Reviews

St. Louis, Missouri

Peabody Opera House

April 13, 2013


[Tom Finkel], [Tom Burke], [Rodney Peck]

Review by Tom Finkel



For Bob Dylan's visit to St. Louis last night -- his first since October 2010 and 
the fourteenth stop on his current tour -- the Peabody Opera House (14th 
and Market streets; 314-241-1888 ) stage was backed by a full-height 
semicircular black curtain with four lighthouse-grade spotlights suspended in 
front of it that occasionally commenced to glow like so many massive moons 
orbiting Planet Bob.

Bob Dylan has finally become what he has probably always dreamed of being: 
an old bluesman. That's a good thing, too. He's small in stature, smaller than 
ever, thin and bandy-legged. And he commands a stage like no other artist. 
Make no mistake about it: His bell still rings.

The six-piece band took to the stage a little after eight-thirty and shuffled
into "Things Have Changed," all of them be-hatted save for multi-instrumentalist 
Donnie Herron, who plied his banjo, electric mandolin, pedal and lap steel guitars 
bareheaded. (It wasn't raining inside the Peabody.) Dylan sported a vaguely 
Western, vaguely military black suit, with red piping down the pantlegs and a 
pair of wide scarlet bands at each wrist. His hat was a flattop grey felt number 
with a rolled brim, a gambler's hat.

They steamed through the sixteen-song set (two almost imperceptible water 
breaks, only one encore) that lined up with the repertoire Dylan rolled out on 
opening night, April 5, in Buffalo. That is to say that many in the audience, 
having prepped with a visit to bobdylan.com or, in the connoisseurs' case, 
boblinks.com, didn't arrive in a gambling frame of mind, expecting spontaneity. 
Such is the age of the Internet.

Not that it matters.

A Bob Dylan show presents the potential for surprises that go beyond the 
setlist, variations that can only come with constancy of performance, designed, 
like the calculated tics of a poker pro, to nudge the others who come to his 
table just slightly off their game.

The setlist is front-loaded, careerwise, featuring nine songs released since 2000.
Dylan performs them either standing at a mic center stage -- and, every once in 
a while, pantomiming...something, via inimitable yet vaguely Chaplin-inspired 
poses, gestures and pants hitches (you almost expect him to reach into a 
hidden little pocket and produce a pocket watch) -- or behind a piano at stage 
right. Some the casual listener might misconstrue as spoken (or, more to the 
point, recited). They aren't. Dylan is singing more than he has in years. And 
notably, his are the only vocal mics on the stage. Nobody else sings a single 
note.

On "Things Have Changed," "High Water (For Charley Patton)" and "Blind Willie 
McTell," he lopes the vocal along the songs' bluesy melodic lines. On "Soon 
After Midnight" and "Summer Days" he croons. On "Early Roman Kings" and
"Pay in Blood" he spits blood. On "Scarlet Town" he trots out a sporadic 
falsetto. "Visions of Johanna" he lullabies. And on the evening's closers, "All 
Along the Watchtower" and "Ballad of a Thin Man," he, well, rocks.

As does the band's most recent addition, legendary Duke Robillard, a virtuoso 
blues guitarist from Woonsocket, Rhode Island, who appears to have stepped
in after the eleventh-hour departure of longtime lead player Charlie Sexton. 
Despite a nearly complete lack of rehearsals, Robillard is keeping pace just fine 
the majority of the time and, at his best, setting it. (In fact, generally speaking, 
the most polished numbers are the ones on which Dylan stays away from his 
keyboard and sticks to vocal and harmonica, leaving Robillard to carry the 
instrumental weight.)

Least according to form on the current setlist is "What Good Am I?" -- a song 
Dylan hasn't performed in concert since 2010 (four times that year) and hasn't 
been in regular rotation since...when? Dating back to 1989's Oh, Mercy, the 
song is remarkable for its spare, first-person construction -- Dylan singing about 
what he's feeling, no obtuse historical nods, no assumed persona.

