Review by Micheal Mahoney
Bob Dylan played Blind Willie McTell in Kansas City Tuesday night, April
18. He delivered a great version of one of his discarded gems. It was the
first time I had ever heard the song performed live. It made a very good
concert a very special one, at least for me, and I hope many other devoted
fans who filled the ornate Midland Theatre. Of Dylan's 2-night stay in
Kansas City the second show was a superior performance. And the Monday
show was no slouch! The second show's sparkle was added to by the fact
that our seats, four rows off the balcony rail, put us at ear-level with
the primary speakers, about 100 yards in front of us. This venue has had
some sound problems in the past but tonight the audio was right on the
money.. The evening got off in special fashion, given that he used the 3rd
setlist that he's leaning on for the Spring US Tour. That means the opener
was Most Likely You'll Go your Way...crisply played, clear lyrics. A good
start. That was followed by a distinctive Tambourine Man. This is one of
the songs on this tour that is helped out by Dylan's switch to the organ.
He was not heavy on the instrument , but quite appropriate for a tune that
sung in his low range and in a dirge-like tempo that added to the majesty
of the one of Zimm best efforts. Down Along the Cove has a bouncy blues
fell to it. Since was it the first time I had heard this number live, I
struggled to recognize it thru the opening chords, but the audience was
treated to a swampy blues stomp that allows this band seems to excell.
Another hi-light of this tour, for me is the inclusion of This Wheels on
Fire, a song I always thought The Band had made their own. Dylan's use of
the organ and strong phrasing---which he displayed thru-out the night--
made Wheel sound like a trip thru a haunted house. It was superb! Sweet
Marie followed. Normally a t favorite of mine, I felt tonight's version
was sloppy. Not sloppy good, but ragged. Although I did enjoy the brief
"wooly-bully" organ chords I seemed to hear from Zimm's keyboard. The
staging of this tour came thru on the next song, it strong ;a passionate
and terrifying version of Masters. Zim seemed to go the extra mile in this
performance to enunciate the critical words so that the meaning of this
song was not lost. My notes also indicate a scourging set of guitar riffs
near the songs climax. The staging on this number included stark trio of
low lights on the apron stage casting ominous shadows of all band
members, adding to the sense of dread. Well done After that we were
entitled to a break, and got one. A delightful blues-tinged Watching the
River Flow. Solid work all around. Another treat was ahead. A wonderfully
reworked Hattie Caroll. Melodious is how I describe this one. I had not
heard any of the performances of this from earlier in the tour, so this
was to be a pleasant surprise. Now, sometimes I can take or leave poor
Hattie, but tonight she was mine. The soft music and the nearly
spoken-word recitation of the lyrics gave Zimm and opportunity to enjoy
an very good night vocally. Hattie produced some of the widest vocal
ranges of the night for Dylan, and like I said, he was having a good
night to begin with. L&T's Honest With Me followed up. Completely
re-worked and a real enjoyable rocker. This man's ability to re-work
already solid material never ceases to impress me. Like Hattie, the gem
Don't think Twice was re-arranged as a very soft, almost Caribbean tempo
in my mind. It was only scarred by a couple if detours into some dreaded
upsigning. It wasn't much, but it doesn't need to be to be irritating. The
finale of it was hilarious. The band wound up into a bump-n'grind close to
the song, that shouldn't have worked, but it was so damn funny I enjoyed
it!. At that point, Denny pulled out the banjo and I was ready for High
Water. But those were not the intro chords I heard, By God, Zimm & the
band launching in Blind Willie! I was so stunned I was actually hearing
this I almost didn't pay attention (I explain to you later over a beer).
It was a masterful version of the song! Ya shoulda been there!. Zimm
followed up the end of the regular set with a rousing Rainy Day. A big
crowd favorite. Sometimes it sounds worn out, but tonight the crowd was
into it. Dylan was even dancing behind the keyboard, suggesting to me he
was in a fine mood and knew he was having a helleva show. Standard
encores-- LARS and Watchtower. LARS has a upsinging incident, causing
Bob to fall out of time with the song momentarily. Serves him right. Denny
Freeman is becoming the guts of this band in my opinion. And that's a
good thing. KC show #2 better than #1---which was good. Blind Willie
makes it a night to remember.
