page by Bill Pagel
Review by Donald Romundson
When I found out Bob was playing four concerts in Wisconsin on this swing,
I resolved to attend all of them. Last night in La Crosse was the first
one. Gena and I have been catching Bob concerts together recently, and we
planned to drive across the state of Wisconsin, take in the show, and then
drive right back so we could make work and school the next day. Gena is
back in school and several tests this week prevented her from attending
last night, so I went myself after listening to a bunch of my friends
babble inannities about how they couldn't get off work a couple hours
early, or that driving eight hours to see a two hour show was nuts. I'd
never really been to La Crosse except to drive through it, but I can say
without any reservation that I would drive a lot farther to see Dylan, and
after last night my respect for the man just continues to grow.
It was a funky drive. Hard winds, heavy rain a couple times, two big
accidents, and lots of traffic. But the countryside was pretty. Closer
to La Crosse you encounter large bluffs and hills that increase in size
as you approach the Mississippi River. I thought the drive would give me
an opportunity to engage in some inner silence, which I have been
practicing, but the rush and the rain and the traffic prevented much of
that. I had just listened to the first disc from the box set a couple
days before, so I listened to the second and third discs on the way over,
(I was really hoping he would play "Blind Willie McTell".) I have
recently acquired a deeper appreciation of some of the songs in that
collection, and together with another listening of Love and Theft, I felt
the drive was inspiring and invigorating, rather than tiring.
While on the subject of Love and Theft, it also took me awhile to really
appreciate that disc, and really gained a real passion for it after what
one reviewer recently termed "meditating on it for awhile." Knowing that
Bob was playing about four songs from it at each show, I have been
listening to it a lot lately, and after Bob played five from it last
night, my awe for the disc has jumped up even another notch.
I was thinking about a lot of things on the long drive across Wisconsin.
I was thinking about Dave Engel, who wrote the wonderful "Dylan in
Minnesota." Dave was a professor of mine, a mentor of sorts, when I was a
young creative writing student in the 70's. His book on Dylan's youth and
family roots is a really neat mix of scholarly research and poetic
insight. I think it was out of print for awhile, but I just noticed that
it must be available again, and I would recommend any Dylan afficionado
aquire a copy.
It struck me when I was reading Engel's book for the first time several
years ago that it is truly staggering what Dylan accomplished in the first
several years after leaving Minnesota. Included in the "collectors
edition" of Love and Theft is a song called "I Left Home When I Was
Young." I played that song on the way over, and it was probably that
which started me thinking about Dave Engel. But I was thinking how that
song demonstrates such an amazing ability something like two years after
leaving his high school garage bands (probably more accurately bedroom
bands.) The song reminds me of World Gone Wrong for some reason. Packed
with ethos. Real nice guitar work. Simple and powerful. Cuts through
all the verbal diarrhea that we constantly find ourselves immersed in, and
gets right to the essence of the human condition, which for the most part
is suffering brought about by our constant preoccupation with the self.
That was how the show last night was, packed with ethos, and powerful.
They're all magical these days. You come away thinking what a true master
you've just witnessed. It's exactly what a guy wrote after the Des Moines
concert a couple days ago, its like seeing Picasso. Dylan projects
compassion and purpose; resolute and unbending intent. Pure, and
Appropriately enough, the La Crosse Center is located in the center of the
downtown, and easy to find. That was good, because I had a general
admission ticket and got there way after I had planned to. I had an extra
ticket which I wanted to sell, but there were a couple others selling
tickets outside, and I decided to eat the ticket so I could get a decent
As it happened, I got about fifteen or twenty feet from the stage, in the
middle. A guy named John from Madison walked up almost immediately, and
told me that he just drove up without a ticket after deciding at the last
minute that he couldn't let the opportunity pass. The very first person
he encountered had an extra ticket and he got right in without paying
extra to a scalper. Too bad I didn't encounter him first. Anyway, we
started talking, and he told me he travelled the State Fair circuit this
summer, and said the Missouri State Fair was the best of them.
