May 5, 2015
Review by English Pete
Now, where to begin.
I'm 52 years old and this was both my wife's and mine first Dylan concert.
I'm the music lover in the family. I'm pretty sure that my wife attends the
many concerts we go to purely to accommodate/accompany me.
I'll be the first to admit it took me many years to "get" Dylan. Obviously I had
come across his music over the years but never did really take the time to listen.
I grew up through the late seventies and eighties and to be truthful Punk, New
Wave and Post Punk (if we are going to apply labels) were mine and my
generation's music. In fact I was listening to Neil Young way before Bob. Then
as I got older (some would say I matured) I started listening to more
singer-songwriter based music……….first Gram Parsons, then TVZ and onto
Then I heard an early release of "Tempest". That hooked me. Being familiar
with the work of Bob's songwriting partner on "Duquesne Whistle" sure helped.
So, back to Houston, May 5th 2015 and my first Dylan show.
Much as I love Bob's early work (thanks to the CD box set purchased a couple
of years ago) I also thoroughly enjoy his newer material, so a concert of more
recent songs and newer arrangements of classics didn't daunt me. Not one bit.
And how much did I love it………………man alive what a great show. I had seen
the set list and researched the couple of songs ("Things Have Changed" and
"Waiting for You") I wasn't familiar with and compiled an MP3 Playlist of the
studio recordings of all the songs to be performed. (Back in the day we used
to make real mix tapes on cassette). We dug that play list for a couple of days,
on the understanding that the arrangements would likely be quite different.
We weren't surprised. And we weren't disappointed. What an awesome
performance from Bob and the band. Loose at times, even though it is obviously
now well-rehearsed. But that is the beauty of a live performance. Sometimes
you have a collision of sounds, other times you can just listen to the spaces
between the instruments and individual notes. Charlie's guitar licks were
awesome when he was given the room to express. And Donny's virtuosity on
different pieces is just a joy to the ears - his banjo picking on "High Water" an
example. The mournful violin on (was it?) "Forgetful Heart" was almost
heartbreaking. It's probably unfair to pick these two guys out, the whole band
being excellent. Stu and his Maracas being mentioned aplenty in previous
And then there was Bob. His phrasing was generally bang on. Just what I
expected. (He did however have my wife laughing when he cleared his throat
half way through a line on "Beyond Here Lies Nothin'").
To me it was a blues show…..some of it swung and some was just plain laid back.
I read a few reviews of earlier shows on this tour where people were complaining
about his choice of songs, not enough of the classics, etc., and I looked around
and saw many impassive faces in the auditorium. I feel for these people, they're
just not getting what they wanted out of it. But it brought to mind the 1966
Royal Albert Hall (actually recorded in my birth city of Manchester)
recording………half the audience there weren't getting what they wanted. Time
doesn't stand still, and neither does an artist like Bob. He never has, and surely
that is the beauty of it all.
Hopefully I won't have to wait another fifty years for my next Dylan show.
Review by Alex Leik
May 5 was an overcast day in Houston, with storms passingthrough from time
to time. It was my first trip to this city, and I quicklyrealized that the
traffic was not something I would want to experience on aregular basis as
it came to a standstill on the 45N well before rush hour. Ifound the venue
rather easily, a part of downtown known as the theatredistrict, and the
Bayou Center looks to be part of a recent renovation projectwith
restaurants, Hard Rock Café, etc.
I was worried about the front row seat because of how deepBob and the boys
set up – far from the front of the stage. Would I be lookingup and only
be able to see his head? No worries however. I had a great view ofeveryone
except Charlie (Bob was blocking him) and while my instinct was to askBob
to take a few steps left/right, I kept my mouth shut.
