page by Bill Pagel
Review by Michael Martz
Does the Bob Dylan Show miss Larry Campbell?
No question. The musicians on stage with Dylan for the first of
five nights at the elegant Auditorium Theatre are fine performers,
but there were about three too many. The wall of sound sometimes
smothered the songs, not to mention the two fiddles. Some of the
show's finest moments came when the band turned it down a notch.
"Forever Young" and "Mister Tambourine Man" (the first encore
song) were clear and fine. The band had its moments, notably
Donnie Herron's banjo on a ripping rendition of "High Water," but
it could do more with less. The core -- Tony Garnier, George
Recile, and Stu Kimball -- were solid. There was one guy missing
and three people trying to make up for the loss. That said, the
opening show featured an excellent set list, mixing Dylan's old
gems ("To Be Alone With You," "If You See Her Say Hello," "Stuck
Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again") and couple of my
favorites from the latest albums ("Cold Irons Bound" and
"Mississippi"). It seemed like Dylan shook up the setlist for the
second show in Denver and it carried into the first night in
Chicago. I was thrilled with his choices, having charted the
setlists from Seattle onward. Most important, though, was that
Dylan delivered. He was dancing. He was singing with power. He was
fully engaged. Any dismay I felt over missing many of the words to
"If You See Her Say Hello" dissolved when Dylan left the piano for
a mesmerizing harp solo at center stage, swaying in front of the
drums. Even my 13-year-old son, who's not a fan, leaped to his
feet and applauded. "That was awesome!" he told me (I agreed). He
loved the finale, "All Along the Watchtower," and became a big fan
of George Recile (my son's an aspiring drummer). In the end, it's
all about Dylan's presence, and he filled that grand old hall with
it. By the way, Amos Lee and Merle Haggard were great choices for
this tour. Lee's songs are a little slight, especially in the
shadow of his touring mates, but his voice and sound were strong.
Merle was on. His rendition of "Lonesome Fugitive" was a highlight
for me, and I was surprised to be so moved by his "Unforgettable."
I saw him almost 30 years ago here in Richmond. He was strong
then, but he's a polished performer now. Still not Bob, though.
Review by Bill Orme
I've seen Bob four times now. The first time was with the Band in 1974,
then again in '98 with Joni Mitchell and in '99 with Paul Simon. Last
night I saw him from the front row (thank you WXRT!) at Auditorium Theater
in Chicago. Sometimes it's better not to sit in the front row.
I'm going to be generous and guess that Bob was under the weather. He
looked like he was uncomfortable. His face was pained. His nose dripped
throughout the concert. He dropped a mike once and picked up a harmonica
in the wrong key and had to go get another one in the middle of a song.
This is not the Dylan we know and love. If he wasn't sick, he may be
moving into the final phase of his concert career.
One of the great things about seeing Dylan is finding out what he's going
to do with his songs THIS time. Unfortunately, while there were some
fantastic arrangements of a number of songs, Bob doesn't have the vocal
chops to carry it off. Every song gets the same up note at the end of the
line, whether it works there or not.
The band is tight, but they frequently looked as though they didn't know
what was going to happen next. A couple of the band members looked at Bob
throughout the show as though they were bemused; not a good sign.
All in all, this was the most disappointing show I've seen Dylan put on.
Is he just doing it for the money now? This was the first show since
Terry Shiavo died. It would have been very Bob-like to have put "Dignity"
in the set, but Bob went out of his way not to connect with the people
around him in any way, shape, or form.
I think Bob knows his touring days are numbered. I hope to God he's not
just doing this for the money, but it sure seemed like it last night.
Maybe it was all just a terrible April Fool's joke, but I came away from
the concert with a sense of sadness. Today I found out the Pope died;
last night I felt like Dylan was about to.
Merle Haggard looks like he's dead, but he's still got his chops. And
he's friendly. His band does what all really good country bands do; they
do their job and they do it well.
Amos Lee has a future. What a voice! I'm looking forward to hearing more
from him in the future.
Review by Phil Hauser
What a wonderful night of surprises. First, Amos Lee was very good and
would be worth the price of admission (we were in the cheap seats) all by
himself. Second, Merle Haggard did not disappoint. To be his age, to
still be doing what one enjoys in life, and to be making a living at it:
what a great gift in life. After his set he told everyone that soon "the
great Bob Dylan" would be stage. This was no patronizing pat on the back.
It was heartfelt, genuine and respectful.
