Reviews

Chicago, Illinois
Vic Theatre
March 7, 2004


[Mike Stillman], [Robert Lynch], [Jeffrey Johnson]

Review by Mike Stillman



It was an exceptionally strong Bob Dylan show at the Vic Theatre in
Chicago tonight, probably the best Chicago area performance from Bob since
the late show at the Park West in '99. I've always enjoyed seeing shows at
the Vic, a slightly run-down but comfortable old theatre with few
pretensions. The Vic is never billed as "ornate" or a "landmark" but it
was well-designed many decades ago, with good sightlines and excellent
acoustics. It is no exaggeration to say that the sound is better in the
bathrooms of the Vic than the main floor of the Aragon.

Tonight's show began almost on time with TOMBSTONE BLUES, and it was
immediately obvious that the band was *on*, in the best form, with a
strong ensemble sound and focused energy. Bob concentrated on the vocals
and harp, playing minimal piano that seemed to be intentionally
undermixed. Unlike the last two nights where he duck-walked to
center-stage for crooning and harpwork, Bob stayed behind the piano
tonight, and sang with a powerful voice, tempered by subtle inflections.
Larry Campbell and then Freddy Koella took guitar solos that were concise
but meaningful, like most of the solos tonight.

Next was the new arrangement of IT'S ALL OVER NOW, BABY BLUE that has been
mentioned in the last few days. It's missing a beat from the old version,
a little less fluid but an interesting alternative. Larry played pedal
steel, and Bob took the first of the night's several harp solos. Then came
TWEEDLE DUM AND TWEEDLE DEE, as well-played as you've ever heard it, with
Richie Hayward playing congas along with George Recile's drumkit,
well-synchronized. Then came LOVE SICK for the first time on this tour, in
all its atmospheric glory, and Richie sat out. Bob sang as if he was
singing about someone in the room, Larry took a pointed guitar solo, and
the soundman didn't have much problem using the Vic acoustics to mix the
band in perfect stereo imagery.

Then came STUCK INSIDE OF MOBILE (WITH THE MEMPHIS BLUES AGAIN) performed
for the first time in a few months, with George stepping off and letting
Richie man the drums alone. Larry played acoustic guitar, and Freddy took
an electric guitar solo, but the surprise came when Bob took not one but
two harp solos, the final one ending the song.

Next was one of the evening's surprises, a completely new arrangement of
MOONLIGHT, much faster and with a different feel, beginning with Bob's
harp intro. This arrangement rides on Larry's arpeggiated riff on the
lower strings, like something that wouldn't be out of place in a Steely
Dan song. Freddy played a nice guitar figure during the bridge, which
surprised me a little, because Freddy usually plays best on songs that he
has already played a few times. He also took a guitar solo that was of the
non-cheesy variety. Tony played his stand-up bass. I liked the original
arrangement of this song, but this was an interesting alternative, and I
was glad to hear it. The other arrangement was more menacing, but this has
its merits.

Then came one of the strongest songs of the night, a thundering COLD IRONS
BOUND that might have been even better than the one played at the Cabaret
Metro in '99. Richie left to go backstage, and George returned to power
the band with his forearms bulging like some percussive Popeye. Freddy
played a workable solo, but the best came when it was time for the "winds
in Chicago" line......Bob paused, Larry looked at him, Freddy looked at
him, Tony looked at him, Bob kept pausing, kicked his leg back like he was
winding up, milking it, teasing everyone, pausing again with the tension
building, then delivering "THE WINDS IN CHICAGO  ARE
TEARING ME TO SHREDS!" and the place was up for grabs. The band was like a
single entity, half beast and half machine, and Bob was the powerful voice
that was driving it all. You need a recording of this show, and so do I.

