April 8, 2013
Review by Bill Thomas
Going to a Bob Dylan concert these days is a little bit like going to church.
Not that going to church is a bad thing. It's just that the experience - and
I'm not talking about Dylan's performance here - has become so sedate,
and the audiences so blandly reverential, that the enjoyment of rock
concert participation is quashed.
I had good seats with great sight lines to the left of the stage, a few rows
above the floor. But after awhile I left them because I didn't want to do
anything to disturb people, like clapping too loudly. So I wandered a bit,
ending up standing behind the last row of the floor seats. I really was
trying to be on my best behavior; I was trying to be quiet as a mouse.
Toward the end of the show, Bob and the boys launched into the eerie
reverie of "Scarlet Town," and then I did a crazy thing: I exuberantly
belted out "You fight 'em with whiskey, morphine and gin" when Dylan
came to that line. Every single head in the last three rows of the floor
seats whipped around to gaze in shock and awe at the vocal miscreant to
which I felt compelled to issue a shouted apology. I mean, really, when
did going to a rock concert morph into going to a piano recital? Listen to
the energy and tumult of the Rolling Thunder, Newport and Birmingham
records for comparison. But, I guess, "Things Have Changed," to the
point where the fiery, rollicking "High Water" lifts nary an ass glued to its
seat. Ditto, "Early Roman Kings" with its stop-time blues grit and mystical
lyrics. Likewise, even the mesmerizing storytelling of "Tangled Up in Blue"
failed to lift the mute and motionless crowd into song and dance. "Pay in
Blood" is a tour de force, albeit it was not rendered in the fierce, vindictive
tone that is heard on record. Instead, its contrapuntal shadings lent a
mournful, elegiac air to this masterpiece. "Visions of Johanna" is a gem for
the ages, and here we experienced how the addition of Little Rhody's
own Duke Robillard added multihued jazz textures to the performance.
"Thunder on the Mountain" could have been "Summer Days, what with
its jaunty, Chuck Berryesque stylings. And Robillard's extended lead
jamming could have entranced forever. Still, no word on why no more
than five people in the hall got up and shook their booties to this one.
The afore-mentioned "Scarlet Town" is a grim yet subtle portrait of small
town life that only Dylan could limn so masterfully. "All Along the
Watchtower" combined rockin' firepower with Robillard's finesse-filled
swing to produced a swirling melange of beauty and grace.
Opener Dawes did their Laurel Canyon-CSNY influences proud by melding
shimmering country harmonies with hook-laden pop ditties. Particularly
poignant and heart-rendering were "That Western Skyline" and "A Little
Bit of Everything." Vocalist/guitarist Taylor Goldsmith was almost laughably
humble, repeatedly spelling the band's name so the concert-goers would
recall who they saw take the stage before Dylan's appearance.
Review by David Godlis
Never enough Bob. There I was last Friday night, snooping around Expecting
Rain, the premier Bob Dylan website, checking out the live setlist from
Buffalo, NY for opening night of the 2013 edition of the Neverending Tour,
where the fanatics post up for the rest of us too busy to be at every show,
live, play by play, song by song, reportage. What he's wearing. What part of
the stage Bob's standing at for each song. When he's playing harmonica.
When he's playing guitar? Plus the occasional Instagram nugget for illustration.
But most importanly, you can find out in the moment, what songs Bob is
adding and subtracting each night. It's taken for granted that no two nights
are ever alike - Dylan's known for changing songs up mid show, calling an
audible on his own band at a moment's notice. Bob fanatics like myself live
for the obscure add-in's. Meanwhile over at DylanPool - on the
theNeverendingPool website, the faithful are betting on upcoming setlists,
getting odds each night on the outside chance he'll add a rarely played song
worth more points in the nightly competition. It's online scrabble for
So there I was last Friday night watching the live setlist streaming in from
SUNY Buffalo. It was an extraordinary setlist for a first night. New opening
song - Things Have Changed. Four - count 'em - four songs from Tempest.
And some great classics, any fan would die to see just one of on any given
night - Visions of Johanna, Blind Willie McTell, Highwater, What Good Am I?
Plus he changed up the last four songs of the set - that he was pretty much
on automatic pilot playing for the last year. And he's changed up lead
guitarists for this tour - adding Duke Robillard. Well that was enough for me.
