page by Bill Pagel
Review by Toby Richards-Carpenter
“SINGING JUST FOR YOU”
The prospect of five shows in New York City has loomed like a skyscraper
over the fabric of this tour. Hosted by the ornate,
turn-of-the-twentieth-century Beacon Theater, jammed to the rafters each
night with nearly 3,000 people, these shows should have the lot. It’s
Bob’s town, the ‘City That Never Sleeps’, the raucous, demanding melting
pot that brings out the fiery best in Dylan’s art. Isn’t it?
Last night’s show wasn’t at all what I expected. From my seat towards the
back of the floor section, cramped by the overhanging balcony and molested
by a listless, shuffling audience, this felt like the kind of show I’d
like to sit down with, on my own, eyes closed, and welcome every nuance of
Bob’s dream-weaving singing into my imagination. True, the heavy rock
numbers came, in the form of ‘It’s Alright, Ma’, ‘Cold Irons Bound’ and
‘Highway 61 Revisited’, but even a pounder like ‘High Water’, chanted out
emphatically by Bob tonight, compelled me to listen to the message.
I can think of perhaps two reasons for this. Firstly, Bob seemed to be
using the first show at the Beacon as a building block. The flamboyance of
the Boston or Atlantic City set-lists had been reigned in with a measure
of diligence and control. There are four shows still to go, and each will
have a different flavour. The first night’s tone was that of a beginning,
of openings and possibilities, rather than of climax and culmination.
Secondly, Bob’s voice is in splendid shape. From my seat last night, some
of the band’s power failed to find its way under the balcony’s overhang,
but Bob’s voice was high in the mix and penetrated every song arrangement
without trouble. The voice was smooth and mellow in the mid-range, thin
yet capable when he stretched for the high notes, textured and versatile
when he sang down low.
Some Dylan shows leave you dazzled by their overall level of artistry, and
some have you frothing at a few select highlights as you file out of the
venue. This show was an example of the latter, and pivoted for me on one
song: ‘Visions Of Johanna. Extraordinary singing. For the first time I
heard the opening phrase, ‘Ain’t it just like the night’, as a question
rather than a rhetorical statement, as though he genuinely wasn’t sure:
did we want to hear this song? We did, and he continued, massaging the
words as he went, taking us on a serene, surreal journey through love
triangles and broken promises. He sang all five verses with the care and
immediacy of a song newly minted. I’d thought the ‘Little Boy Lost’ verse
was gone forever. Nothing is outside Bob’s radar on this tour.
‘Standing In The Doorway’, too, flirted with the sublime. Like ‘Visions’,
its power flowed from the opening phrase, ‘I’m walking through…’, drawn
out in a high register, meandering towards … ‘the summer nights’, on which
the singer swooped down low, locked into a dialogue with the song. Bob
sang the moving ‘Last night I danced with a stranger’ words; that gets me
We were lucky enough to hear the new arrangement of ‘Moonlight’ last
night. There’s far more space in the music now, with Bob free to wind up
the words and unravel them, though the song seems no less sinister for it.
On this song, as on ‘I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight’ and the set-closing
‘Desolation Row’, Bob stepped centre-stage to blow a harmonica solo. On
‘Moonlight’ he grabbed the wrong harmonica but switched seamlessly to the
right one, and took his time to swivel from one note to the next, just as
he had taken his time to draw out the song’s words in sweet, high tones.
As in the early post-“Love And Theft” shows, ‘Summer Days’ snuck in as a
momentum-builder three songs from the end of the main set. With this new
band, it ebbed as much as it flowed. Where once there was a bluesy rock
jam that only grew in volume, now there is a jazz shuffle that simmers
until George Receli takes his cue to revive the thing with an explosive
The main set of 12 songs concluded, magnificently, with ‘Desolation Row’.
Out came the fascinating procession of characters in vivid colour, and
moving with purpose as Bob determinedly swept through the verses, his
voice veering between pointed, curt phrases and smooth gestures. The song
closed with a direct and utterly musical harmonica solo that left Bob,
conveniently, centre-stage for the band formation. By this point the
audience further forward than me was evidently going beserk.
