Red Bluff, California
Tehama County Fairgrounds
Pauline Davis Pavilion
October 7, 2002

[Michael Smith]

Review by Michael Smith

A few comments about the town, the venue and the crowd are in order to
give an accurate description of last night's concert. Red Bluff is a small
town in the middle of nowhere. After a perilous four hour drive through
winding mountain roads, my companions and I arrived at the Pauline Davis
Pavilion a little before 7:00. My heart sank when I saw a long line formed
outside of the entrance. As we slowly made our way inside, it was obvious
that the crowd was going to be very rowdy. A guy behind us was singing to
his girlfriend, "They'll stone you when you're standing in LINE!" I told
my friends that Bob was definitely going to play Rainy Day Women. The
audience was considerably older and more blue collar than the mostly
student/hippie audience from Saturday's show at the University of Oregon.
It was also obvious that most everyone was local; in a place like Red
Bluff, everyone comes out when a "big event" hits town, regardless of who
or what it is. The Pauline Davis Pavilion is a "livestock arena", a small
barn-like structure with a dirt floor in front of the stage and bleachers
in the back. Fortunately, most of the people in front of us in line headed
straight for the bleachers and we were able to secure a spot about fifteen
feet in front of the stage. Bob could have played bigger venues in bigger
towns in northern California where he would have undoubtedly made more
money but, for some reason, he clearly loves to play in places like this.
A few minutes after seven thirty, the band took to the stage to thunderous
applause and screaming from the audience. Bob was dressed more casually
than I have seen him in years. He was wearing a black jacket and pants
with white trim and a dark brown button up shirt. His shirt was untucked
and the top button was undone. 1. Rainy Day Women #12 & 35 - As George
drummed the familiar martial intro, my friends and I cracked up that my
prediction had come true so soon. This was a treat to see as an opener.
With Bob playing the piano and lots of screaming from the audience in
between each of the lines, it sounded more like the original album version
than any other I've heard. 2. You're a Big Girl Now - Perfection. The best
song of the night. Bob's singing was impeccable. He sang the whole thing
very carefully and clearly in a low register. His piano playing was
likewise great - he ended it with a nice instrumental part that reminded
me of the Bootleg Series version of I'll Keep it With Mine of all things.
3. Tombstone Blues - A solid, rocking version. The band nailed it but
Bob's vocals were a little rushed and sloppy as they sometimes are on the
up-tempo electric songs. 4. Accidentally Like A Martyr - Even better than
Eugene. Everyone who hears this song is going to absolutely love it
because Bob sings the hell out of it. As is often the case with covers,
Bob really puts the lyrics across with maximum emotion and feeling. (Think
"The Times We've Known" or "I'm Not Supposed to Care".) Larry's guitar
part in this song is also great. He plays a long, difficult instrumental
passage after each of the choruses where he and Bob really lean into each
other. 5. Watching the River Flow - A great showcase for Bob's piano
playing even if it comes at the expense of the vocal delivery. I hope he
plays this a lot because he really gives Leon Russell a run for his money.
6. Brown Sugar - Another killer version. I can't get over how much this
sounds like The Rolling Stones' original. I have a hard time imaging that
The Rolling Stones can do it so faithfully. The band has a lot of fun
playing this and they're just as tight as can be. Bob sings it really well
and it's a huge crowd pleaser/sing-along. 7. My Back Pages - The first
acoustic song of the night and a very bizarre performance. Bob has two
mics on stage now, one for when he's at the piano and one for when he's
playing guitar. Unfortunately, there was a problem with the guitar mic and
in the middle of a verse, without batting an eye, he took a few steps over
toward the keyboard and started singing into the other mic. When he
finished that verse, he walked back over to the guitar mic, grabbed it
with both hands, put his foot on the base, and slid it away from him
toward the edge of the stage. He then grabbed the keyboard mic with both
hands and slid it into the position of where his guitar mic was. This
operation took about a whole minute, which in the middle of a song seems
like an eternity. The audience gave him a big round of applause when he
was done. It was really funny but he was clearly very distracted and he
ended up singing the same verse over again. Larry's fiddle playing was as
lovely as ever though. 8. It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding) - This song
has been totally reinvigorated by its new slow, bluesy arrangement and the