Finally, the lights went down and the show began with the usual "Wait For
the Light To Shine." A real nice "Mama, You Been On My Mind" was slotted
between "The Times They Are A Changing" and "Searching For A Soldier's
Grave." John speculated that "Tweedle Dee" would be next. I told him
that I would really like to hear "Lonesome Day Blues." Almost before I
finished my sentence, Larry was into what became a truly rocking version
of that very song. I don't believe Bob has played that song yet on this
tour, so it was a real treat for me, and one of those magical moments of
connection that seem to happen at his concerts. Its funny, but on the way
home I played the song again, and I was picturing in my mind each member
of the band on stage. After so many people have complained that Bob
doesn't play anything like the record, we now have Bob playing four or
five songs from Love and Theft virtually just like the record, and in fact
The same is true about "High Water" and "Sugar Baby". Interspersed with
"Summer Days" in the first set, these songs were actually better live than
they are on the record. Especially "Sugar Baby", which is such a
hauntingly great song on the record that it is hard to imagine a better
version on stage. Yet, the band has the ability to create an atmosphere
in concert with that song that draws the listener to a state of hypnotic
reverance. Together with a truly beatiful "Visions of Johanna" and a
rousing "To Be Alone With You" (featuring a hot fiddle by Larry), the
first set was met with awe-inspiring respect and adoration by the crowd.
I personally enjoyed "Love Sick" as the first song of the encore. But for
some reason placing "Honest With Me" in the number 19 slot really hit it
off for me. Bob's shows these days are clearly more sultry. They remind
me of Mark Knofler and the Notting Hillibillies I guess. Both have the
ability to rock like nobody else, but they are also just simply into other
roots as well. And there is no question that Bob and the boys can rock.
They really have developed a variety of skills, including some awesome
harmonies. And Bob has developed his voice into an instrument that
compliments the other instruments in a way seldom heard. Bob has also
seemingly taken a stronger position with lead guitar these days, and
somewhat less harp. I only recall him playing harp briefly on "The Times
They Are A Changing" and "Shooting Star", and then only at the end of the
songs. But I was watching his manuevers on lead guitar like I was in a
dream. He wasn't cranking the knee as much, or working the boot, but he
was ever The crowd gave him a really good ovation, and I thought (like
I've thought on other occasions) that we might actually get a second
encore. John thought we were going to hear "Rainy Day Woman", but after a
long and thunderous while, the lights came on.
Driving home, I listened to "Nashville Skyline" first. For some reason, I
listened to that CD like I had never listened to it before. It was never
my favorite, but last night it was a seemless and moving work. Then I
listened to Love and Theft again, and like I said before I kept picturing
the band on stage, so clearly having a good time.
Then I played nothing. Inner silence came easy at that point. So much so
that I missed a turn-off, and then after turning around at the next exit
eight miles up the freeway, missed it again on the way back. I spent most
of the drive back across Wisconsin thinking about nothing at all. When I
got up to go to work this morning, "Lonesome Day Blues" was going through
my head. It has been all morning. And I've been thinking today that no
matter how many times I see Bob Dylan, each time I walk away I have a big
smile on my face, and everything is all right in the world. Thankfully,
I have three more Wisconsin shows to increase the positive vibes even
Review by John Longballa
Anyway, for those of us who sometimes want the nitty-gritty, rather than
long eloquent discourses that attempt to analyze every moment of a Bob night
song by song, here goes (I should mention that sometimes the reviewers seem
to be trying to make every show that they see into one of the better shows
ever, a practice that I am too objective and critical to adhere to)
The LaCrosse show was at a run-of-the-mill, Upper Midwest, cookie-cutter,
red-seat arena that is identical to those in Fargo, Duluth,and Rochester.
Bob, the band, and the show were so low-key that it was difficult to get
too excited over any of the songs, which were all well-played, but perhaps
not inspired or inspiring. "Mama" was messy, and the acoustics in the arena
were merely decent. Nothing really shimmered until the "Rolling Stone" in
the "encore." Nothing was disappointing, but the whole show was so quiet
and lackluster that I would have to rate it in the 30th percentile of Bob
The Excell Energy Center is the best large-scale arena I have heard or seen.
