San Diego, California
San Diego State University
Open Air Theatre
October 19, 2002

[David Link], [Howard Mirowitz]

Review by David Link

  After deciding to take a few days off and not go to the Wiltern, we headed 
to San Diego. This is a great theatre in the middle of the San Diego State
University campus, holding a little over 4,000,  and the show was sold
  Because there are about 100 stairs from the entrance down to the pit area 
where our seats were, we decided to find the handicapped entrance as my
girlfriend needs a cane and could not make it down the steep stairs. 
  This little problem caused us to be standing up on a walkway behind the
stage when Bob came out. It's been a long time since I've been standing in
a position to have 4,000 people roar at once and have it come straight at
me, but it was pretty impressive. What was not impressive was the fact
that at least 10 disabled people and their partners were stuck up on this
walkway and no one had the key to the elevator! I was freaking out at this
point, to say the least, and we were not even late! That was my first live
If Not For You, and to have to hear it from there was crushing. 
   We were finally able to get to our front row seats in the middle of
Tombstone Blues, after being walked through the backstage area. (I had to
stop for a moment and watch the band from behind stage--an interesting
angle for a moment, but not a whole show.)
   Then they go into Carrying A Torch, which I was not familiar with, but
found interesting, if a bit repetitive. It's always great to hear Bob do a
song he's never done before, even if I did not know who wrote it.
  Tangled Up In Blue was awesome again; I'm glad he's playing this on the
  When he got to the "....Headin' for another joint"  line, we all cheered,
because many of us were heading to The Joint the next day.
  I Shall Be Released was also very strong: I had not seen this one in a
  Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll was great to hear for the second time in 
six shows so far, but I must say the version in Berkeley will always stand
out for me, due to the clarity of the singing and playing. This version
was nothing to be knocked, however.
   Not Fade Away and Baby Blue back to back made us think of our long-lost
Grateful Dead days; so great to see Bob do all his songs we loved to see
Garcia play.
  Honest With Me was hands-down the best I've seen or heard. Bob was so into 
it; with constant head movements, pointing, smiling, grinning, cringing,
all the range of facial expressions. Not to mention the powerful playing.
I doubt this will cross over to the CD, but it was very intense to be
  Then Love Sick out of nowhere. This was awesome, w/ Bob singing with
conviction about how fun it can be to be in love. Raging.
 High Water and Mutineer were strong, and then we got the second Bye and
Bye ever. I liked the way he changed the line to "I'm sitting on my watch
'Cause I want to be on time." All of the lyrics came through loud and
clear, and this song will only get better as time goes by.
  Summer Days wrapped it up again in fast, frenzied style, and Blowin' In The 
Wind was a nice surprise in this spot. Watchtower blew us out the door and
on the road to Las Vegas, after a top-notch show here in San Diego, one
that will stand out in my mind above many others.


Review by Howard Mirowitz

It was a foggy Saturday afternoon when Marvin, Delia, and downthehighway (who
was in from Phoenix for the show) drove in Marvin's RAV4 to my house to
pick me up for the San Diego show. My wife Ellen wasn't going this time,
as she had to take my son to his hockey game. On the way down, we updated
downthehighway on the Wiltern shows and speculated on what Bob might do
this time. We decided to get some dinner and found an excellent deli, D.Z.
Akins, just one freeway exit past the San Diego State U. campus. After
stuffing ourselves on chopped liver, roast beef, corned beef and pastrami,
we heaved ourselves out of the deli and proceeded to the Open-Air Theater.

The Open-Air Theater is an outdoor amphitheatre with very steeply pitched
terracing located right in the middle of the San Diego State campus. We
arrived fairly early, and spent the time making contact with friends from
the Pool, rmd and smalltalkatthewall -- CovWoman61, tarantula, only_a_hobo
and Mrs. hobo, Rob Stuart, and I'm sure I'm leaving some folks out. The
venue is surprisingly intimate for its capacity; because of the steep
seating pitch, you feel like you're closer to the stage than you really
are, and the cupped shape of the venue reflects and concentrates the sound
so that everything seems unusually intense. I was sitting next to
downthehighway. Our seats were about 25 rows back on the right center, but
it seemed like I was closer to the stage than I'd ever been.

I had a lot of questions left over from the Wednesday Wiltern performance
rolling around in the back of my mind as we waited for Bob to step into
the arena. I expected to hear many of the same songs, but I also thought
he'd pull out something new and interesting. I wanted to see that keyboard
body language again and I was also wondering whether he'd begin messing
with the covers or whether he'd continue to stay fairly close to the
originals. And I was most of all eager to hear more rock-n-roll goodies
with new and interesting guitar leads by Bob himself, like the ones he did
at the Wiltern.

