page by Bill Pagel
Review by Alex Leik
Monday began as any other in the past week, but soon became quite different
as I made my journey to Ground Zero. Not as emotional as I thought it might
be - much of it is closed off and while the sound of the big machines is
certainly present, you can't see the field of debris very well. This may have
been for the best, but you certainly get a feel for the tragedy by reading
all the well-wishers' letters, cards, and seeing the signs of the missing.
After that, it was back on the A train to Penn Station / Madison Square
There is really nothing quite like seeing Dylan's name in lights outside the
Garden. What really threw me for a loop was that the 8th Ave sign said start
time was 8PM, while the 7th Ave. sign said 7:30. My ticket said 7:30, so I
figured I'd play it safe. After being able to unload two tickets and upgrade
my seat to section 3 on the floor, I was ready to go by about 7:20. Bobby and
the band weren't ready until about 8:10 (shoulda gone with the 8th Ave sign!)
Wait for the light to Shine kicked things off and once again the volume that
lacked in Penn State, but shone through so well in DC and Philly, was right
on for a third straight night. Harmonies were tight and the Garden was
filled. It ain't me Babe, Hard Rain, Searchin, and Tweedle had the show
mirroring the Philly show in set list, performance quality, and audience
response. It was the next few numbers that got things going above the Philly
Just Like a Woman had me thinking "OK, not bad - didn't really want to hear
this one again!" But, the beautiful thing about Dylan is he'll MAKE you want
to hear it again. This version SOARED. Larry was wonderful as always on the
pedal steel. And Bob picked up the harp at the end and blew it for all it was
worth, much to the delight of the 18,000 (?) in attendance, especially the
packed seats BEHIND the stage, who Bob seemed to acknowledge after every
Tom Thumb's Blues was one I had hoped to hear, if only for the last line of
the song. This too rocked from Kemper's opening. The guitars were all in sync
right away, which helped for a loud drive to the familiar beginning. And
everyone agreed it was time to go back to New York City 'cause they believed
they'd had enough. Great response from the NYC crowd on this one. Lonesome
Day Blues was a surprise - two nights in a row, and I was hoping to be lucky
enough to hear it once. Better version than in Philly - the crowd REALLY
seemed familiar with the new stuff, more so than in DC.
What can I say about Highwater. I've seen it 4 times now, and it only gets
better as the band gets tighter with it. I really thought this woud be the
Dirt Road Blues of the album - one we would never hear. But, man, does this
work well. Charlie's rhythm came through much better than in Philly.
The final acoustic set was the same as in Philly, perhaps a different order
though. All were done wonderfully, with Don't Think Twice being the highlight
in my opinion, even after seeing it the last 2 nights.
Summer Days had everybody up and moving again. I have said all I can say
about this song in previous reviews, so I'll just say all those words still
ring true. Sugar Baby was another fine performance, although I was hoping for
Mississippi. DC may have been my only shot at that, but it was well worth it.
Sugar Baby did not disappoint. We got Drifter's Escape in place of Cold Irons
Bound from Philly, and Rainy Dat Women to close things out.
Perhaps the highlight of the show for many hoping Bob would adress 9-11 came
as he introduced the band. I'll paraphrahse as best I can:
You know, most of these songs we played tonight were written in this city
(loud applause). In fact, my last album was recorded in this city (I believe
this is what he said - louder applause). I think that is all I need to say
about this city! (Wild Cheers and applause). Again, may not be 100% exact,
but pretty close, and well worth the price of admission. I really did not
anticipate him saying anything regarding the city's tragedy and
courageousness in rising above it, so this was a nice surprise.
Encores were the same as Philly, but the crowd response was better IMHO (and
this was tough to do - Philly was a great crowd). Bob soaked it all up, from
behind the stage as well. Don't know what the sound was like back there, but
by the way they were moving, it must have been fine. Blowin got a GREAT
response for "Too many people have died" - as only this city could really
understand. It made my visit to Ground Zero earlier in the day that much more
So, three consecutive shows with three stellar performances (DC, Philly, NYC)
and one off night (Penn State). I am off to Uncasville for my last show of
this tour. Is there really ANY way for Bob to disappoint? Not after Madsion
Review by Willy Gissen
What A Difference a Day Makes
By Willy Gissen
There could not be many locales more different than New York City and
Uncasville, Connecticut…other than they played host to Bob Dylan on two
consecutive nights. And even Bob Dylan was affected as evidenced by the
different set lists from each event.
I used to go to only one Bob Dylan concert per tour, trying to convince
myself that by doing so I could be sure I was not a groupie. This time
around I realized, “Who am I kidding?” Dylan had not played in the New
York area for almost fifteen months and that was a very rainy night in
Jones Beach on Long Island (the Long Island show went on rain or shine,
and it was mostly a “hard rain”). And who knows when we New Yorkers
will see him again? So I looked up my Mapquest online and determined
that Uncasville was only two hours away from my home, and therefore
bought tickets for the Mohegan Sun arena there as well as Madison Square
The Madison Square Garden event was superb. Dylan opened with a very
interesting song titled, “Waiting for the Light.” The song advised us
to “keep looking for the sign while waiting for the light to shine.”
