page by Bill Pagel
Review by Larry Fishman
Venue: Once again Bob lands for 3 nights at the old Crickety, Orpheum
Theatre in Boston (I can't help it that I'm lucky). The joint looks every
bit its age having literally opened in the 1850s - must have been
spectacular to see Barber Shop after the Civil war ended - but now no air
conditioning, smelly, cramped seating, dilapated fixtures -- exactly the
right place to host the soon to be beloved Dylan/Haggard tour: combined
Opening Acts: Amos Lee did a pretty nice job, he's got a nice country
rock sound sort of like Ryan Adams without the Heroin and attitude. Merle
Haggard was fun. Backed by a well trained band of 9 and in fine voice, he
put on a delightful, albeit slighly mechanical, set. Glad I liked him
'cause I'm gonna be hearing the next two nights. All 3 performers ended
their set with a large curtain dropping. Sound quality & acoustics were
top shelf all night long. The audience was an older than usual one
perhaps due to Hag whom clearly had some fans there to see him.
The New Band. Like many Bobcats, I wondered what the Old boy was going to
sound like without Larry Campbell playing his multitude of instruments.
The verdict is in, these guys are fantastic! Indeed splendid! One point
of confusion, while I didn't have the best of seats tonight, I counted a
backing band of four not five. While this site lists Elana Fremerman
playing viollin - it seems to me that the pedal steel guitar player,
Donnie Herron, moved to the violin for a few tunes. Don't seem to recall
that the there were 2 musicians - maybe it's the other way around.
Anyway, I'm sure this will get cleared up in my own mind by Sunday.
Whatever the identfities, rest assured they deliver the goods like they've
been playing with him longer. There was pedal steel on most songs
conjuring up images of old Bucky Baxter band of the 90's - whatever
happened to him anyway.
Bob. Bob was dressed in his usual Cowboy cool: dark suit, white shirt,
white tie thingy, white Cowboy hat. He looked great and most importantly
sounded great tonight. Bob's Tax Day gift to us was the incredible
setlist and a performance to match. His voice was in pretty good shape &
played a tuneful, musical harp all night long. Not sure what all the
fuss & carping about his lack of guitar playing. First off, he ain't no
Clapton. Secondly, my theory is by the time everyone starts getting use to
him tickling the ivories, he'll pick up his strat again and then the
whining will commence about how great he was at the Hammond and how much
tigher the arrangments were. You get the idea. Okay, the show:
1. To Be Along With You. The night began without the usual intro music,
but we still got 'The Poet Laurette of rock and roll" taped intro. The
opener performed as a steady, straight ahead country beat with the the
Fiddle player and guitarist #2, Denny Freeman, trading solos.
2. Hazel. Spot on, a sweet country soul version - tight yet twangy. Bob
strolled lightly to center stage and planted himself into a great harp.
The first of a trio of songs I've never heard live before. Thanks man.
3. It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding) Peformed in it's now familiar
ba-ba-bada-boom chord progression with the violin solo really the only
difference from other versions of the past few years.
4. If Dogs Run Free. Not one of my favorite songs, but given a boost by
its Love & Theft restyling. Another stroll to center stage for a harp
solo with Bob feeling it, leaning back blowing a musical treat - even
slighly kicking up a leg. Yeehaa!
5. Tough Mama. A muscular, energetic take but simultaneously quite rich
and country polished. A tasty solo from our new friend Denny Freeman and
while the drunk guy in front of asked me what this song was and did I get
it - along with Hazel, this pair of Planet Waves tunes assured my happy
evening, but I couldn't imagaine such a killer take of...
6. Shelter From the Storm. Phenomonal. A low, slow, soft and delicate
take - beautifully spoken/sung. Entirely reworked from previous
versions, this one lands right in the left atrium, lovely, deep and
7. Cold Irons Bound. After such a bittersweat tune, the band decided to
blow the cobwebs out of the old hall, blasting away with Tony Garnier at
the bass leading the charge.
8. Tomorrow is a Long Time. The familiar curtain backdrop gave way to a
projected image of the night's sky, as Bob dived into another lullaby. He
started off nearly alone - bare- just vocals + keyboards and then the band
slowly adding nuance and backing. Some nice solos here as well.
9. Highway 61 Revisited. Time again to rock and roll as the band blasts.
With Like A Roling Stone taking a break on this and many nights, this is
a stone cold crowd pleaser.
