New York, New York

Beacon Theatre

November 21, 2017

[Mike Skliar], [Barry Gloffke], [Laurette Maillet], [Peter Smith]

Review by Mike Skliar

This was the second time this year (2017 ) that I caught a Bob Dylan show-
I saw the opening show of the spring/summer, at the Capitol Theater in
Port Chester, NY in mid-June 2017. Before that, my last show was summer
2016 in Bethlehem Pa., and before that, ‘lots and lots of times’
starting in 1978. (though before 2016 I hadn’t seen him since another
Beacon gig in December 2014). 

It’s always hard to be exact with these things, but this was one of the
great ones. First, how many 76-year old performers are still challenging
and re-inventing themselves, 56 years into a career that shows no signs of
stopping? (“How many musical roads can a man walk down, before he runs
out of steam”?  “A whole lot, more than most can imagine” seems to
be the answer).  That constant re-invention, the testing of musical and
performance boundaries, was very much in evidence at this show, which
united several disparate strands of American music- the “jazz
standards” of the 30’s and 40’s, the jump-blues hiccups of 1950’s
early rock and roll, early 60’s surf-rock sound, the flowering of heady
1960’s word-drunk psychedelia, the confessional singer-songwriter years,
and so much more. 

On to the specifics- first (and as at the show I saw in 2016 in Bethlehem
Pa.) Mavis Staples and her band was a superb opening act. She is
effervescent, engaging, soulful, with a dynamite band, an appealing
blues/gospel/r & b rootsy authenticity, and great song choices. One thing
different at this show compared to 2016 is that she is touring with a new
and very topical & timely album, which she did a few songs from.  Songs
exploring the ‘digital loneliness’ of social media were complimented
by everything from a great cover of the Talking Heads song ‘Slippery
People” and some old Staple Singers hits, including “I’ll take you
there” complete with audience participation. Mavis is kind of the
anti-Bob when it comes to audience involvement, she gets out there and
encourages everyone to participate. (One very sad moment, unfortunately,
was when some idiot yelled out a horrible insult, she dismissed him with a
few words and kept on, like the pro she was. Sad that something like this
happens in this day and age) 

On to Bob- he came out fairly fast after Mavis’ set, and did what for
him these days is the more-or-less ‘usual’ 20-song set.  The opener,
“Things have changed” has indeed changed a little bit since the last
few times I saw it- not as drastically as some of the other re-workings,
however. Both Bob and the band seemed quieter, more subdued, with a great
care to frame the vocal with just enough without overpowering it. A fine
version, though not as hard hitting as some I’ve seen. Next up was a
fine, delicate-yet-firm “It ain’t me babe” with Bob taking his time
on the wonderful phrasing, giving this a gentle lilt and treating the
melody with care-a lot more care then he used to give this song back in
the 80’s and early 90’s, for example.   “Highway 61” had
suggestions of that barrelhouse-blues feel, but was also much more
musically subdued then it was in previous years. What this lost in
swagger, it gained in the way you could hear all those
playing-with-the-beat phrasings that he’s an expert in.  Again, a fine
version, but it didn’t feel like the show ‘took off’ fully yet.

That all changed with the first ‘jazz standard’ (largely from Frank
Sinatra’s catalog) of the night- “Why try to change me now’. His
singing, and the band’s playing, of this song and the other 4 jazz
standards of the evening (five songs total) was sublime, perfect, and
breathtaking. Both he and the band have become even more assured in their
presentation and delivery of these songs, and there were audible
‘whooo’s’ and excited ‘ahhs’ from the crowd for each and every
one of these songs.    This was great to hear, too, as (inexplicably to
me) there was some resistance initially by a lot of Bob’s longtime fans
to his three recent ‘Sinatra cover’ albums.

“Why try to change me now” is also, as well as a great song, a perfect
encapsulation of that ‘quirky-Bob-being Bob’ worldview (the idea
worked for Frank Sinatra, too, in fact) and it was an inspired choice for
the first of these songs.  For any who haven’t seen Bob do these songs,
standing center-stage, with no instrument other than holding (somewhat
awkwardly) a mic stand sideways and a microphone, it’s an iteration of
Bob that needs to be seen and experienced.  His care and control in
phrasing, delivery, and melodicism were as good as I’ve seen him, just
about any time. 

