Paso Robles, California
California Mid-State Fair
July 21, 2003

[James Coffey], [Chico Enorme], [Jerome Esser], [Stewart Willner],
[Larry], [Reinaldo Garcia], [Michael Smith], [Howard Mirowitz]

Review by James Coffey

There was and older man and he played rock and roll and one summer's eve he 
came passing by.  The last time Bob Dylan played the California Mid State Fair
was in 86 with Tom Petty.  I didnt see the show on that night,I was living in 
South Lake Tahoe at the time, instead i saw him at the Shoreline Amphitheater 
in Mountain View, and the Lawlor Events Center in Reno.  Last night was Bob's 
first trip back to San Luis Obispo county since his show at Cal Poly in San 
Luis in March of 2000. Time flies.  So now the short drive up the grade from 
San Luis Obispo to Paso Robles.  You have to buy a $7 ticket to get into the 
fair to get to the Main Stage to see the show.  I stopped by one of the free 
stages and caught the end of Joan Jett's set.  Nice job Joan and a good warm up
for Bob.  I walked by the pig races but the pigs wern't running yet and then on 
my way in past a group of nice looking cows who were lookin' at us with interest.
I hope they enjoyed hearing the show. Go Veagan.  By the Time Bob came on it was 
about 7:50pm and it was a beautiful summer evening.  The heat had left and there 
was a nice breeze blowing, typical for the coastal high desert climate of this 
town.  Bob came on wearing a blue satin shirt and shades. The place was about 
3/4 full.  Those of us on the main floor sat in metal folding chairs on the dirt.
I was about 25 rows back, center. One of the first things i noticed was that 
Cameras were allowed.  Damn, i forgot to ask when i called the ticket office. 
Oh well.  Bob and the boy's warmed up nicely through the first few songs and 
during Under the Red Sky he seemed to put a lot of emphasis on the old man in 
the moon line and saying summer day twice. You couldnt help but wonder how many 
more times we would get a chance to see him play these songs.  They continued to 
get stronger as the sun set and by the time they got to Summer Days Bob and the
band were givin it all they had. I'm sure you could here that one bouncin of the 
hills.  When Bob introduced the band he told a couple of his jokes. When he 
introduced Larry, he said something about his dog liking to chase bikes so they 
took the bike away. something like that I didn't quite hear the whole joke.  And 
drummer Goerge Recile as the "best drummer on this stage" I know he's used that 
one before.  Another funny moment came after the main set before the encore, as 
the Band stood for the applause, the lighting guy must have had some trouble with 
the stage lights, and Bob and the band stood there in darkness.  I think Bob and 
Tony posed for some pictures that's what it looked like form the flash of digital 
cameras.  And then Tony and Larry held up lighters.  A stage hand came over with 
some flashlights and they shined them on each-other.  Bob held one on George for 
a moment.  After that humorous interlude, they left the stage in the darkness 
only to return a few minutes later for the encore.  Rolling Stone was a crowd
pleaser.  Bob held back a bit on Watchtower and gave it more of a moody bass 
filled rhythm.  Unlike last fall when they tore into it with uptempo all out 
guitar.  I would have to say that Summer Days was the highlight of the evening 
they left nothing on the table with that one.  After Watchtower Bob walked down 
the steps and into his Bus which was parked right behind the stage an onto the 
101 for the last California show in Costa Mesa.  It is such a treat to get to 
see Bob almost yearly in California.  But if the shows become less frequent I'll 
see him anywhere so I'll travel, and I'll stand in line.



Review by Chico Enorme

Bob at the keyboards gives us a chance to see him physically musical. His
hand claps, his leaning into the microphone, his bobbing over to touch
base with the musicians between songs, lets us see in a new way his
musicianship. He faces the players now and has given the guitar riffs over
to others in this champion band. Freddie Koella is under instructions not
to play anything straight but to go for the nuanced unusual. This is where
Bob's harp playing is headed anyway. Bob as band leader means a demanding
structure to the songs . Inside of it all he now captures in every measure
his phrasing in an involved way which may never have been seen before live
but is probably closest to what a studio recording workout might look
like. He is having fun at the keyboards, he is connecting and directing
musically and no surprise here, he knows what he wants to say and exactly
how he wants to say it. Obviously, things are still coming together with
the new lineup and orchestration. But my oh my, this looks to be headed
somewhere exciting. The encores were instructive. Rolling Stone was
familiar and people full throated the lyrics. I'm not kidding, the verses
floated up from the crowd in front of the stage. People sixteen to sixty
six know every word to this song. Watchtower had a harder to recognize
arrangement. No sing along here. Just a sweeping up and down, the
desperate mood of the last judgement, and a man and a band in charge of
setting it up and laying it down. Prayers for safe travel.