Next came BOOTS OF SPANISH LEATHER, another tour debut, with another harp
intro by Bob. Bob was all about harp and voice tonight, though he never
really left the keyboard. This was a beautiful version, with Larry's
cittern adding the perfect texture. Bob took yet another harp solo, and
Larry took a short cittern solo to end the song. Then came HIGHWAY 61 with
both drummers back on stage, and Tony back on electric bass, everything
coming together perfectly. Freddy took a solo, then Larry took a solo,
then Bob glanced at Freddy to take another solo and he did, this time
wailing with his slide. There were really no extended solos tonight, but
every song had multiple short solos, to the point with few wasted notes,
expressive but not long-winded. 

Yet another highlight was BLIND WILLIE McTELL for the first time on this
tour. Bob phrased every verse carefully and perfectly; this show was an
equal blend of power and precision. Larry took two (2!) cittern solos,
which didn't seem like a novelty, but rather an integral component that
reinforced the song's emotion. I was also encouraged to hear Freddy play a
sensitive, spooky solo that was far different than his usual strutting
rock-n-roll persona. Very fine version, and the cittern made it different.

Then came FLOATER, which was really the only weak song of the night, in my
opinion. Freddy is an accomplished violin player, and took a good solo,
and Larry played a jazzy solo on his hollow-body electric. But George has
never really had a feel for what to do during this song, and his
ineffectual brushwork detracted more than it added. This was much stronger
than the Aragon version from Friday night, but it still didn't quite work.
They need to rearrange this somehow. Next was HONEST WITH ME, a setlist
staple. Larry's slide guitar carries this song, and the rave-up with Larry
and Freddie trading fours at centerstage worked very well tonight, a
crowd-pleaser.

Then we heard SAVING GRACE in a beautiful version, maybe slightly slower
than on the studio album, with more emphasis on the melody. Bob was fully
committed to getting it right. Larry's pedal steel guitar was the perfect
accompaniment, subtle and detailed. He is such a brilliant musician that
he sometimes makes it seem effortless. The song ended with Bob playing a
few lines on the harp and Freddy improvising a bit along with him. Only
Richie on drums. This song was yet another highlight, almost in the same
slot that Every Grain Of Sand would sometimes occupy, and just as good.

The main portion of the show ended with SUMMER DAYS, maybe not quite as
strong as some of the versions of a couple of years ago, but still a
powerhouse, and there was no muddiness or boominess at the Vic no matter
how loudly the band played. Tony played acoustic bass, and George returned
to play drums while Richie sat out.

Then came the three encores, which had the effect that encores should but
rarely do. There were almost no shows on last Fall's European tour where
all three songs were 10's on a 1-to-10 scale, but tonight they hit it.
CAT'S IN THE WELL was as well-played as I've ever heard it, Bob declaring
the vocals and the band going bumpity-bump. Freddy, then Larry, then
Freddy again on guitar solos. The last drum beat of Cat's became the
famous opening snare bang of LIKE A ROLLING STONE, in its slightly new
arrangement for this tour. The guitarists lay out on every other measure
during the chorus, letting George play in an almost hip-hop pattern behind
Bob's vocal, then the guitarists come back to overlap at the end of the
vocal line. After LARS, the band was introduced, then they finished with
ALL ALONG THE WATCHTOWER in the same arrangement as in Europe, with
George's drum roll after the first verse launching the guitar
pyrotechnics. Freddy likes this tune, and he and Larry tore into it.

Great show! Far better than the Aragon. Now on to the Park West tomorrow
night.......

[TOP]

Review by Robert Lynch



Thanks to a good friend of mine I received a copy of this show in the mail today. Listening to it 
I remember how incredible it was and decided that I should write a brief review of the show if for 
nothing else, to just get it out of my head so I could read it myself.