Next up was a country-violin flavored “Summer Days”. Again, the band
was careful not to overpower the vocal and all the nuance and wordplay of
the song was on full display.  “Melancholy Mood (the B side of
Sinatra’s first 78 rpm single in 1939) continued the ‘jazz
standards’ with a more jazz-filled arrangement and the band doing a full
verse before the vocal comes in, just like those old ‘Sinatra and Harry
James’, or ‘Sinatra and Tommy Dorsey’ recordings from 1939-42. 

The first major re-arrangement of Dylan’s original songs was next,
“Honest with Me’. This had never been a favorite Dylan song of mine
and I never understood his fascination with doing it in the early and
mid-2000’s almost every show. He’s found a way to do it without making
it all about that in-your-face blues riff, however, and for the first time
I could actually make out all the lyrics and explore the nuances of the
vocal. Its still not my favorite song, but I have a new appreciation for
the in-your-face vernacular of the lyric and the bluesy way the vocal and
band play off each other.  Best version of the song I’ve ever heard

Next was another major re-arrangement, “Trying to get to heaven”. I
have more mixed feelings about this one- its one of my favorite of the
‘recent’ Bob songs, and has a heartbreaking lyric that echoes old
blues laments in interesting ways. For me, the height of performance
versions of this song was the ‘jazz’ rearrangement he did in about
2002 or so with those flat-five and half-diminished chords (I think that
version is on the bootleg series ‘Tell tale signs’ album).  By
contrast, this version seemed to be ‘strange-to-be-strange’. I can’t
help feeling that the second half of each verse is somehow in a different
(and almost random) key then the rest of the song, and other then the
title line (which is drawn out wonderfully and effectively) it didn’t
‘work’ for me as well as it could have. It’s a great lyric, however,
and the phrasing (other than the strange chords/melody choices) was

“Once Upon a Time’ (done not only by Sinatra back in the day, but also
by Tony Bennett as one of his signature tunes) was next, and as the other
jazz standards, was excellent. The pauses in the bridge of the song going
back to the verses were particularly effective.

Back to the 21st century, ‘Pay in Blood’ was next- live, these days,
it doesn’t have that insane bark of a vocal it did on the record
(Tempest) anymore. What it lost in over-the-top swagger, however,  it
gained in nuance. (Although to be honest, I do prefer a tiny bit more
swagger with this song). I was struck with the great
lifted-from-Shakespeare line ‘I came to bury, not to praise’, and
someone should do a study of how much Dylan (especially recent
‘tempest’ era) has Shakespearian themes and quotes.  (I also wonder
how topical Bob thinks of the line about ‘politicians pumping out the
piss’ is, by the way? Seems all too eerily appropriate these days) 

Next was my favorite re-inventions of the night- a ‘bizarre-but it
works’ version of  “Tangled up in blue”.   I know many have heard
this arrangement and haven’t loved it, but for me it hit the sweet spot
of ‘experimental-throw-out-all-the rules’ while still remaining
emotionally true. There are sophisticated yet strange levels of musical
invention that are truly breathtaking. One example is the way the band
slides suddenly into a minor key at the word ‘blue’ in the title line
at the end of each verse, only to go back to a major key a moment later. 
Bob gave some ‘newer’ iterations of the verses, too, and possibly an
‘only-tonight’ reference to ‘rain falling on broken shoes’.  This
is a brave-but-true reinvention that shows, more than almost anything
else, that the writer of the line ‘he not busy being born is busy
dyin’ takes that sentiment very seriously indeed.   This is in the
language of ‘advanced Bob’ so to speak, and for me, it totally worked,
way better then I had any reason to expect. 

“Soon after midnight’ and ‘Early Roman Kings’, two songs from
Tempest, were next. Fine versions (and ERK had a neat re-arrangement that
left a big hole between verses, filled by Charlie Sexton’s solo guitar
imaginatively) -though neither is an all-time favorite song of mine. 
Another great jazz standard, ‘Full moon and empty arms’ was next-
wonderfully sung and played. 