Chico Enorme


Review by Jerome Esser

The first time I saw Bob Dylan was on March 11 2000, the anniversary of
the day I became paralyzed with quadraplegia. That day was the sixth
anniversary of my using a wheelchair. His concerts are accessible to
wheelchairs, so get out there even if you are bound to a chair. That first
concert I saw him in 2000 at the San Luis Obispo recreation center, our
tribe of four, were thoroughly impressed even though we had not known his
then new and successful sound. 

Last night on July 26 2003 at the Paso Robles Mid-State Fair, the same
tribe of mine enjoyed the concert more, despite worse seating and the
larger outdoor venue. The reason is his fans are accustomed to his
successful sound. The first concert in 2000 was a pleasant surprise, as I
always listened to works from the first seven albums of Bob Dylan, and the
albums of his Christian conversion ever since I was a Christian teenager
in the early '80s. The first concert we saw in 2000 was a great concert
for his new sound, but last night the concert was better because we've
listened to his new sound for much longer. 

I hope all fans are better prepared to receive this brilliant change of
his. Some of our crew wanted him to do something political last night, but
I mentioned that I had read some time that he gave up the protesting. His
opening of "Tombstone Blues" satisfied the teacher in the group. The
radicals were screaming for "Masters of War." 

"Tombstone Blues" is good wisdom for supporters like me of "his hero the
Commander-in-Chief."  Dylan certainly was wise to leave the protesting to
politicians. Just listen to the lyrics: "don't follow leaders watch your
parking meters" from "Subterranean Homesick Blues." Support the office not
tne man, and be glad Dylan is a poet and prophet instead of an active

Dylan plays the keyboard from the left side of the stage, riding it like
the machine that it is, outdoors in the midsummer night warm air of
Central California. He rides it like a Midwestern combine while commanding
the band, who follow the new electric sound that all fans by now are
pleasantly excited about. This sound and with what ever he did to his
voice upon the release of "Time Out Of Mind" continually resurrects the 62
year old Bob Dylan, and shall into more years of touring.

Bob blows his harmonica with all the power that it must have taken him to
quit smoking. Because I cannot imagine him bearing the stage power he now
possesses, while smoking cigarettes between shows, he must have quit.
Bobby used to do shows, according to reviews, just to be a part of
history. Now he can satisfy us with perfect sound and voice at an outdoor
fair, at least when the skies are clear and there is no wind blowing. That
made this outdoor showing perfect. Perfect weather. Perfect concert.
Nothing near like "only a piece of history" but alive in the present with
his history too.

A reader must forgive me for putting it altogether according to paralysis,
my own physical paralysis. In " Positively 4th Street," Bobby sang last
night "You see me on the Street you always act surprised. You say how are
you good luck but you don't mean it. When you know as well as me you would
rather see me paralyzed, why don't you just come out once and scream it."
Knowing of his motorcycle accident and his early quadriplegic friend, I
cannot help but think that seeing him on the anniversary of my accident
once, followed three years later by a show on the anniversary legislation
of The Americans with Disabilities Act, make two memorable concerts that
also have dates I can always remember, a happy coincidence

I reiterate to protesters that "Tombstone Blues" gives enough wisdom
lyrics to the protesting fan. Consider it more meaningful as he puts it at
the opening by no accident. Consider the lyrics and its contents: from the
Eternal Lyrics Website:


The sweet pretty things are in bed now of course
The city fathers they're trying to endorse
The reincarnation of Paul Revere's horse
But the town has no need to be nervous

The ghost of Belle Starr she hands down her wits
To Jezebel the nun she violently knits
A bald wig for Jack the Ripper who sits
At the head of the chamber of commerce

Mama's in the fact'ry
She ain't got no shoes
Daddy's in the alley
He's lookin' for the fuse
I'm in the streets
With the tombstone blues

The hysterical bride in the penny arcade
Screaming she moans, "I've just been made"
Then sends out for the doctor who pulls down the shade
Says, "My advice is to not let the boys in"

Now the medicine man comes and he shuffles inside
He walks with a swagger and he says to the bride
"Stop all this weeping, swallow your pride
You will not die, it's not poison"

Mama's in the fact'ry
She ain't got no shoes
Daddy's in the alley
He's lookin' for the fuse
I'm in the streets
With the tombstone blues

Well, John the Baptist after torturing a thief
Looks up at his hero the Commander-in-Chief
Saying, "Tell me great hero, but please make it brief
Is there a hole for me to get sick in?"