The lights went down, the Copland theme went up, the Hamburg intro got
cheers from the crowd at the "disappeared into a haze of substance abuse",
and then the band came out and immediately got everyone up on their feet
with a rendition of "Maggie's Farm" in the same hard-driving arrangement
as the 10/16 Wiltern opener, but better. Better, because Dylan was at the
Yamaha again and you could hear him! The sound quality was clear and Bob
was on the beat, playing chords and little blues riffs, alternating his
moves between twisty toe wiggles and jerking himself into A-frame poses
with his legs spread and firmly planted while his upper body tilted from
side to side, following his hands up and down the keyboard. George's drums
cannonaded their "blam, blam! Blam, blam!" out into the crowd at the end
of every verse and Charlie and Larry were all over the place as strong
college men stood and cheered while nubile young coeds danced ecstatically
in the aisles. Wow!

With the crowd still standing, Dylan sprang his surprise for the night --
"If Not For You"! I'd never heard him do this live, and although it was a
little bit ragged, it was heartfelt; Dylan seemed at first to be singing
it to George Harrison and when his voice cracked in several spots, it
surely appeared to come from genuine emotion. But George (Receli) really
never got synched up with Bob, though, and although Larry gamely hung in
there with a sweet pedal steel lick or two, the pedal steel was probably
too loud in the mix and the result sounded a bit off and a bit mawkish,
although sweet and nostalgic. Somewhere in the middle of it the audience
began to sit back down. But if the guys keep practicing this number, it
should be all ready for the Harrison Tribute concert. After the show it
occurred to me that Bob might have been singing it about himself to the
audience, too ... the audience that allows him to be a performer, to do
what gives his existence meaning: "If not for you, the winter would hold
no spring -- couldn't hear a robin sing -- I just wouldn't have a clue --
anyway it wouldn't ring true -- if not for you."

"Tombstone Blues" was next and this, too, was the same sinister, spooky
arrangement as we had heard at the Wiltern. The whole thing is done at a
slower tempo than formerly, but George barely fits in an extra three-beat
drum figure between the guitar chords -- kind of a "Blam! ka-chuh-chuh
Blam! ka-chuh-chuh Blam!" with the chords on the "Blam!" -- and that
barely controlled extra drum energy gives the song incredible drive and
intensity and a looming sense of danger, as if a freight train were about
to derail right into the audience. And the darkness and the danger seem to
activate Bob's growling blues persona; This night, even more than at the
Wiltern, he really got into the song, really reached deep, deep into it,
into someplace in his vast memory of music and performances and history,
and pulled out a powerful interpretation that brought the audience to
their feet again.

With the crowd still standing, Dylan sprang his surprise for the night --
oh, I forgot, I used that line already -- well, his second surprise of the
night, "Carrying A Torch", which he sang slowly and beautifully while
everyone tried to figure out what it was. An unreleased Zevon song? A new
Dylan song? It wasn't until after the show ended and we were all able to
compare notes that we all realized it was a Van Morrison tune. And on this
night, its emotional resonance carried the same two themes that were so
evident at the Wiltern, and that also hung silently in the amphitheatre
air all through the San Diego evening: Reference to the state of
civilization and self-referentiality to Dylan. The song, and many of the
others he played during the show, seemed to be whispering something
profound in a still small voice that echoed softly in your mind after the
whirlwind of the performance had passed and the applause had quieted. When
Dylan sang, "It's hard, carrying a torch," I thought of the Statue of
Liberty, and what it gazed at on 9/11; and then I thought of Dylan
himself, his 40-plus-years of carrying the torch singing America's
thoughts and feelings and problems and greatness, and the two images

Well, that led right to "Tangled Up In Blue", and it was almost
unrecognizable until Bob started singing, because this standard, too, had
been transformed into a dirty blues number with Dylan at the keyboard and
a kick-ass rock beat that had Receli written all over it, and once the
audience caught on, they loved it. Out of their chairs came the coeds
again, and when Dylan left the keyboard and went back to get his harp, the
place went wild. His solo wasn't all that inventive or captivating like
the magical "Moonlight" lead we heard at the Wiltern, but it was bloozy,
and it was loud, and it was effective, even though it essentially
consisted of just two notes, because Dylan didn't just play along with the
beat; he played a rhythmic counterpoint to the beat, sometimes barking
rapidly against it, sometimes riding with it on the inhale like a wailing
wave and then crashing in a loud, loud exhale note like the surf breaking
on the La Jolla shore.