Definitely an inspiration for the faithful and the world-weary as well.
Dylan danced with animation, more than I have ever seen him do in the
past, and some of the highlights of the concert included “John Brown”
and in the encore, “Forever Young.” When he played “Blowing in the Wind,”
everyone was caught up in Dylan’s aura, to the extent that you could have
heard a pin drop. He finished with “All Along the Watchtower,” and very
interestingly ended the song and the concert by repeating the first verse,
that “none of them along the line know what any of it is worth.”
I went to the Madison Square Garden event with three other friends, but
the trip to Uncasville was a solo pilgrimage. What New Yorker could you
ask to go to Uncasville, Connecticut? I get off work at 4:45PM and headed
straight out as I had packed a change of clothes in the car. There was
only one thing I did wrong (as Dylan sings in “Mississippi”), and that
was to go on I-95. There was literally a traffic jam for 20 miles (as even
the electronic highway signs boasted), from Exit 3 to Exit 27. I was getting
extremely upset that I wouldn’t get to the concert on time. Anyway, I hung
in there and made it by about 7:50PM. (The concert was to begin at 8PM).
I got to my seat just before the lights went out, and Dylan took the stage.
There were several immediate differences. The first was the crowd. As I
started to whoop it up for Dylan, I suddenly realized that people in the
audience were staring at me. While the Madison Square Garden audience was
extremely noisy and boisterous, and leapt to their feet enthusiastically,
the Mohegan people stayed in their seats for the most part, even during a
large part of the encore. One preferable difference, at least personally,
was that there was no cloud of marijuana smoke in Mohegan Sun Arena while
there was one almost immediately in MSG. In fact, no one in Mohegan indulged;
I am convinced they would have been arrested. And Dylan himself was affected
by the location and the difference. He seemed a little worn out from his
three-hour extravaganza at the Garden. He danced less and wasn’t as animated
or as long in his musical improvisations. But the show was enjoyable in the
contrast. The music was much more hillbilly and less strident. Some of the
songs included Ramona and Country Pie, for example. As an aside, it was also
interesting to hear him play “Mississippi,” one of my favorite songs on the
new album. I also enjoyed hearing for the first time, “This World Can’t Stand
Long,” which bemoaned all the hate and the sin in the world. And, as usual,
Dylan drove home the encore. And one thing was really special. During his
final curtain call, I felt like Dylan was looking directly at me, and I
started to raise my hand in a half-wave. Maybe, I was just exhausted, but I
thought I saw him return my hello in a half-wave back. Another item to add to
my list of special “Dylan” moments.
I am going to one more Dylan concert this Saturday at the Fleetcenter in
Boston, the last event on the tour, with a friend from college. I can’t wait
to see what a difference that day will make.
Review by Jesse Picunko
although i usually don't check reviews because they generally say that Dylan
was brilliant, which sorta goes without saying, i was a bit disappointed
that there wasn't a review of the NY show which i attended.
although i don't want to give a review, i just thought i'd mention some of
the more unusual highlights.
During Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues, during the line 'the cops don't need you
and man, they expect the same', i think there was almost an audible hiss in
the audience. but of course there was generaly applause when he sang 'i'm
going back to New York City, I do believe I've had enough!'
During Rainy Day Women, Bob said 'Most of these songs were written right
here, and if they weren't written here, they were recorded here. You all
should know how i feel about this city...'
yes, we were all just about glowing.
given Bob's time in NY, and the events, i just thought whatever he said
would be sorta relevant.
Review by Buddy Kirschner
I have had the great fortune to go to Philly last Sat. MSG on Monday and
will be heading to Manchester, NH and the Fleet Center to see the man
him at his career level best.
I must tell you that the energy was so electrifying in New York, I have never
seen or felt anything like this at a concert before. I am hoping that you may
have access to some reviews from the NY Times or Post from 11-19-01. If so,
please do post them in the set lists section, if not perhaps you may know of
a web site that I can visit to read what the critics thought of Bob Dylan and his
band in front of one of the toughest crowds in the world, not to mention a home
coming of sorts for Bob himself.
The crowd was filled with celebs, Bryant Gumble and Henry Winkler were both
seated near me and by all accounts seemed to be having a wonderful night.
Review by Brendan O'Neill
My wife flew us from KC to NY for this concert to celebrate my 40th birthday.
We have seen Bob 3 times this year, and I thought that seeing him in such
close proximity to "Green-Witch Village" would be incomparable. Bob and
the boys were on fire, giving it everything they had in a spectacular show.
Bob's voice was resonant and strong and he played it both soft and savage.
I'll only comment on a few songs:
I guess he plays "Rainy Day Woman" for the benefit of the neophytes in the
crowd, but it seems to take the energy right out of him as soon as he starts
into it. He's sick of it, you can see it in his whole demeanor, and I can feel him
working to get through it. I wish I could tell him that he doesn't have to it
anymore; we're there 'cause we're stoned on your genius.
"Forever Young" seems to garner the fewest comments from reviewers, but it
is my favorite live song. The harmonizing on the chorus goes straight to my
gut, and you can hear that he is pouring his heart into it. The NYC rendition
was as powerful as any I've seen.