I was going to be up in Massachusetts anyway, nearby the third stop of the
tour last Monday in Kingston, Rhode Island, so I pulled the trigger and picked
myself up a last minute ticket.
I love seeing Dylan shows on college campuses. They are so accessible. So
not city like. I drove up to Connecticut in the early 90's to see Dylan and
Patti Smith play a college gymnasium - sat right on the floor. Also saw him
with then unknown opening act Jewel at a college gym out in New Jersey in
the mid 90's. The atmosphere is just so laid back and Dylan does some of his
best shows out of town. So there I was Sunday heading for a college stadium
at University of Rhode Island on a pleasant night in April. No annoying city
bouncers - just local students in charge. I just walked to my floor seat and
sat myself down. I had a great spot where I could see Bob and the band
pretty well. Plenty of leg room. I was even on Dylan's side of his piano,
where he spends much of the set these days.
Now I don't plan to give a full rundown of the show I saw. In fact as it
turned out, I saw virtually the same setlist in Kingston, as was played in Buffalo.
Inscrutably Dylan has played nearly the same set list for the last five nights
running - confounding the faithful. But it's such a great setlist that nobody's
complaining - that's for sure.
Just a few things - I love that the opener is "Things Have Changed" - as in the
setlist has really changed since the last tour, OR as in, nothing's gonna change
from night to night. Dylan came shuffling out to center stage with a "take this"
attitude right from the start. He looked great all in black, embodying a kind of
Charlie Chaplin look gesturing and pointing his way thru the song. Stepping back
during the guitar break, left hand on hip, head cocked back, listening to new
guitarist Duke Robillard get acclimated. The whole set list, in fact, felt like a bit
of a rehearsal to acquaint the "new guy" with the lay of the land. Considering
his history with Roomful of Blues and the Fabulous Thunderbirds, the setlist is
perfectly tailored for a blues guitarist. Beyond Here Lies Nothing and Thunder
On The Mountain, and Early Roman Kings are all right in his comfort zone. And
sprinkled throughout the sublimely constructed setlist, were a couple of 60's
classics (Thin Man, Visions, Watchtower), one 70's highlight (Tangled), some
cherry picked standouts from recent records (Beyond, Thunder), two show
stoppers (Willie McTell and Highwater) , two total surprises (What Good Am I?
and Lovesick), and four solid songs from the newest CD Tempest. Did I say
I love this set list?
You can listen to the whole Amherst show here for yourself:
Amherst full show audio
I've been re-reading "Performing Artist "all week, the masterwork from the great
Paul Williams who sadly passed away a few weeks ago. I was reminded that Dylan
used to have an unchanging set list back when touring with his first electric band
in the 1966. I love Williams' description of the rhyme scheme in Visions of
Johanna, from his review of Blonde on Blonde back in 1966:
"straightforward through four verses AAA BBBB CC - with dramatic crescendo in
the last verse, AAA BBBBBBB CC (all of those B's give the last pair of C's s
So I've been listening to varying versions of that song all week. In fact, every
time I see a live version of Johanna, the key for me is how much attention Dylan
pays to that spectacular last verse. I get anxiety sometimes during the last
instrumental break prior, waiting to see if he's gonna bring it on home.
Sometimes he lets it slide, sometimes he's right on top of it. In Kingston, he was
absolutely on it - from the "peddler" and the "countess", to Louise, straight
through the "skeleton keys in the rain". There's a reason this key song was right
in the middle of this set list - in a version recognizable to all (unlike most of the
other songs). Outside after the show a young student fan remarked to me -
"wasn't that a great Visions of Johanna?"
In fact the whole show had a well constructed arc, from the openers center
stage, thru the middle ground on the piano, with a stop upfront center for
"Blind Willie Mc Tell", landing at the finish line for "Scarlet Town", "Watchtower,
and "Thin Man". My favorite moment: Dylan leaning on his elbow over his piano,
head in hand - not playing, but watching and encouraging Duke Robillard as he
played away during the break in "Thunder on the Mountain".Someone posted
a clip of the spectacular "Watchtower" from Kingston, where you can hear
Dylan adding what I thought at the time was a "oooweee" at the end of the
second verse ("the hour is getting late"), and a "ooooo" in the third verse
("the wind began to howl").
You can bet I'll be watching the setlist tonight.
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