page by Bill Pagel
Review by Charlie Gardner
I'll agree with a previous reviewer that the Rave is probably not one of
the greatest venues out there (even if the place has a very cool facade),
but after having seen Dylan outdoors in the record-breaking heat at
Hartford and during a a very hard rain at Jones Beach back five years ago,
I feel I should count myself lucky just to have a roof over my head and a
cold drink in my hand. In any case, despite the winding, dimly-lit
corridors and the overcrowded bar, I was thrilled knowing I'd soon be
seeing Bob at least one more time.
Though I was there mainly for Dylan's end of the show, I'd be remiss if I
didn't mention Merle's solid opening act. Under the less-than-ideal
acoustic conditions of the Rave, his voice came through rich, strong and
clear, and even at the ripe old age of 67 years he leaned back every now
and then to treat the audience to a choice guitar solo. His band held up
its end of the bargain as well, infusing new life and energy into classics
such as "Workin' Man Blues" and "Okie From Muskogee" that are missing from
the original album versions.
What seemed like an interminable wait followed, but when the curtain
parted to reveal a rocking version of Maggie's Farm - and my first glimpse
of the new band - all was forgiven. Bob was still there over at the far
end of the stage, hunched over his inaudible keyboards and growling away
into a microphone set much too low, but the addition of so many new
members, particularly the front-and-center Elana Fremerman from last
year's opening act "Hot Club Of Cowtown," only served to further draw the
audience's attention away from him (not that having an attractive,
talented violinist with an ear-to-ear smile is any sort of drawback!).
Despite a scarcity of direction from Bob, the object of hopeful glances
from all band members, the ensemble managed to keep things relatively
tight, save a few breakneck runaway jams that threatened to disintegrate
into chaos. The sound wasn't quite as finely-honed as it was back during
Larry Campbell's time with the band, there is still plenty of time for
improvement, and at the very least the sound is fresh and different.
As for the songs: Maggie's Farm was a great opener as always, no
complaints here. Bob's voice sounded pretty good, too.
The Man In Me: The opening chords had me fooled at first - I'd never heard
this one live - but it was a great treat to hear anything off New Morning.
A solid , if not outstanding version.
Lonesome Day Blues: A different sound from when I heard it last back in
August, but fundamentally the same arrangement, this time with Stu Kimball
taking the biggest share of the load on the solos. Bob seemed to be
rushing through the lyrics just a bit, but he handled them well: the growl
seems to add to the punch of the later songs. It's difficult to imagine
the 1965 Dylan singing something like this with anything like the
authority or conviction he has now.
I Don't Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met): Nice, laid-back
version of this song, even if most of the lyrics were mumbled beyond the
point of understanding.
Ballad Of Hollis Brown: Bob seems to take a little more care with the
words on this one, managing to break through the ever-growing hoarseness
to actually sing several of the verses forcefully, movingly and best of
Stuck Inside Of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again: I've heard this one
several times in the past couple years and this version wasn't too
different from the rest, save for a chorus accented by Elana's violin.
Girl Of The North Country: A tasteful rendition of a classic song, even if
Denny Freeman's electric guitar might have been left a little too strong
in the mix.
Honest With Me: The only real groaner of the night, I've heard this one a
bit too too much and was hoping I might have hit upon a night when it was
off the setlist, but alas it was not to be. A perfectly fine version of
the song, but Bob was heavily mumbling the lyrics again here. The addition
of the violin does make for a slight change in sound, but not enough for
me that I wouldn't have preferred something else in its spot.
Ballad Of A Thin Man: Great to hear this one, especially since one of my
friends had been asking me about the lyrics before the show and had been
hoping to hear it. Who is Mr. Jones? Who does the sword-swallower
represent? And how does the one-eyed midget fit into the whole picture?
Questions for another day, perhaps, but the night's version was solid and
a great antidote to the previous song.
Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum: Was a bit surprised to hear this one so late
in the set (was expecting Hwy 61), but it was a good, rocking version
I Believe In You: I'd been lucky enough to hear this one last year up in
New Hampshire, but it's a great song that I wouldn't easily tire of
hearing. The range strains Dylan's vocals to their limits, but the beauty
of the words and melody would carry this song even if Michael Bolton
Highway 61 Revisited: Well, it didn't rock *quite* as hard as it did last
year at West Haven, but still a terrific tour-de-force of guitar
virtuosity. I've probably heard this one at every Dylan show I've
attended, but the arrangement changes so continuously that it's difficult
to grow tired of it. Dylan seems to have explored every possible way of
accenting the "Sixty-one" in the chorus, and has come back to a phrasing
that's closer to the original version (no longer the sixtaayyyyyyyyy-one
of last year).
