Review

Atlanta, Georgia
Tabernacle
April 14, 2004


[Philip Covin], [Michael Smith]

Review by Philip Covin



Don't think Thrice, It's All Over.	Last night was the final show of three
at The Tabernacle in Atlanta, GA.  I met many folks who had traveled a
good distance across the U.S. for these Atlanta shows, as well as a couple
from England and heard there was someone from Germany who did the same.  I
hope everyone enjoyed their stay in Atlanta and has a safe trip home.

Tonight's highlights for me were:  High Water, Ballad of Hollis Brown, Girl
of the North Country, Ballad of a Thin Man, Tears of Rage, and It Ain't Me
Babe.  High Water is a great tune in concert.  Lots of dynamics, and as a
recent tune, works very well with the crowd.  I was delighted to hear a
seldom heard Ballad of Hollis Brown.  Go back and read the lyrics if you
don't know it that well; it tells a sad but interesting story.  Girl of
the North Country was my favorite of the night.  Beautiful version and
much different from the performance he gave at his 30th anniversary
concert celebration.  Ballad of a Thin Man was another crowd pleaser and
Dylan was really into this one.  He sang very well tonight overall, I
thought.  Tears of Rage was a rarity indeed, and although it's one I don't
know really well, it was very enjoyable.  It Ain't Me Babe was another new
arrangement, different from the last time I heard him do it in 2002.

Overall, a good show.  I would rank show #2 the best of the three in
Atlanta, but they were all above average.  Of course, I was a few heads
back from the stage all 3 nights, and that does make a difference, but I
heard many say that these shows were above par.

Enjoyed talking to the nurse last night who met Ramblin' Jack Elliott
outside show #2 at The Tabernacle after the concert.  Anyone else spot
him?

Thanks, Bob, for a wonderful 3 nights!

-Philip Covin

[TOP]

