page by Bill Pagel
Review by Don Ely
I was sitting at work monday night, Fourth of July no less, perusing Boblinks (on my break, of course!),
looking at the upcoming dates, as my mind gradually sharpened focus, and saturday July 9 crystallized
into clarity: I can do this! I had enjoyed three previous Bob & Willie shows so much on this "Let's
Play Two! Tour" I said "Let's play four!"
Cedar Rapids is an attractive city of tall buildings and parks laden with modern sculpture, a city of
railroads and agriculture. A city that mixes the past and the future very well, with generous helpings
of Midwestern hospitality. Veterans Memorial Stadium is set amidst soccer fields and ice arenas within
a nice, older, working class neighborhood. A small park dedicated to the memory of our veterans of many
wars has been built next to the stadium, with granite monuments and benches installed that attest to
their sacrifice. A tank and artillery pieces complete the picture. As I entered the gates for tonight's
show I was smoked by the barbecue searing on a large grill. I looked out on center field, where the
stage had been erected in front of the scoreboard, and Willie Nelson was already there jammin' away.
Beyond the friendly confines I could see trees and distant hills. One of these days at one of these
minor league ballparks I'm going to order one of those great-looking cheeseburgers that I see going by,
but for now I opt for the classic ball park frank with a beer to wash it down. They serve four varieties
of Leinenkugel's here, or you can have the standard national brand whitewash if you choose. Watching The
Whiskey River Flow, I talked to a man who said he was from Europe that was seeing two legends for the
More people were gathered at the feet of Willie and Family than I had seen at any prior show on the
tour. About mid-set I walked down to the field to join them. The selections were the same, but I think
this was the tightest, most professional performance I've seen this band give. It could've had something
to do with being only a few days removed from Willie's Big Texas Picnic, but I think more likely it was
that they were playing to many of the folks for whom Farm-Aid is held to benefit. Lucas Nelson played
the best, bluesiest solos yet. This young man is getting the best possible on-the-job training, honing
his chops so well he IS one to keep a lookout for in the future. And the patriarch, he's hammerin' away
with abandon, all the carpal tunnel demons seemingly having been cast out into oblivion. Good music,
good times as the sun set gently on the heartland.
I watched the road crew change the equipment and unfurl the colors of Bob Dylan behind the drumkit. Soon
the lights went down, the p.a. went up, and I watched from under the stage as the feet of Bob Dylan And
His Band ascended the rear stairs. In seconds the players had taken their places, and were off into
"Maggie's Farm"! Bob had appeared dazed as he approached his keyboard, one of those "where am I" types
of things that any Dylan vet has seen before, but once the song commenced, he was clearly in control of
himself and what was happening on stage. A stout "To Ramona" was next; I've always liked the lyrics to
this one, but in performance it often leaves a little something to be desired, a little too lightweight
for my taste. Tonight the instrumentation was meaty and satisfying. I feel the same about "Positively
Fourth Street"; I haven't seen too many versions since about 1996 that have sent me into the clouds, but
tonight's was a solid, impassioned effort. I'm really enjoying the new arrangement of "Cry A While" now.
It may have taken me awhile to notice, but I love the drama of the whole stop/start action. I'd say this
was the finest crafting yet, but in most cases every last version is the best one yet, don't you think?
"Just Like A Woman" is my pick for best song of the night. Again, not one I always like to hear live,
but this one was a real peach, ripe, juicy, and delicious. The highlight of the show, though, and that
which I'll always remember this show by, was the charming, effervescent, Jersey Girl, all pigtails and
electric smiles, with combustible laughter and Dark Eyes alive with kinetic energy. She had come up to
me as Bob began weaving his magic, and we grooved together into the Iowa night. She called "Ramona"
before I did, and as I mentioned to her that I had seen "Girl Of The North Country" three times in
Minnesota or Wisconsin, she told me she had been at Kenosha and Oshkosh ("Ring Them Bells"!) last year.
