15, 2007
Review by David Moore
My personal oddessy of 5 consecutive shows in 7 nights:
Day 2 - Cincinnati OH, 10/15/07 - Taft Theatre.
"Ladies and gentlemen please welcome the poet laureate of rock 'n' roll.
The voice of the promise of the 60's counterculture. The guy who forced
folk into bed with rock. Who donned makeup in the 70's and disappeared
into a haze of substance abuse. Who emerged to find Jesus. Who was written
off as a has-been by the end of the 80's, and who suddenly shifted gears
releasing some of the strongest music of his career beginning in the late
90's. Ladies and gentlemen - Columbia recording artist Bob Dylan!"
This one was in my own backyard... no traveling for once. The Taft
Theatre is Cincinnati's main opera house, and is probably the most ideal
venue to see a show. Beyond being acoustically superb, every single seat
in the house is perfect... just a fabulous place to go. The place was
absolutely packed to the rafters, Cincinnati made Bobby proud tonight.
I'm not going to be critical tonight of anything, it was just too good of
an overall experience to nitpick the setlist. 6 different pieces tonight
compared to Columbus, including an awesome back-to-back run of "Blind
Willie McTell" leading into "Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues
Again". I found it curious that 15 songs were played in the main set
instead of the standard 14... but no one is complaining! Costello wasn't
on the ticket tonight, so maybe Bobby felt the need to give the crowd just
a little extra? Also notable was the second encore of "Blowin' In The
Wind", as we were all expecting "Watchtower" once again.
What a night... good vodka and tonics, good tunes, good crowd, good
vibe... everything. I was seated next to this little old lady, sporting a
tie-dye walking cane. How cool is that? Once again, I feel blessed just
to be a part of the what went down. If you haven't done so already, get
yourself a ticket before the current run of shows end in October.
See you in Dayton (show 2,000 of the Never Ending Tour since
Review by Tim Lucas
In the Presence of Don Quixote
Last night's Bob Dylan show at Cincinnati's Taft Theatre (where I saw electric
Hot Tuna in 1972, Iggy Pop and David Bowie in 1977, and King Crimson's
double trio in 1995) might be the finest concert I've seen in my admittedly
spotty life as a concert-goer.
The Taft is a smaller auditorium with the look of a moderately scaled movie
palace of old. The aisles flow down to the stage, so the likelihood of people
standing wouldn't be so much of a problem as it was on the floor of Columbus'
Value City Arena, and the seats were more comfortable without being plush.
The ticket taker guided us to a pair of seats on the right center aisle, with a
more or less dead-on view of the stage; they were slightly pricier tickets than
the ones we'd had for the previous show, and they were better seats. We
were happy. The crowd was all-ages, from children to geriatrics, but the
prevailing mood was one of excitement -- a lot of people were smiling -- long
before the lights went down.
Amos Lee's warm-up set was pitched at a more introspective, intimate level
than the arena show, which gave me a fuller idea of what he and his band
are capable of achieving musically. It was interesting to me, because I was
seated and paying attention, but the group took the stage promptly and
had to contend with a lot of late arrivals, flashlights in the dark leading
people to their seats, incoming folks blocking the view of the stage -- so I
had the sense that Amos and company were doing their best to win over
a crowd that was often paying only half attention, even if they wanted to
pay fuller attention. He left "Careless" -- Donna's favorite song from the
previous show -- out of the set, but he added "Arms of a Woman" and
saved "Black River," their ace in the deck, for a point when the room
seemed most settled and receptive. He closed with an inspired choice, Sam
Cooke's "A Change is Gonna Come," which Amos sang in a manner that
revealed the extent of Cooke's influence on his own vocal mannerisms.
Once again, I thought they were a talented, solid act.
As the lights went up between sets, one of the ushers asked to see my
ticket and informed us that we were in the wrong seats. We were shown
to our new seats, which were in a short aisle against the right wall of the
auditorium, but it turned out that these were also excellent seats. It's a
local legend that there is no such thing as a bad seat at the Taft, and it
would seem to be true.
Donna brought binoculars, so our already good seats could be additionally
enhanced with close views of Dylan and company. The band -- Tony
Garnier (bass), George Recile (drums), Stu Kimball (rhythm guitar), the
remarkable Denny Freeman (lead guitar), and multi-instrumentalist Donnie
Herron -- were wearing different suits this night, all of them light gray
jackets and slacks and dark gray shirts, inverting the color scheme worn by
Bob, which was the same silver-studded shades-of-gray outfit he'd worn in
Columbus. The blue feather I thought I'd seen in his hat was apparently a
lighting trompe l'oeil; the hat was actually a light gray with a slightly darker
band with a few feathers in the band, one of them orange. He was no
Doctor Phibes: the pencil-thin mustache worn since "LOVE AND THEFT"
was gone and he looked like no one other than Bob Dylan. He attacked
the set list with a taking-care-of-business poker face that smiled only briefly
and occasionally to lend weight or inflection to his lyrics. Occupying a place
of honor to Dylan's right was a gleaming golden object: his Oscar for
"Things Have Changed," the song he wrote for the movie WONDER BOYS.