Review by Michael Smith



Bob Dylan and his band ended their first tour of 2004 last night not with
a whimper but a bang. Having not seen a show since Milwaukee, it was
fascinating to see what the nature of this live show has morphed into from
earlier in the tour. The changes were both subtle and dramatic. The most
obvious difference was that this concert rocked hard. Real hard. Way
harder than the six shows I saw in early March. There was only one moment
last night that might have been deemed tender or soft and it was a
gorgeous outing of Girl of the North Country. Everything else was hard
rocking and danceable. Hell, even She Belongs to Me (sweetly sung and
played) kind of rocked. I know that's not how some people like their Bob
but there's no doubt in my mind that this was a great show. A couple hours
before the doors opened, I got to hear the soundcheck in surprisingly good
quality from outside of the venue. It was one of the strangest soundchecks
I've ever heard. The first song was slow and jazzy and I was unable to
identify it. After a long silence, the band could be heard noodling on
their instruments for a while before launching into back to back
instrumental versions of Man in the Long Black Coat and Standing in the
Doorway. These were followed by two more songs I was unable to identify,
both of them bluesy - one slow, one insanely fast. Once inside, I noticed
that The Tabernacle appears to be a much smaller venue than its 2500
capacity suggests on paper. There isn't much depth to the room and they
make maximum use of the balcony areas, which completely curve around both
sides of the stage. The venue has a kind of odd charm too; someone told me
that it used to be a church, which would explain both the name and the
presence of a giant organ at the back of the stage (the curtain embossed
with Dylan's "eye logo" could only partially obscure it.) Since being
converted into a club, the walls and ceiling of The Tabernacle have been
painted over with simple repetitious geometric shapes, mostly red, white
and black, in a primitive "folk art" style. It would be an ideal place for
a White Stripes show. As has been customary for the tour, Dylan and his
band came on stage about twenty minutes late. Dylan looked resplendent in
a black suit with a white shirt and white cowboy hat. There was a sparkly
silver stripe running down his pantlegs, the only show-offy touch in an
otherwise subdued outfit. The first song was The Wicked Messenger and it
was, I felt, one of only two subpar performances for the evening. It
wasn't bad per se; it just felt like the mere warm-up that the opening
songs sometimes are. Both Bob and the band then established a nice groove
with She Belongs To Me, a song I was very glad to hear as I hadn't seen it
performed live since 1990. The song was driven by Larry's fluid pedal
steel guitar playing and Dylan turned in a nice vocal performance as well,
augmented by a couple of simple but highly effective harmonica solos.
During the first solo, Dylan played a series of low notes before ending on
a single high note. During the second, he did the reverse: playing a
series of high notes before ending on a single low note. Very purposeful,
well executed playing from Bob. Down Along The Cove and High Water (For
Charley Patton) followed and proved to be a nice one-two punch. Both songs
were solid performances and had the joint jumping. These are two songs I
feel Dylan almost always does well. Still, it seemed to me that he looked
like he was still All Business at this stage of the show, if you know what
I mean - feeling out the crowd, putting those codes and stratagems in
place, perhaps just waiting for the right time to tear loose. Stuck Inside
Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again was next and the energy level was,
I felt, brought down somewhat by a vocal performance that was, as with
Wicked Messenger, neither here nor there. Or maybe it only seemed that way
to me, since I'm a big fan of the performance of this song from the mighty
Vic show in Chicago, a performance that I probably couldn't help but
superimposing over the one last night even while it was happening in front
of me. Larry Campbell then strapped on the cittern and I had a feeling we
might be in for something special. We were. At my fiftieth Bob Dylan
concert, I heard The Ballad Of Hollis Brown live for the first time - the
145th unique song I've seen (for those of you keeping track). And what a
performance it was! I once read somewhere that if God has a voice he must
sound like Leonard Cohen. That's the best way I can describe the tone of
Dylan's voice during this last night; I literally got goosebumps listening
to him as he sang this blackest of songs in a positively thunderous voice.
About midway through the song, George slightly, almost imperceptibly,
changed the tempo, speeding it up and making it just a little bit more
urgent. This occured right before Dylan sang "Your babies are crying
louder / It's pounding on your brain," so listen out for it on the boot.
It was a subtle but powerful touch. This was also the point in the show
where I felt the passion of Dylan's commitment to his material was cranked
up a few notches, a point from which there would be no return. Watching
The River Flow came next, a song that, at its worst, resembles the kind of
twelve-bar blues bar rock that you can hear just about anywhere. But last
night was one of the great ones. Larry and Freddie took this one through
the roof with some of the gutsiest, most inventive guitar playing I've
ever heard. Larry was on slide, of course, which perhaps inspired Freddie
to play a kind of insane, frenzied slide solo of his own. Except Freddie
didn't have a finger slide, he merely used his middle finger, sliding it
up and down the neck really fast. Now, a few words about Freddie; unlike a
lot of you, I'm an admirer of his playing. His style sounds to me like
what an excellent blues guitar player might come up with under the
influence of hallucinogenic drugs. What I really like about this is the
way it contrasts with Larry's playing. If Freddie dominated all of the
instrumental breaks in a Dylan show, I might understand some of the
complaints a little better. But what few comment on is that Freddie isn't
even really Bob Dylan's lead guitarist; during the instrumental breaks,
both Freddie AND Larry almost always BOTH take solos, usually performed in
tandem. And I think the difference between their styles creates a tension
that is dynamic and fascinating to behold. Anyway, back to this specific
performance. All of the inspired guitar lunacy clearly inspired Bob, who