Then came another huge highlight for me, a simmering and perfect
‘Desolation Row’. Listening to the incredible lyric, the jazzy
phrasing, and the way the band followed every vocal  or piano nuance that
Bob gave it, was quite the experience. I thought somewhere in the middle
‘oh yeah, this is why this guy won the Nobel Prize for Literature’. 
The performance was a perfect blend of not-too-straight, not too quirky,
too (sometimes he’s “over-stranged” it in the past) and once again
the band’s ability to follow was impressive. (Is this the best band
he’s ever had? Probably)

Next was an ‘everyone was telling me how great this is going to be’
rearranged ‘Thunder on the Mountain’. Funny, I liked the idea, but
didn’t love the end result as much as many others. That surf-rock
(possibly from the Beach Boys?) riff was novel, but perhaps a bit too
novel, and the lyric was a bit awkwardly shoehorned in there- plus its not
one of my favorite songs. (I would so much rather have heard any one of a
million older songs of his he never does in this slot rather then a song
he did every night for four or five years). It was interesting, but I only
liked, rather than loved it.

A sublime “Autumn Leaves” was next, followed by a fantastic version of
“Love Sick”. The latter song benefited from a quieter approach, and
was just amazing, haunting and a perfect closer. I loved how the band
stayed quiet all the way thru it, not having to emphasize the ‘big
riffs’ in the chorus—taking to heart the Sinatra-does-bossa nova-with
Jobim  (or Miles Davis doing ‘Sketches of Spain’) approach that
‘less is more’.    

The two encores, ‘Blowin in the Wind’ and “Ballad of a thin man”
were both wonderful, of course, and were in the same basic arrangement
they have been for the last few years. He’s stopped using that
‘echo’ effect on the vocal in Thin Man, (which I loved but which maybe
felt a bit overused by now?). “Blowin” was as sincere and lived-in a
version as I have ever heard. In our crazy and somewhat sad times we’re
living in these days, it never felt more appropriate, too. 

All in all, a great end to a great evening of music! 

Mike Skliar


Review by Barry Gloffke

But tonight… Wow! This was delicious. A nine out of ten. Maybe even a
ten of ten. Only one small blemish (well, maybe two) on BALLAD OF A THIN
MAN (and of course DESOLATION ROW). But otherwise, brilliant! Bob and the
Band at their best. And the audience was heads and shoulders above the
Monday crowd. So many good moments… I am still trying to absorb it all.
My buddy Brian was with me tonight (his 2nd Dylan show, my 39th) and I am
glad he went, because he saw one for the ages. Speaking to him afterwards
he had nothing but high praise for the event he witnessed.

Tonight I saw Bob Dylan channeling Jerry Lee Lewis, I saw the living god
of rock n' roll deliver a powerful performance, and I swore I heard Johnny
B. Goode at some point in THUNDER ON THE MOUNTAIN. Speaking of THUNDER ON
THE MOUNTAIN… rock and fucking roll!! An absolute house crashing, bone
crushing, dance your ass off version, delivered with fire and brimstone.

Some other thoughts…
- Great drums all night from George
- So many good moments of interplay between Bob and Charlie
- On the slower songs (especially the American songbook songs) the Band
brews a thick sweet, syrup… sort of akin to a waterfall of honey

- A top notch THINGS HAVE CHANGED with Bob in great voice and stretching
out the vocals - Fantastic piano playing on IT AIN'T ME, BABE - A blazing
HIGHWAY 61 REVISITED with great piano work and most of the audience
standing and dancing (a 180 degree turaround from the previous night) - A
sweet, sweet, sweet WHY TRY TO CHANGE ME NOW found Bob with very neat
vocal inflections - George's drums, Donnie's strings and Charlie's licks
on SUMMER DAYS - Bob's low register vocals on MELANCHOLY MOOD (love this
song) - A fast & funky (again!?!?) HONEST WITH ME with shades of Jerry Lee
Lewis - TRYIN' TO GET TO HEAVEN was bouncy and Bob was stretching his
vocals - ONCE UPON A TIME was a waterfall of honey - PAY IN BLOOD was
rough and bitter blues - The spotlight was on Bob and his white jacket for
another twisted, tangy, TANGLED UP IN BLUE (bluuueeeuuuu!!) - Good
stretching vocals on SOON AFTER MIDNIGHT - My handkerchief (bandana) was
waving in the air… EARLY ROMAN KINGS… soul crushing - Another FULL
MOON AND EMPTY ARMS quietly lit up the night - A much better version of
DESOLATION ROW… in fact I would give it a 9 out of 10… good drums -
THUNDER ON THE MOUNTAIN… is well, fucking actual thunder on the
mountain. A crash the house party, firestorm. Love, love, love this
version. It should be the 18th song to end the initial show - Another
mesmerizing AUTUMN LEAVES - A haunting LOVE SICK with great play between
Bob and Charlie - The penultimate song, BLOWIN' IN THE WIND was better
than usual with stretched out (maybe that happens all the time, but I am
too enthralled by that time to notice) vocal phrasing and musical
improvisations - Something happened here… and I know what it was… it
was a great version of BALLAD OF A THIN MAN to close out another great Bob
Dylan show

