page by Bill Pagel
Review by Kalonymaus Amshinov
It sure is a thrill to see Bob again putting a new band through their
paces, trying and occasionally succeeding to trip them up with – dare I
say it -- the unexpected, but ultimately stretching them out until they
get to some pretty high and mighty places.
This is a beautiful place to see an energetic spring training outing,
temperatures in the mid-60s on the first Tuesday of April, clear skies,
breezes wafting off the lakefront. And then on in to an
immaculately-restored jewelbox theatre, sitting pretty with a perfect
view, thickly-upholstered seats on carpeted floors – sure beats the
concrete YOUR BRAND HERE hockey enormodomes, or sticky-floored “spaces” we
Amos Lee was pleasant, had a couple of good songs towards the end of his
set. Despite repeated demands for applause for himself, the Hag was a
charming old goat with a sweet-sounding electric country orchestra that
warmed me up just right for the headliner.
TOMBSTONE sure got them old electric git-tarz cranking and wheeling like
police sirens to get the show going. From their puzzled faces and slow
movements I could have sworn that at least half the band was hearing I’LL
REMEMBER YOU for the first time; certainly Elana seemed a little
nonplussed. By the time the last stanza came up, though, they all had at
least gotten airborne, and no one had been dropped from the team yet.
Much has been written about Elana, with doubtlessly much more to come;
I’ll leave it for now with “What’s not to like?” “Not a damn thing,
mister.” Soon into LONESOME DAY, she was sawing away like nothing’s
wrong, along with the rest of the rookies who were glad for the chance to
atone on a song they knew. THIS WHEEL’S chugged until it exploded without
warning or buildup as the first chorus of “this wheel shall EXPLODE” came
around -- like an earthquake in the middle of a new moon night; the first
song performance that alone was worth traveling 2000 miles just to hear.
TWEEDLE DEE ETC. – Karnak sees a gradual retirement [i.e., once or twice a
tour] for this number but maybe that’s just wishing talking. It got the
band cranking again for the workout that followed on WATCHING THE RIVER
FLOW; with its duelin’ fiddles this band can jam real sweet, especially
when Cap’n Bob wants ‘em to, so’s the Cap’n can rest his voice and eyes.
JOHN BROWN: Look, if he wants to claim that Masters of War is not an
anti-war song, let him, until he gets to be 120 years old, as they say.
With this one he hasn’t yet tried to make that claim, perhaps because the
song is essentially a Dylan re-write of the Ur anti-war mythological tale
(with a detour in Dalton Trumbo’s direction). On this night, the
precision rendering he delivered was just the first of an anti-war hat
The deliberately paced UTRS gave everyone in the band another chance –
which they greedily scooped up -- to put on a show of virtuosity. They
got cranking and wheeling again on HWY 61, only to slow to a measured trot
ABSOLUTELY SWEET MARIE started up like an engine on jumper cables and
never looked back. Vocal, arrangement, tempo – it swung, it rocked -- a
near-perfect version that reminded me of the first time I heard it live
-- in ’89, when Bob was rehearsing an early NET band for their first
European tour above a car dealership on Eleventh Avenue (NYC). Another
performance that would have been worth coming to hear if it was the only
song I enjoyed all night.
We got MASTERS OF WAR to end the set, and the hats hit the ice with the
first encore: IT’S ALL OVER NOW [LBJ?], BABY BLUE. The reindeer armies
and seasick sailors finally had to be withdrawn, “you’re son’s a-coming
home from the war”. Unless I missed it this time, AATW seemed to be
without the Theme from the Movie “Exodus” intro but there was little else
lacking on this night. Rave on TOUR 2005!
Review by Mike Stillman
The fourth show at the Auditorium Theatre opened with TOMBSTONE BLUES,
driven by Tony's bass and Stu's guitar. I was lucky to have a seat in the
first row, slightly to the right of center, and Bob was staring intently
into our section of the audience for most of the night, with far more eye
contact than when I was in a similar location last spring at the Park
West. Stu took a brief solo, then Don on pedal steel, and then Elana on
violin. A good opener. In the pause after the song, Tony walked over to
confer with Bob and Stu, and the song that emerged was the rarity I'LL
REMEMBER YOU, one of the better songs from Empire Burlesque. Bob delivered
the lyrics with feeling, and looked directly into the audience as he sang
"There's some people that you don't forget, even though you've only seen
'em a time or two....when the roses fade, and I'm in the shade, I'll
remember you." Don played a pedal steel solo that caused me to write down
the word "sweet" in my notes, and then Bob stepped out to center stage
with his harmonica to play a closing solo. This was a beautiful rendition,
one of the run's highlights.
