page by Bill Pagel
Review by G.V. Hamilton
Hey everyone, checking in with a biennial 'state of the NET' review. Last
one I did was PNC Bank Center NJ '03, a show mostly blasted by the critics
here at Bob Links, except for fellow kindred soul Willy Gissen who like
myself thought it quite good. It was also the scene of our famous
traffic/parking misadventure, where we wound up turning disaster into a
front-row VIP parking space. (To see how we pulled it off--and all the
rules we broke--you'll have to go to the old Tour Guide.)
It was the time of the "Confessions of a Yakuza" fiasco, but before but
Dylan was lauded as the second coming of Faulkner. Freddie Koella was on
guitar, Dylan had just moved stage left to the keys, and I thought it was
one of the better incarnations since first seeing the man in 1978...
I should mention I live in CT and the only other show I've been to at the
Reno Hilton was Van Morrison in 2000. Ironically, being here is causing
me to miss Mr. Morrison's North American 'tour.' But I've lined up good
seats for Dylan's first couple of shows at the Beacon in April...before
heading down to Jazzfest. (Btw, after the marvelous Oh Mercy chapter in
Chronicles, how come he's not playing N'awlins?)
Compared to East Coast venues, it was rather nice to drive down from the
lake to Reno, park at the casino, and walk right in. No lines, no
security, no nothing. One point though: the concert wasn't held at the
killer Hilton Theater where Morrison played, rather at the "Pavilion"
which is nothing more than a cavernous conference room, with not half the
atmosphere. But it didn't really matter. Believe it or not, just this
morning I copped two second-row dead center seats online for a mere $20
over face value. Either demand was low (hard to believe) or the ticket
brokers got greedy...Anyway, it was a great spot from which to critique
the show and see this new band in action.
Enough of the annoying digressions. On to the music....
Everyone has to understand going in that things have changed with respect
to the musical direction of this band, but not necessarily for the worst.
It's a different Bob Dylan show now. Don't expect a lot of the
high-powered, jammed-out guitar work we've heard from mates like G.E. and
Sexton, but there are plenty of silver linings. Often, at the beginning
of a tune, I'd be thinking, "this isn't nearly as hot as before," only to
say at the end, "hey, that was pretty darn good."
The big changes include Denny Freeman's hollow body guitar, which along
with Elena's fiddle and Donnie's multi-instruments gives this group a much
jazzier, more Dixieland-type feel. Elena has a great center-stage
presence and even when she's drowned out in the mix, she always looks
busy...and beautiful with an infectious smile to boot. When she can be
heard she plays tasty leads and fills. Donnie is a bit like Bucky Baxter,
but more versatile, I'd say, and he plays a mean mini-guitar (or whatever
it is when he's not on pedal steel). Stu Kimball does a decently
admirable job in the lead role, busting out now and again, but it is
really Denny's open, airy, Gibson hollow body rhythm and occasional leads
that give this outfit a sound that is quite different than before.
Another change on some of the songs is that instead of long "outro" jams
after the vocals, jams are done between lyrics and Dylan finishes the
songs after the last verse. But not on all songs. Most Likely You Go
Your Way And I'll Go Mine had a great long harp outro. This song was an
example of what I'm talking about. It started out ragged with an
arrangement I didn't recognize, nor particularly liked, but the band
brought it together, tight as a drum, and Dylan sang the last verse
beautifully before fading out with a gorgeous harp solo. I guess it's why
we keep coming back. And speaking of arrangements--this is Dylan after
all--veterans will be surprised and pleased that even old warhorses like
Highway 61, Summer Days and Watchtower are almost completely redone (see
Having perused the setlists since Seattle, it appears Love Sick and
Mississippi were breakouts, and just the second time for If Dogs Run Free.
I enjoyed them all--they were three of the highlights for me. Overall,
I feel we're blessed to have Dylan still out there plugging away, pushing
the envelope with new musicians and arrangements. This band continues to
gel, and if you go with an open mind, I think you'll be inspired. It's
yet another chapter in the saga, so to speak.
Folsom Prison Bls.-- Good fiddling on this one. Eventually got tight.
Drifter's Escape-- Sounds like Cream's Crossroads now. Fantastic solo by
Donnie on the mini guitar (wish he'd done more of it). Then, a great
harmonica break before the last verse.