"What good am I if I'm like all the rest/If I just turn away, when I see how 
you're dressed/If I shut myself off so I can't hear you cry/What good am I?"

To respond to a question with a question -- something Dylan would, and does, 
do all the time: Why's he singing that now? It might have to do with the sole 
stage decorations on this tour: three elegantly framed mirrors, portrait-size and 
randomly angled but all facing the audience.

Before and after the single encore, the band assembled near the front of the
stage, arranging themselves as though for a Civil War-era daguerrotype.

Looked strikingly like this, actually, with large-and-in-charge Robillard playing the 
Garth Hudson part and wispy, puckish Dylan a spectre, present front and center, 
but looking like he apparated, just for this occasion, from some other place:

Critic's Notebook:
Personal Bias: This man, who has been averaging 90 to 100 live shows a year 
since the day he turned 60, is a gift. Every single time he takes the stage. Why 
does he do it? Might as well ask why rain rains. It's what he does. It's a gift. 
And like any gift, it's here for the taking -- while it's here. You can get more 
than a hint of the real thing by listening (for now, anyway) to shows that 
devotees have uploaded. But a sound file alone does not convey the presence.

Random Detail: Warming up a crowd for Bob Dylan: your proverbial two-edged 
sword. But Dawes did it just right, delivering a package of Jackson Browne/
Warren Zevon school of LA rock in a precise 40 minutes. That said, when 
viewed in profile, bandleader Taylor Goldsmith bears more than a passing
resemblance to Wayne Szalinski.

Overheard: (in front of a flatscreen in the Kiel Club lounge, between sets):
Cardinals Ballcap Guy 1: "Dylan, or Wainwright pitching the ninth?"
Cardinals Ballcap Guy 2: "Dylan. I've got the Cardinals on DVR. No Dylan on DVR."

Tom Finkel

Read Tom's blog on 
riverfronttimes.com

[TOP]

Review by Tom Burke



Great seat. Great venue. Great show.

I�m prejudiced in favor of bob. I actually like his brutal voice. I really enjoy his 
delivery/styling. I understand though that his voice like bleu cheese isn�t for 
everyone, and I always feel sorry for those folks who come to a show 
expecting to hear dylan from the royal albert hall days or the rolling thunder 
revue.

To me, dylan sounds great right now. AND, I think the band is playing in a 
style that enhances his voice and the sound of the show. Unfortunately, I�m 
not a music expert so I can�t really speak with any authority, but to this 
layman, I thought the mix was excellent last night. All of the instruments 
came through and each was highlighted appropriately AND bob�s vocals were 
easily heard AND understandable. I thought the acoustics were excellent. 
The sound was crisp and clear (see mixing comments). The music was not 
too loud and it had an old timey feel with liberal use of both a stand up base 
and a banjo. i thought the lead guitarist was excellent---didn�t try to do too 
much and had a very precise minimal style. Bob sounded fantastic on piano!! 
Some really nice playing and you could hear it all! Ditto for the harmonica----
strong, emotive and avoided the shrillness that can sometimes occur if you 
blow too hard or try too hard (I�ve never played one just listened!!)

Dylan has a really interesting stage presence�..seems eccentric to me. 
Doesn�t say a word to the audience. Keeps his distance from the rest of the 
band. Motions to the band during some of the numbers when to cut etc. 
during his vocals he wears many expressions as he interprets/signals/develops 
etc the lyrics and sort of shuffles, dances, etc while singing�..always makes 
me think of a vaudeville singer, more accurately what he says he is----a  
traveling minstrel putting on his show. Many of the songs were performed 
with bob singing at stage center, otherwise he sitting at the grand piano 
stage left-----either  time not approaching too close to the front of the stage 
(see eccentric comments above).