The acoustics were VERY good, especially given the size of the place (16,000
or so for concerts). It is a nice-looking arena with a cozy (for arenas)
feel. The performance itself was very low key, and nothing really got the
crowd going (except for the harmonica-induced mayhem-which I still do not
understand-is this the only thing that casual fans care about?) until
"Wicked Messenger" and "Broken," and by this point (the end of the "first
set") no one could be roused. "Hard Rain" was special and "I Don't Believe
You" was fun, but the show was merely average. A tight performance, but
lackluster in the excitement and energy departments. His show last year
at the Target Center in Minneapolis ROCKED, while last night's show just
kind of lay there because of too many quiet, introspective songs strung
all together. There was a real encore, in that he came back! for
"Watchtower," and then sang the first verse twice while neglecting the
last verse. He repeated a verse in "Masters" twice also. A pleasant night,
but not oneto gnash teeth over missing.
Review by Melissa Jenks
I started my Bob pilgrimage from the outskirts of Chicago at 1:38 pm,
after purchasing my ticket over the phone at 1:32. I'm attending the
shows in Chicago, Madison, and Milwaukee, but I decide at the spur of the
moment that I can't miss him in La Crosse. I buy a reserved seat because
I don't know anything about the arena, and I'm afraid I won't get there
until well after the doors open. It's a five-hour drive from Chicago, but
despite heavy rain and wind and rumors of tornados, I make it in four and
a half. I spend the whole drive flipping between middle-Wisconsin classic
rock and oldies stations, trying to find Dylan, but only manage one song
about an hour from my destination: Knockin' on Heaven's Door. That's the
problem with driving a '88 Chevy sans CD or tape deck.
I make it there before the doors open, and after checking out the venue,
sneak into the remarkably uncrowded general admission section. This is my
seventh Dylan show since my first, one of the Dylan-Simon shows from the
summer of '99. I've only been a fan three years. I've learned the hard
way to never spend a show seated. Pachelbel plays from the loudspeakers.
No Copland until directly before the show starts. My neighbors, who have
been to thirteen shows, joke about the Where's the Beef song. I only
caught one state-fair show this summer, but this crowd's far different
from that schizophrenic mix of deadheads and hicks. It seems to be mainly
made up of good citizens of La Crosse and college students from the
heartland. Not many pilgrims. Few homemade clothes. I buy a beer and
settle myself down on the floor to wait, about seven rows back. It's the
closest I've ever been to the stage. As always, at Dylan shows, I feel in
community with all of my fellow attendees. Nothing like Bob to bring out
a love of humanity in the heart of a confirmed misanthrope.
At 7:35 the grey-bearded announcer/sound guy makes his way to the right of
the stage. I agree with my neighbors: there probably isn't a better job
out there. The lights dim, out comes Bob and his Band, the announcer does
his thing, and they rip into Wait for the Light, of course. Then The
Times They Are a-Changin'. Every show I see he plays Times They Are
a-Changin, Drifter's Escape, and Love Sick. Without fail. There are
other songs I can never catch, though. Stuck inside of Mobile, for
instance. During these first two songs, I am overwhelmed by how close I
am to the stage. I can see every line on Dylan's face, how much Larry
looks like Jesus, even Tony's sly smirk. Dylan looks remarkably like my
grandfather. I'm completely distracted by how hot Charlie is. I knew he
was hot. I didn't know he was that hot! It's not until the third song
that the music pulls me in. From this distance, I can sometimes watch
who's doing what on all four guitars. My advice: always, always buy
I still manage to pick up a couple of lyrics, though. All Dylan songs
seem to have new meaning these days. Certain lines stand out in every
song. In Times, it's "There's a battle outside/And it's ragin'./It'll
soon shake your windows/And rattle your walls..." And then, "The line it
is drawn The curse it is cast The slow one now Will later be fast As the
present now Will later be past The order is Rapidly fadin'." Scary words
from our modern prophet.
The third song surprises me because I haven't been reading set lists that
closely recently: Mama You Been on My Mind. It's not until the fourth
song, though, Searching for a Soldier's Grave, that the band really warms
up, pulls together, and begins to enjoy the show. I love Bob's voice, and
I think it may be more powerful now than it's ever been, but I also love
the songs where Charlie and Larry sing back-up. The rollicking opening
songs he's been singing the last several years, the closing version of
Blowin' in the Wind ("the answer is blowin' in the weeeeee-end..."), and
this one, which seems to have taken Tangled up in Blue's place in the
line-up. (I still miss Tangled. I know the song was on its last leg and
Bob probably would've lost band members if he didn't retire it, but still.