As for the venue, the MSG staff are as pleasant as a group of bears just out
of hibernation, and they did everything they could to dampen any exuberance
that might spill out of the seats. The crowd could have used a little loosening
up too. Bob gets his energy from the crowd; the more you show up the more
he gives. A Dylan concert isn't a work to be examined and critiqued, it is an
affirmation of our most profound emotions and a celebration of life as art. He's
opened his soul to try and open our eyes, and it's only fitting that we allow
ourselves, if only for that moment, to shed our inhibitions and welcome those
lessons. Rock on Bob.
Review by Karen F.
My city and it's citizens made me proud once again to
be a NY’er. My favorite person wearing a lavender
suit which happens to be my favorite color, the
pre-show bars (yes, plural) even had my favorite wine.
What a night, what a town, what a guy. This one was
special folks, deep sympathy to those who missed it.
Get it on disc right away.
I can't remember exactly what bob said but to
paraphrase: I wrote most of the songs I played tonight
in this city and the ones I didn't write here I
recorded here, I don't have to say how I feel about
Bob loves NY and NY loves Bob and tonight we all loved
them both. The NY audience was laid back but it
seemed they knew every word to every song and they
showed appreciation in more ways. Bob was so cool
tonight, and seemed to want it to all be perfect, and
it was. He messed up in Tom Thumbs Blues but caught
The “going back to NYC” line got us all as well as
“the city that never sleeps” and “avoid the south side
as best I can”. Bob reached up and signed an
autograph after the first formation. What a night.
Tony picked up the NYC Fire Dept. T-shirt and showed
it to the crowd at the end. WOW is about all else
that comes to mind. :)
This show was a “happening” an “event”. I’ve been to
lots of shows and loved them all, but this one I
suspect, will be ingrained as a fond memory for the
rest of my life.
Thanks to Lloyd, Peter and Jim for their outstanding
reviews at RMD. The show is worthy of their praise.
People are saying that Philly was a rehearsal of the
set list for MSG. I wonder if Uncasville is a
rehearsal for Boston, the last bang of the leg. I
sure hope so. We decided to get tickets for Portland
too, two shows left and I don’t want to miss a thing.
Review by Robert Berretta
Three words: vocals, vooocals, vocaaahhllsss! Bob growled, howled,
grunted and, yes, sang his way through an action-packed 2 ?hour show at
the Garden. Looking hilariously spiffy in a pink, yes, pink suit that
seemed to be tailored by the same designer who made the Supper Club
uniforms, a ruffled blouse with a silver broach and shiny black and
white boots, he was also having a great hair day - puffy and almost
sixties-like, sort of a gray on blonde.
WAIT FOR THE LIGHT TO SHINE
A quick run-through with scrappy harmonies, but a good warm-up for the
crowd as well as the band.
IT AIN'T ME, BABE
A very solid version, but the first of many sloppy acoustic solos by
Bob. He was tighter on electric than acoustic all night, but more on
that later. It was great to see the harp come out so early and so
A HARD RAIN'S A-GONNA FALL
Just about everyone in the arena was waiting for Bob to bring out his
apocalyptic songs, and this proved to be the first of many somber and
powerful songs of the night. The set list did not differ from the kind
of songs he has been playing all tour, but if they always had a little
more resonance in New York, that is all the more true now. A searing,
perfect version of what still holds up as one of his finest songs.
SEARCHING FOR A SOLDIER'S GRAVE
I expected this song from the tour setlists, but I don't know it and
couldn't make out many of the lyrics. It fits in well with this show,
though, and the chorus was strong.
TWEEDLE DEE AND TWEEDLE DUM
Even with the extra poignancy of many of his older songs, the highlights
of this tour are the Love and Theft debuts, and he played half the album
tonight. Tweedle works great, especially to start the electric set.
More or less the same arrangement as the album, but with a little more
guitar and a great a cappella ending.
JUST LIKE A WOMAN
This had a great, sloppy beginning, as if they weren't sure how to start
it, or maybe what to play, and then Larry or Charlie stumbled into the
opening riff and the band snapped into place. Bob's vocals were
absolutely superb, full of piss and vinegar at just the right moment.
Easily the best version I have seen, even better than ?4.
JUST LIKE TOM THUMB'S BLUES
This was an audible by Charlie, and Bob nodded his head and walked to
each member of the band to reconfirm. A really strong version, with the
New York crowd cheering for our favorite verse at the end. The back to
acoustic for a couple of songs?
LONESOME DAY BLUES
They brought out the banjo for Highwater, but Larry rejected it and
picked up the electric guitar instead (maybe this wasn't a change in set
but a roadie's mistake since they played this in same order in
Philadelphia. This was ferocious, and worked great live. One of the
pleasures of the new songs is that Bob hasn't gotten bored enough to cut
any verses yet. I think he sang all six Love and Theft songs without
The banjo came back, and Bob and Charlie stuck with electrics.
Lyrically, this works great after Lonesome Day Blues, and it was the one
new song that has already been re-arranged from the album version.
