April 28, 2006
Review by John Pruski
The headlining act at the Heritage Fair of New Orleans Jazz and Heritage
Festival is the final act on the main stage on any given day. And last
Friday in New Orleans, Dr. John headlined the first post-Katrina day (it
was jammed packed) of the annual Heritage Fair of the Jazz Fest by
closing the main stage that day, with Dylan being his penultimate act.
The "Heritage Fair" generally refers to the daytime shows at the
racetrack, whereas the moniker "Jazz Fest" is a looser, broader term
including both the daytime Heritage Fair shows at the Fairgrounds, as
well as the nighttime concerts, these sadly discontinued last year. I've
been going to Jazz Fests since High School in 1973, and although a
die-hard Dylan fan, the Jazz Fests are as meaningful to me as Bob Dylan.
So last Friday I was in heaven!
To further set Bob's Jazz Fest stage (so to speak), the current main stage
is the old "Fess Stage" or the old "Stage 6" (but now named for some
corporate sponsor), i.e. the large stage on the Bayou St. John (not the
Gentilly Blvd.) end of the race track. Actually, the old name "Fess Stage"
is somewhat of an ironic misnomer, because I can remember Fess
(Professor Longhair) playing over by the oak trees and also on the
grandstand side of the lake, but never too near the current location of
the main stage. As for Bob Dylan, it was the third year he has played the
Jazz Fest, being here previously in 1993, and almost exactly 10 years to
the day later in 2003, where he played two shows.
It is always jarring to see someone headlining over our hero Bob Dylan. But,
I'd guess that Bob Dylan and Dr. John are among any normal old school
"who dat / yat" favorites. Indeed, each gentleman is a hugely talented
player, bandleader, and writer. But, The Dr. is from New Orleans and
rightfully got the headlining nod over Bob Dylan on the first post-Katrina
festival day. Nevertheless, I'd hazard to say that some ardent Dylan fans
would be surprised that Dr. John was indeed the headline act over Dylan
last Friday in New Orleans at the Heritage Fair of the 2006 Jazz Fest.
But, Bob truly held his own last Friday, he was just as great as Dr. John.
Normally, I'd say that having Dylan play before the Dr. would show just
how much more fonky the Dr. is than Bob Dylan. I never thought I say
this, but as it turns out Dylan too can be fonky. Yep, Dylan's show last
Friday was just great.
By the time Bob started at about 4 PM (just at little later than scheduled)
I was completely fried, not to mention crisply sunburned. My Jr. High
School buddy-to-LSU roomie Lawrence, my brother Joe from Guam, and I
started the day by first hitting two Jazz sets, then seeing the Creole Wild
West beating on their tambourines, always a killer show. After we all got
separated, and at about 1:30, I made my way over to the main stage,
getting on the right center runway fence, about 15 people back from the
front, not far from my friend James who lived with me in St. Louis for
two-ish months after Katrina hit NOLA. There I listened to Keb' Mo', who
was good, but made me yearn for the 70s when we'd have been able to
see our idol Babe Stovall similarly playing old-time acoustic blues.
Bob started with a rocking Maggie's Farm, causing the already standing
audience to quickly surged forward. She Belongs To Me slowed things down
a bit, but soon Bob lunged into Lonesome Day Blues, a great festival song.
Then, Bob began to change the typical Maggie's Farm set list up (a trend
that has continued this week too) by playing Most Likely You Go Your Way,
a rocker that has been much used as an opening song this tour. Bob kept
the energy high by following this with HW 61 in the fifth spot, whereas
often HW 61 comes later as song eight in many shows.
I'd guess Bob reshuffled his set a bit, knowing full well that this was a huge
festival crowd, presumably as large an opening day Jazz Fest crowd as in
recent years. After the very high-energy Lonesome and HW, the old acoustic
favorite of Don't Think Twice was very welcome and perfectly placed in the
set list. From here on out the show rapidly began to crescendo. Next were
the back-to-back River Flow and High Water, each great nods to New
Orleans, our lifestyles, and current events.
A truly fantastic, lyrically-perfect Positively 4th Street was next, and seemed
perhaps to be played at a slightly faster clip than it was last week in St. Louis.
Next up was Cat's In The Well, normally a closer, this perfectly sandwiching
a very powerful 4th Street between several up-tempo songs. By this point in
the concert I had lost count of the songs and expected the main set to end,
Cat's In The Well having just been played. I was surprised when Bob and his
great band then dove into Tom Thumb's Blues, followed with the rocking
set-ender of the past few years, Summer Days. The encores of LARS and
Watchtower were both great and appropriate, more so given the fact that
this was presumably Bob's largest audience (ca. 50,000+ ?) so far this year.
The show ended with the band's formation, which took the many Dylan
newbies by surprise, and even had the policemen up front turning around to
stare at Bob, momentarily forgetting to police us.