Review by Zac Davis
Well, Bob Dylan playing with Merl Haggard at the Midland Theater in
Kansas City was destined to be a great night of great music and it did not
disappoint. When we first heard about the show my Mom called me and
wondered if I would want to go. She said that my Grandma would be
interested in attending also because she is a big Merl Haggard fan. Now
what other artist could bring out three generations of a family to a
concert and have everyone leaving with smiles on their faces?
The show started pretty close to 7:30 and Merl Haggard played a great set.
I had heard of him but had never heard any of his songs. The songs sounded
good and Merl puts on a good show with jokes and stuff between songs so it
was very enjoyable. His band, The Strangers, were a very tight band and
Merl played for about an hour and Bob came out around 9:00. I had been
keeping up with the setlists online, and after reading the setlist from
last night's show in Kansas City I figured we'd get the "Maggie's Farm",
"Highway 61" set which I would have been fine with, but when Bob opened
with "Most Likely You'll Go Your Way (And I'll Go Mine)" I knew we were in
for a special night. In fact I must have missed seeing this setlist listed
because every song surprised me pleasantly and I am so glad I was able to
attend on this night.
Bob's voice sounded much clearer and more powerful than the other three
times I've seen him over the past 4 years. Same with his harmonica
playing. Previously when I saw him play the harmonica, it just sounded
random and I thought he played more as a novelty but this time he actually
played along with the songs and I thought it sounded great! I thought all
of the song arrangements were very straightforward with more similarities
than I've seen before to the originals. Besides the couple of newer songs
that I'm not completely familiar with, I recognized most of the songs even
before he started to sing.
The highlights of the set for me were a couple of my favorites "Mr.
Tambourine Man" and "Don't Think Twice It's Alright" and then I was
sitting there thinking of what three songs I wanted to hear the most and
he played one of them, "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll", and I was
elated. Three songs each from Blonde on Blonde and Freewheelin' so I
couldn't ask for more there. On that note, the main set closer "Rainy Day
Women", which isn't usually one of my favorites, was great in concert with
Bob having a lot of fun singing it and the crowd really getting into it
and stuff. Bob even added some new phrases to it which was interesting and
added something new to, what I consider a normally boring song.
Overall, it was a great show. I wish I could catch some more shows on the
tour but I guess I have to eat instead.
Kansas City, MO
Review by Stephen Darjeeling
The last time I was in the Midland Theater aside from last night
was to see Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker, and, if I may indulge you all for
a bit, it was there that at the literal height of the Sugarplum Fairy’s
pas de deux some fool’s cell phone went off. Tickets have always been
pricy at the Midland probably because of its exquisite décor which sadly
is in a state of deterioration: Ragged seat backs, dusty chandeliers,
crowded aisles and passageways, and seats crammed under some acoustically
challenging architecture. The dusty construction around the theater
caused some concern as access to the event was only allowed from two
directions, but all of this “wrecking ball” ambience, as one writer for
last night’s concert alluded to, fit the occasion just fine. Merle
Haggard’s dusty old crew and Dylan’s dusty old songs melded right into the
building and the crowd.
Merle’s set justified the price of the ticket as the man from
Bakersfield played pure country gold. His sound engineer hit the
acoustics just right bringing out the vintage characteristics of his voice
and the country charm of his band, The Strangers. A couple of times
during the set he would stop the band cold and say something to the
audience. “Wait a minute, fellas, wait a minute. Hey I want all you
people to know that we are an old bar band and we aren’t used to playing
this early. Where are all the drunks? I haven’t even had my orange juice
yet. OK fellas, start over.” He has a lot of drinking songs and those
are ostensibly fun to hear until you absorb the sadness and reality of
what he is singing about. “I think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink” and
“Working Man’s Blues” were good but my favorite of the night was “Going
Where The Lonely Go.” Merle and the Strangers got a standing ovation and
“As Time Goes By” was as fitting an encore as any.