Now the applause didn't even let up before they launched into "Brown
Sugar", and you could tell most of the audience hadn't been primed to
expect it, because people were looking at each other in amazement as Bob
and the boys proceeded to sound like Stones clones. A huge roar went up
and the dancing got more frenzied, now some of the guys were rockin' in
the aisles next to the coeds. This song, too, was even better than at the
Wiltern, because it was louder, and because the vocals were crisper and
the Yamaha was up enough in the mix so that you could hear Bob's
honky-tonk chops, and because Bob sang right with Larry and Charlie
instead of running ahead or lagging behind as he did a wee bit at the

Again the applause hadn't died down before the band went into "I Shall Be
Released". The instrumentals were workmanlike and the harmony was elegiac,
but Dylan did what he didn't do with the previous song -- he sang ahead of
Charlie and Larry during the chorus, and the song didn't jell until the
last verse when he managed to back his tempo off somewhat so that it
syncopated properly with the other guys' vocals instead of just sounding
confusing. And George, by the nature of the song, had nowhere to cut
loose, so he just kind of sat there and played drums, and that had the
effect of taking the wind out of the song's sails through no fault of his
own, because he had been so visible and forceful and inventive up to that

With the audience calmed down, "It's All Right, Ma" was next. And this,
too, was the same new loud, dark, sinister dirty-blues arrangement we'd
heard at the Wiltern, and it sounded about the same, and we enjoyed it
just as much.

"The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll" even sounded a bit rock-n-rollish,
compared to other recent performances of it that I've heard, although it
was done with acoustic instruments (Larry played a large instrument that
looked like a cross between a lute and a giant mandolin, which might have
been a cittern). This might have been due to George either being more up
in the mix or just playing louder. Anyway, Dylan really got into this song
in a big way, attacking the lyrics with the thespian command of a
practiced Shakespearian actor. When Zantzinger was sneerin' and his tongue
it was a-snarlin', Bob literally sneered and snarled like Hotspur arguing
with Owen Glendower in _I Henry IV_. When the Judge spoke through his
cloak most deep and distinguished, Bob seemed to draw an invisible cloak
around himself and emoted the words with magnificent disdain, like
Shylock's ripostes to Antonio in _The Merchant of Venice_. And when it was
finally time for our tears, his voice cracked. The only thing the song
lacked was a harp release; if Dylan had played it, the performance
would've been perfect.

OK, everybody'd been sitting on their butts too long, time to shake some
booty! "Not Fade Away" was the perfect elixir. Third surprise of the
evening, and again most of the audience wasn't primed for the sheer number
of classic rock covers they were hearing, and again they were right with
it, jumping up and bouncing around as Bob and the guys cranked it up into
high gear. Charlie and Larry exchanged short leads, more like quick
alternating licks, and Bob played a lead that was very creditable. And the
way Tony and George clicked on their timing with the vocals was great!
"Your love for me has got to be reaaaaaaallll --" BANG! from George --
Rump-ba-bump-ba-bump-ch-ch-ch from Tony and George -- "Now ya know just-a
how I feel --" BLUMP! from Tony -- Rump-ba-bump-ba-bump-ch-ch-BAM! BAM!
from George and Tony .. The applause at the end was deafening, and it may
have been at that point that Bob walked up to the mike and said something
like "How do we sound tonight?", which got a big cheer. I think this was
the best performance of this song by Dylan that I've ever heard.

Now the band began to play "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue", and something
very significant happened -- Bob played a superb guitar lead! A better
lead than I've ever heard him play on an electric guitar. Usually I don't
like "Baby Blue" in its current country-style manifestation; whenever I've
heard it live in that arrangement, for example at LA-Staples and Philly
last year, it seems to wander around slowly without really going anywhere.
But this time George's drumming was strong, but subtle, Larry's pedal
steel was liquid silvery passion (alhough a bit too loud), and Charlie and
Bob played beautifully together. Bob's lead was inventive and intricate;
he didn't play those 3-note repeats on a flatted 7th as he usually does.
Instead he took off and really jammed, departing from the melody with
surprising, yet consonant intervals and staying right on the rhythm
instead of lagging on the first beat and then catching up as is often the
case. downthehighway and I looked at each other in amazement. Bob learned
gitfiddle! How'd this happen? At the end we yelled and clapped as loud as
we could, but most of the audience seemed to think this level of
performance was normal and didn't appear to realize what an unusual thing
they'd just witnessed, although the applause was ample and sustained.