All four shows in Chicago were memorable for their own reasons but the show at The Vic Theater was 
the best one top to bottom. The venue was an old, slightly run down theater just West of the 
Wrigleyville neighborhood if I have my sense of direction right. Iím sure if Iím wrong some kind 
soul from Chicago will put me straight. The Theater is very low key with a simple marquee. The front 
of the building was surrounded by scaffolding which would have offered a little shelter had it been 
raining but on the day of the show only helped to funnel the wind between the busses and the front 
of the venue into a veritable wind-tunnel. After waiting in line all day through the coldest day of 
my stay in Chicago, doors opened around 6:30 and with what was by far the most prepared security that 
I have ever seen at a GA show, we were let into the venue.  I was lucky enough to make it down to the 
rail for the third night in a row and this night, had a great spot directly in front of Larry. About 
15 after 8 the lights went down, the music came up and Bob and the guys took the stageÖ

From the first notes of Tombstone Blues the band sounded much more in sync than the previous night at 
the Riviera just a few blocks away, with Bob spitting out the first line holding nothing back,  
"sweet pretty things are in bed now of course."  He fired off the words like there was no tomorrow 
nailing the entire song. Maybe Bob was as happy to be playing a new song in the opening slot as 
opposed to the last couple of nights as we were to be hearing it. Its All Over Now Baby Blue was much 
improved from the night before with Bob really getting into the new arrangement with lots of emphasis 
of the last couple of syllables of each line. 

With the opening chords of Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum, the show really began to go off into another 
realm. I had grown tired of this song hearing it many times live over the past couple of years but at 
The Vic it was very fresh and full of energy! It didnít drag along and Bob and the band really seemed 
to enjoy playing it. This was the first night of the Chicago run that Cry Awhile wasnít in the third 
slot and I started to feel like maybe Bob was really going to mix this set up.

Lovesick was next, played for the first time of the tour and Bob sang it wonderfully, singing closer 
to his natural, lower vocal range. Larry played an awesome solo which got an incredible response from 
the crowd bringing a smile to his face. Next upÖStuck Inside Of Mobile. Again, a first for the tour 
and again, it sounded great. Larry was on acoustic for the first time really pounding out the rhythm 
and Bob really cut loose with some great phrasing such as with the line "speaking to some French girl, 
who says she knows me well". Very playful, singing along with the melody of the song. Its nice to hear 
Bob do this, it always makes it seem like he is really having a good time up on stage. Freddy played 
a great solo, one of his more straightforward solos in my opinion and it really worked well. 

The surprises kept coming during this show and the next one was the biggest of them all for me. After 
a quick instrument change for Larry from acoustic 6 string to Bozuki, the band sort of slipped into 
the next song with Bob leading the way setting the pace on keys. Once the band came in I had no idea 
what song they were playing , all I knew is it was one that they sound checked a couple of hours 
earlier. Waiting for something to be recognizable, "Seasons they are turning, my poor heart is 
yearnin" . What!?! I still couldnít figure it out. The music didnít go with anything I knew so I 
couldnít place it even with the lyrics until nearly the end of the first verse.  Bob really hit his 
stride with the vocal delivery after the first verse and he was able to settle into something that 
he was comfortable with. Personally if I had to choose which new arrangement I like better out of 
Moonlight and It Aint Me Babe, I gotta go with Moonlight. The upbeat tempo is fun and I think itís 
a great re-working of a great song. 

Cold Irons Bound was next and I was surprised that it hadnít been played at either of the previous 
Chicago shows. I was happy to finally be hearing it knowing that the crowd would really respond to 
this song especially the "winds in Chicago " line and apparently Bob knew it too really playing up 
the moment. When it came time for that verse he let the band play an extra few measures while he 
leaned back on his heals and put his hands out, palms facing the rest of the band as if to say, "Here 
we go" and then leaning into the mic he nailed it and of courseÖthe crowd went nuts.

Boots of Spanish  Leather is the same arrangement as the Fall European tour. I think it was one of 
the highlights of the show. Its nice to see Bob bring the energy of the show way down and sing 
something as sensitive and beautiful as this song. I hadnít seen it live in a while and was very 
happy to see it played. Highway 61 of course brought things right back to the boiling point as usual. 
Larry shined on this one as usual while Bob pounded on his keys while spitting the lyrics out with 
no holding back. Blind Willie McTell was another nice surprise in this night of surprises. I had only 
seen this performed once previously and was really blown away by this performance. Larry on Bozuki 
again with Freddie taking the leads worked well. Bob played some great piano behind it all and of 
course as is par for the course these days, nailed the vocal.

