November 12, 2010
Review by Peter Stone Brown
Bob Dylan once said in an interview not too long ago something along the lines
of my stuff is based on mistakes. The Bob Dylan show that rolled into Bethlehem
for his sixth performance at Stabler Arena in 29 years was like any good band
that's been out on the road night after night. They had it down in a show that
was smooth and quick. Even Dylan's few turns on guitar were search and find as
opposed to search and destroy.
Dylan's voice was in reasonably good form and at Stabler there was none of the
staccato playfulness that depending on your point of view either made a song fun
or a disaster that he employed a year ago. Everything was played fairly
straight, and even new arrangements didn't stray all that far from original
It took Dylan and his band about five songs to get warmed up, though he never
really hit full steam, though at times he came close. The first three songs,
"Leopard Skin Pill-Box Hat," "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright, and "Things Have
Changed" were quick run-throughs. Dylan started to get a bit playful on
reasonably soulful "Just Like A Woman" with the band exceptionally tight and
Charlie Sexton providing some nice Steve Cropper type fills on guitar. Over the
past few years the chorus and turned into a sing-a-long, and typically Dylan
never lets the audience sing their part right, always jumping in on top of them.
While he definitely left a space for the crowd to jump in, in Bethlehem those
who sang weren't all that loud. In fact the audience wasn't loud at all. In
fact, breaking the precedent of every other Bob Dylan review of written on the
Internet, no one around me was talking. No one around me was playing with a
cell phone or some other device. Everyone was watching and listening. This
hasn't happened in more than 30 years.
After a rather incomprehensible "Rollin' And Tumblin" where I could make out
maybe every fourth line, though the band was starting to kick, Dylan went into
the first highlight of the night, "Simple Twist of Fate." This was followed by
powerful "Cold Iron Bounds" which featured some excellent harp playing. Dylan's
harp playing was superb the entire show.
The staging has changed this tour to include images behind Dylan on a huge
screen, where Dylan's shadow would dominate over shadowy images, some almost
recognizable. Images of cities, old buildings mixed with new, the inside of
what looked like a trolley, things that looked familiar, but at the same time
blurred just enough so you couldn't be sure what they were.
"Spirit on the Water" which followed "Cold Irons Bound" brought the energy level
down a notch, just when it was starting to build only to be brought up again on
"Summer Day," where Dylan seemed to enjoying singing the line "Politician's got
on his jogging shoes," with particular relish.
Then came "Tangled Up In Blue." I'd heard this latest arrangement from earlier
shows on this tour, and thought, well better than some not as good as others.
In this case hearing it and seeing it are two different things. Dylan stands at
the mic, with just a harp and the suddenly the master story teller appears.
Everything about the whole presentation was dramatic. However on the "Montague
Street" verse, after he sang "revolution in the air," with both a smile and
gusto, instead of singing, "He started into dealing with slaves," he sang the
beginning line of what should have been the previous verse if he'd sung all the
lyrics, "She lit a burner on the stove and offered me a pipe." Whoops! But in
a crazy way, it was kind of the high point of the night, because he had to find
a way out of it which he sort of did humorously, though I'd have to hear a tape
to hear what lines he sang, which I'm pretty sure weren't in any previous
version of the song. He followed that screw up with another great harp solo,
but whatever happened seemed to open up the cell or whatever, the cartridge in
Dylan's brain where the song lines are kept because all of a sudden on the final
verse out came a line he hasn't sung (as far as I know) since 1984, "Some are
ministers of the trade" and I'm not even sure it was sung where it was supposed
to be sung. It just popped of nowhere. My friend and I instantly looked at
each other with expressions of "What!?"
After a "Highway 61," that featured some pretty good jamming - Dylan can
actually play that organ when he wants to, the story teller returned for
"Workingman's Blues #2" with Dylan starting at the keyboard then moving mid-song
to center stage and another good harp solo. There were times during this song
where Dylan's voice mysteriously lost the huskiness of the past few decades with
lines and notes ringing out clearly. After an okay "Thunder On The Mountain,"
that served to keep the energy going more than anything, Dylan returned to
center stage for a "Ballad of a Thin Man," where he could do no wrong, and with
all his performing skills quite intact seemed to enjoy barking out lines such as
"You're been with the professors and they all like your looks."
Returning for "Jolene," which really doesn't deserve the next to last spot, he
closed with a not bad "Like A Rolling Stone," where somewhere down through the
decades that seem like centuries, he sang it as if he remembered why he wrote
Review by Ken Sherman
Bob has had some great and not so great players over the years. I always
thought the band with Larry Campbell would never be beat. And while the
acoustic guitar aspects of the Campbell band ( my favorite feature) have not
been duplicated, I have to say that this unit seems as tight as any I've
seen play with Bob, and that includes Bob's own playing. I'm not sure if it
is Charlie's, Stu's or someone/thing else's influence, but Bob's guitar
playing and solos, and harp, were as good as any I've heard and seen. His
keyboard playing is too. There was one point tonight, I believe during
Highway 61, when he was doing a percussion thing with the keyboard playing
off of Stu's lead that was quite astounding. Reminded me of Miles /
Coletrane meets the Dead type of thing.