"Old Man": Once again the crowd was out of its seats. This performance was
unfortunately marred by a failure of some kind on Charlie's mike or a
mixer problem that cut off the high part of the vocal harmony. Otherwise
it was very creditable and would've been as good as the one we saw at the
Wiltern if Charlie could've been heard. Sometime around this point in the
show a fan threw several large flowers onto the stage, but Bob didn't pick
them up.

"Honest With Me": The standard arrangement, fun to watch and to listen to,
but with nothing unusual to report.

"Love Sick": This was way better than the album version and Dylan was
really into emoting the lyrics here, too. The fine hand of George Receli
seems to have touched the arrangement; the tempo was somewhat faster and
the drum accents had much more power and attack than on the album.

"High Water": The same loud, dark, sinister, rockin' arrangement we heard
at the Wiltern with Bob at the keyboard. And I still miss Larry's banjo,
but this version without a doubt is more powerful and apocalyptic,
although the album version and last year's performances were more subtle
and in some ways more penetrating. The album version makes you think,
hard. This version just blows you away.

"Mutineer": I hadn't paid enough attention to this song at the Wiltern.
But Dylan's performance this time demanded attention. He literally entered
into the song and played the part of the Mutineer, instead of just singing
it, and I realized that if Zevon hadn't written it for him, he should
have. When Bob sang, "I was born to rock the boat -- it may sink, but we
shall float; you're my witness, I'm your mutineer" he was singing about
his own life, and everyone felt it.

"Bye and Bye": Now this was really fun to watch! The arrangement, once
again, was the same as the Wiltern, but it had a totally different feel
because you could actually hear the keyboard and Bob was having a ball
trying out different little riffs, and although he's no Augie Meyers, he
knew what he was doing and it worked well with the arrangement. And his
voice, crooning, was just about as close as you could get to an imitation
of Rudy Vallee, including the little high peaks and vibratos that crooners
throw in. And here in this song again was that self-referentiality -- "I'm
paintin' the town, makin' my last go-round". But the best he saved for the
end when he started in on his bandleader routine, a prototype of which
he'd exposed to us at the Wiltern -- only this was much more interesting!
First he pointed at Charlie from behind the Yamaha and Charlie cut into a
nice solo. Then he pointed at Larry and Larry played his solo. While this
was going on, Bob danced the old soft shoe out from behind the keyboard
and turned toward George, conducting like Lawrence Welk with his arms, his
feet still shuffling as the audience roared and shouted, and then at the
end he turned around back toward the audience, kicked out one leg in front
and spread his arms like Jimmy Durante doing a hot-cha-cha! What a riot!

And then they wrapped up the main set with "Summer Days", even more of a
barnburner than at the Wiltern, with George machine-gunning the beat, Tony
dragging his bass all over the stage, Charlie jumping up onto the drum
riser and kicking a cymbal, and all three -- Charlie, Tony and Bob --
standing together in the middle of the stage banging out a 3-guitar
attack, inspired by whatever gods of rock & roll there are. Nobody in the
amphitheatre could sit still, and at the end, Bob and the band got into
their formation and stood there for quite a while, absorbing the ovation,
before walking off.

After about 5 minutes of sustained cheers and applause they came back to
play "Blowin' In The Wind" and then closed with a blazing, amazing,
crazing rendition of "All Along The Watchtower" featuring an extended
3-way jam where Larry, Charlie and finally Bob each played great leads,
and then they all got together and played a trio with both harmony and
counterpoint, and Bob more than held his own, guitar-wise. And then it was

On the way back to Orange County we all agreed we'd seen something really
special. Bob playing great guitar. 5 covers out of 20 songs, including
three great rock & roll classics. The references to civilization's fate
and Bob's own life. George's undeniable influence. What could it all add
up to?

