Austin, Texas

The Backyard

August 4, 2010

[Chris Bennett], [Tom Palaima], [Tom Lallier]

Review by Chris Bennett

Dylan’s summer U.S tour opener was a tale of 2 shows.  It was a tepid beginning
featuring several familiar live standards and 3 of his duller more recent tunes.
While Dylan’s voice was strong and clear throughout, he tended to suck the
melodic life from these early numbers, without leaving anything memorable in its
place – just the lyrics delivered with little zeal.  The arrangements were
similarily lifeless.  But hey, it was opening night, and the sun hadn’t even
finished yet. [Note: the ever durable/versatile Lay Lady Lay, in the #2 spot,
did shine through – no treatment can mask that gorgeous bridge and Dylan sang it
like it was a favorite]. But by song #8 I was shuffling restlessly, feeling
grumbly, no longer anticipating a breakthrough. And then it came.  Cold Irons
Bound – deliver me. Dylan was out front on harp, and he, the band and the crowd
got their first taste of a real arrangement, much-needed dynamics. We were off. 
The crowd noise doubled at the finish and a kind of white electric buzz held
forth from here on out.  Dylan [and Sexton] never let it up. Pretty special to
have a concert just take off on another plain right in the middle. I don’t think
Sexton’s contributions can be overstated – when Dylan has a musical foil (or
two), someone to play off of, he’s much better. And this naturally adds to his
vocal presence. Sexton’s not a flashy player, but he’s inventive and
adventurous, and this band has lacked anyone like that since….well since Sexton
[and Campbell’s] presence at the peak of Dylan’s live renaissance. The two of
them may have even more musical chemistry now, or Sexton is freer to embrace it.
He plays figures that dance around Dylan’s harp and keyboard, blending,
countering – very effective. Dylan’s harp-playing was sensitive and technically
flawless. I’ve had a few years off from Dylan live, and everything about his
keyboard sounds better to me now – more integrated into the overall sound - more
interesting than his guitar work. The mix at this show, incidentally, was
excellent. Three major second-half highlights: Workingman’s Blues #2 – what a
great song this is – a tribute to Hag, and like his best stuff, rings with
hard-to-swallow truths but also a lot of spirit. I’m not sure if Ivan Neville
was a guest just for this show, but he added some fine organ weight here. Can’t
Wait – more great dynamics, Dylan again in the pocket vocally - “If I ever saw
you comin' I don't know what I might do. I'd like to think I could control
myself. But it isn't true.” Thin Man – Dylan still relishing this lyric and why
not – Mr. Jones is anybody you want him to be – dramatic, kind of scary version
a la ’66. 

Catch Dylan w Sexton on this tour if you can.


Review by Tom Palaima

The venue, the Back Yard, is a nice natural bowl in the Hill Country 
18 miles west and south from central Austin. It accommodates standing 
only, except for a vip veranda that is at the back upper stage right 
of the seating area, and some areas for blankets that won't have 
their vision blocked by audience members standing in front of the 

Bob was in rare, minstrel-crooner form, using all sorts of elaborate 
facial and bodily gestures and leg and foot movements to enact his 
songs. He signalled the technique early on "Lay, Lady, Lay" with a 
left-hand gesture to the back of the head and flicking forward as he 
sang, twice, "when he's standing in front of you." The gesture seemed 
to signify: "Here I am, if you haven't noticed!"

The whole band, including two stints by Ivan Neville on keyboard, was 
in synch; and everyone looked glad to be playing again after the full 
month off since the end of the five-week European tour that ended 
July 4th.

The night was hot--hovering around 100 in the late afternoon--but the 
sun was nearly setting as the introduction was read--indeed it is NOT 
tape-recorded--at 8:15.

The three of us (Richard Thomas, a Harvard classics professor who 
teaches a freshman Dylan seminar periodically; Gavin Garcia, editor 
of TODO Austin and mastermind behind its special August Dylan 
feature; and I) stood 4 rows back directly in line with the speaker, 
stage left of Bob's piano.  Oscar stood atop this speaker draped with 
two Mardi Gras beaded necklaces and gazed out at us, an apt metaphor 
for the mannered singing and performance styles that characterized 
the set.

The band came on first and took their places ready for Bob to enter 
at the close of the introduction "Columbia recording artist Bob 
Dylan!"  He strode on with assurance, wearing 19th-century 
cavalry-officer blue pants with yellow stripes up the side. Even in 
the heat--but it is what officers did during Civil War battles--he 
also wore a military open-breasted frock coat with pocket latches 
that gave a sense of 'medals' pinned on at breast and side pockets 
The band members wore light tan suits.