The third song was LONESOME DAY BLUES from Love & Theft. Elana played a
fiddle solo that was phrased something like a guitar, which worked well.
Denny and Stu both dug in and took good solos too. In the first weeks of
the tour, the most successful songs were the most sparsely arranged, like
Tambourine Man and Can't Wait. As the tour went on and each musician
became more comfortable with their role in the ensemble, the uptempo songs
have really started to come together. Sunday night's show was about 80%
there, but tonight every song was entirely successful.
Don played the opening statement to THIS WHEEL'S ON FIRE on pedal steel,
and I am always happy to hear a song from the Basement Tapes. Bob sang "If
your memory serves you well" in the tone of an ominous warning....wonder
what the 92 year old woman in the third row thought about that, with her
deep catalogue of memories? Don took a pedal steel solo after the first
chorus, and I looked over his setup. He has two pedal steel guitars on
stage, one of them played through an effects box with a volume pedal,
which has a slightly distorted searing sound that adds an edge to the
uptempo rockers. His other pedal steel is without effects, a more
traditional country music sound that he used on this song. Immediately
after warning us that "this wheel shall explode" Bob sort of bounced over
to center stage with his harmonica and hand-held mic, dancing his way to
the spot in front of the drum riser between Tony and Elana, where he
played a nice solo shoulder-to-shoulder with Elana, exchanging some
glances that seemed pleasantly collaborative but not necessarily romantic
as some have been speculating. Next was TWEEDLE DEE, which didn't sound
that good in the basement restroom. I was back to my seat in time for
WATCHING THE RIVER FLOW, with Don playing the opening riff on pedal steel.
I haven't seen this one in a few years, and Bob sang it well, with only an
occasional touch of hoarseness. Stu, Elana, and Denny took brief but
effective solos after one chorus, and after another chorus Don took a solo
and then Stu again.
The next song was an extremely intense JOHN BROWN, one of only a few Dylan
songs written in a narrative format like a short story. This tale of a
mother and a son and the consequences of war was delivered with harrowing
solemnity by Bob, and it actually caused Elana to stop smiling for one of
the few times all tour as she listened to the story. Don was on banjo, Stu
was on acoustic guitar, and Tony played the standup bass, but solos would
have been superfluous here. This song was carried by the narrative of
Bob's lyrics and his delivery, building in almost unbearable intensity to
the ending with the medals dropped into the mother's hand. This rendition
may or may not be as good as Tramps '99, but it was very close, and its
intensity set the tone for the rest of this very strong set. "Intensity"
is the word for this show, which won't be to everyone's taste but in my
opinion achieved a type of greatness in its concentrated purpose and
focused depth of feeling.
After John Brown, everyone exhaled for a moment and took in a deep breath.
Bob walked over to talk to George, maybe to change the song, or maybe just
to give everyone a chance to recover. They began playing UNDER THE RED
SKY, with a vocal that was unusually impassioned for this song, maybe an
emotional carryover from John Brown. Elana took a solo, then Don on pedal
steel, and then Bob walked out to center stage again to take another harp
solo. Next was one of only two repeats from last show, HIGHWAY 61, on
which this band is entirely comfortable and fully rocks out, starting with
Stu's propulsive guitar solo. Don took a superb solo on the effects-box
pedal steel that rocked as much as any guitar solo, and Bob smiled for the
first time all night. Elana also soloed well, and Denny took a brief solo
near the end of the song. After Saturday night's show, I would have said
that this band swings but doesn't really rock, but Sunday and tonight it
did both of those things and quite a bit more.
Then Don picked up his violin and Tony reached for the acoustic bass, and
the band played BYE AND BYE in by far the best rendition of this tune I've
heard yet. There were three separate instrumental breaks in which Don and
Elana entwined fiddle lines together, which was a delight. Denny took a
swinging solo, and Bob took a harmonica solo from behind the keyboard.