Just Like A Woman-- Good red lighting on stage. Very tender. Good
interplay in jam between steel, violin and harp. Some may say Dylan's
harp is too loud in the mix, but I like it up front. He's good on harp.
Tweedle Dee-- Fine driving rhythm guitar by Clive (Denny). And his
occasional solos (on this and other tunes) are quite good too.
Dogs Running Free-- Tony on upright. This song's tailor-made for Elena's
and Donnie's talents.
Stuck Inside Of Memphis-- Nice, differently-done instrumental opening, and
decent overall, but doesn't really have the drive of, say, Hard Rain.
More like Weir's version.
Love Sick-- Slow, slinky, really good. George R!!! God, is he great. As
I've said before, I love David Kemper but next to this guy he was asleep.
Highway 61-- ZZ Top's 'Tush' vibe going on here, which I haven't heard
before. Refreshingly different. Big Stu lead.
MLYGYWAIGM-- New arrangement. Bob nailed the last verse and the harmonica
Mississippi-- A couple of young hot babes nearby went gaga over this one
but my question was, "what album is it on?" Good though. Great visuals
with half-drawn maroon curtain over sparkling cobalt backdrop.
Honest W/Me-- George R!!! (again) Dylan came out for a little dance (but
he never did do a song out front).
Make you Feel My Love-- Very tender. This band shines on the tender
Summer Days-- Not the total blowout of recent years but built up to some
fairly fine rockin'...Denny's hollow-body is strong.
A-11-- Dylan's piano could be heard and he acquitted himself quite well I
thought. Security let people rush the stage by now and it was interesting
to see everyone start snapping cellphone photos. Sure enough, security
came back to bust all of them.
Watchtower-- Slow, deep, powerful groove. Even got quiet in the middle.
Almost completely different. Everyone onstage beaming and happy. Bob
made use of a little vocal delay towards the end which was new to me....
Review by David Link
Someone who doesn't know better might think it foolish to make a 480 mile
round trip in the face of a Sierra snowstorm for one concert by a
performer you just saw the last three nights.
Thankfully I do know better, and must say the gamble to go to Reno paid
off big time. This show was perhaps the best I've seen in a couple of
years.....going back to when he first started playing the keyboard,
I think there were a few factors that made this great show possible:
The first show of the tour w/ no opening act, the day after a St. Patricks'
Day off, the day his book was up for an award (which he did not
win)........or maybe he just likes the Reno Hilton, as this is the third
different venue he has played on this property. What also may have helped
was that a friend who was there during the day said they did a 2-plus hour
soundcheck (rehearsal). (They were playing Senor when I checked out the
venue before going in).
Entering the Pavilion, as they called it, I cringed and hoped for the
best. The room was square with a lower roof than normal; it had black
curtains hanging from floor to ceiling around the whole perimeter.
Basically it looks like a very small convention room or a place where you
would hear a motivational speaker (which, I guess, we were). The
prospects for good sound looked dim. Bob's red background curtain helped
dampen the shoe-box look.
We had front-row seats with our friends from Tahoe; we were in front of
Tony. The stage was pretty low. Al Santos made the introduction and the
curtains swept open.....
Surprise!!! Bob's small electric piano has now been encased in a wooden
upright piano-type situation. (The somewhat unfinished look of the thing
made me think some Tahoe woodworker made it and put it at the backstage
door---Or maybe they went to Unpainted Arizona). Sort of like what I've
seen Neil Young use onstage, but that was an actual piano and much more
As i'm trying to absorb this new sight, he has launched into the first
Folsom Prison Blues since fall '99. Holy cow.....He's smiling!!!!!!! Hes
really into it....and it's only the first song. This seemed to be a very
good strong take on this song; I had never heard it live before.
What struck all of us right away was the sound quality.....PERFECT!!!
You could hear every note of every instrument, and Bob's voice....Crystal
Clear!!!!! The combo of him being totally into every word of every song,
along with a seemingly reconfigured speaker set-up by the edge of the
stage made this the cleanest Dylan show I have witnessed. I have no doubt
of this fact. Others in the room may have thought differently, but no one
I talked to. Everyone mentioned the uncanny ability to hear and
understand every word he was singing. Like I say, I think this was due to
much better sound and totally focused and disciplined singing.