Bob should have hired Merle’s sound tech because it was obvious
that his own was as acoustically challenged as the daunting cavern the
Midland presents to those who must try to satisfy each and every ear.
Sometimes the sound was clear and Dylan’s voice or harp or keyboard would
penetrate every space and sometimes it was muddy and you had to struggle
to recognize the song at first and then continue to struggle along with
it. It must have been nearly impossible for those who were not familiar
with the songs to even begin to appreciate them in this venue. The young
mullet-headed man next to me slumped in his seat for most of the night
while his ‘50 ish parents sang along with most of the songs.
There was a strange situation with the stage setup and Bob could
possibly have billed this one as Bob Dylan and the Stranger, the Stranger
being Stu Kimball. Picture the stage as a rectangle with Denny Freeman,
Tony Garnier, George Recile, and Donny Herron on the back side with Bob in
front of Donny, the six of them in a relatively tight grouping. Now
picture Stu up front in the corner, stage left, by himself several feet
away from Bob. His monitors are turned toward him and away from the rest
of the band. He is playing rhythm guitar all night, watching Donny take
nearly all of the leads and rarely getting the nod from Bob. At one point
my rider, an astute musician in her own right, says to me, “Somebody is
seriously out of tune.” Stu is then seen furiously trying to tune his
guitar, stomping on the foot control and shutting down twice before
literally throwing the guitar into the rack and grabbing another. He was
obviously distressed. Was this a setup, could he have picked up the wrong
guitar? Who knows, but I will venture to make a bet that he does not
finish this current tour with the band. The weird thing was that he was
so very out of tune but nobody in the band, Bob included, acknowledged the
Before the encore, Bob introduced each band member in a sing-songy fashion
and at the standing ovation brought them all back out to acknowledge the
accolades of the crowd and giving a thumb’s up before exheunt stage right.
For me it was a good concert, not a great one, and, who knows, this could
be the last one.
Review by John Pruski
Another Side of Bob Dylan is what all of the spring 2006 tour newbies (myself
included) saw last night in the ornate Midland Theater in downtown Kansas
City. I say this because Bob is playing in an organ-ish setting on his keyboard,
this giving the band a whole different feel, a great vibe IMO. Before this tour
I didn't think Bob's playing was always clearly discernible, but last night his
keyboard seemed much loader than usual, so much so that this and his playing
now seems to favorably overshadow the other members of the band.
In driving to Kansas City from St. Louis yesterday afternoon I basically was
thinking Bob would play this tour's "Maggie's Farm set." I was thinking this, not
only because on the 12 dates prior to last night was it played eight times to
just three times for the "Things Have Changed set" to once for the "Most
Likely set," but also because the band had just played the Things Have
Changed set the previous night in the same theater. So, I was surprised
(pleasantly so) when last night's opening number was Most Likely, although
truthfully each version of the three main set lists from this spring seem equally
great. I'll be here in SL for tomorrow's show at the historic Fox Theater and
then home in New Orleans for next week's out doors Heritage Fair (of the Jazz
Fest) show, so with luck then I'll see the other basic sets of this spring's tour.
In addition to Bob's startling and new keyboard sound, other things
immediately of note were the different band member positions (Donnie is now
to the audience left and next to George) and Bob's deep rich singing on the
opening few numbers. Tambourine Man was still rendered replete was the
vocal inflections ala Towson, Nov 2000. Last night's version of Wheel's On Fire
was a concert first for me, and I had not heard a live version of the next
(Absolutely Sweet Marie) since the tours of August 1997 and the February
1998. Donnie's violin was very nice on Absolutely Sweet Marie, but his playing
on lap steel (I never noticed him moving over to pedal steel) during the earlier
(well on all) songs was outstanding, as usual.
Next was Masters of War, made more moody by the shadowy effect cast upon
the curtain backdrop by the three stage-level lights in front of the band.