We all know the surprises – there are none. This remains thesame set
list (with recent addition of a phenomenal “Autumn Leaves”) that
ourhero has been delivering for several tours now. But it is just that
deliverythat makes it special each time. Dare I say his voice has improved
since DC inNovember? Instead of taking a few songs to warm up, it was
right there from theword “go” at 8PM sharp. “Things Have Changed”
& “She Belongs to Me” weresolid openers. But the first “treat” for
me came with “Duquesne Whistle”. This wasthe first time I have heard
Donnie play the beginning part as it appears on thealbum. In past shows,
they just jump right into it and skip the steel intro.Well, now he is
playing it, and it was very welcomed. This was also the songwhere I
focused on George, and was again reminded what a talent he is. PartCharlie
Watts, part Lars Ulrich (haha, OK maybe not)…but he remains cool as
acucumber and drives the band so smoothly, and then can take it up a notch
witha flip of the stick to pound the skins harder/louder. This song allows
everyband member to shine, much like “HighWater” opening the 2nd set
“Waiting for You” continues to be the low point for me, thesong just
doesn’t do it for me. But he’s not playing it for me J. Charlie has
some niceguitar work in it, but I’m always glad to get through that
because I know it isall uphill from there. “Love Sick” is still the
highlight of the set list forme, would be a fine encore as it was back in
the day. It is just an amazing bluessong. Bob toys this new line/phrase
about how she “went through my things…whileI was sleepin’” or
something like that. This happens on other songs as well,maybe he is
getting tired of the same lyrics every night. Tangled Up in Bluehas a
mention of “brute” force…not just force! And Bob flubbed a few lines
of “Blowingin the Wind”, but recovered nicely for the last verse.
For all of the musicianship going on, the best instrument onstage for me
is now Bob’s voice. You could hear a pin drop during
“ForgetfulHeart”, “Autumn Leaves” & “Stay with Me”…and
rightfully so. It was ethereal,sublime, just sounded soooo good. And the
crowd loved it. And our hero bouncesaround the stage, waiving his arms to
direct George as songs end, punching hisfists in the air, almost like a
prize fighter going 12 rounds night after night…whichis probably how he
feels after 2 hours every night approaching 74 years young.But, unlike the
pay-per-view disaster here in the USA this past weekend, no oneis saying
they were ripped off as we exit the Bayou Music Center and into theHouston
night and…ugh, more traffic!!
Review by Chris Bennett
Bob Dylan's lounge act eased into Houston last nite, and after hearing
The Who, Jeff Beck, and ZZ Top over the past few weeks, it was an
adjustment I couldn't fully embrace. In reducing what volume, edge, and
dynamics the recorded songs have to a kind of static, subdued murmur,
the show reminded me of the willful one-dimensionality of the ’78 tour.
The rearrangements on this tour are, as a whole, less offensive, but in their
homogeneity, they rarely reach anything above inoffensive either. Each song
sounds about the same, only the tempos change, barely. If there was a riff,
a bite, to a song, Dylan’s had it removed. And he has by now almost
completely reduced the distinctiveness of individual instrumentation to
create a unified sound in which the pedal steel, piano and two guitars are
nearly indistinguishable from one another. All very tastefully executed, in fine
harmony, but a spontaneous moment of musical camaraderie and invention?
Dylan ain’t having any. The band members themselves play in near darkness,
and the setlists from night to night are of course indistinguishable also
- not a single derivation.
The sound, the look, the songs seem to have all been
carefully choreographed by Dylan, which is an involvement I can
appreciate. He seems to be upending the conventions of a live arena
performance/tour and eliminating any pretense of this being a rock show.
At 73, and with his tastes elsewhere, this seems appropriate.
But I didn’t much like what he replaced it with. With the melodies
and rhythms so circumscribed, and with the limitations of his voice, the
moods rather uniform, his most recent original songs didn’t have enough
narrative drive to keep me otherwise engaged, just memorable individual
lines sometimes growl crooned satisfactorily, sometimes not. The songs
didn’t gain momentum and register emotionally or intellectually. Maybe it
was just a bad nite for me, and I’ve been listening to too much classic
Dylan lately to adjust to this abrupt reality. Or maybe stomach cramps
from some seafood on the coast that afternoon kept me from appreciating
subtleties. But this was certainly not a highlight among the 25+ shows
I've seen since 1988.