For the style compare:
60-1870 .

Bob's voice was in great form and the band's sound was nicely 
modulated so that lyrics and instruments formed a coherent whole, 
instead of the distasteful soup of sound that was served up on August 
2, 2009 at the Woodlands outside Houston.

Bob's harp set moods, marked transitions, and emphasized  high points 
throughout the night.

Long, tall, and lanky, Charlie Sexton, looking as if he had just come 
off a full month working in the blistering sun of Parchman Farm, 
rather than relaxing, roamed the stage, kneeling, squatting, 
approaching Bob for exchanges of keyboard and guitar. At one point, 
during the unexpected quartet of songs on which Bob played a spare, 
staccato guitar, Sexton even played in choreographed synch with Bob. 
It was as if they were briefly in ZZ Top, their pas de deux projected 
in shadows on the breeze-blown back stage curtains.

Tony Guarnier and George Recile drove the band expertly. Donny Herron 
added nice touches on steel guitar, although his playing could and 
should have been stronger in the sound mix. Herron was grinning 
broadly all night long while studying and trying to stay with what 
Bob was doing on keyboard.

Stu Kimball stood so far stage right and played rhythm guitar with 
such a self-absorbed air, the Texas folk in the audience might have 
wondered whether he had taken Governor Rick "Please-Let-Me-Run 
for-President-on -Our-Ticket, Sara" Perry's call to secede seriously.

Songs in the set after the introductory "Leopard-Skin" and "Lay, 
Lady, Lay" were up tempo and strong, wrapped around a more pensive 
core of "Tryin' to Get to Heaven," "Cold Irons Bound," and 
"Workingman's Blues #2."

"Tangled Up in Blue" did not have the "topless place," "Blinding 
Light," or the "Tropicana" and was missing at least one other stanza.

The 20-, 30- and 40-somethings around us were roused to dancing, 
hopping, ponytail-flicking  and joyful hand waving throughout the 
last four numbers.

Midway through the set, three numbers evoked the positive response, 
"Fuck, Yeah!" from one deep-voiced  Dylanophile. All around us 
thought that was just as good a way as any to register a very strong 
positive opinion.

The call for encore featured a group of us yelling "Bobby, Bobby, 
Bobby!" as thanks for his playing with the vigor and inventiveness of 
the 60's and the informed wisdom and historical sense of someone in 
his late 60's.

Overall the show was well above Stubb's 2007, ACL 2007, Woodlands 
2009 (no challenge there, see above) and Round Rock 2009.

No longer striking the Elvis poses of his 1999 Austin show, his first 
with Charlie Sexton, Dylan was still so energized that the whole show 
had the same strength of the 99 show, which many place with the 1991 
show (and its magical one-time performance of "20/20 Vision") among 
the most memorable Austin appearances.

If you are on the tour stops ahead and don't have tickets yet, go get them.

Tom Palaima


Review by Tom Lallier

Hold on to your hats girls and boys and get to the next show coming near you.  A
hot steamy night in Austin with the band wrapped up tight and so was the crowd. 
Bob has done it again reinventing his band and his sound like nothing before. 
It was great to see him on guitar again for 4 songs. Not playing his traditional
brown and white ax he sported a grey beauty that Charlie appeared to pick up
later in the set. The first half of the show was done in a staccato beat that
changed his songs with great results, including a haunting version of Tangled up
in Blue.  Highlights included Cold Irons Bound with Bob doing the lead, believe
it or not, on his on his harp. Denny did not have on the traditional band hat,
not sure if it was the heat or whether in his new role on peddle steel he hasn't
earned his stripes.  Charlie has certainly drawn out the playful side of Dylan
on the keyboards taunting him to respond to his lead chords with great results,
best sound from Bob on the ivory I have experienced.  Ivan Neville was a nice
treat and added some depth when he played keyboards when Bob took center stage
with his harp.  Hope he continues on with the tour.  The last 3 songs were
dominated by Stu with a scorching lead on Thin Man.  Charlie seemed to love
playing in his home town and got the biggest cheer during the intros.  He and
Tony were exchanging lead riffs during Thunder Mountain picking things up after
8 years apart like it was yesterday.  See you all in Lincoln, don't be late.

Tom Lallier


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