It may have been Peter Stone Brown who recently suggested that Dylan is
going through another major phase-change, similar to the other well-known
ones in his past: from folk to rock in the mid-'60's, from lyric
complexity to poetic simplicity and roots-influenced music in the late
'60's, from rock to gospel at the end of the '70's, and in the '90's his
rediscovery of American roots music through albums and performances of
classic roots covers, which led to "Time Out Of Mind" and "Love And

It seems to me that this phase-change seems to be a rediscovery of basic
rock & roll. And, as with his rediscovery of roots music, Bob's finding
his way back into rock & roll by doing covers of classics: "Brown Sugar",
"Not Fade Away", "Old Man". I wouldn't be surprised to see more songs like
these find their way into his setlists before the current tour ends. Part
of this development must be due to George Receli's influence. One
consequence of Dylan's apparent focus on classic rock & roll is that his
electric leads have become much more critical features of his
performances, and so he's had to improve his guitar technique. And the
simple chord patterns of classic rock & roll are well suited to Dylan's
capabilities on the keyboard, enabling him to try playing keyboards on
stage. Finally, the new basic-rock and dirty-blues arrangements of Bob's
classics seem more sinister and dark because the beat has more power
(George again!), the instruments are louder, and that makes Bob sing
louder, and that makes his voice rougher, darker, nastier. And that also
may reflect Dylan's feelings about the subjects of the lyrics, especially
in songs about the state of civilization -- like "Maggie's Farm",
"Tombstone Blues", "It's All Right, Ma" and "Highwater" -- he may be
thinking that the world is approaching the Apocalypse, and that recasting
those songs in a blues-rock idiom is an appropriate way to express it.

Now, how is Bob approaching classic rock covers? His Wiltern shows
indicated that he takes far fewer liberties with the covers than he does
with his own material. Why is this? Our conversation in the car returning
from the San Diego show was largely about this question. I'll give my own
theory here, and Marvin, Delia and downthehighway can post their own

Maybe Bob takes more care with covers because he knows he doesn't own
them. He has tremendous artistic integrity and an equally tremendous
respect for the artistic integrity of songwriters and performers he
considers his peers, as well as an encyclopedic knowledge of America's
musical heritage. At the same time he's always been (when he wants to be)
a peerless interpreter of songs of all kinds, whether his own or covers.
And his decade-long fascination with that heritage through the '90's,
which helped him so much to re-center his own creativity, seems also to
have given him a sense of the power of his own interpretations' impact on
how audiences perceive what is essentially immortal -- the music and the
people who created it.

I think that Dylan's integrity, when coupled with his interpretive skill,
probably acts as a brake on his experimentation with songs not his own,
especially if the artists who wrote them and gave them their definitive
performances are still alive and aware of how he presents those songs --
and even more especially if he intends those presentations as a form of
tribute to those artists, as he seems to be doing this tour with Zevon. He
seems to act as if he's trying to do justice to some idealization that he
has, some canonical image or some Platonic form, of songs like "Brown
Sugar" or "Old Man" or "Mutineer" -- almost as if he's trying to bend over
backwards to be faithful; faithful to the writers and the performers and
the songs and their places in the history of popular music as he helps to
chisel their immortality in our collective consciousness.

By contrast, when Dylan's performing his own songs, anything goes. They're
his, and he's the sole arbiter of their canonical historical image in
performance. And the sum total of all those images is Dylan's immortality,
and he knows full well that that's exactly what's at stake when he goes on
stage. Every new version he does of a song like "Mr. Tambourine Man" or
"It's All Right, Ma" or "Tangled Up In Blue" is a subtle reminder of that,
a statement of authority and ownership over a musical territory, like the
markers the ancient Romans used to put up along all the roads leading to
Rome. "I gave you these songs," he seems to say, "and I can take them away
just as quick. The minute you think you know them, I can change them. I
make them what they are, and I'll decide what they'll be, and if a genie
granted me a wish, I'd wish to reach inside your mind and control how you
remember them, and how your children and your children's children remember

And that also may explain why his performances have generally improved
throughout the NET. Most concert reviews I've read in the past several
years usually begin or end with the reviewers commenting that this or that
particular concert or song was the best performance they've seen in years.
I've especially noticed this in 2001-2002. They say that as famous people
become older, they begin to think more about how history will perceive
them. Once a British dowager of rank asked Winston Churchill how history
would remember him. "Kindly, Madam," Churchill replied. "But how can you
be so sure?" the woman asked. "Because, Madam," Churchill shot back, "I
intend to write it."

Bob writes a new chapter of the history of American music with every
performance he gives. That's always been true, but in the past few years,
he seems to have finally come to terms with the responsibility that
accompanies such power. And that sense of responsibility, perhaps, lies at
the foundation of what he's been creating -- both his work, and himself.
For Dylan's work is as much about creating Dylan as it is about creating
music. And perhaps that's true of all artists. May he never change; may he
always keep changing.



page by Bill Pagel

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