There were highlights tho: "Duquesne Whistle" chugged along with more
style than on the LP, a soft but sublime, wistful rendition of “Forgetful
Heart,” and a gorgeous song I’d never heard, “Autumn Leaves,” which will
lead me to the new album. I think I would have preferred an evening of
Shadows and other standards, of songs I would mostly not know and have no
Review by Nancy Hernandez
*A Spring Waltz through Texas with Bob Dylan*
Houston, May 5, Bayou Music Center
Austin, May 6, Bass Concert Hall
San Antonio, May 7, Majestic Theatre
Things have really changed, and Bob Dylan’s so-called “Never Ending
Tour” has evolved into a sophisticated concert experience bathed in
golden moonlight. Gone are the rowdy general admission shows, fans buckles
to butts, 20 rows deep, holding forth at the foot of the stage or
stage-rushing at seated venues to get up close, where Dylan seemed to
delight in the energy, as fans danced and rocked to classics like *Summer
Days*, *Like a Rolling Stone*, and *Highway 61*. This is no longer even a
rock ‘n roll experience, and it’s probably time to put to rest the
phrase Never Ending Tour, which Dylan never bought into anyway. It’s
over folks. Dylan now brings forth a very mature show for a seated
The experience is much like a theatrical production, with Dylan the
orchestral band leader, an actor in a play, moving around the understated
and elegant stage taking the audience on a cinematic-like journey. During
*Long and Wasted Years,* I heard Al Pacino coming through Dylan’s voice
as he emoted and sang, “Come back baby if I ever hurt your feelings I
apologize . . . We cried on that cold and frosty morn, We cried because
our souls were torn, So much for tears, so much for these long and wasted
On this visual and musical journey, Dylan is just passing through,
bringing some old-school Hollywood jitterbug rag and the best of every
other mid-century and beyond genre he has been honing for decades. “He
ain’t taking no shortcuts or dressing in drag. . . He’s got nothing to
prove. He’s an artist, he don’t look back.”
By song two, we are hypnotized, marching forward to the beat, as the
stellar band colludes with Dylan, and the storyline unfolds to a sexy
Latin-tinged *She Belongs to Me*. The “Egyptian ring sparkles as he
Dylan owns the stage in a different way these days, opening the show
center stage with microphone in hand and harmonica at the ready. The pace
is slowed down and vocals much clearer, the delivery focused and precise.
Moving over to the grand piano, seated at the end of the horizontal side
of it, the bench trailing behind him, *Beyond Here Lies Nothing* is
performed next. The narrative continues with the opening line, “I love
you pretty baby . . . come close,” he sings. “There is nothing but the
moon and stars, the mountains of the past.” It’s a moment so in the
present and so about to be in the past. The narrator will be moving along
after midnight, leaving the only love he’s ever known, moving down
“the boulevards of broken cars, past windows made of glass,” the flame
still kindling but “nothing done and nothing said.”
Back at center stage again, Dylan shifts to the realities of life in
*Working Man Blues #2.* The narrator is “feeding his soul with
thought,” the lament of Donnie Herron’s lap steel, Charlie Sexton’s
lead guitar and Tony Garnier’s masterful bass playing moving the
storyline forward. It’s back to the grind of work and the ravages of
life’s toil. He prays the “fugitive’s prayer,” relying on his
higher power to help him through this earthly struggle. In life “you can
hang back or fight your best on the front line, sing a little bit of these
Dylan shuffles back to the piano and the story picks up speed as the train
chugs through town to the snappy sounds of *Duquesne Whistle*. The band
takes the audience on a spirited ride -- Donnie sliding down the rails on
lap steel, Charlie always on point, George Recile steering on drums and
Stu Kimball rhythm guitar, all as solid as they come. Bob’s left leg
rising up and down as he rides this train out of town. He knows exactly
where he’s going.
With Bob still at piano, the train ride transitions into a waltz. The
audience is now experiencing what feels like a carousel ride to *Waiting
on You*. The magnificent lighting washes the band in a soft moonlit glow,
the narrator still pining away, waiting for his love to return.
The complicated love story and everything else go rogue on center stage in
*Pay in Blood*. The audience loves this one. The working man comes
unchained and reveals the dark, biting, nasty backstory. “The more he
thinks, the more he gives.” There are threats. Someone’s wife is shot,
but his conscience is clear. He “paid in blood, but not his own.”
Awesome performance all three nights.
After the bloodletting above, the mood transitions into a slowed-down
version of *Tangled Up In Blue*, including new lines -- “digging in my
pockets” in Houston and “blasting of the news” in Austin. Dylan’s
masterful harmonica playing enraptures, taking the song into flight, and
then he segues from center stage to piano as the song revs up in grand
style, Dylan passionately blowing the reeds again. The heart-pounding
*Love Sick* follows, and the band digs into a gnarly and twisted groove,
Donnie conjuring up frustration and layers of emotion on mandolin. Badass
Bob and band tear it up. Love still out of reach. It’s time for
Dylan’s current show began shape shifting into being in late 2013, and
by the end of 2014, a complete transformation had taken place. The
atmospheric lighting is magnificent. The cohesiveness of the same golden
color used throughout the show ties the theatrical feel together. The
lighting changes from song to song with the use of giant globes, standing
lights, small caged lights, spotlights from above, and diffused floor
light. The band is stationed in a precise wide crescent shape. Very
orchestral. Every detail is well thought out, and the result is subtle and
effective. There is a maturity and stripped-down honesty to the songs and
the interaction between artist and audience. The way the show closes
reveals in song this new place and time we have entered in our journey
with Bob Dylan.