First the (very minor) disappointment. As a former United Methodist
minister I had hoped for something from Bob's born again era. Knowing the
Pope was gravely ill and that Bob had played at the Eucharistic Conference
a few years back seemed to point that there would be at least one song in
the set list. It was not to be. A tribute to Bob, the songs from that
period stand head and shoulders (musically, lyrically, and theologically)
above anything written in the entire 20th century in terms of Gospel
Now the first confession. When I heard Larry Campbell was no longer
touring with Bob I had considered selling my tickets on eBay. My
15-year-old son who was to accompany me, and was not a Dylan fan, recently
began the transition from drummer to guitarist. I wanted him to see
Larry, whom I greatly admire. After some consideration I realized that
prior to his joining Bob's band I had never heard of him, nor Bucky
Baxter, JJ Jackson, nor Freddy Koella... all of whom I came to greatly
treasure. Bob has a knack for finding great people and turning them loose
to produce great sound. Inasmuch as I have never been disappointed in the
past, I reconsidered. Besides, my son finally said he looked forward to
seeing Dylan to experience for himself what I see in his music.
I am not a musicologist. There are many people with more experience and
better credentials to render thoughts on the show. I come to enjoy and
hear a great show knowing full well that if Bob gave me the opportunity to
produce a different 25 song set list for each of his five nights in
Chicago, many of us, myself included, would still walk away at the end of
his stay wishing we could have heard ___________(fill in the blank). I
have no problem with Bob being Bob- he delivers whatever he has to give at
the moment and I appreciate that. I do not expect perfection, whatever
that is. Whatever may be perceived as flaws is the risk of performing an
ever-revolving set list live 100 plus shows each year.
Bob began with "To Be Alone with You." He came out of the starting blocks
rocking hard and well rested, sounding great and looking full of energy.
The band was driving and there was definitely a "take no prisoners
approach". In all the times I have seen Dylan I have never seen such an
animated, energetic Bob. By the end of the first verse my son was
whispering, "he's pretty good."
As the band launched into "If You See Her, Say Hello" it was apparent they
had come to give the performance of their lives or die trying. Elana
Fremerman is absolutely incredible. Trust me, her violin/fiddle skills
alone are worth the price of admission. Last year Bob sang, "her eyes are
blue and her hair is too" - a seeming reference to the older persons in
the crowd (?) and this year he sang, "her hair is blue and her eyes are
too" I am assuming because there were an unbelievable number of teens at
"Watching the River Flow" was one of three songs my son knew prior to the
show (thanks to his 7th grade English teacher who used it as an example
for a poetry class) and he was hoping to hear it. Bob did not disappoint.
Stuck Inside of Mobile - I like this song and this is the best version I
have heard. Fun, musically well rounded and utilizing his band to the
fullest. I was well pleased.
Cold Irons Bound- powerful, incredibly powerful. Every individual in the
band, every instrument on stage, every fiber of being was driving and
pulsating. I have always liked the song, as it is a tour de force. The
echo effect was well done. I am amazed that George's drums survived as he
really drove the song home.
Lay, Lady, Lay - My second confession. I have never really cared for this
song and it would never be in any set list of my choosing. And I WOULD
HAVE BEEN DEAD WRONG. I recognized the song immediately and told my son
that I did not like the song. At the end of the first line my son asked
me why- because he thought it was pretty good. I was speechless, jaw
lying on my sternum speechless. It was beautiful. Bob and the band
redeemed the song for me and in the process I realized that you can never
count out Bob's ability to produce transforming moments. It has been
reviewed as sounding very much like the original- but it is so much better
live and in person.
Mississippi - the Love and Theft version is awesome and I think hard to
improve upon. Bob and the band have rearranged the song and the effect is
stunning. I would not say better but by all means equal but at the same
time very different. To say that it was awesome does not do complete
Cat's in the Well - I feared for my life during this song! The Auditorium
Theater shook and swayed and being in the gallery some 50 feet above the
floor I knew that if the place collapsed I would die. What a way to go!
Under the Red Sky did not get the reviews or the reception it deserved
when it came out in my humble opinion (I actually loved it). Bob has been
reminding us ever since that it contained some great songs. This song had
the energy to electrify everything within 300 miles. And it did.
Forever Young- Very nice. It sounded like Bob may have stumbled on the
lyrics near the beginning although I truly cannot say. It was at this
moment that three people in the seats directly behind my son and me were
being escorted out for smoking something. Due to their indiscretion and
the ensuing chaos I missed part of the first verse. From what I did hear,
it was another wonderful song.