Like a Rolling Stone: The first of the two encores predictably provoked a
huge reaction from the crowd from the opening bars, and in fact it was a
very good rendition, even if Dylan has probably played the song more than
any other in his vast catalogue.
All Along The Watchtower: Great, of course, and what better way to close
out the show?
As always, the end of the show left me and most of the people in
attendance wanting more, but there was no amount of cheering and
foot-stomping that could bring Bob and company back out. Great show,
great time- thanks Bob!
Review by Scott Reath
well, well, well....another outstanding Wisconsin run has come and gone!!
It is becoming abundantly clear that Bob REALLY enjoys playing in our
Badger State, and this run demonstrated that the feeling is mutual as a
full house of downright rowdy fans stomped their feet on the Eagles'
hardwood dancing floor, and practically screamed bloody murder for a
second encore saturday night. For a good 2-3 minutes, I thought we would
see the elusive 15th tune as the roadies were scampering around excitedly
as if being told to re-hook all the wires they had been speedily
dis-connecting. Alas, it was not to be as the harsh lights came on and we
realized that we'll have to wait another few months to see the beloved
genius again. Bob Dylan had so much fun at this show, I'm sure he would
have been more than willing to play another 90 minutes. I couldn't believe
the gleeful and joyous look on his face during saturday's show; it's shows
like these that answer the question "at his age, why does he keep touring
at such a frantic pace?"....I guess it also doesnt hurt one's outlook on
life to have the sumptuous and talented Elena Freemerman smiling at you
affectionately night after night (great call, musically and aesthetically,
Bob!!) While both shows were excellent, my feeling is that the superior
second show was right up there with UW-Oshkosh last November Election
Night....a show that I will always hold in the utmost high regard among
any rock concerts I've ever attended. With the sad departure of Larry
Campbell (all good things must come to an end I suppose), I approached
these shows cautiously, knowing full well that even under the best of
circumstances, it can take 10-15 shows to work the awkward kinks out of a
new band. Thank God for the steady experience of Msrs.Tony Garnier and
George Recile! This arrangement will be just fine, thank you. I think we
will all grow to appreciate the versatile nature of this talented group.
Lots of violin and pedal steel play a large role. And don't worry, with
three electric guitarists, they can rock out, too! After this Milwaukee
run, it's safe to say that the kinks are gone, this band understands what
playing with Dylan is all about, and we are in for another very
interesting era of shows and hopefully recordings, circa 2000-2002 when
Sexton/Campbell gave the shows such a unique energy. Merle Haggard was
great fun, and played some very good tunes (Silver Wings, Okie From
Muskokie, and some tune about "Take Out The Can, Here Come The Garbage
Man" stick out in my memory). What a classy, sharp-dressed band he has,
the kind of band that just leaves you with a shit-eating grin on your face
as you watch them play. Also, it's the type of act I never would have
sought out on my own and I really appreciate how Dylan makes an effort to
expose us to different live musical experience. Anyway, on Friday night
Merle says "Bob Dylan told us he wanted tho have the worlds greatest
beer-bar band playing with him on this tour"....and who can argue that
that's what the Strangers are! And who can argue that the Eagle's Ballroom
isn't a great beer-hall venue, with ornate architecure and interesting
shapes, cool pink lighting, and lots of dark little cavernous stairways
and hidden bar-rooms and decent sound. Personally, I hope he plays there
again in the future! So many wonderful moments, but my personal standouts
over the 2 nights would have to be Cats in the Well, Tough Mama, Down
Along the Cove, HWY 61, Hollis Brown, I Dont Believe You, GOTNC, Thin Man,
I believe in You, and a ripping Tweedle Dee/Tweedle Dum. Also, I will
always remember the amazingly heartfelt harmonica solos witnessed at these
2 shows. Thanks again Bob....we'realready looking forward to the next one!
Fond du Lac, WI
Review by Dewey Bjorkman
Honest to goodness, Bob just never ceases to amaze. I had caught the two
shows at the Fillmore in Denver a few weeks ago, but still found it to be
a must to drive across Wisconsin to catch his Milwaukee show at the Rave
on Saturday night. It was a fine show, and in some ways truly awesome.
Bob opened with Maggie's Farm pulsing with an energy belying his 63
years. He leaned on each phrase with a glee that sent the message: "Ok,
let's get started. Performing my songs for you is what I live for." I
was on the front rail, just to the left of Donnie, so I could see Bob's
face as he proclaimed his freedom from all forms of subservience. I have
countless boots of this song, but hearing him bark it out with such
authority tonight sent chills up my spine.
The Man In Me made me believe Bob still knows the joys of the opposite
sex, and his harp solo front and center was done with a display of
lung-power that, as in Denver a few weeks back, seemed not to have
been matched since early 2002. Is Bob feeling better these days?