But first, the band returns from intermission to the sound of Donnie’s
Act II begins slowly and warms up with *High Water (For Charley Patton)*.
The scene is set with the backdrop washed in shadowy clouds and sky. The
big globes diffuse moonlight on the stage, Bob with left hand on hip,
center stage, like he’s ready to pull his gun from its holster. In the
swathe of one song, the imagery roams from Southern California, the home
of Big Joe Turner, to Twelfth Street and Vine in Kansas City, to the
homeland of the Delta Blues, through the travails of Ole Man River on the
Mississippi River via Vicksburg. A grim reminder of our fragile humanity
against the power of Mother Nature, her fury greater than “every
conceivable point of view.”
*Thunder rolling over Clarkesdale, everything is looking blue*
*I just can’t be happy, love*
*Unless you’re happy too*
*It’s bad out there*
*High water everywhere*
The emotional roller coaster trails into a tender *Simple Twist of Fate*
with some stunningly beautiful harp playing, the best of each night. Bob
nails it and elicits the sound of crying, blowing his sadness away. He was
born too late, the arcade ride is filled with memories circling his brain.
He is like a blind man, who had been thrown a few coins of her love.
She’s gone, and we’re left with this gorgeous song of lament.
Filled with the blues, the narrator at the piano struts out *Early Roman
Kings*. With Stu Kimball shaking the maracas, this naughty ditty digs into
another story of the underbelly of life. It ain’t pretty, but Bob shakes
it down, helped by some tasty licks from Charlie on lead guitar and Donnie
on lap steel slide guitar.
The next quartet of songs digs deeper into the soul journey of the
narrator. The mournful *Forgetful Heart* finds comfort to his pain in a
harp solo that reminds one of *Man in the Long Black Coat*. Dylan sings to
perfection, and Donnie’s expressive and sad violin turns this into
another exquisite performance. The audience loves it. The door may have
closed forevermore, but that won’t keep this warrior down. He finds
lightness of foot in *Spirit on the Water, *as his spirit skips and
travels along, pushing the narrative forward. It’s complicated, folks,
but we can still have a “whoppin’ good time.”
Like a thief in the night, we are caught unaware by the sharp
juxtaposition of *Scarlet Town, *so engaging while announcing end times,
John the Revelator coming through with prophecy, warning in vivid imagery.
Whether up on the hill or at the bottom of the hill, the sky is clear,
“go yonder and pray,” make your amends, “for you know not what hour
your Lord does come.”
The sense of a carousel ride returns in the lilting *Soon After Midnight*.
We are transported to the 1930s or ‘40s. The tale is upbeat in its
nursery-rhyme telling, but the story is dark and seedy. Our hero is still
looking forward to rendezvous and find feminine consolation soon after
midnight with the faerie queen. Will the leading lady be found in this
“It’s been such a long, long time, since we loved each other and our
hearts were true,” the troubadour laments in *Long and Wasted Years*.
This song theater is like some kind of movie, the leading man coming to
terms with life’s fading days. Of Dylan’s recent compositions, this is
my favorite. His writing and singing are still so on point, the long days
and years have not been wasted. Bob Dylan’s gifts spring from a deep
well that is extraordinary. Blessed are we to live to experience them.
The tender goodbye begins with *Autumn Leaves. *This one comes deep from
the heart, the vocals beautiful and precise. It feels like a personal
message to the aging crowd. We are autumn leaves, and he still loves us.
He’s going to stand beside us, because he is one of us. Donnie Herron,
along with Charlie Sexton, are so talented, they catapult Bob to new
heights on this one in a very restrained and crafty way. The entire band
is par excellence.
Dylan sums up the musical journey encore with a slowed-down, high-impact
version of *Blowin’ in the Wind*. He asks the big questions. They remain
the same. They will always remain the same.
Bob humbly stands before the crowd for the final song of the night, *Stand
with Me*. It’s a prayer, a call to God summoning up his mercy, grace,
and forgiveness. In the end, one of Dylan’s greatest gifts is pointing
people to God. It takes courage and grace.
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