The Commander-in-Chief answers him while chasing a fly
Saying, "Death to all those who would whimper and cry"
And dropping a bar bell he points to the sky
Saving, "The sun's not yellow it's chicken"

Mama's in the fact'ry
She ain't got no shoes
Daddy's in the alley
He's lookin' for the fuse
I'm in the streets
With the tombstone blues

The king of the Philistines his soldiers to save
Put jawbones on their tombstones and flatters their graves
Puts the pied pipers in prison and fattens the slaves
Then sends them out to the jungle

Gypsy Davey with a blowtorch he burns out their camps
With his faithful slave Pedro behind him he tramps
With a fantastic collection of stamps
To win friends and influence his uncle

Mama's in the fact'ry
She ain't got no shoes
Daddy's in the alley
He's lookin' for the fuse
I'm in the streets
With the tombstone blues

The geometry of innocence flesh on the bone
Causes Galileo's math book to get thrown
At Delilah who sits worthlessly alone
But the tears on her cheeks are from laughter

Now I wish I could give Brother Bill his great thrill
I would set him in chains at the top of the hill
Then send out for some pillars and Cecil B. DeMille
He could die happily ever after

Mama's in the fact'ry
She ain't got no shoes
Daddy's in the alley
He's lookin' for the fuse
I'm in the streets
With the tombstone blues

Where Ma Raney and Beethoven once unwrapped their bed roll
Tuba players now rehearse around the flagpole
And the National Bank at a profit sells road maps for the soul
To the old folks home and the college

Now I wish I could write you a melody so plain
That could hold you dear lady from going insane
That could ease you and cool you and cease the pain
Of your useless and pointless knowledge

Mama's in the fact'ry
She ain't got no shoes
Daddy's in the alley
He's lookin' for the fuse
I'm in the streets
With the tombstone blues  


Review by Stewart Willner

A fan of Mr. Dylan since 1963 or 1964....kinda lost track
exactly when it all started for me, but, it has never ended!

This review will be short, somewhat like the concert last night. Short!
And  not disappointing.

Last night's concert opened with
Tombstone Blues.  Thunderous energy.
Blew us right out of our shoes!  In fact, I turned
to one of my friends and said I have NEVER heard
Dylan sound better. Period!  I meant it.  The opening
number alone was worth the 450 mile round trip.

Mr. Dylan's voice failed him a few times after the opener...
but who cares?   It doesn't matter.   The voice stressed a few times
in a few places..but not the magic!  Not the wondrous raw
energy and appeal of the lyrics. Not the tightness of the band
or the sheer exuberance of the fans. No let up, no relent.
Gonzo the whole time!

Highway 61 was  nearly the "holy grail."  The final
number, All Along The Watchtower...was, in fact, the
end all and be was the pinnacle!    The energy on this one
would have sent a rocket to the moon and back!
Words cannot do justice to the feel and impact of that presentation!
Jaw dropping wonderment from the first beat to lights out!  Unrestrained

musical power!  A gift, not a presentation!  Words cannot do
would have had to be there.  Thankfully, I was, and it was a gift to
have been there.

Anyone wondering whether they should invest the time and money to
see a (another?) Dylan concert....WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?
Get the tickets and go!  The energy provided will energize.  You will come
away with something which you didn't bring with you.  That is the magic of
a Dylan get something stuck under your skin.  A Dylan
concert is an experience.  It lasts and one takes it away with
them after the music fades.  Thank you, Bob!


Review by Larry

This was only my 5th Dylan concert (since 1974) so I  can't claim any vast
insights.  After catching Bob's most recent concert at the Greek Theater
in Berkley I knew he was on a roll and  decided I had to bring my whole
family to his next California tour.  I wasn't disappointed!  The Mid State
Fair is to my thinking a weird venue. The weather was perfect but the
scent  of  manure over powered the more customary noble herb. And  the
crowd was mixed; serious Dylan freaks and many who were more interested in
multiple beer runs. And after the beer they soon hit the harder stuff. 

Bob worked his ass off. No other way to say it. He was serious, focused
and really into all of the songs. Just like a Women was beautiful and
heartfelt.  He added a new(to me)first verse of Watching the River Flow.
By the end his voice was breaking down, particularly on Rolling Stone but
it really didn't matter. It seemed as though his voice was strongest on
his recently penned tunes. Honest with Me and Summer Days were stunning.

As far as the new guy: he seemed to get stronger as the night went on. He
obviously can play but he is just learning Bob's moves. He kept a close
eye on Bob. And Bob moved around the band between songs like a quarterback
rallying his troops in a close game.

I would urge all Dylan fans to catch a show as soon as possible. This
stuff can't go on forever.  For those of us  seriously into Bob Dylan  the
experience was very profound  and is not to be missed.