I had a visceral sense of shock the first show I went to that he didn't
play it.) But their harmony during Searching is the best of the lot and
has improved significantly. Larry carries the melody, Charlie sings a
sweet tenor, and Bob's voice is a dull growl underneath.
The band has a blast with Lonesome Day Blues, not my favorite song of the
new album. It's fabulous live, though. Then come a couple of shockers,
songs that seem to have been picked specifically for lines that deal with
the events of the day. Shooting Star is an exquisite song, and Bob croons
it beautifully, but certain lines have a ghostly echo: "Listen to the
engine, listen to the bell As the last fire truck from hell Goes rolling
by, all good people are praying, It's the last temptation The last account
The last time you might hear the sermon on the mount, The last radio is
Then You Ain't Goin' Nowhere! He never plays this one! The line, taken
completely out of context, "I don't care/How many letters they send"
stands out, but the song as a whole takes my breath away. One can never
tell what Bob's thinking, but I know the story behind this one, and I
imagine a look of introspection at "tomorrow's the day my bride's gonna
come..." It's beautiful and sad, following on the heels of Shooting Star,
knowing the end of the story.
I'm again stunned at being this close to him, being able to see the look
on his face as he pulls close to the mike. I notice that he may have
gained a little weight? I take this as a good sign. Charlie, however, is
positively skeletal. He has to have lost twenty pounds since joining the
tour. Maybe it's an inevitable side effect of hanging out with Bob. If
possible, he seems to be skinnier than Bob himself. Larry's having the
best time of everyone out there, especially starting with Lonesome Day,
grinning, looking across the stage, trying to make eye contact with
everyone onstage, Tony, Charlie, even Bob.
In trying to decide which song was the highlight for me, I can't make up
my mind in the least. Every song from Shooting Star to the first break is
a highlight. The band simply does not let up. High Water, another
apocalyptic song off the new album that I don't know that well yet, is
upbeat, then down again for a completely heartbreaking It Ain't Me Babe.
This song is always heartbreaking, but much more so live than the bitter
album version. Although I love the song (my favorite rendition was the
one he did right before Paul Simon came out onstage), it has always
bothered me. It seems so angry, but tonight it seems like the speaker is
saying I want to love you, but I'm only human. I'm going to fail.
Every Dylan show I go to I pick up a different theme. Tonight, of course,
it's the war, but another one lies under the surface: we're all alone in
the world, but we have to fight to love anyway. Maybe it's because it's
been on my mind lately, or maybe just because it's a theme in all great
art and in Dylan's especially. Mama You Been on My Mind, Shooting Star,
It Ain't Me Babe, and a line from High Water, I think: "you can't make
love all by yourself." He's telling us to love each other. It's all we
The next song reinforces it even more, another of my favorites that I
always miss, Visions of Johanna. I'm debating what costume to wear for
the Halloween Madison show, and for a minute I'm tempted to go as a
jelly-faced woman. My companion is going as tangled up in blue. I could
always go as a mattress balancing on a bottle of wine. Or a sad-eyed lady
of the lowlands. There's a diplomat with his chrome horse and a siamese
cat here already tonight.
Then a searing Masters of War. I'm hoping to see Hard Rain too before he
leaves the midwest, but tonight I'm content with this one. Even the guy
next to me, obviously here for a greatest-hits show, quiets his bopping
for this one and says quietly to his buddy after it's done, "What was
that?" This song obviously meets people right where they are now. I'm
impressed by my generation. Many people hold up peace signs. My neighbor
tells me that last night someone shouted "NO!" in response to each
question Dylan posed in the second-to-last verse.