• The Band was outstanding again tonight. Kudos. Dressed in their
signature blue sparkling suits ( hats for Stu, George and Tony) they were
ever so nimble, effortlessly transitioning from barn burning rock n' roll
to silky lounge jazz vibrations sprinkled with gritty, dirt in your nails

I can't find the phrases nor sing loudly enough the praises to do this
Cowboy Band justice. Bows and bravos to all. But then again, I am a biased
Dylan fan

Thank you once more Bob for a fine evening.
See you Wednesday in the Beacon Theatre.


Review by Laurette Maillet

21th of November New York, New York. We wake up slowly in the
appartment/studio packed with 4 AirBandBs and 3 Couchsurfers, a cat and a
dog. I am responsible for the animals (in absence of the owner)so I manage
to feed the little dog, Nina, who is not coperative! The cat, Tango, is a
sweety(actually,  he's bigger than the dog)!  We also have cockroaches
and mice, but they are not supposed to be fed! There is a Christmas market
by Union Square and since the weather is nice I walk all the way to South
Manhattan by Broadway. I feel confused and desoriented in Time Square.
What a "jungle"! I remember having had a good time with my friend JohnPaul
when we came here after a Bob Dylan show....millions years ago! I bought a
slice of pizza(about the only food affordable). Prices are rocketing in
New York. The Christmas market is nothing special. I have the same one at
home. Art craft but also "junk". I take the subway back to home, walk to
the Beacon to see Bobby and his Band getting ready for the soundcheck. 
They are definitely not staying at the Beacon Hotel. He is extremely
discreet ; sneaking inside his bus, then to the backstage door.  Walk
back home to feed the animals and get ready for the evening. By 6.15 p.m.
I am at the Beacon doors. I criss crossed with Barron. (Always bumping in
him!) He's off duty as Bob is sleeping in his bus by now. Not so much a
queue as last night. The sign says "Sold out". I don't trust the sign and
trully I don’t care. The scalpers are agressive in New York. I try to
avoid any conflict. I am just looking for a good soul with an extra
ticket. I feel the crowd more "distant" tonight, less happy and joyous as
yesterday.  The venue policy is the same; search and metal detector. Plus
a group of heavy armed security, right in front. Do we nead that
deployment of Force? What will they do against a "maniac"? I feel more
scared with than without "security". In Japan they learn martial Arts ,
just to neutralised the problematic folks. In Israel they use
psychology.  Here it sounds more like provocation! The line is forming at
7 p.m.  By 7.30 p.m. Mavis Staples is on but a bunch of folks will
definitely miss the opening act. I hope they didn’t pay the 600$ front
row ticket!! We are about 10 looking for a free ticket. We are easy to
recognised;  the right index up in the air. By 8.20 p.m. I join another
guy, Joe, and we start chating about ... Bob Dylan. 2 women seem to be
waiting for someone. Joe asks "by any chance, do you have an extra
ticket?" "Yes" one of the ladies says "and maybe 2, as my cousins are not
coming".  Woha!  "Predators" try to buy those tix but the Lady is firm
"I already promised them" she says. Thanks sooo much. It is 8.20 p.m. but
they want to smoke a cigarette. One is visibly intoxicated.  I press them
to get in as there is still security to pass throu and Bob will be on
time. They stop at the bar but with Joe we run to our seats, all the way
up, on the third balcony, as Stu takes the stage. A miracle! Thanks my
"precious Angel", under the sky! I have a view on the top of the piano.
Pages are displayed;  the setlist and apparently lyrics of the songs, as
Bob is turning some pages after each song. He is dressed in a white
jacket.  I spot the statues ; one on the right side (by the piano), the
other one, all the way on the lef side (on a speaker). The Oscar is here
too, but maybe not the beads.  During "Pay in blood", a woman, in the far
left side of the stage is taking a bunch of photos.  A professional
photographer or a member of the family? Joe asks me constantly what will
be the next song. Luckily Bob doesn’t change the setlist! Ah!ah! Exactly
the same as yesterday. I see Bob talking to Donnie and Tony just before
"Full moon and empty arms ". It might be that they have more options at
that moment, right after "The early Roman kings ". The sound is as loud as
yesterday,  particularly on "Thunder on the mountain". Joe is
enthusiastic as far as "Highway 61" then he is loosing interest. 
Disappointed with "Tangled in blue" and lost with the songs from the
2000s. "Desolation row" brings a standing ovation from the crowd. And the
solo drumming by George on "Thunder on the mountain " is warmly applauded.
My row is all empty by "Autumn leaves".(was half empty all the time
anyway). Most of the public is not familiar with the setlist or the songs
; applauses are heard before the end of "Why try to change me now" and
"Full moon and empty arms". It doesn't disturb Bob, who is doing is
performance.  "Blowing in the wind" is welcomed as Bob Dylan's anthem by
now. The LEGEND was on, tonight. His Salut is weird ; hands up and bending
on his knees.  I had the feeling, but just the feeling, that his back was
hurting him. And I wonder why, oh why he is doing it! The photos show him
skinny and tired! My feelings are mixed ; happy to see him on stage but
sorry he has to do it in pain! Thank you Bobby. Good night and see you