Speaking of lighting, the last number or two of the main set had a dimly lit star
pattern cast upon the curtain, and the house lights remained dim as the band
members walked off stage before the encore numbers, rather than the house
lights coming up and the band standing in formation at the close of the main
It was in the second part of the main set that the songs in sots 9 and 11
differed from the otherwise similar set list of 8 April 2006. One of these was
Honest With Me, which was the only song last night from a recent record.
Donnie's light banjo playing during Blind Willie McTell stood in strong contrast
to the band's heavier playing during this song. When I saw a roadie helping
Donnie with his banjo before Blind Willie McTell started I thought Bob and
band were going to play High Water (both because Bob was in KC and
because High Water has the 12th Street & Vine verse), but Blind Willie (this
was the spring tour debut) was just as great. Bob played harmonic at several
points tonight, but his solos didn't seem stand out as much as normal, perhaps
because the new keyboard setting occupies much of the same register as do
harmonicas. Denny took most all of the leads during the main set, and his
playing is just so tasty. Stu took some very nice leads in each of the encores,
and Tony and George propelled the band as solidly as always.
I'd have to say, however, that because Bob's new keyboard setting lends such
a different sound to the band that I'm looking forward, more so that usual, to
my two other shows within the next week. Last's night's show was great and
if typical of others of this spring's tour, then we are all truly in luck!
Thanks again to Bob, Merle, and their great bands.
St. Louis, MO
Review by Don Ely
Blown out on the Santa Fe Trail.... searchin' for the wrong-eyed Dylan....
In the Council Grove of Kansas an arid New Mexican wind played tricks on my
eyes and senses as dust devils danced with mischief past the Last Chance Store.
Last chance for what, my travel-weary mind pondered. At the dark end of the
empty street, beyond the saloons and roadhouses that had fallen strangely
silent, stood a mighty oak tree luminous with the fire of Good Will and
Brotherhood. Underneath the Council Oak sat cross-legged a wandering Jew
and his band of klezmer minstrels. The joyous sounds of music filled the air and
the oak burned with ever greater intensity until great showers of sparks erupted,
consuming all that was darkness and bathing all levels of consciousness and
conscience in soothing white light....
The next waking moment I found myself in a gilded movie palace of the type
not seen for eighty years. Among the most beautiful I had ever been in, every
inch of it's graceful features a feast for hungry eyes. I followed the trail of the
music I heard and on the stage was Cowboy Merle and a band of musicians
dressed in most formal attire. They called themselves The Strangers, but they
seemed very much to me like close friends, although at one point they shook
hands with one another and that led me to wonderin'. They played songs both
fast and slow, the rhythm of the honky tonk mixed with the heartbreak ballad,
and Cowboy Merle, he had his audience in hand with his quick wit and repartee,
some of which I had the feeling I'd heard before.... couldn't quite put my finger
on it. Cowboy Merle wondered aloud if people still had sex anymore, and his
audience remained pretty quiet....he also led a stirring tribute to the fallen
heroes of War, the pawns used by the Masters in a match for Heaven and Hell,
and the calm white light returned....
A brief explosion of sparks and Things Had Changed.... a different group of
musicians commanded the stage, at once similar but more rough-hewn and
seasoned. Two guitars, an inspiring mandolinist/pedal steel player, and the best
rhythm section of the day. The only thing missing was a talented fiddle player
who once came from the Hot Club of Cowtown.... at the center of it all was a
man slight of stature, large in influence, who I had the feeling I'd seen
before.... a wandering Jew who had traveled thousands upon thousands of
miles and kilometres spreading joy across the land....for him The Times They
Were A-Changin', for the rest of us time stood still. He played a keyboard
instrument from which emanated sounds not heard previously, Farfisa-like noises
that worked naturally on songs of his such as "Tweedle Dee And Tweedle
Dum", and could replicate the sounds of Augie Meyers on "Love Sick" or of Al
Kooper on "Ballad Of A Thin Man". I got the feeling, though, that after many
performances this new sound was destined to become an irritant, as it tends
to drench the songs and drown out other instruments.