"On Election Day!", she cried. A sweet girl, and a Bobcat to boot, a long way from home but home all the
Next day I returned to the stadium to get some photos of the ballpark, as I typically like to take
pictures of the venues I see Bob at. This tour has been a blast, combining my love for baseball with
the music of Bob Dylan, and the four shows I attended (Norwich, Pittsfield, Eastlake, and Cedar Rapids)
have defined my Summer 2005. As I snapped away, a man who identified himself as a "senior baseball guy",
an official of the Cedar Rapids Kernels, offered to let me into the closed stadium to take all the
pictures I wanted. Midwestern hospitality at it's finest. Incidentally, the Kernels, as in corn, are a
Class A affiliate of the Los Angeles/California/Anaheim/Los Angeles Angels Of Anaheim. I obliged the
man's gracious offer and went back to the field where Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson had brought joy to
thousands mere hours before. The man said this was their first concert event at Veterans Memorial
Stadium, and had gone off with nary a hitch. Would real Bobcats expect any less?
Review by Aaron Moeller
One of the joys of being a Dylan fan is knowing that as elusive as the man
can be as an artist and performer, he is, of course, the perpetual Phantom
in Full View. As a native Iowan, I’m used to having to travel to
Minneapolis, Chicago or St. Louis to see most of my favorite touring
musical acts. With Bob, though, it’s different. He seems to visit my
doorstep at least once a year.
As a native Cedar Rapidian, I’ve caught nine Bob shows in nine years and -
for now five of those shows - I haven’t had to leave Iowa to do so. It
was with great excitement that I drove the couple blocks with my friend
John to see the July 9 show at Vets Memorial Stadium. There is an
extra-special something in the air when Bob’s in your hometown and you
feel that subtle urge to go roll out the welcome mat and be a good host.
I was hoping my neighbors would come out in full force and give the man a
big Iowa welcome.
Three nights after this show, I also attended the St. Paul gig and by
comparison, I’d say Cedar Rapids turned out more of a Willie crowd. Most
of the ‘non-Iowa’ Bob concerts I’ve attended have been in the Twin Cities
and I always get the feeling that there’s more of a curiosity factor at
the Iowa shows. In St. Paul, the crowd seemed less interested in Willie’s
set and then packed in close and came alive when Bob took the stage. At
first, Cedar Rapids felt like the opposite. The crowd seemed slightly
older and was raring to go when Willie and Family took the stage. There
were also more cowboy hats in CR, counting Bob’s, of course.
Willie’s set was strong and fluid, as expected. The songs are all
familiar and the Cedar Rapids crowd (myself included) knew all the words.
Willie’s always good for a sing-along or two. For as often as he puts out
new music, however, there weren’t many surprises in the setlist. (His
setlists in C.R. and St. Paul were, I think, identical.) But where else
can you go to for variety like that? From “I’ll Fly Away” to “Georgia on
my Mind” to his kid doing Stevie Ray Vaughn to “The Harder They Come” to
“Beer for My Horses”. And that’s not even figuring his own represented
compositions and the fifty plus years they span, from “Crazy” and the
medley of his early 50’s stuff through “On the Road Again” through “Angel
Flying Too Close to the Ground” through the always foot-stomping “Still is
Still Moving to Me”. But it was “You Were Always on my Mind” whose
opening bars seemed to bring the warmest, knowing response. I guess you
can’t beat having your song in a recent jeans commercial when it comes to
intoning cozy familiarity.
Bob and company took the stage and kicked off with “Maggie’s Farm”, one of
those lyrics that’s instantly recognized and was certainly familiar to
even the casual fans in attendance. It’s always interesting to watch the
expressions on people’s faces when Bob plays these shows with other major
acts who bring their own built-in audience. Maybe I’m hyper-sensitive
from years of defending Bob’s singing, but I always think I can detect
that ‘What’s Bob going to sound like?’ look on my neighbors’ faces. It’s
the famed ‘Are we going to be able to make heads or tails of his singing?’
expression that seems to haunt the unconverted. That look always seems to
dissipate a few songs in to the set, at least among those of us who can
get near the front and benefit from having easier access to Bob’s facial
expressions. Bob also looks really fit and healthy these days. He’s so
sharp in his suit and hat and I actually would consider myself a fan of
the new bowling shirt band uniforms.