Review by Peter Smith

Tuesday was a beautiful late fall day in NYC, sunny and in the mid 50’s.
Shop doors were open and the hearty ate outside in sidewalk cafes. You
could sense the anticipation of  the holiday on the horizon but the
completely mad rush had yet to begin.   A friend in the neighborhood of
the Beacon noted two trucks parked along Amsterdam Ave in back of the
theater Monday morning. Later, a tour bus was parked at 75th Street
between Broadway and Amsterdam.  Dylan and Company was setting up their
holiday pop up shop for the Thanksgiving week.

The day before the show, the venue sent an email to ticket holders that
reinforced the 7:30 start time (not 8pm as advertised in the souvenir
posters), noted the doors would open an hour before then, and suggested
that a half an hour should be allowed to get through security,  An usher
informed us that bag checks and metal detectors were introduced at the
Beacon a few months ago, something that’s been in place since it started
at Springsteen on Broadway.

Unfortunately, many people either were either unable to arrive timely, or
didn’t care as they steadily streamed into the theater throughout
Mavis’ 45 minute set, which started promptly at 7:30.  She was as strong
as ever and deserved a little more love for all she gaave.  She played a
few from her new album and along with Staple Singers standards Come Go
With Me and I’ll Take You There.  Would have loved to hear her sing The
Weight, but alas not tonight, She joked about Bob’s moves on stage and
tried to mimic them, getting a few laughs from the crowd.

Bob started very close to 8:30 and much of the crowd was on their feet for
Things Have Changed, It Ain’t Me Babe and Highway 61 Revisited.  They
settled in their seats for Why Try To Change Me Now. The sound in the
theater was excellent; Dylan’s vocals and piano were sharp and distinct
in the mix.  He was committed to every moment of the performance, whether
spread stanced pounding on the piano keys or tilting the mike stand during
a standard.  Stage lighting seemed a little brighter than the last show I
saw in the summer of 2016. The revamped Beach Boys style surf rock beat
arrangement for Honest With Me stood out.

Reading reviews of the new book by the Harvard prof, Why Dylan Matters, I
was struck by  The Guardian interview with that author said that he had no
interest in meeting Dylan and was more interested "in the poetry than the
poet."  There is poetry in Dylan, of course, but what makes the shows work
is rock and roll and a tight band.  There is every bit the sense that
Dylan is conscious that the Buddy Holly moment he spoke of in his
Musicares speech could be recreated with anyone, or all, in his audience,
on this or any given night.

He was powerful and electrifying and had a commanding presence. I was only
six feet away. He was mesmerizing. I watched his face, his hands, the way
he tapped his foot, his big black glasses, the eyes behind the glasses,
the way he held his guitar, the way he stood, his neat suit. Everything
about him. He looked older than twenty-two. Something about him seemed
permanent, and he filled me with conviction. Then, out of the blue, the
most uncanny thing happened. He looked me right straight dead in the eye,
and he transmitted something. Something I didn't know what. And it gave me
the chills.

Long live Dylan, the King of Rock! He’s still sending chills.


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