Smiles and cheers spread like waves across the audience, as the man and his
band offered fine versions of " I'll Be Your Baby Tonight ", "Lay, Lady, Lay", and
even "Cat's In The Well", that bristled with energy. The strongest moments
were provided by "Ballad Of A Thin Man" and "I Don't Believe You (She Acts
Like We Never Have Met)". Though I felt as if I'd seen him before (and I had),
this last song was one that was new for me, and I was titillated all the more.
This timeless wizard of words and music, merely mortal in the flesh, truly immortal
in stature, an artist not afraid to make mistakes, cast his alchemy well into the
Kansas City night. Then, as quickly as he'd arrived, he was Gone Again.
Outside the venerable movie palace a spectral lady stood selling books of the
hanging, until she too disappeared into another place. As for me, I found myself
transported back to a place called Detroit, enveloped by a shroud of brilliant
Review by Cortney McKay
Bob Dylan's second night at the Midland Theater made for a very pleasant evening.
Having attended the first night, it is hard to not compare the two; however, this
one alone was quite satisfactory.
Dressed very well, in a black hat, and a black jacket and pants that had a touch of
shiny red to them, Bob looked as well as he performed. He started the night off
with "Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I'll Go Mine)," the first of three songs
that would be played from "Blonde on Blonde." It was a good introduction to the
evening and wasting no time, in the first song he showed the audience what he
could do with his harp.
"Mr. Tambourine Man" was the next number. It may not be the acoustic Newport
"Mr. Tambourine Man" all speeded up and backed with a jamming band, but it is a
classic and a hit that everyone in the crowd was able to enjoy.
In "Down Along the Cove" he played his harp for the third time in a row; pretty
nice. It's a great tune with awesome lyrics and always fun to hear.
I don't think too many people recognized this next song, "This Wheels on Fire".
At this point as far as I could tell, pretty much everyone was in their seat. The
only other person on the floor who had been standing for all the previous songs
was this girl on the right side, but even at this point she had sat down. I guess I
must have been the only person in the place standing up; sorry folks, but its
Dylan, and I wanted to stand.
The second track from "Absolutely Sweet Marie," was the second number played
from "Blonde on Blonde" from the evening. It had a good sound to it, and was
the first song Bob did without bringing his harp into it.
"Masters of War," was very clearly sung, he seemed to emphasize each and every
word, with no mystery as to where he was at in the song. It was very meaningful
and powerful. It was a great addition to the evenings set.
Okay, now things get speeded up and start jamming and rocking out more like
the previous nights concert. He played "Watching the River Flow", and it was fast
and had a good upbeat tempo to it. It was nice to hear something a bit peppier.
I thought it was one of the better performances of the night. From what I took
the time to notice it seemed like a few other people stood up to enjoy this one
Going back to a slower tune, Bob takes on "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll".
Leave it to Bob to come up with a name like "William Zanzinger".
"Honest With Me" was the ninth song of the evening. I love this song, and it is
always a pleasure to hear something from "Love and Theft." I remember after
"Love and Theft" came out it seemed like he would do four or five tracks from the
album, and I must have taken it for granted, because now it seems like a real treat!
I am a bit surprised though they he didn't make a special change to his set list and
play us "High Water (For Charley Patton)" since after all we were in Kansas City. But,
I was very happy with "Honest With Me" it sounded great and is always a great
number to dance to.
I guess always wanted to be in the frame of mind where I think things are "all
right," I think I took it upon myself to scream after two or three of him singing out
"Don't Think Twice, its All Right". A great number live! At the end he did
absolutely incredible harp playing. I think it is always very impressive at absolutely
how amazing his harp is on this tune. He sang the lyrics beautifully, and clearly. It
was a highlight of the evening for sure.
"Blind Willie McTell" was next. I think the most prominent thing about this song, is
the great deep sound it has to it. It is just kind of like, "bang!"