After the shock of a new opener and a new piano set-up (It was angled to
face the crowd a little more than at Oakland, I believe), they blasted
into Drifters....Very Strong. Nearly every note of every song was
perfectly played, and sung with gusto and excellence.
Drifters raged, but everything raged. If Dogs Run Free was a cool
treat for me, nice and jazzy. Love Sick was also excellent...About the
same as I've seen it on past tours, and again sung with total conviction
The whole band looked more relaxed and loose tonight; maybe because it
was just Dylan fans.
After a rocking You'll Go Your Way, there was a little huddle, and Bob got
back behind the keys and softly said something to the effect of "Here's
one for you folks", smiled a little and went into the first Mississippi
since Summer 2002. We started freaking when we realized what was
happening. Bob's smile turned into a Cheshire cat shit-eating grin; it
said to me, "Caught you guys off guard on that one!" An excellent, perfect
version. I believe he nailed every word; doesn't matter if he didn't, it
was so clean and beautiful I almost wept, and so did others. It sounded
like the versions I saw live and have heard on tape. Obviously a little
different with other players, but it seemed to stay about like the "Love and
After this everything else was wonderful icing on the cake. The encores
were strong as hell, with everyone coming up to the front to dance for
A-11 and Watchtower. The band and Bob obviously appreciated this action;
the place was rocking and the band was swinging.
Bob seemed very happy and in a great mood throughout the show. He showed
everyone who was boss.....an unreal performance. Get the CD of this show,
you will not be sorry.
It seems that Vegas is going to BURN. I hope everyone gets there safe
through the snow. Thanks very much to Bob, the band and the crew. We
won't forget this one.
Review by Phil Levine
It's been almost a quarter century since I first saw Mr D live and in
person, and so I say the following with a modicum of experience: Despite
its bizarre setting (an engorged ballroom in the bowels of the Reno Hilton
better suited to Amway banquets than rock concerts) Bob's Reno performance
was the best live Dylan song and dance (yes, he DID dance a brief jig)
show I have had the good fortune to see to date.
Dressed in his finest cowboy attire, Country Bob and his Rounders were a
sight to see, and the opening number was in and of itself worth the price
of admission--a rolicking Folsom Prison Blues, featuring the Man in
Black's greatest prose of how he "shot a man in RENO, just to watch him
die.."(Bet Bob booked this show JUST so he had a reason to sing that
line!)..That song set the pace for the rest of the evening, which featured
an exceptionally inspired set that bounced back and forth from the 60's
classics (Mobile, Highway 61, Most Likely, Just Like A Woman) to 90s/00s
(Love Sick, Summer Days, and the GREAT 'Mississipppi')
Who knows whether it was due to a fine dinner, 'Reno companionship', or
perhaps a series of blackjack wins in the casino, but Mr D was in fine
spirits...on my Bob Smile-O-Meter (trademarked!), he actually hit the
double digits, registering at least 14 facial expressions that could be
considered smiles, and ended several songs with "Thank you, friends!" The
band was in exceptionally good form, and though I went into the room
missing Larry and Charlie, I left impressed by the enormous musical
talents of those on stage with His Bobness. Of course, Bob has decided
that he is now the Piano Man, and came nowhere near a guitar all night,
content to stand behind the keyboard and occassionally picking up his harp
while leaning right into the mike and wailing away.
A rather tight 90 minute set, that began 25 minutes late, but I doubt
anyone in the room had any complaints. If they did, then I suggest they
cease attending remarkable shows such as this one and spend their days
writing letters to their Republican congressmen encouraging them to vote
for a ban on gay marriage, laughter, rock and roll and cherry Coke (you
just KNOW that's what Saddam would drink!!)
Put simply, the Reno show was The Master in as fine a form as we may
expect in the year of our Lord 2005. Over the last couple of years, we
have lost some of America's great cultural titans, including the
aforementioned Mr Cash, Brother Ray, Brando, Johnny Carson and most
recently the good Doctor Hunter S Thompson.
Do not take for granted, ladies and gentlemen, our good fortunate to still
have with us--live and in concert--America's greatest living songwriter.
While I can't guarantee that Mr D will proffer as great a show in your
town, should this tour take him to your town, I will say this: there is
but One Bob, and there won't be another. So, as the poster opines, when
the Bob Circus Is In Town, "dont you dare miss it!"
page by Bill Pagel
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