instrumental breaks between verses: Charlie on guitar, Larry on cittern
and Bob on piano. He didn't sing it as well as in Eugene but it was nice.
9. I Shall Be Released - Excellent. The concert really got back on track
here and never faltered. Bob opened this with a great harmonica solo that
followed the song's melody very closely. He sang it very softly and
beautifully and the harmonies on the chorus sounded great. 10. Cold Irons
Bound - This was a nice surprise as we were expecting another Zevon cover
in this slot. And it was as good as Cold Irons Bound gets; the timing of
the guitars and drums was right on the money and Bob was really animated.
During the instrumental breaks, he pointed his guitar at the audience and
played it like a machine gun. 11. One Too Many Mornings - Another
highlight. This is a song that he frequently does very well but this was
exceptional. Bob's singing was very tender but it was his guitar playing
that made the song. He and Charlie played together very closely and they
had clearly worked out their guitar parts for this. Bob played a lot of
notes up and down the same scale and he landed every one of them very
cleanly. 12. A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall - Along with the previous
performance, this constituted an incredible one-two punch. Bob and the
band were clearly on a roll. Bob's voice took on a rich, dark quality as
he sang once again very carefully in a low register. Larry's cittern added
a lot to the song's success. This performance started out quietly and
built in intensity until the final instrumental verse where the whole band
played an absolutely majestic jam. 13. Honest With Me - With Bob on piano,
this song has a very clean sound now that is infinitely better than its
previous incarnation. 14. It Ain't Me, Babe - What can I say? Another
great, great performance. Bob was looking at a very lucky girl in front of
the stage as he delivered another masterful vocal. 15. High Water (For
Charley Patton) - A completely new song. With Bob on piano, this has
turned into a much bluesier stomp in the vein of Shot of Love. During one
of the instrumental breaks, Bob walked over to Charlie and whispered
something in his ear. Charlie then played a great solo high up on the neck
with short pinched notes that sounded like Robbie Robertson. Bob played a
nice piano solo too. 16. Mutineer - Incredible. I wonder if Bob is better
friends with Warren Zevon than anyone realized or if he holds him in
higher esteem as a songwriter than anyone knew. Whatever the case, he
clearly loves this song and croons it beautifully. It's amazing how much
he's able to personalize the lyric. Just listen to him sing, "I was born
to rock the boat" and you'll know what I mean. 17. Floater (Too Much To
Ask) - A weird and wonderful performance. Very lounge-lizard jazz with Bob
adding a lot of discord on the piano and casually talk-singing the lyric.
Charlie played a great jazzy solo before the last verse. 18. Summer Days -
Pretty sloppy vocal with rushed and flubbed lines but the instrumental
breaks on this are amazing. Does this song get longer every night? This
was by far the longest version I've ever heard. Everyone onstage seemed
surprised at how long Bob was letting the jam go on. Larry, Bob and
Charlie were all huddled together and ran through many verses and
choruses. Larry was grinning from ear to ear and incorporated the melody
of Rock Around the Clock into his solo! 19. Like a Rolling Stone - Much
better than average. Bob got operatic with the singing and there were some
great elongated phrases. 20. Knockin' on Heaven's Door - This was
beautiful except for the fact that Bob flubbed the opening line of the
second verse. Charlie played a great ethereal solo on his electric guitar
that ended with some tasty harmonics. 21. All Along the Watchtower -
Pretty much standard issue. Afterwards, Bob got down on one knee and
soaked up the applause, then stood up and took a bow before leaving the
stage. All in all, an amazing night and even better than Eugene. The tapes
will corroborate this and I would love to have a copy of this show,
especially for the outstanding versions of You're a Big Girl Now, the
Zevon covers, One Too Many Mornings, Hard Rain and It Ain't Me, Babe. This
is clearly a special tour and I stand by the assertion in my previous
review that Bob Dylan's art is once again undergoing a major
transformation. His presence on stage seems much more relaxed and
informal. He also seems to be enjoying playing the role of bandleader. He
struts around the stage, playing with each of the band members
individually and frequently "conducts" the endings of the songs with his
hands. But most of all, it's the addition of piano that makes the
difference. In terms of the sound of the band, this is probably the most
drastic departure from what we've come to expect from the Never Ending
Tour Bob Dylan. Next stop for me, Berkeley . . .


page by Bill Pagel

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