page by Bill Pagel
Review by James Strohecker
I approached these Oakland shows with some calm skepticism and
intrigue: It was difficult enough to deal with the departure of
Charlie Sexton a couple years ago -- aka, "The Big Band Era," as
Professor Reese calls it -- and learn to tolerate Freddie Koalla-bear, who
was ultimately replaced by a more appropriate Stu Kimball. During this
period, Bob evolved away from his guitar to focus completely on the piano
and harp except an occasional rare song like last year's opener in Santa
But now the heart and the soul of the band, the straw that stirred the
drink, Larry Campbell, was gone. He'd been the bellwether for the Big
Band days and the recent evolution - the Rasputin-looking master of
virtually any instrument he touched. This was, indeed, a new stage for
Bob and his band.
The show opened promptly at 7 p.m. with Amos Lee, and it was clear why Bob
and his people had selected Amos for this tour. Amos Lee and his band are
solid, and worth checking out -- both on this Dylan tour and after it.
He's a good picker and the band presented a tight, backup acoustic start
for the evening.
Merle Haggard was another story. The Fresno farmer surrounded, what I
anticipated to be tired old country AND western tunes, with experienced,
up-tempo, creative, musicians. Many in his group were as white haired as
Merle, something he joked about over the course of the evening, i.e., "We
have an ambulance and doctors follow our bus around . . . " But there was
nothing old about the way the Strangers played.
In fact, Merle played his Strat the way Bob used to play the guitar
-- not great, but with passion and aplomb that drove is own songs and
lyrics. Though Merle copped out with a half-baked version of Mama Tried
early in his set (The Grateful Dead on this same stage rocked the same
song many times), he came back to lead the band in a number of fine, well
played songs, including a bouncy "Take Me Back To Tulsa" that had a really
clean finish and drew a lot of smiles from both the band and the audience.
Then the lights dropped and the curtain rose in this beautiful old
venue and Bob and his new band strutted forward. Bob, dressed in his
Univ. of Santa Barbara Gaucho outfit began the show hatless, as they began
with, no surprise, Drifter's Escape. If you'd been watching the set lists
the last couple weeks, you'd have seen this one coming. And though
Drifter's set the stage for the evening, the sound was muddy and Elana
Fremarman's fiddle backing was lost somewhere up near Seattle, it seemed.
Bob capped the song with a solid harp solo that put some method into the
The group followed Drifter's with an interesting version of It's All
Over Now, Baby Blue, with Elana's fiddle providing a nice touch in the
toned-down sound mix. It was clear early on that the band was together,
but not particularly tight. They were all looking to Bob for clues and
The team followed this with a most excellent, The Man in Me, where Bob
took center stage and crooned the words like a night club singer and band
leader. This was the song of the night. His voice was strong and sharp
-- and he finished it and hopped back over to his piano, donned a black,
flat-brimmed hat (perhaps purchased from The Hat Guys, a store down the
street on Broadway in Oakland?) to follow the band into Highway 61. The
band showed it could rock it, albeit this was an odd position for the song
so early in the set. Again, during Highway 61, Elana's fiddle tunes were
lost somewhere out by Highway I-5.
Gone from this band are the breathtaking acoustic versions of songs of
years past. This band relies on electric piano and guitars, and some
occasional fiddle, violin, and Tony's stand-up bass.
Can't Wait was low down and bluesy with a nice new bass downbeat,
followed by an up-tempo Stuck Inside of Mobile that had an accelerated
approach. During the song, Elana's fiddle made an impact in both the
song's melody and with an extensive solo, but it also seemed like the band
was rushing the songs a bit.
They followed this with an *awesome* version of Under the Red Sky.
This version had such a fresh approach, bright and soft, with Bob's
voice leading the melody. Even over the previous years, though the
band played this tune, they never seemed to get the sound right. The
current group did, and it just clicked.
The band then headed into a blues-bass-dueling-fiddle-violin Bye and
Bye, followed by an interesting Honest With Me. I say interesting
because this song was a tried and true Larry Campbell slide-rocker.
They replaced Larry's riffs with Donnie Herron's pedal steel riffs,
and it just didn't work. There just wasn't the same crisp, hard
energy that Honest With Me purveyed in the past. I'd suggest a new
approach to this, or perhaps put it back on the shelf and apply the
band's talents to a couple other older songs.
They rolled up the evening with a slow, sultry Mr. Tambourine Man,
with Elana's fiddle wailing behind Bob's words, followed by a
trimmed-down Summer Days, which had some hot fiddle, hollow-body
guitar and pedal steel solos throughout. For the encore, the band
dropped A-11 onto the audience's jukebox. This is a C&W-twanged
standard that was both interesting and well played. I would have
liked to have seen Merle along side Bob, belting this out. Perhaps
that'll happen later in the tour.
Finally, the band closed with a kinder, gentler All Along the
Watchtower with the fiddle as much a part of the song as the
guitars. Stu Kimball really ripped this one up, seemingly the only
time he stepped up his game all night. Again, this version sounded
nothing like the psychedelic lead-in and hard banging of past years; it
was a new standard, set by the sounds and the musicians of this group.
And it worked.
This was a sit-down show. People didn't stand until Watchtower, and
even then, reluctantly it seemed. But perhaps, that's what this band is
more attuned to play to, that is, a sit-down audience that's there, and
prepared, to listen.
You can either dwell on the fact that this isn't Larry Campbell's band
anymore -- there's no lead guitarist: three musicians are taking the
place of Larry and whomever or take the band at face value. I'll take
the latter, but state publicly that I miss Larry's musicianship (and
occasional singing). Still, with only 14 songs, I'd also like Bob and the
band to add 2-5 songs, and give shows the zeal and zest that fans
experienced in the past and are expecting today.