Instead of a brooding folk blues, this was a terse, moderate rocker,
with the pulse of the banjo coming through between verses. Vocals were
DON'T THINK TWICE, IT'S ALL RIGHT
This was my 20th show, and I always feel a guilty twinge of
disappointment when he starts this. Okay, it's a great song, and one of
his best crowd pleasers. Someone wrote in a review of a Garden show
that this song is one of his "New York folk songs,?and that really is
true. He sang it as if he still meant it, and I wonder now that he is
writing his memoirs just how nostalgic he may get when he revisits these
songs night after night. I always think he does these chestnuts for the
massed crowds, but I got the feeling tonight that he was playing it for
himself as well.
TANGLED UP IN BLUE
This was the one standard tonight that felt like an obligatory
run-through. This great but now overplayed song was tantalizingly close
to retirement for a while, but he seems to have plugged it right back
into his standard set. Tonight he cut the "She was working in a topless
place?verse and sang the "She lit a burner on the stove?verse, which
is the one I have heard the least. Take what you can get, I guess. He
kept switching between first and third person between verses, not in the
impressionistic Real Live way, but as if he just wasn't paying enough
attention to keep it consistent. On a personal note, after 20 shows
I've still never seen Visions of Johanna, and he's played it several
times on this tour in this slot. Oh well.
A short, straight version. Although it is obviously a song written by a
very young man, it is amazing how well this holds up. The
disillusionment and irony really demonstrate Dylan's young genius. This
was one of many songs in this set written over 35 years ago that
reminded us that what is going on in the world now isn't so new after
What a swing band! Larry and Charlie were finally given a chance to
blow the stage open on their own. Bob sings this in a higher key than
on the album, probably so he can scoop up the words with more energy.
This is a great new crowd-pleaser, and I hope a keeper for a while.
This is quickly becoming one of my favorite Love and Theft songs. It's
a credit to both Bob and his audience that this long, droning, slow song
is such a killer live. The lines "Some of these bootleggers, they make
pretty good stuff/Plenty of places to hide things here if you want to
hide them bad enough?received a welcome cheer from members of the
audience (but probably not from the tapers who wouldn't want to ruin
their work with a cheer). I don't know how people are getting things in
past the wands, but there are plenty of MP3s out there to prove that
Ferocious guitar licks! Bob played electric solos all night quite well,
and he really enjoyed playing the guitar god on this one, holding his
axe up against Charlie's and trading riffs and leads. Bob's dancing
feet were in full swing tonight as well, and he worked the crowd at
least as well as Brittney. And speaking of Brittney, it never ceases to
amaze me that so many really, really young women in tight clothing still
come to Dylan concerts. This guy still gets the chicks; now just HOW
does he do it. Oh, yeah, I forgot: he's Bob Dylan. By the way, the
harp was extra good on this one too. He danced around while playing,
raising his right and Hava nagelah style and dancing a jerky gig.
RAINY DAY WOMEN
Well, you have to close with something. Bob spoke for the first time
all night for band introductions. Would he say anything more? Rather a
strange song for a comment on 9/11, but sure enough: "many of the songs
I'm singing tonight were written right here in New York City. The ones
that weren't written here I recorded here, so you don't have to ask me
what I think of this town.? Then the band intros, with a joke I
unfortunately missed for David Kemper (something about trading his
bicycle for his wife, or maybe vice-versa; tapes will tell!) At the
end, he didn't just stare; he actually bowed - especially to the people
behind the stage, who jumped up and cheered as if he were Bruce every
time he jerked his head their way! Encores?
THINGS HAVE CHANGED
A very tight straight-forwarded version. Great lines, great song. I
looked, but the Oscar statue was nowhere in sight.
LIKE A ROLLING STONE
Unlike some of the other warhorses, I never get sick of this song. But
that's just me. I'm sure other people feel the same about Tangled and
Don't Think Twice. This started off as it has recently, not powerful
but almost mellow. Then it built up verse by verse until I thought I
was in Manchester in 1966 by the last "how does it feeeellll!? I think
he cut the second verse, but he sang the often neglected third verse.
This was another song that could have been boring, but was heartwarming
(except for the horribly out of tune but rather charming harmonies that
provided a sort of comic relief). Again, Bob could have cut back on the
wrong notes on his new black and white acoustic (I couldn't see who made
it, but it looked like the lovechild of a Rickenbocker and a big
HONEST WITH ME
This is a great encore, more or less the same as the album version, but
with more guitar. His vocals were a bit stretched here, and it was
harder to make out the words than in the other new song. However, the
growls were great.
BLOWIN?IN THE WIND
This concert, this city now, and we actually needed to hear this for the
first time in years. His acoustic version, the same as it's been for a
few years now, is terrific. In the post-9/11 Garden, when he played the
melody the first time through on guitar, and absolute hush came over the
crowd instead of the usual cheer of recognition. The cheers came
between verses, and the hush before each verse again. Bob may have
rushed the refrain the first couple of times through, but the phrase
"too many people have died?and then the locked-in-place, perfect
harmony on the a cappella finish were tremendous. As much as I wanted
another encore in some ways I felt it should have stopped right here.
This said it all.