The first encore, ‘Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues’, was played with a relaxed
gait. It may have been there only for the ‘back to New York City’ line,
but there was no show-boating from Bob. It was a routine tread through
this number, or so it seemed. Minimal band introductions followed,
preceeding a version of ‘All Along The Watchtower’ sung with amazing gusto
from Bob. Again, the opening line was emphatic, Bob barking out ‘There
must be some way out of here’ as though he meant it.
Perhaps he had had enough by that point, but one thing’s for certain. Bob
really, really wanted to sing ‘Visions Of Johanna’ last night. And when he
did, it beguiled like magic. It was profound, and now, the following day,
it looms like a skyscraper over the fascinating fabric of this show.
Review by Jim Bishop
SEEING STARS AT THE BEACON
Stars. The stars and the moon. They were everywhere tonight. Just look at the songs, 'That big fat moon …'
'Even the stars have turned cherry-red' 'The moon is beginning to hide.' Hell, even the stage backdrop
was a mighty canopy of stars once the plush, crimson curtains had rolled back.
Bob Dylan, appropriately dressed in nighttime black, loomed over his New York audience on this opening
night at the Beacon like some mighty black (w)hole. And judging by the tumultuous reaction in the hall
I was not alone in feeling the dark matter pull.
Brightest in the constellation was Visions of Johanna whose 'little boy lost' verse - itself routinely
lost in performance - came out to shine. Bob's voice moved between workbench rasp, honeyed croon and a
thousand points between as the mood of the songs called him.
Special mention must go to moonlight which cast its milky, Luna light with rare beauty and grace. 'Won't
you meet me out in the moonlight alone,' sang Bob in keening upper-register. Well, who could resist the
offer of such an assignation? Who?
High Water, too, was a high water mark with its hypnotic, ticking heartbeat the wonderful banjo rendered
tonight by find-of-the-season Donny Herron. Stand up, Donny. You're a star in the making!
So much for the moon and stars, Jim. Tell us which Bob Dylan was in the house tonight. Was he the
leg-trembling, high-fiveing rocker/showman or was he wearing the famous, inscrutable 'Bob Dylan Mask' as
a shield against the homecoming, home-boy adulation? Neither actually. His focus was fixed solely upon
the songs. His laser gaze was bent not upon some far off galaxy or at the twinkle in the eye of the girl
in Row D, rather it was fixed upon the quavers and semi-tones, the staves and clefs as he used his gift
(voice and harp) in the service of the music alone. Pure and simple notes … notable.
In my starry-eyed state I had fancied Shooting Star as a stellar first encore but it had to be Tom Thumb,
of course. 'I'm going back to New York City,' sang the wondering/wandering Jew at the song's climax.
The stars and stripes exploded and we were out into the Manhattan night …
Review by G.V. Hamilton
The show was stellar. They really rocked the opener. An extraordinary
Visions of Johanna was worth the price of admission: Tender, beautifully
sang and played, with everyone contributing mightily.
To these ears, this band's much improved from the last time I saw them on
3/18. And I do think they're better without the fiddler, Elena. No
offense--she's beautiful and talented--but everyone has more room to
stretch out musically now. This Donnie fellow is incredible; any
instrument he touches turns to gold. And while some of Denny's solos
could have been a bit sharper, I really like his airy tone and jazzy
approach on the hollow body Gibson. Stu Kimball was great, and Tony and
George are the rocks. (Compared to Recile, David Kemper was sound
So what's going on with Elena anyway? Some nasty thing will probably come
out, like Dylan had the manager fire her, or paid her too little...just
like Merle Haggard's situation (he was okay) where Merle has to leave the
building before Dylan comes on, in response to Merle's snide remarks in LA
about Dylan's reclusiveness and meanness, etc.
My position is, I don't pay it any attention. Because when you read
Chronicles, you get a window into Dylan's playful mind and great sense of
humor, and I'd guess that among family and close friends, he is a warm
funny guy. Not that it really matters, having produced an unequaled body
of work of 1000 songs and counting...You can read Behind The Shades
Revisited--700 pages of bitterness from people on the "outs"--and come
away thinking he's a bastard...But when you see him up there dancing at
the keys, stepping out center-stage to blow a killer harp solo, changing
up the set and giving all he has every night, who cares if he's a nice
guy? But thanks to Chronicles, I think he is anyway.
page by Bill Pagel
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