Respectfully submitted,
Larry from Sacramento, Ca


Review by Reinaldo Garcia

I took my Mexican wife (born two months before BLONDE ON BLONDE's May 1966
release) and our six year old daughter Victoria to see the Professor of
Eschatology in a dimly lit rodeo arena. Taking after me (who took after
Dylan), Victoria improvises her own autobiographical songs, and I wanted
her to be able to say one day that she saw the man whose voice she says
she hates. We had our tickets for three months as I snuck Dylan's CDs into
the car's system while driving Victoria around Monterey, California on
errands. "Turn that off!" she'd scream. I asked Victoria to keep an open
mind, and after Dylan rumbled into TOMBSTONE BLUES, Victoria said, "I like
Bob Dylan." My triumph was betrayed by a trivial I DON'T BELIEVE YOU,
followed by the worthy TWEEDLE DEE & TWEEDLE DUM, which caused me to
reflect that Dylan, exploiting what's left of his voice, is now a
brilliant blues singer. The dispensable UNDER THE RED SKY followed, and
then THINGS HAVE CHANGED raised the energy level as marijuana joints
flared up all around us. Victoria asked, "What's that yucky smell?" as
Dylan careened into the brutally ritualistic HIGHWAY 61 REVISITED,
followed by a senseless POSITIVELY FOURTH STREET. (At this point, I
started to reflect on the cocky 62 year old man in the dark sunglasses:
What does this brilliant adolescent screed mean to Dylan nearly forty
years after he wrote it? Or, to put it differently, to whom is this man
singing these words? To an ungrateful child, a la King Lear? Moreover,
Dylan has stripped the song of its melodic ornamentations and turned it
into an impotent rant.) Returning to his bluesy strengths, Dylan launched
into a crackling, completely re-tooled DRIFTER'S ESCAPE, and then WATCHING
THE RIVER FLOW. By now, the sun was down and the incompetent lighting
scheme took over, as searchlights blinded the adoring audience between
songs before the next tune began and Dylan and his band became dimly-lit
cocktail lounge simulacra, and Victoria napped on her mother's lap. The
explosive HIGH WATER flowed into another failure of a ballad, JUST LIKE A
WOMAN. (Dylan's gargle-with-Drano voice simply can't explore melodies
anymore; was he always an Ur-rapper?) HONEST WITH ME, which I still think
of as a prescient Usama bin Laden monologue, released September 11, 2001
("...I'm here to create the new imperial empire...", etc.), galvanized the
nearly full house, which descended into distracting gossip while Dylan
tossed away the jazzy BYE AND BYE, marred by guitarist Freddie Koella's
thudding solo. As he has every night recently, Dylan ended with SUMMER
DAYS, LIKE A ROLLING STONE (with several verses missing), and a thunderous
ALL ALONG THE WATCHTOWER, in which he repeated the first verse, and
confirmed my 35 year belief that the song is a Moebius strip that twists
in and around itself into infinity. A day after Dylan and company rolled
into the night and down to Costa Mesa, I'm left with love and admiration
for the man who presses on. In his self-absorption, Dylan holds a flaming
mirror up to us. We lean in, and are warmed, and burned, by what we see.


Review by Michael Smith

The day after attending the great Kelseyville show, my traveling
companions and I headed down to the Mid-State Fair in Paso Robles where we
ate some food on a stick, then walked over to the amphitheater to hear the
soundcheck. We heard a great complete instrumental run through of Queen
Jane Approximately, Absolutely Sweet Marie, Tangled Up in Blue (with
Freddy Koella playing some funky electric guitar) and My Back Pages. This
raised my expectations for the show, which sadly were not met. What went
wrong? I don't know. There were a lot of drunken rednecks in the audience
and maybe Bob thought they wouldn't appreciate the subtleties of an
acoustic song but, whatever the reason, we got on all-electric set that
was heavy on uptempo songs. The whole thing just didn't feel well paced;
the sameness of the arrangements wore thin ("here's another song where
George is going to stop drumming during a break while Freddy and Larry
play a little jam") and the show, in general, was lacking the kind of
dynamics on display the night before. The sound was pretty muddy where I
was sitting too, which undoubtedly detracted from my enjoyment even
further. What should have been an early highlight, Under the Red Sky in
the fourth slot, was a big letdown when Bob completely blew the opening
verse. He stepped up to the mic and sang, "There was an old man . . ." and
then his voice trailed off into uncertainty as he realized he was singing
the wrong line. The rest of the verse was a hodgepodge of dummy lyrics and
random lines from elsewhere in the song. Beginning with the second verse
he got back on track but, for me, the butchered opening hung over the rest
of the song like a dark cloud. Later, he sang Positively Fourth Street in
a tentative, halting voice that, combined with the Red Sky fiasco,
earmarked this show as a lackluster evening. To be fair, there were some
good performances: most of the Love and Theft songs were well done as
usual and Just Like a Woman had great harp but the show really peaked out
early with Things Have Changed and Highway 61 back to back. There was an
amazing moment in the former where Bob sang, "Just for a minute there I
thought I saw something move . . . Awww, but I must've been mistaken!"
During "the formation" after Summer Days, the stage lights didn't come on
and the band just stood there in total darkness for a while before a crew
member came out and handed Bob a flashlight, which Bob then shone onto the
faces of each individual band member! Sadly, this was probably the most
spontaneous and exciting thing that happened all night. Fortunately, Bob
more than made up for it the next night with a knockout performance in
Costa Mesa.