Lonesome Day Blues was done tightly by the band, and Bob nuanced this
bluesy song in fine style.
I Don't Believe You (You Act Like We Never Have Met) was done
perfunctorily, except for a nice solo by Elana.
Hollis Brown, with Donnie on the banjo was dramatic and moving as Bob told
the story of seven dead on a South Dakota farm as if for the first time.
Then came one of my highlights for the evening: Stuck Inside of Mobile
(With the Memphis Blues Again.) This song alone makes a boot of this
concert a must. Donnie came out of his self-imposed exile and lite up
the place with his steel guitar. The entire band was looking at Bob as he
joined his friend the madman, as together they drew circles up and down
the block. I turned to someone behind me and mumbled something like "can
you believe this?!". They just smiled, as if responding: "no, but it's
Then came a nice Girl From The North Country, Bob with a nice harp solo
and Elana once again showing her wares on violin.
Honest With Me is always great live, and Elana shown once again. (She
had been in the woodwork in Denver, but not tonight!)
Ballad Of A Thin Man was done with great backing by the band, as Bob
preached to those who still don't know what's happening here.
Tweedle Dum Tweedle Dee was smooth as silk. Bob can do this one with his
mind on other things, it seems.
Then my thrill for the night. I Believe In You, my first time live. It
was worth the wait. My only regret is that you weren't there with me,
Donna! Bob proclaimed his faith, and his eyebrows raised and his eyes
intensified as he sang, "no matter what they say, I believe in YOU!"
Highway 61 smoked, with George doing his thing, and Donnie and Elana
Surprisingly, LARS was my third highlight of the show. Without the
blazing guitars of Charlie and Larry, Bob could measure his words more
carefully during each verse, as he built up to the phrase "how does it
feel?" The fans went crazy, and rightly so.
With Alis (spell?) and Caitlin (two bobheads from St.Louis there to see
their first bob show) up on the front rail for "Watchtower" the show
As Bob and the band stood in line to take their bows, Alis and Caitlin
pointed to him in glee, and to my surprise bob took out both pointer
fingers and began pointing back at them as with a pair of six guns,
brimming with a broad smile. The girls are hooked Bobheads for life now.
You go Bob! Keep travelin' and we shall follow.
Review by Jerry Spanbauer
I was lucky enough to attend both the Friday and Saturday (April 8 & 9)
shows in Milwaukee at the Eagles Ballroom. Rather than give you a
play-by-by of the songs, I will instead offer up a few observations about
1. Dylan’s harp playing at this point is worth the price of admission
alone. I saw him on Election Night last fall in my hometown (Oshkosh, WI)
and noticed a renewed sharpness in his playing then. The momentum has
continued. Quite simply, it was a highlight of the two shows for my friend
Tim (about 20 shows) and I (about 27 shows). He was center stage often
both nights playing inspired solos while being pushed to new hights by
Elana Fremerman and the rest of the band. They were the type where you
think the solo is going to fade at the end of a verse structure and he
reaches back for a sequence which tops everything before it.
2. The band has come together amazingly quick! I was expecting them to be
way rougher around the edges than they were. Every band member provided
highlights during both shows. I noticed one or two hesitations on Friday
and none on Saturday.
3. Though his voice hasn’t had much of a break lately (in the last 18
years), he annunciated very clearly both shows. I know the words, but
certainly had no trouble distinguishing them. When he sings in that low
register it sends chills up my spine.
4. Two shows, only two repeats! There are always songs one wishes he’d
play (anything off “Infidels,” “Groom’s Still Waiting At The Altar,” “Need
A Woman,” “Lord Protect My Child,” “Buckets Of Rain,” and anything off
“Desire” to name a few) he still manages plenty of pleasant lesser played
chestnuts (Tough Mama, I Believe In You, Hollis Brown, others). Songs I
have seen nearly (or more than) 20 times (Highway 61, Watchtower, Rolling
Stone, Maggie’s Farm) still manage to grab my attention and are severely
enjoyed by the casual fans too. It’s time to start harping (no pun
intended) less on the setlists and instead focusing on the quality of the
performances. In my last 10 shows there have been eight different openers
and at least 80 unique songs.
5. Two shows, two distinctively different crowds. Friday was an average of
20 years older. There were many 60 and 70 somethings of Friday and plenty
of teens and college kids on Saturday. It’s nice to see both!
6. Let’s hope Bob is whipping this ensemble into shape and then going into
the studio before the summer shows to lay down tracks for the new studio
album! Then we will witness another new batch of tunes!
If anyone has a quality recording of these or other Wisconsin shows,
please contact me. Catch the shows if you can!!!
page by Bill Pagel
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