May 4, 2006
Review by Robert Alfonso
My first time at the Tennessee Theatre, though it's just down the road. I
avoid Knoxville and tonight reminded me why. It shouldn't take 45 minutes
to go 5 miles in a town of this size. But there were some cool people at
the show tonight, of all ages and types, as usual at a Bob show, and then
there was the 10% of the crowd who were there just for the Hag. I was
sitting next to two of those. They stayed for Bob but left during "Love
Sick," I believe.
Merle and the Strangers were slick and in fine form throughout a varied 17
song set. The sound was clear and smooth and well balanced, especially for
a 9-piece band. Merle nailed every number. Jesus what a voice. Highlights
for me were "If I Could Only Fly," "That's the Way Love Goes," and "This
Morning, This Evening, So Soon" (if that's the title). He got a great
response--and he earned it, by golly.
What about Bob? "Maggie's Farm" rocked, a little lethargically, in a nice
new (for me) arrangement. On "She Belongs to Me" the master dropped down
to some deep notes at the ends of lines, having fun with the melody. Denny
seemed a little lost on his first lead turn, as he would prove to be
throughout the set, IMO. The mix was not good, at least from up in the
left balcony where I was sitting--and I heard the same later from a friend
who was on the floor. "Tweedle Dee" was third, and the drums were too far
back; the guitars seemed off, and Denny was too loud and uneven. Tony was
almost inaudible here. It improved toward the end of the song. They played
as a real band on "Lay Lady Lay" and the crowd responded. Donnie shone on
steel on this one, as he did all night.
Donnie and George--and of course Bob--were on from start to finish. Tony
and Stu might have been if we could have heard them. "Memphis Blues"
picked up the pace and things gelled a little better. Donnie rocked on
this one. Tony's bass still wasn't getting across. Next was "Love Sick,"
and Bob's weird organ finally started coming through, in the form of funky
noodlings. "Watching the River Flow" came and went--I think it was good
but I don't recall. On "Thin Man" the fog lifted from the mix and we could
hear the organ and Bob's funny harp--I think this is the one where he blew
an off note for about ten bars straight. That's Bob!
Denny made a mess of "Sweet Marie." That's all I remember of one of my
favorite songs.... On "Highway 61" they caught a real groove, and the bass
suddenly came through. The song rocked hard and the crowd responded. "Just
Like a Woman" was smooth and sexy, but something wrong with the mix keeps
me from remembering much more about it. "Summer Days" suffered from sloppy
guitar playing (Denny) but they sustained the groove sufficiently to get
people on their feet before the break.
The encores, "Rolling Stone" and "Watchtower," had everyone up and
dancing. The drums and bass were where they should be in the mix now, and
Denny's guitar was more on a level with Stu's, and the show ended VERY
strong. Bob introduced the band between the two encores and said something
that cracked Tony up, but I couldn't hear it.
The formation was a beautiful thing.
I got the feeling that the band heard a better show than I did. Bob was
inventive with his vocals--melody and phrasing--but we couldn't always
hear them clearly.
In spite of the mix and Denny, this was a great show. I don't have words
for Bob's magic. But then anyone reading this doesn't need to have it
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