He seemed annoyed with George on drums during Rollin'& Tumblin; but all was
corrected by Cold Irons Bound. Stu continues to impress and almost seems to
be channeling Robbie at certain points. Perhaps, as some have suggested,
all credit is due to Tony who pulls this all together. Personally, I am a
nut for the pedal steel / mandolin playing of Donnie, it gives the slower
numbers such depth. Charlie does a nice job of leading without being
overbearing and everyone seems to know the space they belong in. Maybe it
was just this night, but this band as this moment is about as good as it
gets doing these numbers.
Otherwise I'd concur with many before me. I'd call this set the resentment
/ revenge set. Don't Think Twice to Things Must Change and Bob is on by the
end of the latter. One of the better recent versions of Just Like a Woman
too although I don't care for him letting the crowd do the title in the
chorus. It's better when he blues that up himself. Workingman is so
affecting and is as much a song for its time as any Bob has done. His
delivery live this tour should be on some upcoming Bootleg Series release.
TUIB just seems more alive when he fusses with it. This version does it
justice with its clipped tempo. It can be done too fast sometimes and this
delivery helps get it back under control. The band doing the rocker /
blues is very tight. No fluff anymore.
Certainly part of the experience is hearing certain songs that mean
something to the listener. Bob's voice is always being discussed and
tonight we are fortunate to have his voice and delivery in great form with a
strong and emotive delivery throughout. But to me the story tonight is the
band and the music. There are no routine songs on this night, the unit
works together and is more than the sum of the parts. The old war horses
really shine. Rather than highlights, the whole show is a consistent,
constant high, no matter the song.
Review by Trevor Hinson
It was a smooth, quick 20 minute drive from my home to Lehigh University’s
Stabler Arena in Bethlehem, PA. The Lehigh Valley is known for its
Biblical-sounding towns. Bethlehem, PA is known for its Christmas festivities,
I live in town called Emmaus, and of course there is nearby Nazareth, which is
known for being the site of the Martin Guitar Factory.
We arrived around 7 and checked out the merchandise stands and for a bite, then
took our seats around 7:30. One strange thing about this show was that there
was no pre-show background music. It was just completely silent, which I found
strange. There was also no classical music playing as Dylan and Co. took the
Bob came on very shortly after 8, wearing his usual black suit with buckles
around the pockets, white stripe down the side of his pants, white hat, black
cowboy boots, pastel-green shirt and Colonel Sanders-esque southern bow tie.
From where I was (front row dead center), the sound for the first 2 songs was a
little harsh and softened as the show progressed. I was hearing a lot of the
sound coming from the stage and not the huge stacks of speakers above the stage.
There were some front fills as well, where Bob’s vocal and harmonica were
blasting out. My only complaint about the sound was that I was hearing Stu’s
amp and monitor, so there were times I could barely hear Charlie, which was
disappointing because I enjoy his playing so much. I think Charlie may have
been aware he was low in the mix, because there were times during the night he
Another observation about this show was the use of multimedia. I’ve seen Bob
over 50 times and aside from the first show I’ve ever seen (4/13/97 Wayne, NJ)
Bob doesn’t use a video screen. Tonight behind the stage were projected
pictures of city skylines, subway stations, and even some live video of the
performance. There had to be cameras to the side and above the stage. One
thing I noticed was Bob seemed to look up a LOT during the night. Maybe he’s
videotaping all the shows on this tour and he was checking out the cameras.
Another observation about the live video - they had some kind of delay on it, so
it actually looked kind of psychedelic.
I will save the song-by-song reviews for others to write, but I will mention the
highlights - Simple Twist, Tangled and Workingmans.
Bob was playing an extremely tasteful lick on his guitar during Simple Twist,
and got most of the words down. Tangled was a real treat - Bob was sans
instrument and just sang and “acted out” the song. He also sandwiched in
two verses of the song into one. I think it was a flub, but the person standing
next to me said she thinks Bob did it completely intentionally. Who knows, it
was a nice alternative version of one of Bob’s greatest songs and it worked.
Workingmans Blues was the undisputed highlight of the evening. You could FEEL
his emotion in this one, just absolutely perfect. There was a very dramatic
musical and vocal crescendo during the lines “I can live off rice and beans,
some people never worked a day in their lives, don’t know what work even
means.” Worth the price of admission.
Another new aspect I noticed about the music on this tour is that there were 2
or 3 songs where Bob really jammed with the boys, where they broke the song down
to where it was just drums and bass, and allowed Bob plenty of air time to jam
and do licks on his Hammond-B3-sounding organ. Bob was also very melodic on his
guitar and harmonica tonight, and played with a lot of confidence.