Other things of note, included Bob wearing white cowboy shirt, pants, and
hat. And how about those three huge Fats Domino-style rings Bob was
wearing, two on his left ring finger and one on his right ring finger! Maybe
those were indeed loaners from someone local. This was my brother Joe's
first Dylan show, as he's been in the Pacific since we moved from Honolulu
to New Orleans in 1963. Joe's favorite, like mine, was 4th Street. The front
photographer's pit was empty, Bob presumably preferring it that way. What
did surprise me in this vein, however, was although the concert was filmed
and simultaneously shown on a huge screen just to the left of the stage, the
Crescent City police were even asking audience member to refrain from taking
photos. Bob was introduced with the normal Columbia recording artist intro,
and was thanked by an appreciative Quint Davis after the encores. There was
a major run on the festival silk screen posters, the signed editions completely
selling out and the unsigned edition selling all on-site copies that day. And the
most commonly seen T-shirts at the Jazz Fest last Friday was naturally those
saying "Make levees, not war"!
All in all, this was a fantastic day highlighted by not only Bob Dylan's show,
but also by that of Dr. John and his fabulous band!
Review by George Stathakes
I saw a Bob Dylan I've never seen before at Jazz Fest Friday: A Bob
Dylan full of intent, completely in control of his music and his band.
The day was bright but cool, and I managed to make my way, slowly and
clumsily, to the front, right in front of the left speakers, between
the jumbotron and the stage, maybe 15 feet away from Bob's keyboard.
The set was preceded by the standard Aaron Copeland fanfare and the
now legendary intro, then out walks the band followed by Bob, dressed
like Lyndon Johnson in 1967, hiding his withered face with an absurdly
large cowboy hat and sunglasses. How to hit the highlights of a show
like this: Maggie's Farm wasn't the starter I was hoping for, but
still showed off the incredible chemistry the band has gained over the
past few weeks, especially between George, Donny, and Dylan. This is
not the same band I saw during this past summer's tour. This is a
band schooled in both twangy 50's style country-and-western music
and a kind of dirty, roadhouse R&B which fits on Dylan better than his
goofy cream cowboy get-up. Maggie's Farm was followed by She
Belongs To Me and Lonesome Day Blues, which, while not really being
songs on my ideal setlist (you know what I mean), still managed to
groove in a very funky and dirty way. Then came Most Likely You Go
Your Way, which incited my first "Oh Shit" moment of the set (not
the last, I warn you). Dylan's voice was soaked in venom, his
delivery mocking and defiant. His singing in this song, along with
many others in the set, was very rhythmic and riff based, echoing both
the drum and guitar riffs which were being tossed back and forth. This
band doesn't so much as focus on single soloist (althought Denny and
Donny both had some amazing moments of glory tonite) as much as focus
on establishing a thick groove going back and forth between musicians,
not much different than how a funk band would interact. Other
highlights worth mentioning: a beautiful version of Don't Think
Twice, It's All Right, maybe the best I've heard, with Dylan
dragging out syllables for even more emphasis; High Water, with a
banjo solo from Donny that was very Marc Ribot-esque, very different
than the kind of thing Larry did on that song a few years ago, and
Dylan menacingly growling "It's daaaaaaaaaaaaaangerous out
theeere", really appealing to a kind of leftover angst from Katrina,
something Bob was able to tap in to a good deal throughout the set;
Positively 4th Street, more biting than I've ever imagined it, I was
watching Bob's face throughout, and during the line "You say How
are Yoooooooooooou, Good Luck! But you don't mean it", he grinned
and shook his head back and forth, really really showing a lot more
emotion in his face than I've seen before; and, of course, the ever
present Rolling Stone/Watchtower encore, with Denny's solo on Like A
Rolling Stone really hitting the right notes, better than I've heard he or
even Larry play it before, and Watchtower held a good deal more fire
than usual to me, Dylan playing doomsday prophet with lightning erupting
from George's drums and Donny and Denny's guitars. Wonderful set
ender. All in all, great show by Bob. He seemed to really enjoy playing,
too, signalling the band members with his hands and even laughing
(laughing!) a couple of times. Really great performance, really no
real low points. Bob was on, completely.
Review by Michael Martz
I have to say that Dylan disappointed me. I didn't expect him to
turn into Bob the Entertainer. I didn't expect him to bring the
masses to tears, as Springsteen did two days later. I didn't
expect him to pander. I did expect something more than the routine
setlist, but apparently Bob considered JazzFest just another date
on the road. The only song that turned my head was Tom Thumb's
Blues. The rest of the set was utterly predictable, which I
thought was the one thing Bob didn't do. It wouldn't have taken
much to elevate this appearance. He could have said more by
playing "Dignity" than with any number of speeches. Didn't do it.
Didn't try. He just seems to be grinding it out. Maybe he left it
all in Memphis. The performances were professional, nothing more.
It's unfortunate that the most notable impression left by Bob's
appearance was his handlers bouncing photographers out of the pit
in front of the stage (no, it ain't me, babe). The Times-Picayune
had the last laugh. It put his picture above the fold of A-1. He
was smiling. How ironic.
Review by Joshua Meisler
Dylan dapper in white. No 'specials' particularly,
but precise and passioned deliveries all through.
Lots of smiles, and it's no mistake that he was page
A1 above the fold news the next day.
Highwater, to the bone. Tom Thumbs spot on.
Band is surely gelling now, my first show in person
since last summer, though i've heard the tapes and
seen the films.
Perfect Jazz Fest Moment #1235:
As the flags waved, Copeland played, and the sun shown
over the expectant crowd waiting for Dylan's
enterance, Terrence Simien's opening song could be
heard drifting over from the Congo Square Stage. It
was a beautiful cover version of Mississippi.
Thanks Mr. Dylan, and also Bill P.
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