A change of pace for Summer Days, to which one simply must boogie. The
four pull together on stage for this song, Tony coming up towards the
front, and the four playing off each other. It's obvious how much they
love the songs off the new album. They're always tight, but for the Love
and Theft songs, if possible, they're even tighter. Even Tony gets into
this one, spinning his stand-up bass around towards the end. The band,
and the crowd, is way into it. Then a melancholic Sugar Baby, obviously
the classic off the new album. When I first bought it, I couldn't even
get to the rest of the songs. I just played Sugar Baby over and over
again in an endless loop. The opening riff is addictive. I still haven't
quite gotten to know the rest of the album. The lighting for this song is
perfect, as it is for most of the show. A gorgeous purple closes out It
Ain't Me Babe, and during Masters of War Bob is lit by a single spotlight
that widens to light the curtain blood red.
The band breaks down a Drifter's Escape, which Bob closes out with a
fantastic harp solo, his second of three for the night, much better than
the meagre bone he was throwing us a year ago. I'm completely expecting
them to break after this one, so am stunned when another hard rocker
follows, To Be Alone with You. The crowd goes wild through both, and it's
obvious at this point that Bob and the band are loving us and the venue.
Even the people in the stands are standing. Bob seems to be making eye
contact with some people in the front, Charlie is looking out and up at
the crowd, and Larry is grinning as he has been the whole show. I think
these three shows in a row (tomorrow in Saint Paul) are a great series.
My neighbors were at Sioux City yesterday, which I'm sorry to have missed.
The band seems to be riding off the energy from that show. There, my
neighbor says, Dylan touched hands with those in the front of the audience
and blew kisses. I've only seen one kiss blown, in LaFayette. These
smaller shows are great. I'm looking forward to the United Center on
Saturday, but the larger shows have a completely different ethos.
A fabulous Love Sick follows the break. Then the hits start, LARS,
Forever Young. These are fun because the band doesn't have to pay as much
attention and can really play off the audience, which is going crazy. The
lights come up and they're watching us groove. They're solid renditions,
Forever Young better than LARS. Then Honest with Me, which I barely know.
The guitars are blistering. I see the resemblance to punk that someone
pointed out. And a concluding Blowin' in the Wind. A twenty-song set!
I'm excited, not realizing that this has been standard lately. Bob and
the band assume their stance, but it's the most active stance I've ever
seen. Bob takes two, if not three, mini-bows to those in front, Larry is
positively laughing, the others are fidgeting. I pray for a second
encore, but no luck.
I leave. My soul has been fed. This show was probably the second best
I've been to. Standing so close to the stage is priceless: watching Bob's
tiny cues to his band, the finger towards the drums, the raised eyebrow.
In my car, the classic-rock station I found before the show is playing
Dylan hit after hit, so I get at least ten good songs before I lose the
signal on my long drive back to Chicago. I'll be tired tomorrow morning,
but it's been worth it.
Review by Tom Lallier
2 and ½ hours from St. Paul to La Crosse on a cloudy windswept day. La
Crosse Center is a very user friendly arena. Lots of access to
concessions and bathrooms. I really like the general admission on the
floor and the old people in the reserved seats. The crowd was nice and
security people were tolerant.
Quiet and slow show for the first 11 songs really only turned up the amps
once in Lonesome Day Blues, this song is really going to be a classic.
Even though the pacing of the songs was slow, the sound of Bob's new
guitar fit right in with the mood of the crowd and the performance had a
nice comfortable feel. Bob stepped back and led the band trough an
instrumental verse in each of the first seven songs. The first highlight
for me was Shooting Star, the arrangement was reminiscent of his
performance on Unplugged. High Water vocals were great and the song
creates such great images in my head. It was hard to hear the Larry on
the banjo over the electrics until the last verse. Once he was tuned in
the instrumentals sound improved. Visions was good, but not as crisp as
the version I saw in Telluride in August.
The boys turned it up on Summer Days and never looked back. Swing will
never be the same after Summer Days. Sugar Baby was tender but delivered
with raw power and fury. Love Sick was very clean. It has matured into
one of his great arrangements and the band has the performance down pat.
Nice to see Forever Young back in the lineup in the encore. The vocal
harmonies were outstanding. Probably shied away from this one since the
sound problems in the Telluride show. With the young UW La Crosse student
crowd it fit in nicely. Great version, way to go Larry and Charlie.
Honest With Me is perfect in its spot in the encore and the performance
rocked. 2 and ½ hours back to St. Paul and looking forward to tonight's
show at the Excel.
page by Bill Pagel
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