This show was no different. Many became instant believers. The band was
rocking and rolling (hell, even rollicking) for a thumping “Maggie’s
Farm”. The outfield wasn’t all that crowded (compared to St. Paul on
Tuesday anyway) and there were a number of people - within 30 or 40 yards
of the stage even - who remained seated on their blankets throughout the
show. There wasn’t the usual ‘fans squirming through the crowd to get to
the bathroom or to the beer’ factor. I spotted an old friend and had a
brief conversation during “To Ramona”, so I unfortunately missed most of
one of the nice surprises, one of the understated classics in the Bob
canon. I’m always instantly delighted in that moment when he breaks out
the harmonica for the first time and gives one of his haunting solos.
“Cry a While” kicked off a show (thankfully) heavy on Love and Theft
material and “Positively 4th Street” was fun as I’d never heard it live
before. I’m so taken with the original recording, though, and its
snarling, bitter vocals that it was hard to get my ears wrapped around
this night’s rather subdued performance.
It was during the next handful of songs however that things really shifted
into gear and never slowed down. Soon things were breaking up out there.
“High Water”, maybe my favorite tune from L&T, found people making fine
use of the extra space. With Donnie leaping in on banjo, things started
to kick in, legs started moving, and soon all knew that you’re dancin’
with whom they tell you to, or you don’t dance at all. From there, it was
the now requisite, mind-blowing version of “Highway 61”. I haven’t
studied all the setlists that closely, and maybe it’s because I’m always
seeing Bob in towns near the Mississippi, but I’m sure I’ve heard “Highway
61” in concert more than any other in the Dylan catalogue. And each time,
it’s got it’s own unique swagger. (The performance in St. Paul was
equally unique and equally brilliant.) Is there a better song than “61”?
Bob’s played it so many times and finds new life in the thing every time.
“Ballad of Hollis Brown” followed and just like every time “Masters of
War” appears, I’m sure everyone starts speculating about Bob’s thoughts on
the war. He’s always let his songs do the talking though and it was
sometime during this performance that I started to really appreciate how
good Bob’s bands have been the last few years, how the lyrics never fail
to get through. I’m still partial to the Campbell/Sexton tours, but the
current lineup is really versatile. I love to watch the way the individual
band members watch Bob for his subtle directions and hand gestures. These
guys are wizards at giving space for Bob’s vocals to shine. All those
brilliant lyrics always have plenty of room to be understood. Even as his
voice has grown more pinched and ragged, Bob’s singing has grown more
expressive. He’s singing with such force and urgency these days.
“Most Likely You Go Your Way” hammered home what most had already figured
out - these guys can play. It bounced along like an old jalopy on a
gravel road. Out here in the heartland, it had us appreciating rural
electrification like it was still a brand new marvel. “Just Like a Woman”
perked up those who hadn’t recognized some of the other tunes. “Honest
with Me” again recommended Love and Theft to the crowd and “Girl from the
North Country” was as bittersweet as always. This song always makes me
think of his 30th ‘Anniversary MSG performance and makes me think how cool
it’d be if Bob would do a solo song or two each night, whether it was on
the guitar or keyboard.
“Summer Days” always finds my eyes glued to Tony on his standup, facing
Bob and his keyboard across the stage, and holding the whole thing
together. I love the jazzy, instrumental break that pops up before the
final verse and brings the entire show charging down the homestretch. I
also love the bands’ stutter stop after the line “my back’s been to the
wall so long, it feels like it’s stuck” – band freezes, briefly, and then
– “why don’t you break my heart one more time just for gooood luuuuuuck.”
By the encores, everybody was still dancing and had plenty of energy. It
wouldn’t have taken old warhorses like “Tangled Up” and “Watchtower” to
leave everybody happy, but they were, no doubt, just what the doctor
Bob and Company gave Cedar Rapids an enthusiastic performance. Cedar
Rapids gave Bob, I thought, a really energetic, really open and engaged
crowd. I was proud of my neighbors. Bob seemed in great spirits and I
got the usual goosebumps when the guys stepped out for a bow and they all
stood shoulder to shoulder, but with Bob standing slightly apart from the
others, as though they’re giving him – the obvious star of the show - that
little extra space. I love the way he stands with his elbow bent up at
his side and his fist around his harmonica, his face expressionless, but
his eyes wide and accepting.
I hope you felt a lot of love from Cedar Rapids, Bob. A top-notch show.
page by Bill Pagel
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