Bob's final number from "Blonde on Blonde" ends the night, playing "Rainy Day
Women #12 & 35" or for those who don't know the correct title, "Let's Get
Stoned". It was AMAZING! This was the first song that the majority of the crowd
really got into and by this point the expensive seats started to be abandoned.
People got up and got moving to this one. It was a lot of fun! It was a wonderful
way to end the night. It seemed like one guy was even trying to go up a bit closer
for this one, but the Midland Theater security and usher people kept turning him
The encore, as always, was "Like a Rolling Stone" and "All Along the Watchtower".
The two songs that everyone was probably there to hear, they were crowd
pleasers for sure. I think in the end those who there merely because they could
afford to go see a legend, and those who were there to stand for every single
song and intently focus on the detail and brilliance of the best artist of our time
had a very enjoyable evening!
As a side note, the East West Touring Company is selling programs for this tour,
which I don't think they have put out in recent tours. The programs are 20 dollars
and include an interview with Muddy Waters from the 70's about Dylan and also an
interview with Dylan himself about his hit movie (or not) "Hearts of Fire." There are
pages that are more or less like advertisements promoting "No Direction Home",
"Masked and Anonymous", and "Chronicles Vol. 1".
Review by Darrell Lea
Sometimes the whole is less than the sum of its parts. Sometimes art
sn’t pretty. Sometimes music has to evolve through an ugly phase to get
to a beautiful place. Sometimes things are not what they seem.
I’ve attended fifteen Dylan shows since 1978. Perhaps that’s not enough
to be completely fluent in all the ways of the touring Bob Dylan Show in
2006, but it is enough to understand what the man is capable of on a
good night. The concert at the Midland would be the first one I could
attended since Larry Campbell’s departure from the group, and the
reviews I’d read of Dylan’s shows since then have been decidedly mixed.
I was looking forward to a chance to form my own opinion, so I happily
shelled out the $67.00 (plus $11.65 in “convenience” and “mailing”
charges) per ticket for this show.
Merle Haggard’s band The Strangers took the stage promptly at 7:30 PM to
get the festivities rolling, and I quickly began to feel as if I were
hearing and seeing a slice of musical history. Here was some real
country music, with all the trimmings. The eight piece band played their
two opening numbers with clarity and precision, after which Merle
quietly ambled out to front the group. The set featured classics like
“Today I Started Loving Her Again”, “Tonight The Bottle Let Me Down”,
and “Mama Tried”, and Mr. Haggard’s fiddle playing later in the set was
as solid as his lead guitar and vocals. However, our seats were in front
of the two loud gal’s out on a mom-date, and I soon learned that the
more talkative one’s daughter would turn one year old the very next day.
I was under whelmed. Merle’s set ended way too soon, and a quick encore
of “As Time Slips By” and “The Way I Am” finished off his part of the
The set change lasted precisely thirty minutes, and Bob Dylan and His
Band took the stage at exactly 9:00 PM. “Most Likely You Go Your Way
(And I’ll Go Mine)” was a welcome opener, and it was apparent by the end
of the song that I wouldn’t be bothered, or even able to hear, any
drunken chatter while the band was playing. The groove and arrangement
were similar to many live versions I’d heard before, and Bob confidently
delivered the vocals. A full band treatment of “Mr. Tambourine Man”
followed, which seemed stark and drone-like in its new arrangement.
Bob’s instrument of choice these days is an organ that has a tone
reminiscent of Ray Manzarek’s , or perhaps Alan Price’s solo on “House
of The Rising Sun”. Singing in a key that accommodated Bob’s lowest
vocal range, it wasn’t yesterday’s “Tambourine Man”, that was certain.