ALL ALONG THE WATCHTOWER
The band stayed on stage but in the back, and the crowd roared when they
picked up the electrics instead of leaving. The opening was great, not
the John Jackson-era rocker but the slower, more deliberate Hendrix
version. However, I don't think this arrangement really works,
especially for a last encore. After singing the song straight through
and some fun, screaming guitar, he slowly recapped the first two verses,
ending the song, and the concert, on the word "worth.? Then another
half bow, a few stares, and out through the back stairs. The crowd
stayed cheering and the lights stayed down a full minute or too, and the
-over fantasy in my head took over. He's coming back, solo, to do Up to
Me for the victims, or Talkin?New York, Hard Times in New York Town, or
a radically re-written With God on Our Side. But no, they were just
letting him onto the bus before they let the crowd out. Actually, an
ending like that would have been cheesy. He's better than that. I, of
course, am not.
Review by Ian Parfrey
This show could be described perfectly in 6 words:
Thank you, Bob, we needed this.
I took in last night's show with a couple of members of the local literary
mafia, Joyce Lopez and Charles Choi. Their second show. My fourth. Also,
sitting a few sections over from us were Chris, Jen, and The Fez. Hey,
guys. Chris had the fortune / misfortune of being with me last year at
Jones Beach in a heavy downpour....needless to say we both enjoyed the dry
weather inside MSG. Me and Joyce came in on the E train, which we have
since renamed the "Bob" train. Not knowing what security would be like, we
decided to get a good herbal buzz going beforehand. We met Charles on the
inside, who'd had the horrible experience of losing his ticket a few hours
beforehand. The nice people at Ticketmaster quickly straightened our shit
out, and we were ready for Bob. And what a show. Bob hit his stride on the
3rd song, "Hard Rain". He was really playing with the phrasing last night,
screwing up anyone trying to sing along. One verse was sung in a dead-on
Woody Guthrie impersonation, and in another verse, Bob came down
especially hard on these lines: "I heard one person starve, I heard many
people laughing I heard the sound of a clown that cried in the alley I
heard the song of a poet who died in the gutter"
Which had the effect of making me, and probably most of the Garden, laugh
at the appropriate moment. The electric set started with a rousing
"Tweedledee" where Bob took out my favorite verse, the one about "brains
in a pot they're beginning to boil", but what can I say? I won't hold it
against him. Things got even better from there, a beautiful "Just Like a
Woman" with a devastating 2-verse harp solo on the end, then the tour's
only "Tom Thumb's Blues", which I last heard in '98 and has since been
given a similar treatment to "Desolation Row"....why doesn't he play this
every night?? It's that good. Beautiful guitar work from Larry + Charlie,
and even Bob is playing better than I've ever heard him. "Lonesome Day
Blues" continues the theme. Bob was really rocking on this one. A very
good "Don't Think Twice", and a version of "Tangled" which is always good,
and fortunately less excessive than it's been in the past. Charles
complains about the absence of the "She was workin' in a topless
place...." verse. Then "John Brown"--which I have to say is a poor
substitute for "Masters of War"....Bob mumbles most of this song (he can
make himself understood perfectly when he WANTS to), until the closer "and
he dropped his medals in her hand". Maybe I am reading too much in, but
there seems to be a subtle agenda in many of Bob's song choices..... The
main set concluded with polar opposites, the extreme stillness of "Sugar
Baby" and the nearly metallic crunch of "Drifter's Escape", and then
"Rainy Day Women" which is recast as a smoking hot blues number with
occasional appearances of the original riff. In this one, he's written a
new and incomprehensible verse, and if anyone has any idea what he said in
the band introductions.....the mumbling was back in full force. The encore
begins with "Things Have Changed", which we were all happy to hear, it's
one of his recent best, and played with that same good-natured intensity
that Bob had most of the night...."Forever Young" is a beautiful
rearrangement, possibly the peak of the entire show. Going to see Bob is
like going to church (only much more fun), and this was the blessing. Bob
concludes with "Watchtower", also rearranged since last I heard it, now
played with something of a cross between Hendrix and Neil Young's heavy
plodding version. Best solos of the night from Larry first, then Charlie
(Bob was kind of overmatched on this one)....And a big surprise, Bob
finishes by bringing back the 1st verse, ending abruptly on a
nearly-screamed "what any of it is WORTH!!!!". We were hopeful for a
second encore, but like I said to Joyce, "what was he going to do? Grow
wings and fly up to the top of the scoreboard?" The show ended on a high
with us still wanting more. Meaning, it ended perfectly. Bob was in fine
form, hit alot of high notes, played some unbelievable harmonica. Some of
the "love and theft" songs and both of the covers are still a little
touch-and-go, with a few blown chord changes and vocal mumbling, but these
are such minor insignificant complaints.... We all walked out wishing we'd
had the foresight to buy tickets for the Mohegan Sun show, or the Boston
show later this week....Who knows how long it'll be until our next fix of
Ian F Parfrey
Review by Peter Stone Brown
On November 19th 1961, Bob Dylan was probably sitting at a table in his
apartment, guitar on his knee, pen in hand deciding what songs he was
going to sing at his very first recording session the next day. Forty
years later he returned to what really is his hometown to conquer a sold
out Madison Square Garden. Bob Zimmerman may have grown up in Hibbing
Minnesota, and maybe Bob Dylan was born there or in Minneapolis, but Bob
Dylan grew up in New York City.