10. Chimes of Freedom. Never thought I'd hear this one. This was a
heart pounding, head spinning, can't wait to hear the bootleg, freak me
out, never forget version. It's the best version of the song he's ever
done live. Period. I know about these things.
11. Summer Days. Clearly Bob loves playing this song as he's been doing
it every night for what five years. Holy shit, did he just play "Chimes
of Freedom." Anyway, this version of Summer Days is a subdued, if not
mellow. The first half was a bit flat and dull, though it picked up
during the instrumental break with some elegant playing from the band and
a 15 second keyboard solo by Zimmy.
12. Mr. Tambourine Man. The final real gift of the night was this
refashioned, slowed down arrangement similar to the great '95
performances. With 5 different voices - even a little of that old nasal
inflection - Bob took us on a trip, sung softly with the band playing
quietly behind the him - voice and piano - both rich and full. While many
complain and debate the quality in Bob's voice, play this, it'll to shut
13. Missisiippi. First tune after the encore was nearly unrecognizable
as a mid temp, two step boogaloo. A bit of a misfire, but still glad to
hear it Got a feeling I'll get an "Honest with Me" one of these next
14. All Along the Watchtower. The familiar closer with its Nirvana
loud/soft/Loud like arrangement.
For me certainly a fabulous night, some great set choices, great playing.
Great Great Great.
Review by Patrick Boyle
This was my second time seeing Bob, the first was last March at the
Electric Factory in Philly. That was a good show, but didn't at all
prepare me for tonight.
First off, the openers. Amos Lee was surprisingly good, a mellow singer
songwriter with a voice like Jeff Buckley and a tight little band backing
him. Wasn't a big fan of the lyrics, which were, from what I could hear,
pretty cheesy and overall just "light" fare. But as far as all the openers
I've ever seen, he ranks highly. Merle Haggard was a great surprise. I
went in not having heard anything by him and just had a great time the
whole time he was on stage. Even though I just wanted Bob to be on more
than anything, I liked Merle enough to see him on his own. Hope to
And now for Bob. I'll give you the song by song breakdown:
To Be Alone With You -- Not one of my favorite songs on Nashville Skyline
which is not one of my favorite albums. It works well as an opener, but
was one of the more forgettable performances of the night. The band was
tight on this one and Bob looked more lively for this song than perhaps
any other, but the vocals were forced and hard to hear. I was glad when it
Hazel -- The first of many surprises this evening, and one of the best
performances. Vocally this was one of the strongest of the night -- clear
and surprisingly passionate.
It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding) -- Not a huge fan of the arrangement
on this one, but I'll admit it got better two or three verses in.
Musically, that is. Vocally, Bob just seemed bored, mumbling his way
through it, forcing out lines like they were one word. He played this when
I saw him in Philly and it was a more intense, better performance.
If Dogs Run Free -- Not a fan of this song in general. Live it was
slightly better, but I could have done without it.
Tough Mama -- The second big surprise of the night. Very close to the
Planet Waves version, and overall just a good performance. The band was
tight, Bob had fun. Enjoyed it very much.
Shelter From the Storm (!!) -- I could hardly believe it when I heard
those first few lines. I thought he was playing Shooting Star at first,
which would have thrilled me, but I doubt it would have compared to this.
The crowd loved it, cheering wildly after the end of chorus each time, and
it got a big standing ovation afterwards. A beautiful rendition and
arrangement. I hope for the sake of the people who have tickets to future
shows that this one keeps showing up. One of the, if not THE highlight of
the evening. Wow.
Cold Irons Bound -- I love what he's done with this song. It's good on
Time Out of Mind, but it just comes alive in performance. This one was no
exception. It sounded like the Masked and Anonymous version. Really
kickin. This song takes ten years off Bob's life when he plays it, I
Tomorrow is a Long Time -- Interesting choice, wouldn't have predicted it.
A pretty song. I may have been more excited by it had I not heard Shelter
from the Storm two songs earlier, which takes the "pretty song" cake. But
I'm glad he played it.
Highway 61 Revisited -- A low point. Lousy, sloppy version of a song that
I was glad he wasn't playing every night anymore. Vocals were
Chimes of Freedom (!!) -- HUGE surprise. I don't think he's played it
since 2001. A thrill to hear -- great arrangement, passionate vocals. The
crowd seemed into it, too.
