Grand Rapids, Michigan

Van Andel Arena

October 28, 2017

[Don Ely]

Review by Don Ely

Decided to drive across the state and back, from the outlands of the Motor
City to the city that straddles the banks of the Grand River. My mission,
of course, that I wholeheartedly chose to accept: to bask in the brilliant
light that is Bob Dylan and Mavis Staples. An inspiring ride in either
direction, as I had disc one of the Grateful Dead at Omaha 7/5/78 locked
'n' loaded. Six hours of only the first set! Bob's friend Jerry and the
rest of the crew were especially hot, and while listening I couldn't help
thinking about my own experience seeing Dylan at that same Civic
Auditorium on 8/21/02.

If such execution is even possible, Mavis was even better than the four
shows I caught her opening for Bob in summer '16. The set was tighter, her
cracklin' band was allowed a longer leash, and oh, did she sparkle plenty.
The difference may have been indoor shows on this fall tour versus having
to perform in the summer heat night after night. Whatever the reason,
Mavis and her band played a killer set. She has a new album to promote, If
All I Was Was Black, and she unveiled a couple songs from that, including
" Build A Bridge ". Once more she has chosen to work with Wilco's Jeff
Tweedy as producer, and all the songs are written by Jeff, with Mavis
getting a co-writing credit on several. No covers this time. That Jeff
Tweedy is one busy guy! With all the balls he has up in the air it's no
wonder he's taking 2018 off, at least from the road. Tweedy and son
Spencer play on Mavis' latest, as well as Kelly Hogan from Neko Case's
band ( among other projects ), but the best thing about the record is that
Mavis employs her own band. Rick Holmstrom is a great guitarist, and he
was explosive at the show tonight. Little explosions, of course; we want
Van Andel Arena to be available the next time Bob wants to book it! Jeff
Turmes on bass and the drummer Stephen Hodges comprise what might be the
best rhythm duo this side of Tony Garnier and George Recile. Don't know
where these guys have been kept, but Mavis has most assuredly let these
cats out o' the bag! This outfit would definitely be incomplete, however,
if not for the singers: the great Vicki Randle, who also serves as a foil
to Mavis' good-hearted jibes, and Donny Gerrard, whose bass vocal makes
one sit up and take notice, and who brings a Temptations flair to the
table. Collectively they blazed trails through Buffalo Springfield's " For
What It's Worth " ( what an immense, inconceivable shame we have to tread
this territory again ) and the closing " I'll Take You There " ( ditto ),
the only Staples Singers classic aired this evening. A rousing " Love And
Trust ", from 2016's Livin' On A High Note, produced by M. Ward - Mavis
works with the best people - was my favorite number from the night. Mavis
exuded her trademark playfulness and charm, at one point tickling her
audience about her long-time friend Bob Dylan, about " Bobby's groovy
moves " and about how she can't replicate them, not even while looking in
the mirror. Goes without saying, Mavis Staples is a National Treasure, one
of the best working women in the business of show. " May you always know
the truth/And see the lights surrounding you "!

For Bob Dylan this is the tour of the new arrangements! Gazing at the
setlist one might think it's much of the same material he's been playing
for years. And it is, except that it's different. One of Bob's oldest and
truest compositions, " It Ain't Me, Babe " has been completely revamped
nearly one fifth of the way into the 21st century. It's not acoustically
driven, there's stops and starts, it's propelled like a steam engine full
of Trump's coal without the associated black lung and mining disasters. "
Summer Days ", a song who many who attended gigs over the past decade may
have wished to see cease to exist, has been reinvented as a country
honkytonk ( ! ), with Donnie Herron's fiddle and, of all things, Bob's
piano in the spotlight. " Honest With Me ", another number some
concertgoers of the Love And Theft era might want to forget ( but not me
), is brand-spankin'-new as well. As is " Tryin' To Get To Heaven ", one
hundred eighty degrees from where it commenced life on Time Out Of Mind.
The most radical reboot has to be " Tangled Up In Blue ". That is a song I
would like to see dropped from the set in favor of, oh, " Like A Rolling
Stone ", but I think he leaves it in because it's beloved and gives the
semi-fan something to cheer about. On this tour it is unrecognizable; I'll
have to wait until wednesday's appearance at the Fox to wrap my head
around just how transformed it is. But I liked it! The standards were
well-played and well-received, with " Once Upon A Time " and " September
Of My Years " garnering the most applause. Bob knows what he's doing
leading off with " Why Try To Change Me Now "; why try to subject him to
our bidding, he's ALWAYS been First of the Independents! " Early Roman
Kings " was a minor letdown, if only for the fact that my favorite
rendering thus far was at Outlaw Music Fest in Detroit in July. On the
other hand, tonight's " Soon After Midnight " was to date the finest I've
seen, rich and robust like hearty stew on a frigid winter's day. " Thunder
On The Mountain " has been introduced to the set for the first time in
several seasons, and it too has been reanimated; much faster in tempo with
the swing elements all but disappeared. Bob rushes through the verses so
that it's tougher to catch the lyric, but once I heard about Alicia Keys I
knew where I was at. To my pleasure Bob's been changing up the setlist
just a tiny bit, mostly in the standards. Though we didn't receive
anything of the calibre of the one-off " Learning To Fly " he unleashed on
Broomfield earlier in the month, we did get the first " Love Sick " of the
tour. Another song I haven't been especially fond of since the days of
Time Out And Theft, this was the best I've seen in years. An excellent
show, easily worth the single-day round trip. No cops, no deer, no Stones
In My Pathway, only The Dead!

Don Ely
Rochester, MI


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