What about the songs???? He stuck to the set he has followed on this mini 
tour (see bob links for details)��center stage for the opening 3 numbers---
things have changed, love sick, and high water (for charley patton)��great 
mini set----sweet!!!  Then to the piano for a couple of songs from tempest---
soon after midnight and early roman kings-----enjoyable if for no other reason
they are new and never heard before. Next, was one of the shows highlights
----a really spare version of tangled up in blue----I �ve heard him do it before 
less effectively more electric and frenzied---this version was very strong. Pay 
in blood (see tempest comments above). visions of johanna-----this is just 
such an amazing song and he did a great job delivering it at the piano�ain�t 
it just like the night to play tricks when you�re trying to be so quiet��a 
great moment!!!!

Spirit on the water�.not a classic but it happens to be a song I like. Ditto for 
beyond here lies nothing. Next, another great moment---bob at center stage 
wailing blind willie mctell�.see them big plantations burning, hear the cracking 
of the whip, smell that sweet magnolia blooming, see the ghosts of slavery 
ships.....what�s better than that???  Unbelievably, the next song!! Bob back 
at the piano for an incredibly pure what good am i?  great vocal. Great piano
playing. Crowd hushed. Great moment.

Summer days followed----good boogied up version----nice---solid----take the B 
and move on------scarlet town----good song---snarling lyrics and delivery.

The show finished up with two classics---good solid performances----all along 
the watchtower-----you can�t mess this up, but really give me a six pack and 
your old turntable in 807, 507 or 1107 grace and crank up the before the 
flood version with the band backing and going crazy----watchtower doesn�t 
get any better than in my opinion!! Finally, ballad of a thin man-----classic----
enjoyed it------how can you not??  Unbelievable----simultaneously capturing 
the zeitgeist of the mid 60s and timeless.

Hung around the theater for a little bit after the show and then meandered 
out to the busses�..stood in the rain with a few other head cases and after 
about 10 minutes realized I was 57 years old and I�d better get out of the 
rain and go home.

Ps nice opening set by dawes��evocative of the so cal sound of the early 
70s�.jackson browne???......when does chris hillman join the band???

[TOP]

Review by Rodney Peck



During the last week of April my wife (Terri) and I were lucky enough to 
see Bob Dylan perform twice. On Tuesday the 23rd at the Peabody Opera 
House in St Louis we saw a show which excited us so much that we 
decided to go to Champaign IL two days later on the 25th. It was a very
inspiring time and I am pleased to be able to share my impressions and my 
view on the �state of Dylanology� (tongue-in-cheek on the term 
Dylanology) at this point in time.

We had last seen Dylan on August 25 of 2012 and were both quietly pretty 
disappointed, especially since we hadn�t seen him since October, 2010 and 
not a thing had changed in the meantime. The main problem for me had 
been the loss of musicality in the band as well as guitarist Charlie Sexton�s 
onstage demeanor, two issues that were almost certainly related. In the 
fall of 2009 all of the Dylan-geek community was thrilled at the news of 
Charlie�s return to the band. We saw that first tour after this on October 27
in Rockford IL and were just blown away by how great it was.  I would say
it was the best Dylan show I had seen since November 1 of 2002 on 
Charlie�s last tour with Bob. My review of that evening is found here:
http://www.boblinks.com/102709r.html#5. Charlie was all over the stage
that night, really showing off his chops and definitely injecting some
serious energy and power into the band�s music, seemingly even challenging
Dylan at times. Unfortunately, he is such an egomaniac and attention-hog
that he almost overshadowed his boss in that show. When we saw them again
in 2010 it was clear that Bob had squelched Charlie, as he barely played
any leads and seemed to be sulking onstage. In addition, the music was
definitely suffering. Due to personal issues, we did not see Dylan in
2011, but it was more of the same at the concert in 2012. So, I was very
excited to hear that Bob and Charlie had split and that Duke Robillard was
going to take his place. 

Early word on the new band and tour was very positive and I am glad to 
say I was nothing short of thrilled by the show we saw in St. Louis. Part of 
the joy of the night was being at the Peabody. I hadn�t been there since 
1986 (when it was still the Kiel Opera House) to see Stevie Ray Vaughn 
perform a great concert and I definitely picked up on some sort of deja` 
vu vibes. The show in Champaign was probably just as good, but being in 
a giant basketball arena that was less filled to less than � capacity could 
not compare. I definitely vote for him to stick to smaller venues at this 
stage of his career. 