Review by David Link
OK, Bob's back in the Bay Area for the second time in six months. I'm
sorry he chose the Paramount Theatre, however, due to the fact that it is
a sit-down show, and I have a very hard time dealing with that. This is
rock and roll that his fans should be allowed to dance to if they choose.
On that note, it is said to be one of the nicest theatres on the West
Coast (if not the country). Very ornate, with a HUGE flashing lighted sign
outside. (You could see it from four blocks away).
I must admit I was crushed when I heard before the tour that Larry had
quit the band. I admired and respected him in a big way; he really could
play anything. I was not totally surprised though; I thought he looked
really tired and burned-out last October, and those were just the first 5
I agree with others who have noted that now, instead of a band with
obvious seperate players with there own seperate sound, it now basically
sounds like a big mismash of noise a lot of the time. I know these are
excellent musicians and this will smooth out over time, but these first
few shows are going to take some getting used to. I was in the center of
the theatre where the sound should have been best, but it could have been
better. (Just thinking back on shows where it was crystal-clear....Oh
well, you can't have it all.)
A couple of other happenings: I got into a 10 min. "discussion" with a
scalper on the corner, and by the end I had him so pissed off that he was
screeching that "he would rather rip up the tickets and throw them in the
gutter than sell them to you!!!!!!!!!" Good laughin'......I had no
intention of giving him a penny; I just wanted to see the pit tickets he
was selling, and then gave him a heap of shit.
I thought Bob's voice sounded very good, considering. The reworked Baby
Blue was interesting, and The Man in Me was perhaps the highlight of the
show for me. (I have not heard that one since '98). Can't Wait was also
excellent, much different than past tours. Mr. Tambourine Man was also
reworked, in a strange sort of way.
After the show I went out to see him leave, which he did with a white
towel over his head; all you could see was a little bit of profile and
the nose. (Not that anyone was out there to take his picture; no one was
hanging around, no one cared. Since we were 10 feet away, I felt obliged
to yell a "Thank You Bob!!! as he ducked into a Chevey Blazer for a ride
to the hotel.)
Also ran into Bob Weir (formally of the Grateful Dead) on the sidewalk
and saw Bonnie Raitt inside. They all come out for Bob.....
Review by Terry Way
The ornate Art-Deco Paramount Theatre perfectly suited the Song And
Dance Man. Stunning stage curtains, starry backgrounds and rich, deep red
and blue lighting. The sound was absolutely perfect. From all reports -
front row to back - great sound. Why has Bob never played here before?
Notable highlights: "The Man In Me" with Bob out front crooning like Bobby
Darin. "Can't Wait" was a big treat, nice to see this nugget back
out."Under The Red Sky" was sung with great attention to lyrical detail.
Another welcome addition. "Bye And Bye" was much the same in terms of
lyrical clarity. "Mr Tambourine Man" was turned into a mournful balled
(possibly in tribute to H.S.T. who desired to have his ashes shot from a
canon while this song was played. And my new favorite jukebox number
"A-11" was played.
The new lineup seems like they are picking up steam as they work
through the Bob's catalog. The violin and pedal steel are sweet additions.
Oh yes, Merle Haggard was wonderful and a treat to see, as was
up-and-coming Amos Lee.
Review by Mark Stevens
Tonight's was an energetic and somewhat chaotic show (my 12th since
'88), with some of the rough edges still present in some of the
songs, as the band's only had a week to get into the groove. "Man In Me"
and "Tambourine" were very nice mellow songs amongst a crowd of rockers
which seemed to dominate this night...and that's not a complaint : ) A
real treat (especially for a musician) was the chance to "talk shop" with
several members of the new band afterwards. Amongst the things I learned
were that while Larry's departure was a shock, one individual described it
as mutual, and that it was time. The new group also only had one week to
rehearse (about 5 hours a day), and when I asked if the load was about 50
songs, I was told it was a lot more than that-and that there wasn't much
time to work out dynamics like the order of the solos, etc. I then talked
briefly with George to thank him for holding it all together, which he
really appreciated-he's doing a great job as the engine in the band and
really powers things up with his finesse on those drums, a real pleasure
meeting him. Bob Weir and Ramblin' Jack Elliot were also in the house this
night, and the audience was it's usual wonderful self-especially so in
such a beautiful theater. Sound was generally good, though Tony's upright
wasn't up quite high enough, and it was tough to hear Elana's violin
through most of the rockers. Merle Haggard was a treat to hear for the
first time, and Amos Lee has a really nice voice-well worth getting to the
show early for-he knocked us out with a spot-on and very heartfelt version
of " A change is going to come". On to tuesday...
Review by Thomas Rooney
Bob Dylan's Wall of Sound, or that thick, wild, metallic music: 90
minutes of mostly dense, intense music dominated by George at the drum kit
and Elana on fiddle. Yes the band is still finding its feet, and the sound
was a tad muddy at first, but how thrilling to be in the audience as this
group makes new music together.
To bemoan the loss of Larry Campbell misses the point: these musicians are
creating new art of a very high order. No previous incarnation of the NET
band could have played such thrilling versions of THE MAN IN ME, UNDER THE
RED SKY, or A-11. And for the most part Bob was spot-on lyrically: he
just loves singing the words to these songs with these arrangements. I
particularly liked the new versions of CAN'T WAIT and MR. TAMBOURINE MAN.
Final verdict: if the king is dead, then long live the queen! And her 3
princes: Stu, Denny and Donny.
page by Bill Pagel
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