George's jazzy brush work on the cymbals and snare was perfect. To hear
this kind of bouncy string band music immediately after the hard-rocking
Highway 61 exemplifies the range of this band, and I am now a believer
after some previous skepticism. This band is capable of playing the entire
spectrum of American music from blues to rock to country to folk to swing,
without sounding generic or clichèd, and they have really come together as
an ensemble over the course of this run, improving night by night.
Next was ABSOLUTELY SWEET MARIE with its unjumpable railroad gate, which
hasn't been played much recently. Don was on violin and took a solo, Stu
took a solo, and then Denny took a short but creative solo, mostly in the
first position at the top of the fretboard. At one point Don and Elana
were trading fiddle lines: Don would improvise a statement, Elana would
intertwine her idea, and then they would merge in unison to state the
melody of the song's title. I dug it. This band is full of possibilities,
different modes and textures and combinations of players, and this was a
great rendition. It seemed like a lot of us in the crowd really wanted to
hear this one.
The show closed with a very strong MASTERS OF WAR, which recapitulated
some of the themes and intensity of John Brown. Sunday's show had a strong
spiritual feel, with the religious songs and the climactic I Shall Be
Released, but tonight's theme was set by John Brown and Masters of War.
Some might characterize this as an anti-war themed set, but Bob is always
too nuanced to be simply pro- or anti- anything, and it would be
reductionist to characterize these songs as simply anti-war. John Brown
tells of the personal costs of war and blindly jingoistic patriotism, and
Masters of War castigates those who profit from war. This song was mostly
carried by George's drums and Bob's vocals, but Denny added a thoughtful
solo that was far from rote. It started out with sparse instrumentation,
with more players slowly joining in, gathering in intensity, and by the
end it was loud and powerful and raging. Superb. This was an unusual way
to close the show, but it made a lot of sense as the closing statement of
an extended theme.
The encores were well-played but anticlimactic after the main body of the
show. On IT'S ALL OVER NOW, BABY BLUE, Bob played a quirky harmonica solo
from behind the keyboard. Its phrasing reminded me of the guitar solos he
used to take in '97 and '98, where he would play the entire solo in
three-note bursts, but this particular solo used quadruplets instead of
triplets. Stu also took a solo. The final encore was ALL ALONG THE
WATCHTOWER, and Bob was actually dancing behind the keyboard in pleasure,
shuffling from foot to foot and bouncing up and down. Stu, Elana, and Don
took rocking solos, and then it was all over. Bob and the band are in fine
form, and in my opinion this was a great show.
Review by John Cheppo
Once again on a business trip with a chance to see Bob Dylan. Flew in to
St. Louis from Chapel Hill, NC that morning 8am, drove to Springfield, IL
for business, then drove to Chicago arriving about 6:15pm, in the
beautiful Auditorium Theater by 6:50pm. Whew!
Great place, last Bob show for me was Springfield, Massachussettes last
year. This would be about my 35th show, first show in 1986. Since I was
attending alone, I was able to get a 11th row ticket, center orchestra,
about 6 days earlier via ticketmaster. Was next to an elderly black
gentleman named Dave (at least 70) who was seeing Bob Dylan for the first
time. He was a retired school teacher, orginally from Mississipppi gulf
coast, and lives in Chicago within walking distance to this great downtown
venue which is owned by a university. He had seen many of the greats in
his lifetime, and was determined to see Bob.
Amos Lee and band was awesome! I highly encourage all to get to the
venues early enough to hear them. They really are good, and very
appreciative of the audience attending.
Merle and the strangers show was awesome too...."Unforgettable", and he
also mentioned that his birthday was the next day, and did this great song
about youth wasted on the young....his band has a great chemistry. He
opened with "Silver Wings", which I knew well from a Knitters' Poor Little
Critter On the Road album. Merle did mention that he was not sure if Bob
was going to pay him, but he was having so much fun on the tour that it
really did not matter....he then mentioned Bob two more times....and was
highly complimentary, guess they just kid each other. Merle is 69, with
Bob at about 64.