One final highlight for me - this show was the first show in many where I could
see the twinkle in his eyes, and it was so reassuring and satisfying to know
that he is alive and well, and performing, as his intro rightly says, “some of
the strongest music of his career.”
God bless you Bob - keep on keepin’ on.
Review by Mike Skliar
I had not seen Bob Dylan live for about a year, the last show being one of the
United Palace Theater shows here in NYC last November. That one had been a
spectacular show, which was in sharp contrast to the last one I had seen before
that (also at United Palace) which was dreadful. Tonight's show was somewhere
between both extremes.
Had an uneventful drive out to Bethlehem, Pa., a charming college town. From
the place we ate in town we got directions to the Stabler Arena, which turned
out to be not great directions, as we ended up getting very very lost.. driving
seemingly around the entire state before we got there. We made it, tho, before
show time (Bob started promptly at 8:06 in fact!) and all was well.
First song, a typical 'muddy sounding mix-first song' which was an average
'Leopard Skin Pill Box Hat'. Next up was some very nice Bob guitar playing,
center stage, for a fine latter-day reading of 'Don't think twice'. Nothing I
hadn't heard before, but a fine version. "Things have changed' started off a bit
rote but by the end of the song Bob was delivering the words with requisite
bite, and looked like he was getting into the spirit of things.
Next up was the first "Just Like a Woman' I've heard from him live in many years
(I first saw him do this live back in 1978, and I've seen it a few times since,
but not all that often). It was great to hear, but I couldn't help feel it was
just a little lacking in energy. Hearing his 2010 voice on that great melody,
also (with the memory of recordings of so many great live versions, 1975 perhaps
being the best) made for a strange juxtaposition. He delayed singing the title
line until the audience had sung along where they thought it should be, a nice
trick, but somehow it seemed a little paint-by numbers tonight.
A forgettable 'Rollin and Tumblin' followed, the chief interest in this song
being guessing how Bob had taken a standard 12 bar blues progression and made
it more like 10 bars or something. it's got that odd 'Bob-time' bar lengths
thing (also used on Highway 61, where it's a 14 bar rather then a 12 bar
blues).. but the song is nothing special.
Then came a big highlight for me- a new (to my ears, anyway) arrangement and
performance of "Simple Twist of Fate'. It's got a detailed and thoughtful
arrangement that has a haunting central guitar figure played by Charlie Sexton,
who seemed much more restrained tonight then he was in November 2009 at United
Palace theater, where he set the place on fire. Bob did his singing-talking
thing on this and it was really wonderfully done, one of a few highlights of
this show. Bob played some really interesting guitar leads in this song as well,
tho it was becoming evident that he was up to his old tricks of 'I'll take all
the solos, guys, don't bother.
A fine hard-edged 'Cold Irons Bound' followed; also with Bob center stage, this
time without any guitar. Same arrangement I saw last year at United Palace,
effective and well done.
The show began to drag for me noticeably in the next two songs- 'Spirit on the
Water' and 'Summer Days'. The former was done as it usually is- not horrible
but I've heard it a lot, and neither the arrangement or performance seems to
vary much. On top of that, it's a very very very long song. "Summer Days' was
done in a much more relaxed manner then those great barnburner Larry-and-Charlie
versions from 1999-2002, where the band seemed to levitate during the solo. By
contrast, the solo on tonight's version consisted of one verse's worth of
Charlie soloing, then about two or three verses worth of Bob taking a fairly
uninteresting organ solo. Strange, and not really compelling.
By contrast, the next song was perhaps the highlight of the show- a great take,
with a new arrangement, of "Tangled Up in Blue'. I'm assuming it's the same
arrangement he's been doing this tour, its almost 'spoken-word' with a lot of
space to really declaim the lyrics like an old time preacher. He skipped a few
verses, but other then that it was really special, and effective. I noticed a
few lyric changes, too, and at least one line when he went back to some of that
'1984 rewrite' that he did. Some piercing one, then two, note harmonica solos
capped this off dramatically.
Next up was about the strangest "Highway 61" I've ever seen. The body of the
song was unchanged from the thousands of times its been played, but near the
end, he had the band staying on the root chord while he played some strange
organ sounds..kind of like a beginning jamband jam that didn't really get
anywhere. Again, sounds like Bob was using this song as an exercise to indulge
in a little keyboard playing, and it was an interesting effort, but somehow
seemed to miss the mark of what was intended (tho who knows what was
A fine, in fact, very passionate 'Workingman's Blues" followed. He really sang
the hell out of this one, though it was marred by the fact that a very very tall
person two rows in front insisted on standing while the whole section was
sitting, so it was hard to see. Also, it's never been a song that's one of my
favorites, although it's certainly an impressive song.
The last four songs were similar to what he's been doing every show- a run of
the mill 'Thunder on the Mountain, a fine, spooky 'Thin man" then the encore
break, and a by-the numbers "Jolene" and then "Like a Rolling Stone' -which was
fine as always.
All in all, a somewhat disappointing show, with two big highlights being the
two 'Blood on the Tracks' songs.
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