High Water - Another incredible song from Love and Theft. For my opinion
on this one simply read the aforementioned Mississippi review. Awesome
If Dogs Run Free - My third confession. This has been a part of regular
set lists for quite a while but I had never actually heard it live. This
is another song I would have never had in a set list of my choosing and
could not figure out why Bob keeps playing it. Now I know why. They were
having so much fun- there was a playful mood and the band truly delivered.
Perhaps this is one of those songs you have to experience live to "get
it". I am glad he played it. It was very well done.
Summer Days - Very good. Gone are the days of dueling guitars (a la
Charlie and Larry). It is kind of hard to describe the current
arrangement. Organized chaos or maybe a demolition derby - in a good way.
At some point or another everyone in the band has his or her moment while
the rest of the band supports and drives the song. In a couple songs it
was hard to tell if Bob was directing the band or if Elana was behind the
wheel for the moment. This song had a feeling of missing the turn in the
road, going over the cliff, and enjoying the ride for what it's worth. It
was unnerving, in a really good way, and so-o-o-o much fun.
Mr. Tambourine Man - This song (again) was worth the price of admission
all by itself. Unlike my previously (unwarranted) opinions of the
aforementioned Lay, Lady, Lay and If Dogs Run Free, I have always liked
the song but it has always been another one of many. I did not recognize
the song at first. The band was very low in the mix, almost inaudible, and
Elana's violin and Bob's piano were all I could hear. As much as I loved
the other songs, and this really was an awesome, incredibly well done
show, this is the gem of all gems. This arrangement was divinely inspired
and nearly reduced me to tears. Elana played great the entire evening but
on this song she revealed that if the devil ever goes down to Georgia and
encounters her, she would redeem every soul from the dawn of creation!
Whether one year or twenty years, I am already lamenting her departure.
Like so many others before her, I cannot conceive of the band without her.
I will have to deal with that when it happens.
All Along the Watchtower - This is where I disagree with Rolling Stone
magazine about the greatest rock and roll song of all time. "Like a
Rolling Stone" is a great song and has earned a place among the greatest
songs but AATW has been honed to a level shared by no other. This band
line up does it justice in every way. This was another song my son wanted
to hear. He noticed George on drums (how could anyone have missed him- he
nearly woke the dead!) Whereas Summer Days was organized chaos this was
anything but chaos a stunning, jaw dropping performance.
My advice: Do not miss this tour. And as the poster says, "Be in Town
Early." My son loved the show and wanted a Dylan "trucker's cap" which I
gladly purchased. He couldn't wait to tell mom, his uncle, grandparents,
and friends about the show. I have witnessed several Dylan shows and this
one ranks with the very best. I was glad he was able to experience it
Like so many shows before, I am left wondering year after year why are
these incredible performances not being officially released?
Review by John Atkins
I have been watching Dylan for many years. Living in the UK I had never before seen Dylan in his
home country and couldn't miss an opportunity whilst I was over in Michigan. The venue and sound
were great, and that itself gave the gig more than a head start on many of the UK offerings.
Mostly in aircraft hanger type venues with muddy sound.
Amos Lee was pleasant, but I could have managed without him. How much did his record company pay
for this exposure? Haggard on the other hand was great. Doesn't take himself too seriously, has
a good band, although he could have reduced the numbers without lessening the sound, and deserved
his great ovation. One of those who has a stockpile of memorable songs but is quite willing to
throw in something new and unrehearsed. In many, many years of gig attendance he is without doubt
the best support act I have seen.
To Dylan, and he just gets better. Considering his band have only played a handful of dates, and
already more different songs than most will play in a lifetime, they are tight. Last time I saw
Elena she had light colored hair and was with Hot Club Of Cowtown. Now it's dark hair, center
stage and plenty of opportunity to show what an accomplished player she is. Now that Dylan has
thankfully given up noodling on guitar the band get much more room to stretch and Bob gets to blow
some good harmonica solos as he takes his place amidst some good players. Highlights. Lay Lady Lay
I can never hear enough, Mississippi I had never heard live before, but strangely Cat's In The Well
was the best performance. The band had worked up a great arrangement using two fiddles and this is
great rock n roll from Bob Dylan. If Dogs Run Free will never be in my top 100 Dylan songs although
this version was better than I had heard previously. It was swept aside by a great version of Summer
Days, Again band in great shape. Mr Tambourine man was awesome. Dylan at his majistic best, and
whenever people offer me the cliché "I like Bob Dylan but prefer his songs by others", instead of
administering the smack in the mouth such a comment deserves, they should listen to a delivery like
this. The ever present Watchtower sent me and I think everyone else home happy.