Tombstone opened like lightning, high energy, and rocking guitars. That's
when I noticed Elana, wow, and then wow, what a great fiddle player. It
does take some adjustment to get used to the new line-up, both sound and
vision, I was a big fan of the Sexton/Campbell/Dylan guitar sound
days...and will forever cherish the 1997-2002 era....I saw so many shows
then...however, I was very impressed, it's just so different.
With Elana and Donnie, I was so wishing Bob might play "One More Cup of
Coffee", or even "Golden Loom"!
I'll Remember You was stellar, as the 2nd song, I love that song.
Terrific, it was definitely a Bob focused song, since the other band
members were appearing to just follow along, probably not that used to it.
I noticed that after TB was over, Bob gathered them all, and spoke during
the darkness on stage to them, they must have just learned that it would
be played. Bob's voice was great.
Lonesome Day Blues rocked.
This Wheels On Fire was a first for me. Awesome. Got to love this band I
said to myself. Sounded great!
Tweedle was next, and was ok, the steady, blistering Campbell being sorely
missed on this one, for sure. Oh the way he used to look around at the
audience, so plain, and just play the heck out of this song....like he was
as bored as some of us have become with this, just out of predictability,
and then he would be playing it so well, you kept listening, and low and
behold, you realize again, why Bob plays it so much...
Watching the River Flow, was awesome....terrific, as good a version as
ever heard. Hope he plays it for you in the days ahead.
John Brown was a masterpiece tonight.
Under the Red Sky was also a first, I do love this song and the entire
album. Bob looking at Elana during the words to this song was priceless!
'61 rocked.....Elana was awesome on this, Stu and Danny too.
Bye and Bye was also as good as ever, and with fiddles finally truer to
Absolutely Sweet Marie was probably the song and performance of the
evening.....great, great, great.....this band nailed it. Sounded like I
was back in time...Bob how do you do that?
Masters was solemn as ever, wonderfully done.
IAONBB was also really good...as was AATWT.
Bob introduced the band after It's All Over Now Baby Blue, Tony was last,
of course, and said nothing else all evening. Bob did step into the
center stage about three times to play harp...his harp playing was as good
as I have ever heard in my 20 years of attending shows....listen
carefully. At some point someone in the audience shouted to him to play
Lay Lady Lay, and I thought he responded verbally saying something that
sounded like "I already played that"...or something, it was curious for me
to see it was played the next evening, however.
Again, thanks Bob for performing, and thanks band members for joining.
Tony and George were a welcoming sight, you all were great....wish I could
get to another show. Elana your fiddle playing is great, your range is
from sweet and slow, to powerful. Like on '61....wow.
God Bless you Bob Dylan. And I always wonder if you played songs last
Sunday night in Chicago with the passing John Paul II in mind, looked like
Review by Adam Selzer
What a differnce a night makes. After the raspiness of Sunday (and the
upsinging that kept creeping in), Dylan's voice was in top form and he was
singing his ass off, while the band lent a sinister feeling to practically
everything. Best of the four so far, no doubt about it.
The art institute museum is free on tuesday (best bargain in town), so I
spent my early afternoon looking at the ghost of 'lectricity howling in
the bones of M. Roulin's face in the Van Gogh room, then wandered over to
the venue to see what was up. The ubiquitous Nate from Amos Lee's band was
out and about. I talked to Federica for a good long while on a window
bench on Michigan Avenue, watching the city go by, then Tucker, Matt and I
bumped into Merle Haggard, who graciously shook our hands and smiled. Fine
way to start an evening. I even ended up walking next to Elana a bit
during my stroll, or, at least, someone with a violin who certainly looked
like her. I didn't ask. I would have ended up saying "Ms. Fan, I'm a big
Freemerman of yours." It may not have been her; she wasn't really
My seat tongiht was with a woman named Mimi, a friend of Michael G Smith
to whom he'd been planning to introduce me - she was delightful to sit
As I've said, this show was one of those jaw-droppers. ALmost everythign
was a hightlight. Sure, we've got the "day of the week" thing to deal
with, but I'm not about to moan about a set like this on any grounds.
"Tombstone Blues" got things off to a wicked start, with Bob simply
wailing out the lyrics and the band sounding sinister. The "sun's not
yellow" verse stood out for me. Already the band is a bit spooky.