Review by Howard Mirowitz

Ellen and I had originally intended to check out the State Fair in Paso
Robles before seeing the show last Saturday, but we got a late start, and
the drive up from Orange County, which normally takes about 4 1/2 hours,
ended up taking nearly 6.  US 101 was blocked by one accident after
another all the way from the San Fernando Valley to Santa Barbara, and
when we finally broke free and started up into the mountains, we couldn’t
enjoy the spectacular scenery because we were so far behind schedule. 
Then, when we finally reached San Luis Obispo County, there was another
backup caused by a wildfire that had burned its way right up next to the
southbound side of the freeway.  Sitting in a traffic jam in the middle of
nowhere, with our eyes burning from the thick, acrid smoke, and a solid
wall of flame leaping up out of the scrub on the other side of the road no
more than 50 feet away from our Jeep, was not the best way to get in the
mood for the show.

Paso Robles is a small farming town known for its excellent wineries,
nestled in the hills just north of San Luis Obispo, about 25 miles inland
from San Simeon, the site of La Casa Encantada, the fabled Hearst mansion
that overlooks the southern end of Big Sur.  The Mid-State Fair is
probably THE major event of the year in Paso Robles, and as we walked into
the fairgrounds, I thought of the fairs and tournaments of medieval
Europe, where troubadors and jongleurs entertained the common serfs and
villeins, knights patrolled and jousted, wives darted among merchants’
booths with the spices of Cipango and the perfumes of Araby upon display,
and young squires ogled nubile demoiselles, hoping for a wink or a smile,
cheerfully drunk on ale or mead and chewing on a leg of mutton.

The Mid-State Fair had the same feeling, although the idiom was more
modern. Pretty farm girls in belly-button-baring, tattoo-displaying
hip-huggers and cleavage-revealing halter tops sashayed in giggling
clusters up and down the midway.   Lanky young men and scruffy teenage
boys checked out the girls while waiting in line for beers and corn dogs,
as families cruised among the barns and exhibition halls, examining the
livestock and the merchandise, and more sophisticated visitors from the
San Francisco Bay area and Southern California sampled the local
Zinfandels and Pinot Noirs.  Instead of knights in armor, tall, husky farm
lads in blue T-shirts that displayed their amply cut pecs and biceps - and
tattoos - comprised the security forces; once you were inside the
grandstand area you couldn’t walk 5 paces without running into one of
them.  And there were two troubadors entertaining the fair-goers that
night.  In addition to Dylan, Joan Jett was playing simultaneously at
another, smaller grandstand at the other end of the fairgrounds.

I’d made arrangements to meet a bunch of other Poolers, rmd’ers and’ers outside the main entrance to the grandstand an hour before the
show, but by the time we arrived we’d already missed that rendezvous. 
Through the miracle of cell-phone navigation, we did manage to find
rocket59, who had driven up from Ventura where she was staying with her
friends on a houseboat, waiting for us in front of the Swine Barn, where
the pig races had just ended, depriving us of seeing one of the greatest
spectacles rural America has to offer.  (Hey, I dig pigs without no wigs.)
 As we found our way to the grandstand area, we also met up with Blondie,
downthehighway, Delia and Marvin, who had all driven in from Konocti the
night before.  And as we made our way to our seats, we discovered Michael,
simplythat and Julie seated right next to us.  All of them were raving
about what a great show Konocti was.  The harried feelings of the
difficult drive up to the show quickly dissipated in the excitement of
meeting all these friends and finding ourselves only 10 rows back from the
center of the stage. Now we would see if Bob and the boys could put
together a two-show winning streak.  And I would get my first live
experience of the controversial Freddy Koella.

The show was supposed to start at 7:30, but Bob and the band didn’t emerge
until after 8:00, and although most of the seats on the field were filled,
the grandstands were mostly empty.  The crowd roared as the band, and then
Bob, came on stage, Bob carrying his hat and jacket and setting them on
his amp next to his Oscar.

After some discussion with the boys, Bob walked over to the keyboard and
the band launched into “Tombstone Blues.”  It was a workmanlike rendition,
but not especially memorable.  The sound system was really sub-par;
Dylan’s mike and keyboard were mixed far too low, and everything sounded
like it was being played underwater.  The PA speakers were basically hung
in a pair of 2,000-pound strings from cables attached to either side of
the stage roof that swayed noticeably back and forth in the evening
breeze, making me wonder what might happen if a strong gust of wind
suddenly blew through.  The mechanical stress on the wiring couldn’t have
been good for electrical continuity!

Bob looked good and his voice was strong, and his voice would have been
very clear, too, if not for the cruddy sound.  He poised over the keyboard
like a runner in the starting blocks taking his mark, leaning forward
toward the mike with his shoulders hunched slightly over the keys, one leg
bent at the knee in front, the other angling behind, straight in line with
his back – a different stance from the last time I’d seen him in Fall
2002, when he first started playing keyboards on stage.  His stance then
was more spread-eagle, legs absolutely rigid with knees locked in a “V” as
he shifted his weight jerkily from leg to leg like a caricature of Devo or
Mr. Roboto.  This time he looked a lot more natural and comfortable. 
Larry and Tony gave Freddy lots of room as he wiggled and hip-humped
around the stage, trying to use body English to coax each note out of his
ax, looking like an old movie of a submerged Houdini struggling to shuck
his chains and escape to the surface before he drowned.