It's the place he left his home for, the place where there was music in
the cafes at night and revolution in the air, the place where his head was
split open wide, and has been for more than 40 years the place he returns
to for inspiration. It's where he "made it," where his first fans were,
and for all his claims of not remembering, New York City is one thing Bob
Dylan has not forgotten.
And so he returned in this scariest of times when there is a new fear
every day, to this city that is like no other place in the world, to this
city that has been wounded and forever changed, to this city that is
trying its best to survive and heal, but will not forget what is missing
from its skyline.
Riding into the city last night and standing outside the Garden on 8th
Avenue, I couldn't help but steal a few very quick furtive glances south.
The cloud of smoke seemed lost in the haze of city lights, but I knew the
fires were still burning.
Inside the Garden, you had to open your coat and spread your arms while
some guy ran an electric wand over you and told you what you had in your
pockets. This is the way it is now to see a music concert. You didn't
like it, but you moved on. Our seats were right at the stage, close
enough to read the addresses painted on the anvil guitar cases, close
enough to ask the guitar tech about those new black and white Martins, and
it took a long time for the house to fill up, for all those thousands of
people to be wanded.
And some time after 8 pm, long after the scheduled show time, the band in
matching dark gray suits took the stage, followed by Dylan in what at
first looked like a light gray suit, then a white suit, then a pink suit,
and tore into "Wait For The Light To Shine," and the ghost of Hank
Williams hovered around that man in the gray pink suit, and the ghost of
Bill Monroe and the music he invented flew out of Larry Campbell's
mandolin and you could almost see ancient funky tour busses on the
midnight highways next to all them rebel rivers and a lonesome Cadillac on
their way to Ohio and all that music that came out of somewhere from the
South to the North and back again and it was about the music. But it
wasn't. Because this singer, whether he admits it or not, always has a
message to deliver, and on this night, "Keep lookin' for a sign," came out
of that craggy, but still strong voice that has seen too many cigarettes,
that has traveled to too many joints, that has lived the profound truth
that exploded, and on every chorus, every time it came around, that voice
that somehow knows every mile of every road its walked down made sure that
was the line you noticed, "Keep lookin' for a sign."
And then it was time for the trip backwards and forwards. "It Ain't Me
Babe," a song performed on almost every tour, a song that's been performed
innumerable ways, the ultimate I'm not what you think I am or think you
want song, a song defiant, angry, mocking, sad, tender, that's been rocked
and socked, and crooned and shouted, and tonight it was handled with care,
almost caressed, and then he stepped back towards the top of his tan
Fender Bassman, where the harmonicas lay, and as someone once wrote about
Bob Dylan's very first performance at Madison Square Garden, it's not Bob
Dylan till the harp comes out, and as he picked up the harp, he noticed,
realized there were all these people sitting behind him and he put to the
harp to microphone and blew those first notes right at them and the
hundreds of people sitting there knew he was doing it for them, and this
is where the singer turns into magician and master performer and he turned
back to face the main crowd, with that crazy almost funny way he was of
moving forward, knees bent, the notes ringing clear danced around the
melody, up and down like a clown on the circus sands, twisting and
turning, to a magnificent conclusion.
And then it was time for the masterpiece, the song like no other that came
before, the song that held all the songs he didn't think he'd have time to
write, the song that announced there's a new Poet in town, a song that was
terrifying then and perhaps more terrifying now, and even though he's been
singing it at other stops on this tour and has been singing it across the
world and back for four decades, you knew he had to sing it tonight in the
city that's been ten thousand miles in the mouth of a graveyard.
And then it was back to a different graveyard, another time, another
place, where bluegrass harmonies came through on ancient wooden radios
that looked like Cathedrals on a parlor table on a Sunday afternoon, the
words of a drunken cowboy poet who would sell his songs for another shot
of whiskey, that had been all but forgotten till Bob Dylan started singing
his songs again. This song about another war, from another place, but
maybe it's the same war. Maybe it's all the same war.
And suddenly we're back in the present, but maybe not. One time a King
spoke in a most meaningful way, "Mr. Dylan has come out with a new record.
This record of course features none but his own songs. " And the tribal
almost voodoo beat of "Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum" began making its
spooky voyage to the sun, the guitars echoing songs from long ago,
recorded in midnight studios a few blocks away, when the words came in
chains of flashing images, like they do on this song recorded in a studio
probably a few blocks away where the words came again all the way from New
Orleans to Jerusalem, from somewhere down a rabbit hole to a brick and
tile company, trusting their fate in police permits and the hand of God.