You guys are lucky.. Reasonable ticket prices even though you have to deal with Ticketmaster, great
venues and a chance to see a new Dylan line up grow with the task.
Review by Adam Selzer
Ah, Dylan concerts. My favorite sport.
Bob's first Chicago 2005 show will be as noted for what it lacked as what
it had. No Tweede Dee and Tweedle Dum. No Honest With Me. No Highway 61.
No new songs for the tour. No hat (except on Summer Days). And some might
say no intensity - it was not the sort of show that blows the roof off the
place. This should not, however, be taken to mean that it was a bad show -
by no means. It was simply a relaxed sort of show.
The new band was much tighter than they've sounded on the boots that have
circulated, Bob's singing was WAY better than I expected (really rather
clear, much less growly than when I last saw him, no real mumbling at
all), and Elana was fantastic. Now, it's true that I have something of a
violin fetish - any time I see a female playing a violin well, I'm
instantly in love. Frankly, even if the player is a middle aged balding
pudgy guy with a moustache, I'm a little turned on. But this bias aside,
Elana did great work with the band, and was CLEARLY enjoying herself.
Every now and then she'd have a silly Mona Lisa smile on her face - and
that was her frowning. Normally she had such a huge grin on her face that
I couldn't help but think she'd be sore in the morning. I don't think I
CAN smile that big. In all, it sounded like a mellow '95 set with more
violin and a bit of piano.
I finished work (freelance merchandising for Mattel, stationed today in
the lonely toy department of the downtown Sears) at 1. Too early to head
to the auditorium, but too late to feel like going home. So I spent what
time I could in the back room, playing with the new Star Wars toys that
couldn't be on the shelves until today, then ended up at the auditorium
about 2. Just about the time I arrived, Amos Lee's trumpeter/guitarist and
tech guy arrived in a cab with their gear - they were friendly fellows.
Michael G Smith arrived sometime later, and we did ourselves some
sneaking around to hear the soundcheck (I Don't Believe You, It Aint Me
Babe, Senor, If You See Her, My Back Pages) and talked to Federica a bit.
Federica can occasionally get a bad rap, but she was really friendly. We
saw Merle and his band arrive, but never did see Dylan's bus. Wandered
past Al Santos on the street and met a catering guy in an elevator.
The pool party started up at 5 at Cafe Gioia (we'll be next door today, at
the Amigo Grill). Got to see MoreDignity and Joanie, Handlevandle, Uncle
Sweetheart, LaughsLikeTheFlowers, THe3Penguins, Hippiecat, Rita....I
probably shouldn't just go through the list, as I'm likely to screw up and
forget people. Great turnout, fun was had by all, and my Tuscan Turkey
sandwich with carmelized onions was a great deal.
Kept meeting people outside the show. Bill Pagel was out and about,
Federica was still making her rounds. Some people I met last year were out
and about, as was a guy I met at the Marianna Faithful show last week. But
enough name-dropping. On with the show.
Amos Lee is a fine singer with a very nice band which has a perfectly
inoffensive sound. Unfortunately, the songs weren't very interesting. I'd
forgotten them by the time they finished playing them, and this morning I
don't remember a word of the lyrics. I'd like to see him get a bit rowdy.
These guys don't look like they go home and listen to Norah Jones - they
look sort of like they used to be metal heads, and still could be if they
tried. I'd like to see them try.
The look of Merle's band was priceless - they all looked like people from
your neighborhood, the people who play the 4th of July parties at Colby
Park near your grandparents' townhouse every year. On the pedal steel is
that guy who's been in charge of the local boy scout troop for as long as
anyone remembers, on drums is that guy your grandfather knows from the VFW
that he introduced you to at Denny's one morning, and then on guitar is
that guy who always makes speeches at the pancake jamborees down at the
firehouse and then gives the kids sticks of Juicy Fruit. Then, of course,
there's Merle, who looks like the guy who has had a long-standing feud
with your grandpa over a matter neither remembers, and one day shows up at
your playground in dark sunglasses to fix the swing and recruit you for
the KGB. His set was fun, but not nearly as rowdy as I expected.
About midway through, a fellow sat down next to me, immediately asked if I
had any "doobage," and then began to "groove" to the music. There comes an
age when one can no longer ask for drugs and then groove to a country song
with much dignity - that age is 11. He then gave me several loud lectures
about the history of rock in the middle of the songs, then got up and left
as suddenly as he'd come. Maybe he found that he was in the wrong seat,
maybe he just got lost.