“I Don't Believe You” was next, and Freddy didn’t quite rise to the
occasion. He had the basic sliding chord theme pattern down, but when it
came time to take the lead, he seemed to be playing 1/4 beat slow and
bending almost all the notes 1/4 pitch flat.  Now his twisting contortions
seemed more like he was wrestling with the ghost of Charley Sexton’s past
... Bob picked up a harp and began to blow, and we couldn’t hear him for
five seconds or so, until whoever was at the main mixing board woke up and
realized they had to bring up his volume.  It wasn ’t really a bad
version, just kind of off compared to the way I’d heard it last at
L.A.-Staples Center in October 2001.   But the problem with Bob’s audio
level control continued throughout the evening.

The song ended, Bob walked out from behind his Yamaha to caucus with
Freddy and Larry, and then George kicked into the familiar bongo pattern
of “Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum.”  Some of the more beered-up elements of
the crowd began to dance to this one, and when it ended there was ample
applause.  I was close enough that I could see through binoculars that
Larry had a capo on the third fret of his guitar, but Freddie was playing
his straight.

Bob and the boys had another impromptu caucus and then they began to play
“Under the Red Sky.”  A total surprise, although he’d already played it
once during this tour.  And appropriate, because the big red sun was
setting behind the grandstand, casting a warm ruddy glow onto the stage. 
It took a while for us to realize what the song was, though, because
unfortunately, as Michael already reported in his review, Bob blew the
opening line, forgot the rest of the first verse and then tried to mumble
and vamp his way through it.  That seemed to throw everything off, and
what could have been a very interesting number ended up being so-so, with
the band’s eyes all riveted on Bob for fear of being caught off guard by
any other surprises.  Freddy even stopped writhing and his eyes got so big
from concentrating on Bob that they looked like saucers.  You could tell
at the end that Bob was upset with himself.

Well, Bob went back to talk to George, then turned to face his Oscar and
looked at it for a few moments, then pointed at it a couple of times, as
if he were trying to psych himself back into the show.  He reminded me of
Al Hrabosky, the fireballing reliever for the Cardinals during the
mid-‘70’s.  Jack Buck coined Hrabosky’s nickname, “The Mad Hungarian,”
because of the way he used to psych himself up for tough pitches. 
Hrabosky would walk off the mound and talk to himself with his head bowed;
when he was ready to go again, he’d nod his head firmly, slam his fist
into his glove with a yell and stride back up onto the rubber like the
King of the Hill, and watching Bob commune with his Oscar I kept thinking
of that image and elbowing Michael and saying, “Look at him up there
psyching himself! He looks just like the Mad Hungarian!”  Of course
Michael had no idea what I meant by that ...

When Bob came back to the keyboard, the band started playing “Things Have
Changed” ... and after the first few bars of lead-in, Bob turned back to
George and made a kind of windmilling gesture with his right hand to
signal him to speed up the tempo.  George obliged, revving it up a few
rpm, and Bob began to sing.  Freddy’s lead guitar style seemed somewhat
more suited to this song, with Larry’s liquid rhythm and Tony’s reliable
bass line complementing Freddy’s held and bent notes, and there was more
harp from Bob, who seemed to be bringing out his harmonicas on nearly
every song -- yet another difference from his typical practice over the
past several years.  And once again you couldn’t hear what he was playing
for the first few seconds until they turned up his mike, which was getting
really irritating because of how often he was playing harp.   Bob was
really emoting on this song, too, drawing out words and interjecting one
spontaneous ad-lib after another. When he came to the lines, “I’m in the
wrong town, I should be in Hollywood / Just for a second there, I thought
I saw something move,” he gave his head a shake and growled, “Aaah, but I
must’ve been mistaken!” which drew a cheer in response from the crowd, as
if it had noticed the irony and were rising to the challenge.  Then, when
he sang, “The human mind can only stand so much,” he threw in a plaintive
“Oh Lord!” which got another huzzah from the front rows, before finishing
the verse: “You cain’t win with a losin’ haaaaaand.”

Re-energized, Bob convoked another brief caucus, walked back to the Yamaha
and “Highway 61 Revisited” rocked out.  This was fun to listen to,
especially when Freddy sidled over next to Larry and the two put together
a dual-guitar attack, with Freddy cranking out a nice, pulsing, syncopated
pseudo-jazz-funk counterpoint to Larry’s driving rhythm that got the crowd
jumping out of its seats and dancing in the aisles.  On this song, Freddy
had a capo at the third fret of HIS guitar, while Larry didn’t use a capo.