Floater seems to have made a return to be a regular once again in the set. This was great again with 
Freddie playing some beautiful violin. Honest with me has become the most solid night in night out 
song in my opinion. With Larry playing slide and George just beating the drums for all they are 
worth, this song might have been the sonic high point of the night. When Bob introduced the slightly 
new arrangement of this last spring I thought that maybe it would become the new Summer Days but it 
never happened. Iíd rather see this as the set closer but hey, who am I to say where the songs get 
played.

Saving Grace was a welcome newcomer to the 15 slot as far as the Chicago shows go. Iím not 
complaining about hearing Every Grain Of Sand by any means but its nice to get some variation 
especially when its something like Saving Grace. Bob delivered this with great care and it was 
one of the highlights of the 4 shows that I saw. Larryís pedal steel playing was wonderful and 
Bob sang his heart out.

Summer Days was better tonight than the first couple of nights. It still seemed a little tired 
though. It was the only point of the show that it looked like Bob would rather be doing something 
else. I think he really needs another song to close the show with. I just think that Summer Days is 
wearing a little thin. Some nights it completely cooks while others it just sort of fills up the last 
song of the night slot.

After a short break Bob and the band came back out and wrapped up what was an absolutely wonderful 
night with a super tight 3 song encore consisting of what has become the standard encore. Cats In 
The Well, Like A Rolling Stone and All Along The Watchtower. All three were great, lots of energy 
and seemed to really please the crowd. I love the new arrangement of Like A Rolling Stone with the 
guitars dropping out during the middle lines of the chorus and Bob really sang the whole song with 
lots of energy, again playing around with the phrasing and delivering some lines in his newly adopted 
rat-a-tat-tat style.

For the band intros Bob has taken to coming to center stage and with mic in hand introducing the band 
members one at a time. There were some women hanging out of one of the overhanging balconies that 
really got Bobs attention and he had a good laugh at them.

Like I said at the onset, this was the best show of the four that I saw. Bob seems to be singing much 
stronger now compared to the summer US tour. The new arrangements of songs we have become familiar 
with are brilliant showing us that Bob is one of a kind. No other artist that I can think of takes 
the chances with their songs that he does. To completely re-work songs that people know and love is 
a gutsy move but he does it like its no big deal and thatís why we love to go and see him live. You 
never know what you might get.

This ended up being a little longer than I intended . For those of you still with me, thanks for 
reading. I hope I was able to give you and idea of what the show was like. The short version is Bob 
and the band rocked the house leaving little to be desired. They seemed to have as much fun playing 
the songs as us lucky enough to be in attendance had listening to them. We are lucky to have the 
opportunity to see such a great performer like Bob Dylan on a pretty regular basis. If you are 
thinking about going to a show go! You will not be disappointed.

[TOP]

Review by Jeffrey Johnson



The Maestro moved to a third Chicago venue, the Vic, in a better part of
town.  To the relief of many, the opener changed to Tombstone Blues. 
Larry was unleashed on Love Sick.  Spanish Boots contained a hint of the
drawn-out Tramps '99 "Lea-THAH."  

Inspired by the Chicago weather, Cold Irons Bound brought down the house: 
Anticipation grew as He delayed the Chicago tag line.  Bob also performed
one of His patented solo dances bounding away from the keyboard
repeatedly, returning with His fingers high and flailing as if He were
playing scary movie music. 

Moonlight got the stop/start tempo makeover accorded to It Ain't me Babe
at last night's Riviera Theatre show with lesser results.  

A rare McTell benefited from the Larry Campbell reemergence.  Freddy's
violin on Floater was also nicely up the mix from two nights before. 
(He's got the best soundman in the business!)  

No Tom Jones segue tonight.  But He laughed with amusement at an inept
blonde's balcony flower toss, that failed to reach the stage.  

Jeffrey Johnson

[TOP]

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billp61@execpc.com

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