After a shorter version of the "poet laureate of rock n roll" intro, the
band took the stage to a fairly rowdy "To Be Alone With You," which seemed
like more or less a warmup, though Bob's singing was already much clearer
than I expected, and the singing was very good. This lead into a pretty
sharp "If You See Her," which was the best version I'd personally heard
since 96. Pretty much the same arrangement as always, only with more
violin and stronger vocals than back in aught-three, which is fine by me.
Center stage harp solo which simply wailed.
"Watching the River Flow" is not a song I love, but the mellow violin
attack version (at first I thought it was a sped up Moonlight!) was really
very pleasant and enjoyable. "Stuck Inside of Mobile" was mostly just
notable for NOT being Tweedle Dee, just about the usual, but even here the
added violin sped things up a bit.
"Cold Irons Bound" was expected in Chicago, and didn't really tear the
roof off the place like the song used to. Odd to hear with violin, but no
"Lay lady Lay," however, upped the ante quite a bit. It was a tight,
well-sung arrangement with some great work by the band and and a lovely
ending. Bob really sang this like he meant it - the first time I've seen
him do so.
Now, "Mississippi" is a fairly odd, plunking blues arrangement, and
doesn't soar like it did in 2001, but the band was MUCH tighter on it
tonight than on the mp3 I've heard from earlier in the tour, and Bob's
singing was focused and dramatic, which it wasn't always in 2001. He
simply nailed it tonight.
"Cat's in the Well" featured some wicked, wicked violin and some cool
"Forever Young" was tight, with great violin and guitar interplay, a
really dynamite version of the song. This is great for the new band. Also
featured Bob wandering out to center stage for a harp solo, and dropping
the harp on the way. It landed with a great big ka-THUNK, but Bob picked
it up and barely missed a beat.
"High Water" simply rocked like I haven't seen it rock since early 2002,
partly from the banjo work, and partly from Elana's best solo of the
night, for my money, which is saying something. Especially notable for not
being "Honest With Me."
"Dogs" was "dogs," sounded even more like "Bye and Bye" than before, but
still a fun little treat.
"Summer Days" was very, very relaxed compared to the older versions. Just
a bit of swing, almost like a whole different song. Almost like "Summer
Days" unplugged, except that a couple of the guitars were still, well,
The band exited from the formation in a single file line, and came back
with the best "Mr. Tambourine Man" I've yet had the good fortune to
witness. Slowly and prayerful like the '95 version, like I was delighted
to see at my very first show, only with more piano and violin. Gorgeous,
gorgeous performance. Just to show I'm not totally enamored, I'll point
out that Elana's violin work sometimes seemed to miss the mark here.
Still, this was dynamite.
"Watchtower" with a loud, loud violin was another fun arrangement. Bout
the same as before with a bit less crunch and a tiny bit of swing.
It really is a whole new ballgame with the new band, even familiar songs
manage to sound a lot different than they did before, the whole vibe is
much more relaxed and swinging. Maybe it's just that this is the first
time I've been at a Bob show with chairs for everyone in three years. I
did not miss GA. A good deal of the conversation at the bar last night
centered around taking jabs at various GA personalities that we all knew
by description - when there's no rail-rush, their powers to step on or
over everyone are useless. Useless, I say!
BTW - I've been brushing off all of the Bob/Elana rumors as just the sort
of thing that some people WOULD say. That's still my opinino - just the
sort of thing some people WOULD say. However, I shall point out the
1. In addition to a grin that some might describe as a "shit eating
grin," the sort of smile that makes you think she made a face too long and
it stuck that way, like her mother warned her, the looks Elana was giving
Bob could definitely be called "Bambi Eyes."
2. Elana, standing center stage, dominated the new sound so much that I
forgot everyone else was there. It often seemed like The Bob and Elana
show. Of course, that may just be me and my thing about violinists.
3. Bob center-stage harp solos were done right next to her, and he
looked at her a LOT during them (she was always doing the bambi eyes look
at this point). Of course, he spent about an equal amount of time looking
at George (no bambi eyes there, though).
4. If I decide that I think they're an item, I have no reason to take it
personally that Elana isn't going home with me. I can't go around
competing with Bob Dylan, and I know it. But if she's available but not
with me, I shall have to get a bit depressed. Sigh. I love violins.
Can't wait for the next four nights, plus (it appears) the first
See you cats tonight at 5!
page by Bill Pagel
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