began to boogie around more and more behind the keyboard, cutting loose
more with the vocals and even starting to crack smiles, which he would
continue to do throughout the remainder of the night. This song deservedly
got some of the biggest applause of the whole show. Girl of The North
Country followed and was, as I mentioned earlier, a beautiful performance.
For me, the most interesting thing that happened during this was in the
instrumental break. Bob started playing a harp solo and then, a few
seconds later, Freddie started to play a loud guitar solo. My first
reaction was one of surprise; I couldn't believe that Freddie would "step
on" Bob's solo like that. It soon became clear that this was what Bob
wanted, however, and their two instruments, electric guitar and harmonica,
became strangely (and movingly) intertwined as they looked at each other
and just played and played. But the next performance was the real
highlight of the evening for me: Ballad Of A Thin Man. Again, another song
I hadn't heard in ages but the wait was worth it. I'm sure the boot will
reveal that this was the strongest vocal performance of the night, with
lots of very animated singing. And something damned interesting happened
on the instrumental break of this one too! Bob began playing a weird harp
solo. Not bad, just weird; the notes were both spare and surprisingly
placed. I was thinking to myself: "He's trying to play the harp like
Freddie plays guitar." (Later on, I found out that my girlfriend was
thinking the exact same thing at this exact same moment.) Then, Bob sets
the harp down and points at Freddie, who steps out to take a solo. A few
notes into Freddie's solo, Bob picks the harmonica back up and the two of
them are jamming together and duelling with one another again! A decent
version of Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum came next and gave me time to collect
my thoughts (and breath) before Bob blew my mind again with a new
arrangement of Tears Of Rage, featuring a bizarre, rewritten final verse,
which I'm sure most of you have already heard or heard about: "Iíve never
been to Strawberry Fields And Iíve never been to Penny Lane But Iíve been
down in the Willow Garden And Iíve ridden on the hellbound train And I
want you to know just before you go Where to find me in case you needed to
It was early dawn, you were long gone Before anybody knew" This was one of
the oddest things I've ever heard Dylan sing. Apparently, he sang this
same verse in Boone, although no one told me about it and I hadn't read
about it so my jaw literally dropped as soon as I heard those Beatles
references. This is a crazy, crazy rewrite, even by the standards of the
man who gave us "Her eyes were blue, her hair was too." But more
surprising than the references themselves was perhaps the song into which
they were dropped; Tears of Rage, like a lot of The Basement Tapes, has
always sounded to me like an ancient song, something from an era long
before The Beatles existed, before the insane world of entertainment
exploded in our faces. But, then again, perhaps that's Dylan's point;
maybe he's once again trying to extricate himself from the straightjacket
of the "'60's icon," the label that so many still want to slap him with,
and point the way back to the timeless music that really matters to him.
(Willow Garden is a traditional folk song, for those of you who might not
know). Another fine version of Honest With Me followed with some truly
unique phrasing from Bob. He threw a pregnant pause into the middle of
each line, something I'd never heard him do before. Also, after singing "I
can't tell my heart that you're no good," he added the aside ". . . But
you are!" What a goofball. Then the dramatically rearranged It Ain't Me,
Babe brought the house down in a performance very similar to the great one
from Detroit that I'm sure you all know and love, complete with elongated
Mores and Doors. They closed out the set with an unusually good Summer
Days, a song I felt needed to be retired earlier in the tour. Larry's solo
on this was much faster and more rock-a-billy oriented than usual. I got
the feeling he was attempting to fill Charlie's shoes, something I didn't
think he had tried to do before. Larry even got in some squatting down,
duckwalk-like moves while he played. Only I think Freddie and Larry are
much more of a team than Charlie and Larry ever were. These guys are
constantly locking into each other, even walking out to meet each other
center stage, grinning from ear to ear all the while. After leaving the
stage for a short break, Bob and the band returned for a killer encore
set. The entire band got hopelessly and hilariously lost during Cat's In
The Well when Bob didn't start singing the second bridge after the
instrumental break. The band started vamping for a long time and it seemed
like no one knew for sure if they were playing the bridge or the chorus.
But they all looked like they were having so much fun that it didn't
matter. I'm pretty sure Dylan never even sang the second bridge. I think
he just came back in by going straight into the last verse. A very fine
Like A Rolling Stone followed, the kind I like, with Bob belting out the
chorus lines ("How does it feeeeeeeeeel") instead of singing them in
short, clipped phrases. Then came the band intros and a new joke: "Freddie
wrote a letter to his wife last night on an empty stomach. I said,
'Freddie, you've got to use a piece of paper!'" The final performance of
the tour was, of course, All Along the Watchtower and it turned out to be
an atypical version, one of the longest I've ever heard, with lots of
jamming and Larry using some crazy distortion effects. Before the
penultimate verse, there was a long jam where Larry kept playing the same
riff over and over. It seemed like he was waiting for Bob to start singing
but it was a long while before Bob finally did. At first I thought Bob
must have blanked on the words but then, during another instrumental jam
before the final verse (that is to say, the repeated first verse) the same
thing more or less happened, only this time Bob was clearly signalling for
the guitarists to continue soloing (by nodding at Freddie and so on). The
song felt like it must have been 8 or 9 minutes long. All in all, a
fitting final chapter to a fine tour that gave us 82 unique songs, several
surprise covers (including a surprise guest at a Dylan show and Dylan as a
surprise guest at another show), a new verse for Tears of Rage and more
than a few new arrangements, some of them quite drastic. See you next
time.

[TOP]

page by Bill Pagel
billp61@execpc.com

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