With the crowd still on its feet, Bob went into “Positively 4th Street”,
initially getting an acknowledging cheer.  But this number’s slower tempo
gradually dropped the audience back into their seats and I wondered out
loud why, whenever he gets things motorin’ in mid-show, Bob frequently
seems to let the air out of the tires with a slower number on the very
next song, instead of giving the crowd more of the same.

Yet another short conference with the band and we all looked at each
other, wondering if they were really using a set list or just making the
show up as they went along.  The familiar, unmistakeably ambiguous opening
bars of the “Wicked Drifter” intro resolved into “Drifter’s Escape” and
the energy level began to creep back up, as everything stopped except for
George’s pounding drum and Bob’s growling voice at the start of each new
verse.  This was another song where Freddy just didn’t seem to quite fill
Charley’s shoes -- especially when Bob sang, “Just then a bolt of
lightning” and Charley’s patented ten-thousand-volt electric-shock screech
didn’t happen -- but Bob made up for it with a longer-than-usual harp
outro, and by the end of the song, the crowd was pumped again, and ready
for ...

“Watching the River Flow”!  Finally, Freddy showed us some real chops. 
With Larry whanging away on his slide guitar, and Bob banging away at the
Yamaha, its tacked-piano sound for once completely appropriate to the tune
being played, Freddy came up with something interesting on every verse. 
First he cranked up a really kick-ass honky-tonk lead with a lot of B.B.
King feel to it, pulling out some nice wide-interval chromatic
modulations. Then he walked over next to Larry and the two guitarists
treated us to another two-man attack, with Freddy playing a melody line a
third above Larry, and people were up and dancing again all over the field
and even in the grandstands.  Then Freddy shifted into third gear and
played another energetic, syncopated, rhythmic counterpoint against
Larry’s lead while Bob came in to wrap it up with a fine wailin’ honker of
a harp accompaniment.   Guess Bob doesn’t always let the air out of the
tires after motorin’, after all.

“High Water” was next.  This was the same hard-rock version that Bob did
last fall in L.A. and San Diego, and although it still had a lot of energy
and power, I missed, even more than I did then, the original Fall 2001
acoustic version with Larry on banjo, so much more penetrating and
thought-provoking than this arrangement.  Again, it might have been the
difference between Freddy’s lead and the way Charley played it.  Freddy’s
interpretation was more, I guess I would call it cerebral, more jazzed up
than Charley’s raw dirty blues sound, and it didn’t quite ring true for
me.  Fewer notes, more carefully chosen, like Miles Davis compares to
Dizzy Gillespie.

“Just Like a Woman”, one of my all-time favorite Bobtunes, followed, and
Larry took over at the pedal steel with a typically beautiful, liquid
silvery lead, as Bob sang the verses with real feeling ... only Freddy’s
lead had almost nothing to do with the emotional ambiance of the song.  It
appeared that he wasn’t really prepared to solo on this particular flight,
and what resulted sounded strangely like one of Bob’s famous “search and
destroy” efforts, only executed with more technical proficiency.  (If that
makes any sense ...) It occurred to me then, in one of those odd
epiphanies that sometimes hit you out of nowhere in the middle of a show,
that Freddy might have originally impressed Bob at audition because Freddy
actually plays lead guitar the way Bob *tries* to play it!  He has the
same kinds of musical mannerisms that we’ve come to associate with Bob –
the tendency to dabble with syncopation and off-beat effects, to play
flatted 7ths and bend them 1/4 pitch up against the melodic line or to
hold onto a single note or chord and keep banging away at it no matter
what else the band does, and to use the lead guitar to create a rhythmic
embellishment of the overall band sound instead of a distinct
improvisational melody.  But he does it more skillfully and with greater
finesse than Bob – most of the time.  And when he doesn’t pull it off,
it’s worse than when Bob doesn’t pull it off, because we sort of expect
strange lead guitar work from Bob, but not from his crack lead guitarist! 
It’s boring at best, and at worst it’s like the brain-freeze pain in the
back of your teeth that you used to get in school when the teacher
squeaked chalk on the blackboard.

Anyway, the band segued into “Honest With Me”, featuring more dual guitar
attack work from Freddy and Larry, and then “Bye And Bye”, featuring Bob’s
Jimmy Durante imitation, another song where his keyboard’s wound-up
tinkly-tacky timbre seems to fit in quite well ... but I miss Augie
Meyers’ twisty little organ riff on the album version.  On the other hand,
Freddie sounded pretty good on this number, because it gave him a chance
to show off a few nifty jazz licks.