"I'll Remember You" was a nice little surprise, and Bob sung the hell out
of THIS one, too. Maybe he sung TOO much out of it.
"Lonesome Day Blues" was a toe-tapper, more of a blues hollar than the
mean sneer it used to be, at least at first, but the sneering came in
about halfway through. Seems liek the band might still be finding its
footing on this one, but it's well on its way. I think I heard "set the
dial on my radio, I hope to God I'M still alive!"
"This Wheel's On Fire" simply cooked, with this twangy,
dreamy-yet-driving riff that made it sound like the song that plays
while the mirror sucks you slowly into Wonderland, then the Chesire Cat
sings it with THESE lyrics. That kind of psychedelic spooky. You
understand. This song was always scary, this arrangement worked well for
"Tweedle" - I'd already thought of the Wonderland simile, so hearing this
next was a bit of a giggle for me. Mike described this song as just
dripping with blood, largely due to the wicked violin solo.
"watching the river flow" was the only song that didn't do much for me,
but, then, it never really does.
"John Brown" - holy SHIT are we ever back on track with this one. I
understand it was just okay last week, this one, it was generally agreed
was damned near perfect. The band played it's spooky best, and Bob sang
like he couldn't wait to tell the story, wanted you to know exactly what
he thought of what was going on, and, at the same time, jump around on the
melody and pull on it a bit. Possibly THE highlight of the night, the best
live version I've heard in long, long time. Great banjo work. Not as slow
as it used to be, not as fast as on Unplugged. Reminded me of a 1963
version with more instruments. Mimi noted that it was interesting to hear
this in the same night as Merle's "That's The News." The songs compliment
each other well.
"Under the Red Sky" - gorgous, gorgeously spooky, and gorgeously sung. And
with light bleeding from the red curtains onto the starry sky backdrop,
the band actually WAS under a red sky.
"Highway 61" was shouted enough to get the crowd on its feet.
"Bye and Bye" was great for the band, the two fiddles just plain wailed
and Bob sang it was well as he ever has, for my money. Mimi, who didn't
know the song, noted that it sounded like Bob's attempt at lounge, but it
was "more than lounge."
Next came what may be the funniest Bobtalk I've ever seen - a snappy
answer to a stupid question. As things got quiet, some guy shouted out
"Lay Lady Lay!" Bob, without missing a beat, said "you should have been
here last night!" Since the song is all about sex and there was now show
last night, I'll let the rest of you speculate on that one.
This lead into an absolutely stunning "Absolutely Sweet Marie," with Bob
really howling and the band playing essentially the album version, with
the violins playing the organ part. The "dun dun dun dun DUNNNNN" before
the bridges sounded especially super.
"Masters of War" seemed odd to hear on the same night as John Brown, and
I've heard it sung better, but only very slightly better, and never with a
band that could make it sound this menacing, building up slowly from a
very modest beginning to a loud rock finish. What an odd way to fill the
slot formerly occupied by Summer Days!
"Baby Blue" almost sounded like "Big Girl Now" at first. The arrangement
is sort of like the weird one from last year, but a little slower and a
LOT less choppy and MUCH better sung. The last lines before the chorus
line were drawn WAY out. Probably the best version of this I've heard live
out of several, certainly the most melodic.
"AATW" still benefits GREATLY from the evil sounding violin. How can
someone smiling so brightly play something that sounds so villainous? It's
a mystery, I guess.
And there we have it - the best sung show of the Chicago run, hands
down, high energy and a lot of GREAT singing on Bob's part. I've said
before that this band is possibly the best band for spooky that Bob has
had in years, maybe ever, and they put it to use again and again tonight.
I like spooky Bob - heard another great spooky show last year, in fact,
but not THIS spooky. Bob wore a black outfit with a red shirt and red
piping and a black hat like a regular western bad guy. Elana, who's worn
plain black dresses, wore one with silver sequines in a pattern that
looked like the kind of dress Elvis might have worn if he were a
midwestern housewife, the rest of the band was in grey suits.
4 shows, 49 unique songs. A few weeks ago, before the tour started, Mike
predicted that we'd see 60 different songs in Chicago. I bet 55 and
thought that I was being awfully generous - it looks like I may lose the
bet. Here's hoping that a John Brown mp3 is up here soon.
page by Bill Pagel
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