(The Grammy he won for "Gotta Serve Somebody" was nowhere to be
As I suspected, the set list featured a number of songs not performed in
Columbus, beginning with a rousing "Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat" and
followed by an exquisite "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" accompanied
by lap steel guitar and stand-up bass. Dylan once again retired his
center-stage stance and electric guitar after "Watching The River Flow"
and moved over to electric keyboard for "Love Sick," accompanied by
Donnie Herron's electric mandolin. As the music slowed to a bluesy,
reggae-spiked mood for this number, the standing crowd took their seats
to drink the performance in. Dylan gave a gripping reading of it, and got
everyone back onto their feet by the end of it. And they stayed there, for
the most part, as they steamrolled into an exciting cover of Hambone Willie
Newbern's "Rollin' And Tumblin'." This raucous blues standard (Canned Heat
did a great version) has been standard for the current tour, but to witness
the two performances I saw was an object lesson in the difference between
playing it and meaning it. I could feel the sweatslipping off the notes, and it
made me want to work with it, and I found myself clapping my hands
through the whole number. "When The Deal Goes Down" allowed the
band to catch their collective breath, and the audience response
throughout the song showed many attendees were knowledgeable and
appreciative of the song's lyrics.
Then came the evening's first "oh my God" moment with a sublime and
heartfelt performance of "Blind Willie McTell," with Herron on banjo. After
the show, I compared my memory of this performance to an earlier one
from Melbourne last August, and -- again -- the difference I heard was the
distinction between playing it (possibly even learning how to play it as a unit)
and meaning it. Before the song was even over, I knew that this was the
finest live musical performance I'd ever seen, of one of the most moving
songs ever written. It was rewarded with one of the most enthusiastic
ovations of the evening. And what better way to lift an audience from the
depths of the heart than to follow through with something as wonderfully
wise and whimsical as "Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues
Again"? This selection clearly hit a few people in the front rows the way
"Blind Willie McTell" hit me, because they stood and danced and waved their
arms through the whole number -- and it only added to the show, not
impeding anyone's view of the stage.
A righteously crunching "Workingman's Blues #2", followed by another great
bluesman tribute "High Water (For Charlie Patton)", and a typically playful
"Spirit On The Water" (a song in which I feel the musical spirit of Stéphane
Grapelli looms large) followed, with Dylan using the lyric "You think I'm over
the hill?" to milk loud audience denial. Then the pace of the show pressed
the pedal to the metal with a thrilling "Highway 61 Revisited" that had a
number of people thrusting their index fingers into the air and twirling them
whenever Dylan got back to "Highway Sixty-One!"
Though a more deliberately paced number, "Ain't Talkin'" -- a song with an
alternately poignant and lacerating lyric -- was developed by the band as an
absorbing groove that was at once a Sisyphusian parallel to the lyric and also,
as with all the best groove songs, seemed to cut deeper and sweeter with
each repetition. I remember looking through the binoculars at Dylan during
this performance, seeing one of the most famous profiles in contemporary
history looming over his keyboard while half-singing/half-speaking the lines
"All my loyal and much trusted companions / They approve of me and share
my code / I practice a faith that's been long abandoned / Ain't no altars on
this long and lonesome road." At that moment, I felt that I was looking at
the Don Quixote of Rock & Roll, and then I got the even stronger feeling
that he just might be the real Don Quixote, too -- or at least the living man
Cervantes knew, the inspiration for his immortal creation -- determined to
walk that road to the end of his days, telling the capital T truth to every
cockeyed windmill town on the map. And when he sang the chorus "Ain't
talkin', just walkin' / Eatin' hog eyed grease in a hog eyed town / Heart
burnin', still yearnin' / Someday you'll be glad to have me around," I felt
every heart in the theater pour open. I know mine did.
The Fifties-style sock-hopper "Summer Days" brought back the spirit of
carefree fun before the lights intensified to a pregnant blue for a menacing
yet magisterial performance of "Ballad Of A Thin Man," which ended the
concert proper. A huge, stomping, howling ovation brought Dylan and his
band back for "Thunder On The Mountain" and the evening's second "oh
my God" performance, an unexpected band arrangement of "Blowin' In The
Wind." No one in the audience seemed to know what was coming, as the
band wended its way through the introductory passages, until Dylan leaned
forward to sing the song's opening question -- and, at that moment, you
could hear and feel the awe coming from the crowd, travelling from one
person to the next in gooseflesh. Though Dylan has written countless songs,
even countless masterpieces since this early anthem, it somehow remains the
quintessence of his being in ways one can't fully appreciate until one sees it
performed live by the author. This song carries so much baggage -- and the
association of so many other voices from Peter, Paul and Mary to Pete Seeger
to Dylan himself -- that it can be impossible to isolate and get at its core
importance, but it stands there naked when Dylan is singing it to you, no
matter what arrangement it's given.
It can't be topped. Show over. Onward, my Sancho Panzas, to the next
town. Which happens to be Dayton, Ohio -- for Show #2000 on the
Never Ending Tour.
It was either more than a concert, or my ideal of a concert, in that Dylan
treated us to a evening full of energy and joy and sacred emotions, and
one that left us standing in the presence of living history. We rose to the
occasion, and so did he. The set was a song longer than the Columbus
performance, but it was the power and sincerity of the performance -- not
the number of songs -- that made the absence of Elvis Costello from the bill
a complete and rather amazing irrelevance. Afterwards, I felt terribly guilty
about some of the things I'd said in my previous blog, questioning whether
Dylan might still have the ability or even the wish to channel greatness in
concert. Why should this man have to channel what he already is? Whether
he's performing at half power or full power, he's absolutely not to be missed.
Comments by Brian Ruschman
The show was great all around! The Taft is a great place to hear a show
and Bob really played it out! I loved the new songs live although some
around me did not. Oh well. Maybe Bob is just done with playing LARS and
AATW at every show. Terrific night thanks to the guy outside that gave me
a second row balcony seat for free! I am going to Louisville on Wednesday
to do it all over again. Can't Wait.
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