The guitarists both stumbled a bit when it came time to solo, as if they
were uncertain if it was the verse or the chorus that would provide the
vamp. It turned out to be the chorus, and all the players ended the song
“Down Along The Cove” had an arrangement remarkably similar to the
original, except for a clunky sounding riff toward the end of each verse
that sounded as if it were there simply to trip up the players. It did
just that the first couple of verses, but all was better by the end of
the tune. I was beginning to form an opinion by the time “This Wheel’s
On Fire” started, which was that this particular group did not appear to
have a lot of chemistry or interaction with each other on their playing
field. Tony Garnier and George Recile have been playing together for a
few years now, and they are certainly locked into their groove, but
anything resembling subtlety in their playing was absent. New guy Denny
Freeman played confident, correct but essentially forgettable solos when
called upon. Donnie Herron is a hell of a soloist, and is consistently a
shining light in this format. On the other hand, Stu Kimball did not
appear to be having one of his better nights, and a lot of his
rhythm playing seemed clumsy and ham-fisted. All of the player’s eyes
seemed to be either fixed on the band leader or kept in their own
personal space, and there was not a lot of interplay across the ensemble.
“Absolutely Sweet Marie” is a favorite of mine, and this version rocked
out alright, in spite of some obvious dissonance and wrong chords during
the first bridge. “Masters Of War” was essentially the same arrangement
Dylan has worked the last few years, and his organ tone made it sound
just like an old Animals record. “Watching The River Flow” was a loud
blues shuffle, nothing more.
The defining moment for this listener was the performance of “The
Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll”. The group switched over to an
acoustic style set-up, but anything resembling subtlety or refinement
was sorely lacking from this performance. It almost seemed that Bob had
given up on this number by the end of the last verse, his vocalizing
becoming so “Dylan-esque” as to almost be mocking self-parody, rendering
the tale of judicial and societal hypocrisy almost meaningless.
The new key that “Honest With Me” is being performed in now makes the
similarity between its riff and the riff from Sly Stone’s “I Want To
Take You Higher” glaringly apparent. The intro to “Don’t Think Twice,
It’s All Right” was so rough and out of sync that I decided it was a
good time to take a walk. I was amiably chatting with old friends in the
hallway when the next number started, a loud blues cycle that was
somehow familiar yet unrecognizable at this distance. I re-entered the
balcony to see a fancy, star-lit lighting affect on the back scrim of
the stage, and only then did I recognize this loud blues thing as “Blind
Willie McTell”. I had waited twenty years to hear Bob do this one at a
show, and will happily wait another twenty years if this is all the song
can offer live. It was simply way too damn loud, with no hint of real
feeling in the performance whatsoever.
"Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” ended the set, and the cruise control was
obviously switched on for the rest of the evening. A few empty seats
were apparent in our part of the dress circle, while others were still
waving their lighters and having their rock and roll moments to “Like A
Rolling Stone” and “All Along The Watchtower”. The final bow and
acknowledgement of the crowd seemed somewhat brief and business-like,
and the show ended at 10:30 PM on the dot.
It’s hard to draw conclusions after a performance like this, but a few
things seem apparent. Merle Haggard’s nine piece band sounded like an
orchestra compared to Dylan’s six piece ensemble, which at times sounded
like a train wreck inside a wind tunnel. Perhaps Bob feels strongly
about rock and roll being a physical experience. If it’s worth playing,
it’s worth playing loud is the old maxim, so I suppose if it’s worth
playing loud it’s also worth experiencing physical discomfort. Dylan
himself seemed composed and professional, remembering all his keyboard
parts and lyrics. If he was displeased with the band’s performance, he
didn’t display it on stage in a manner that could be recognized by the
However, it is this writer’s opinion that something drastic has to be
done with the guitar players in this band. I’m normally reticent to
speak ill of other players. I’ve done my time on the stages and freeways
of the rock and roll circuit here in the Midwest, and I know what a hard
job being a musician can be. Maybe these guys just need a lot more
rehearsal time. There’s a fine line between being “fresh” and being
“under-prepared”, and that line was crossed frequently at this show. If
a group is expected to improvise arrangements over song forms and
cycles, which seems to be the mode of operation these days, they either
need a virtuoso like Larry Campbell or they need some kind of spark
between the players. Neither of these factors seemed to be present in
any great quantity from what I heard, so some more wood-shed time would
perhaps be in order.
I can’t wait for the next show.
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