And now we're back inside the rain of "Just Like A Woman," and I think of
how I heard Bob Dylan from a few feet a way tell a reporter in a hotel
ballroom a few blocks north how this was his favorite song, and that even
though it was recorded in Nashville the music was sort of from that other
Tennessee city to the west, but the rain, the fog, the amphetamine the
pearls and Queen Mary couldn't have been anywhere else but Manhattan, and
then I notice that he's answering each line with little licks on that
custom-made cream-colored Fender Strat, and there are no throw-away guitar
licks, and guitar tone is just right and he doesn't stop and it keeps
building and then he's doing that backwards sort of dance and turns around
to get the harp and again the crowd behind him goes nuts and again the
first few notes for them and he turns around and crouching down he just
goes crazy, the Isis harp dance, 30 years later and crowd is going nuts
and he knows exactly what he's doing, and then the intro to "Just Like Tom
Thumb's Blues," and you know why he's singing it and it's a special gift
and everyone who realizes is just waiting for that one line. And I think
back to the time I first heard it, the first time it was performed on a
freezing August night in a tennis stadium somewhere off the E train as a
cold wind blew and cops chased teenage boys in and around the musicians on
stage who never stopped playing and how that was the song that night that
really hit me and then the line came and you had to cheer, but it's time
for more blues. "Lonesome Day Blues," that starts off so simply you think
it's gonna be nothing except it's the way he sings it. It's always the
way he sings that really makes a song matters, and the verses keep coming
and suddenly it's "My captain he's decorated, he's well-schooled and he's
SKI-ILLED, and there's no mistaking the snarling sarcasm, the total menace
in his voice and suddenly the man on stage is filled with the spirit of
every blues singer that journeyed on Highway 61, got cut in bar fights and
sang on street corners. And then it's deeper into the blues, the song for
the blues man who might've been the scariest of them all, Charlie Patton,
"High Water," but it's not only the blues, there's that banjo in there and
maybe half a dozen other old mountain tunes, and maybe it's about a flood,
but then maybe it's the just a flood, because the words ring out a
warning, and maybe in a sense this is the ultimate American roots song but
again this is a singer who always brought the news: "Things are breakin'
up out there."
Then Larry's fingerpicking takes us back to another time, an album cover
of snowy streets, when a chain store or a MacDonald's in that part of New
York was unimaginable, before the Disneyization of America, and I thought
of another time, another concert, my first time seeing him in New York
City, in a then pretty new concert hall, where no folksinger had played
before, and how he shouted this song as loudly as he could into the mic,
and brought that very shiny Nick Lucas Gibson right up to the mic between
the verses and it was funny and great and new, and then let loose with a
harmonica solo that chugged like a train and could only be described as
crazy and now for the third time he's going back for the harp as I hoped
he would but didn't at shows the week before and picked up that harp and
let loose a solo that went all the way back to that chilly October night,
that last solo New York concert where people felt free enough to shout out
requests and he'd actually answer them and there was no doubt in my mind
that that harp solo was his little gift to New York, but then we're
standing on the highway with that kid on his way, with dreams and tales of
carnivals he'd been to only his mind and blues singers he never played
with, but someday would, and he's in high gear, a raging Mustang Ford, and
the delivery is stacatto syncopated charging against the rhythm, and
suddenly we're on a battlefield alone, the soldier who didn't know what he
was getting into, the mother in for the wrong surprise, the hall is hushed
and it's all about the words and there's no doubting what this song is
Then just as the mother is leaving the station with the medals in her
hand, the scene shifts entirely and we're into a super-charged "Summer
Days" except the summer days are gone. And as he has been all night,
Dylan is really singing, nailing each song and the nails are going down
hit hard by the three guitar assault and all is quiet for "Sugar Baby,"
done slowly, carefully, eloquently, and just as you're recovering, wham,
into a more than hard rocking "Drifter's Escape," and in the middle out of
nowhere comes this very funky guitar solo that takes the song even higher,
and it's not noodling and it's not searching, it's just going and going
and it's not Charlie Sexton and it's not Larry Campbell, it's Bob Dylan
and he's riding it for all it's worth and he is absolutely determined to
show everyone that yes he can take that Stratocaster and make it lift up
its glass and sing.
The familiar intro to "Rainy Day Women" lets you know the show's almost
over and you don't want it to be over and the band seems to be jamming on
this one more than they did in DC and Philly and it's time for the band
introductions, and just like on every other show on this tour, Dylan
starts, "Ladies and Gentleman, I wanna introduce my band, the best band in
the land," and then he paused for just a second and he said, "Most of the
songs we're playin' tonight were written here and those that weren't were
recorded here. So no one has to ask me how I feel about this town." And
then he went on to introduce David Kemper as the only drummer who's better
than no drummer at all. Make no mistake, it was a highly emotional
On the way off the stage, Dylan paused for the people in the back, reached
up started shaking hands and autographed a CD or two.
The encores were just icing on a very rich cake. "Rolling Stone" was
notable for the way he sang "everything everything everything he can
steal," "Blowin' In The Wind" and "Forever Young" were packed with emotion
and, "Thing Have Changed," "Watchtower" and "Honest With Me" all rocked
hard. Donning a black hat as he left the stage, he again stopped to give
autographs and acknowledge the people who watched the show from the rear.
Bob Dylan came home last night, and while the setlist might look very much
like every other setlist on this tour, in everything he did, every word he
sang, every little gesture, let the audience know how much New York means
Review by John D. Baldwin
Last night at the Garden was the seventh time in seven years I've seen Bob
play live. Like all those other performances, it was a tremendous show.