At this point Bob introduced the band, including his standard state-fair
joke about how Freddy bought a pig and kept it under his bed.  “I asked
Freddy, ‘How about the smell?’ and he said, ‘He’ll just have to get used
to it.’”  And he introduced “the best drummer on this stage, Geoooooorge
Recelllah.” Then the opening Sun Records-style riff of “Summer Days” rang
out, and the joint started to rock again.  Freddy and Larry combined for
yet more good dual-guitar work, and Freddy reached back and pulled one
good lead out of his ax, kind of ratcheting himself across the stage like
a French Energizer bunny, and the audience was responding, and boogieing,
and dancing with hands waving in the air ... and then Freddy seemed to
just sort of run out of ideas, and the whole thing began to unravel.  Tony
dragged his big string bass up to the front next to Freddy and Larry,
trying to re-ignite the fire, but after a bit, even he gave up, and he
didn’t even twirl his bass around and dance with it as I’d seen him do in
2001 and 2002.  The song just kind of ran down to the end, leaving
everyone disappointed and frustrated, like being interrupted in the middle
of making love when your partner’s cell phone rings and it’s their office

But there was ample applause as the lights went down on the stage and Bob
and the boys moved forward into their Formation ... only the lights didn’t
come back up!  By now the sun had set and the stage was really pitch dark,
and the band couldn’t leave the stage because they couldn’t see well
enough to avoid tripping over all the wires and equipment.  So they just
kept standing there and standing there, with Bob talking to somebody at
the rail, and the crowd kept applauding, until finally George stood up on
the drum riser and lit a cigarette lighter! And the lights still didn’t
come up!  But then people in the crowd started lighting THEIR cigarette
lighters, and then everybody started laughing at the combination of the
ironic inside joke (remember back in ’74 how everybody used to light
lighters and candles for the encores?) and the sheer over-the-top
incompetence of the venue’s production staff.  Then one of the roadies
threw Bob a flashlight and he started pointing it at the other band
members, and out into the crowd, grinning for all he was worth, until the
game got tiresome and he led the rest of the guys off the stage.

The crowd kept applauding long enough for Bob and the band to re-emerge
for a 2-song encore: “Like a Rolling Stone”, which got the usual nostalgic
reaction from all the baby boomers in the audience, and “All Along the
Watchtower”, which was loud and rocking and which featured yet another
harp lead by Bob that got the crowd cheering even louder – and I can’t
remember when the last time was that I heard Bob play harp on this song –
but which was also sadly disappointing because Freddy again couldn’t put
together a lead that could really exorcise the spectral presence of
Charley’s ghost.

At the end, Bob and the band went into the Formation one more time, and
then walked off the stage, and after a rather short delay, the house
lights finally came up, and we all filed out of the grandstand area and
out into the fairgrounds.  Some of our group had to leave immediately for
Southern California, because they were trying to catch the noon matinee of
“Masked and Anonymous” the next day in Irvine.  Others were tired out from
the long drive down from Konocti and elected to go back to their hotels
and crash.  Delia, Marvin, downthehighway, and rocket and her two friends
from Ventura joined us for a beer, where we mulled over the show as the
frenzied screams of riders on a 300-foot-high combination human cannonball
and bungee jumping ride pierced the carnival night right behind our picnic

Every member of Bob’s band comes from a particular musical background –
George from hard rock, Tony from Louisiana bayou blues, Larry from
country, Charley came out of the Texas boogie-rock tradition.  Most of the
band’s arrangements over the past couple of years jelled gradually out of
the process of those four musicians adjusting their styles to Bob’s
requirements and to each other.  In that process, the arrangements evolved
niches for each member of the band to play in the style they found most
congenial.  Larry got chances to show off all his repertoire of country
instruments; George got to make most of the Americana-rootsy acoustic
numbers louder and edgier, and Charlie eventually got a license to cut
loose and boogie on songs like “Summer Days” and “All Along The
Watchtower,” and by the end of 2002 he made those songs his own.

Freddy seems to be more of a pseudo-jazz-funk guitarist, although he does
have the capability of playing Chicago blues style, as his performance on
“Watching The River Flow” revealed.  But the questions of whether he could
adapt to fit his strengths into the overall group, and whether he could
wedge his own preferences into Bob’s overall direction of the arrangements
in order to get his own niches to play things his way from time to time,
and how long those things might take ... all those questions were clearly
wide open at the end of the Paso Robles show.  I could visualize songs
like “If Dogs Run Free” or “Tryin’ To Get To Heaven”, with their more
jazz-oriented charting, making a re-appearance in the set lists
eventually, if Bob wanted to incorporate more Freddy-ism into his
performances.  He certainly was giving Freddy plenty of opportunities to
step forward and take leads, and Freddy wasn’t shying away from any of
those chances, even though the results often left something to be desired.

Overall, Paso Robles wasn’t one of the better Bob shows I’ve seen, mostly
because of the abysmal sound system and the apparent incompetence of the
venue’s production staff, but also because Freddy clearly hadn’t come to
the point where he was filling Charley Sexton’s huge shoes.  But, after
all, we really shouldn’t be expecting Freddy to fill Charley’s shoes; we
should be rooting for him to stand up tall in his own.  Anyway, we’d see
what happened Sunday night at Costa Mesa.



page by Bill Pagel

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