As for new guitarist Duke Robillard, I have onlygood things to say about 
him. His playing was always spot-on throughout both shows and, even 
though he has a solo career of his own, he certainly seemed to understand 
his role as sideman. He seems perfectly content standing behind Dylan in 
the shadows of the stage and skillfully playing his instrument in a way that 
compliments what The Man himself is doing.  I�m not all that familiar with 
Duke�s solo work, but based on what I heard from the stage he�s a 
B.B. King-influenced Blues guitarist and that seems to be the direction 
that Bob is heading these days. 

Ahum, yes the direction that Bob is heading. For one, his voice has now 
evolved to what I believe is where he�s always wanted it to be.  He�s now 
truly a raspy-voiced Blues singer along the lines of Howlin� Wolf or 
Blind Willie Johnson. Also, for people that didn�t like Dylan�s singing to begin 
with won�t be won over now heh heh. Of course, the Blues have always 
been near the center of Dylan�s musical universe, but I�m fairly convinced 
he�s there on another level now. Thinking back, it seems to me that since 
Good as I Been to You and World Gone Wrong he�s been specifically 
gearing into the Blues, sort of a recovery mechanism after the difficult 
(but under-appreciated) years of,the �80s which officially ended in 1990 
with Under the Red Sky. His harmonica playing now even seems blusier
than ever and I think his decision to switch over to the grand piano adds 
to the effectiveness of this sound. I also enjoy him going center-stage and 
guitar-less, microphone in hand, to sing.  It�s entertaining and also still new 
enough to make it kinda fascinating to see, with a few songs a night being
 just enough..  He�s also been doing this long enough now that he seems
completely comfortable without having an instrument as a kind of prop.

However,  a few musical matters are still bothering me. While Bob�s blues 
direction is very pleasing to the ear, the hard-jammin� rock �n� roll seems to 
have gone out of him. Think back to how Summer Days sounded as recently 
2009 and compare to its current incarnation and the evidence is plain to 
hear.  Not that the song is bad now; it�s a pleasant up-tempo number that
is danceable, but it used to transcend its original rockabilly groove in a
way that could evoke comparisons to how the Dead used to jam on Not Fade
Away. Perhaps this is by design, maybe it�s just a matter of Bob�s getting
older, I don�t know. I love the sound of the band now and I�m not framing
this is as all bad, I�m just sayin� I still need some power-rock in my
diet. 

On the other hand, it still bugs me that he no longer does an acoustic set 
and this is not merely my own preference.  Acoustic performances have 
always been an integral part of Dylan shows and I miss it every time, even 
though it�s been ten years now since he did away with it. Also, while I loved
these most recent shows, it was a little boring  knowing that it was going
to be exactly the same set list the second night. Of course, we were very
lucky that he pulled out Workingman�s Blues #2 in Champaign, but I am a
pretty serious Dylan fan who would not want to see very many shows in a
row with exactly the same set list. 

There were a few college kids sitting behind us in Champaign who were 
vocal in their displeasure that most of the show featured songs from 1997�s 
Time out of Mind or later, generally unfamiliar songs to those casual fans that 
Bob needs to keep the NET going. Sure, for us hard-core fans we love it 
that he has enough confidence in his late-period songs to base his show on 
them, but if only us geeks continue to come to his shows the numbers in 
the audience will continue to dwindle. I am not complaining just to be
bitchy.  I mentioned earlier that at the University of Illinois Assembly Hall the 
crowd was thin, and this is not unusual these days. The points of constructive
criticism I have made are not just a matter of personal preference. I
believe these are matters Bob needs to address in order to keep the crowds
coming as the Never-Ending-Tour continues into his 70s. If Dylan the
artist is not interested in doing these things, Dylan the businessman
should be aware of them. 

[TOP]

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