Summer Days -- Started off as a really lazy, slow version that I wasn't in
to, but it came alive when the solos rolled around. Really lets the band
show their stuff, though I wouldn't lose any sleep if he never played it
Mr. Tambourine Man -- I assumed he would end it (before the encore, that
is) with Summer Days, so I was ecstatic when he played this. The first few
verses were absolutely gorgeous and I remember thinking that it was the
best version, live or on record, that I had ever heard, anywhere. He
didn't quite maintain that throughout the rest of the song, though the
final verse was well done. Vocally one of the strongest of the night,
especially the first few verses, as I said. Love the new arrangement.
Mississippi -- Yes! This is one I was specifically hoping he would play as
the first song of the encore. I'm sick of Like a Rolling Stone and wasn't
in the mood for Don't Think Twice or Rainy Day Women. But this hit the
spot. I recognized it immediately and went nuts. A very good performance,
doesn't match Love and Theft, but can't ask for everything.
All Along the Watchtower -- The most ferocious version I've heard. I'll
never tire of this song. And I'll take the way he's playing it now over
any other version -- record and previous tours included. The one song I
hope I hear him play every single time I see him. Wasn't expecting this to
be a highlight of the night on par with Shelter and Chimes, but that's Bob
Overall, this went beyond my ridiculously high expectations. I'm seeing
him tomorrow as well, and I don't think it's physically possible to top
tonight's show, but I'm definitely ten times as excited. A wonderful
night. Keep on keepin on, Bobby.
Review by Rick Pearl
I'll skip the preliminaries and get right to the heart of the matter:
Bob's opening show in Boston at the Orpheum Theatre, April 15, was one of
my top five shows in 20+ years and 40+ times seeing him perform. And
considering he no longer plays guitar, his voice is nowhere near as strong
as it was when I first saw him perform in the early 80s, and he's playing
with almost a brand new band, that's saying something.
There were two major reasons for this being an all-time favorite: the song
selection and the presentation.
Having sat through quite a few "predictable" set lists over the years, I
was stunned to hear FOUR songs that I had never heard performed by Bob:
"Hazel" (which I believe he sang live for the first time last year in
Washington), "Tough Mama," "Chimes of Freedom" (!), and the absolute
stop-the-bus-I've-reached-my-destination song of the night, "Tomorrow Is A
Long Time." Before the show, I was telling my Dylan compadres that if Bob
played "Mississippi" - one of the songs from L&T that got short shrift in
earlier tours - I'd walk away a happy man. Well, BD DID play Mississippi,
but it didn't even qualify as a top highlight. (And it was good!)
Now, realizing that a great set list does not a great show make, let me
move on to reason number two: presentation. This band (which was minus
Elena Fremerman, the fiddler from Hot Club of Cowtown - has she left the
tour?) was surprisingly tight given the short time it's been together and,
although five members strong (Kimball and Freeman on guitar, Garnier on
bass, Recile on drums and Herron on an assortment of instruments) were
able to scale things back to allow Bob's vocals to dominate the mix. And
after a so-so start, Bob's singing was the best I have heard it in at
least five years. Still gravelly, growling and clipped, but a real solid
attempt at more than just a recitation of the lyrics.
Which leads to the top songs of the night. The first had to be "Shelter
From The Storm," which these ears have heard before in concert, but not
sung as passionately as on this night. The annunciation was crystal clear
and Bob sang with as much emotion as he has exhibited in a long time. The
next gold star was "Tomorrow Is A Long Time." I thought I'd fall out of
my chair (which would have been quite a feat in the cramped old Orpheum
aisles) when I heard the first words to this little-heard gem. My exact
thoughts/words? - "This is why we keep coming out to see this guy; just
when you think you've heard it all, he hits you with something like this!"
Finally, probably the main highlight for most of the 2500 in attendance
(this and "Shelter" seemed to be what most were talking about
post-concert) was one of the most stirring performances of "Mr. Tambourine
Man" I - or anyone else in my group - had ever heard. With the band
reverently playing soft and low in the background, Bob gave a hypnotic,
melodic performance that simply hushed the audience.
Add all of that to a really fine warmup performance by the legendary Merle
Haggard, and this was one of those shows that had you either praying for
more, or (like me) thanking your lucky stars that you had two more nights
to see what else BD could come up with to top an incredible first night in
page by Bill Pagel
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