(Critics call him an uneven live performer: I don't know what they're
talking about.) The significant difference this time was that he and his
band were "standing naked" -- there were no fellow 'Sixties veterans, like
Joni Mitchell or Van Morrison, or young upstarts, like Sheryl Crow or Ani
DiFranco, to help him carry the weight. The concert was indeed what it
said on the ticket: "An Evening with Bob Dylan." Nothing less.
Was it the best of the seven? I would have to listen to the tapes when
they become available (preferably a couple of hundred times) to make such
a judgment. But I do know that I've never seen him work as relentlessly
as he did last night. He gave 100 per cent on every single song in this
marathon (almost 2.5 hours) concert, and whatever sense of intimacy may
have been lost was offset by the sheer intensity of the music. This
sixty-year-old guy has never rocked harder.
Wait for the Light to Shine, like its interchangeable country-gospel
counterparts at the top of Bob's set, serves both to charge up the
audience and to conserve his own (and the band's) energy for the heavier,
deeper work to come.
On It Ain't Me Babe, he tried out a kind of talk-singing, breaking into
real song on only a few lines. Splendid harp work by Bob on this one,
with lots of those great knee-bends. (Bob is to the knees what Elvis was
to the hips.)
With A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall, each line was like a wave crashing on the
shore, rushing up to the end until the emphasis is reached on the
penultimate syllable ("I-heard-one-person-starve-I-heard-many-people
LAUGH-ing" - a very appropriate line for this moment in historical time).
Nice guitar interplay on this song, as usual.
Searching for a Soldier's Grave was well-performed, but rather awkwardly
placed in the set, slowing the momentum a bit.
The first electric number, Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum, demonstrated a
pattern that would continue on all the rockers throughout the evening: the
song would begin a bit lackadaisically, then gain almost imperceptibly in
intensity, until the band would really rock the joint.
Just Like a Woman - just a lovely version, perhaps the best live version
I've ever heard, in person or on tape, including New Orleans in 1981. A
pattern on many of the old songs he sang this night was a tendency to
phrase them much like the songs on the new album, that is, to draw out the
first few words of the line, then cram the rest together, the effect
effortless rather than awkward. On certain songs, too, his voice would
rise in pitch, much higher than I thought he could go, at the ends of
lines, achieving a quite beautiful effect.
Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues - This took me back to my previous encounter
with Bob three years ago, also at the Garden, and the magnificent version
of this tune he performed then. (Of all Bob's songs, this one has, I
think the best opening chords.) This version was not quite as good as
1998, but it had nice, searing guitar work by (I think) Charlie. (I was
much farther from the stage than I wanted to be.)
Lonesome Day Blues - Again, a bit too casual at the beginning, but gaining
in intensity as the song went along. The "I'm going to spare the
defeated" verse got some cheers from the crowd, as I'd hoped.
High Water - More relaxed than the impressive studio version, but some
nice jamming and a good, slow ending.
Don't Think Twice, It's Alright - Another flashback to the November, 1998
Garden performance, in which this song almost stopped the show. Also a
popular favorite at this show, and Bob didn't disappoint.
Tangled Up in Blue - One of the highlights. A lot of people got really
tired of this one when he did it almost every night during the mid-1990's,
but now that he's revived it, it's surprising how welcome it is. Really
got the audience jumping. A pleasant memory: an audience member dancing
orgiastically a few rows ahead of me, his (her?) hair bouncing up and
down, like a jumping mop.
John Brown - Has he ever performed this song badly?
Summer Days - The old 50's rock-and-roller asserting himself with a
vengeance. "I know a place where there's still somethin' goin' on" --
namely, wherever Bob is.
Sugar Baby - Another highlight. The stage was drenched in purple light,
the audience directly behind the band were all green, and Bob stood out in
a white spotlight. A beautiful tune, beautifully done.
Drifter's Escape - Amazing, straight-ahead rock-and-roll. Totally
different from the version he used to open shows in 1995, but just as
powerful and even more muscular.
Rainy Day Women #12 & 35 - Not my favorite Dylan tune by a long chalk, but
those who hadn't heard this song 3000 times seemed to like it.
Things Have Changed - Workmanlike version. Fine but unspectacular.
Like a Rolling Stone - On the chorus, the stage beams fanned out and
saturated the whole audience with white light, sparking cheers every time.
Kudos to whoever was in charge of the stage lighting for this concert.
Forever Young - Very, very tender and sweet.
Honest to Me - Very hard rocking, though not, IMHO, as good as the
tremendous studio version.
Blowin' in the Wind - Best group singing I've ever heard on this song,
courtesy of Charlie and Larry.
All Along the Watchtower - Cheers from the first note on this one. At the
end, he repeated the first verse and ended loudly with the line, "None of
them along the line know what any of it is worth." A very satisfying
conclusion to a concert that represented a tremendous outpouring of energy
and spirit and commitment by five men -- "the best band in the land."
An aching moment of suspense to see if he would come back onstage and make
this perhaps his longest show ever -- then the lights came up. (Can
anybody tell me which show was his longest?)
This new, ugly period of war and lies and repression seems to me the worst
in my lifetime -- and that's saying a lot. Bob's great performance did
not change anything, but he made living in the present a bit more
bearable, and that's no small achievement.
John D. Baldwin
page by Bill Pagel
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