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Review by Peter Stone Brown
I had no idea when I woke up Tuesday morning that I was going to Scranton,
but very quickly an email appeared with an offer from my friend Orlando
that was hard to refuse, and so I found myself on my way to Scranton in
mid-afternoon by way of Central Jersey resulting in a neat little 400
Montage Mountain is a fairly pleasant, not-too-large venue tucked away in
the woods near the top of Pennsylvania.
Bob Dylan and his band took the stage to a theater that was about three
quarters empty at exactly seven minutes after seven and proceeded to rock
"Duncan and Brady." It may have been acoustic instruments but they were
rocking, Dylan singing strongly and clearly and there was no doubt that he
was *on.* It was rather awesome.
"Song to Woody" followed in a performance that left you feeling he really
*was* singing the song to Woody, and not just singing the song. The paced
picked up with a driving "Desolating Row" with Dylan getting into it,
singing DesoLAYSHUN Row, with Bob playing a fairly crazy guitar solo.
Then Larry went behind the pedal steel, for a pleasant "Love Minus Zero."
And then into the inevitable "Tangled" which found Bob all tangled up in
the verses, singing the fifth verse third and the third verse fourth, and
leaving out the fourth verse entirely.
Then after what seemed like a set-list change, Larry picked up the
mandolin and into "Searching For A Soldier's Grave," with high lonesome
spooky bluegrass harmony throughout. I can't remember Dylan ever doing a
song before where his backing singers sang all the verses and choruses
with him-Dylan another voice in a trio. It was both beautiful and great.
And then into the electric portion with a kicking "Country Pie," which
asides from being a lot of fun served to showcase Dylan's two excellent
guitarists as they threw licks to each other, Bob for once, sticking
solely to rhythm guitar.
A mellow "Positively Fourth Street" followed, with "Maggie's Farm" having
a kind of Johnny Cash "Big River" groove to it. However Bob really spaced
on the words mixing up Ma and Pa and whose bedroom window was made out of
bricks. Charlie Sexton who is more out front than when I last saw the
band in November played sizzling guitar with a couple of nods to Michael
Then it was back to Nashville Skyline for "Tell Me That It Isn't True,"
but Bob sang the second verse again on the bridge part. Instead of
singing "To know that some other man is holding you tight," he sang, "I
know that you've been seen with some other man/It hurts me all over (and
then realizing) he came up with "I don't understand," and then when they
returned to the bridge after an instrumental break, he sang the second
verse again, but this time the final line was, "It hurts me all over, it's
telling me a lot."
But that was quickly forgotten in the sudden jump to Jimi Hendrixland for
a searing "Drifter's Escape." This was nothing less than stunning with
the stage lights which basically were off sudden blazing blue highlighting
the guitar riff after each line, and when the bolt of lightning hit the
courthouse, there was lightning from Charlie's guitar, followed by Dylan
pulling out the harp for a solo unlike any other he has ever played. It
was crazy like the '66 solos, but it was a controlled craziness. He knew
exactly what he was doing, and not only that, he knew what he wanted to
do, and he did it, playing around with the melody of the song, yet digging
deep into the rhythm. It reminded me of an early Stevie Wonder harp solo.
After that, Bob got into a discussion with one of his roadie's and did
"Leopard Skin" without introducing the band.
And then came what has been referred to as "the formation," with everyone
just standing there holding their instruments staring at the audience. It
was weird, and as has been reported at other shows, Larry was the first to
Returning they went right into "Things Have Changed," with Bob singing
almost immediately. This was another high point of the night, and Dylan
seemed more into this song than just about any of the other electric
songs, except "Drifter's Escape."
Bob finally introduced the band (with no jokes) and went into "Like A
Rolling Stone," and then, a waltzing, "My Back Pages," with Larry on
fiddle, which appeared to be another deviation from the setlist, and then
the usual "Highway 61," and "Blowin' In The Wind."
For this night, the acoustic set was definitely more energized than most
of what followed. The show seemed to lose steam somewhere in the middle
and though there were absolute high points, never quite regained the
energy it started with.
In this ever-evolving band, on this tour, it seems that Charlie Sexton is
moving much more to the front as lead guitarist.
But on the other hand, what other artist moves from bluegrass to blues to
hard rock and back again, but if you stop for a second and think about the
words and thoughts coming out, even with a slight loss of steam, it
remains a remarkable experience.
But at the same time the loss of steam may have been due to the low roar
of conversation that was ever-present throughout the night. Maybe if what
seemed like the majority of the audience had bothered to pay attention and
get into it, instead of talking about whatever they were talking about,
that steam might not have been lost.
Review by Daryl Williams
Dylan was certainly 'on' tonight at the newly renovated Montage Mountain
amphitheatre. This was my first trip to the venue, and the setting was
just right. Dylan came out and broke into 'Duncan and Brady'. The guitar
tone and crisp vocals were evident from beginning to end. Many have
commented that audiences are not being responsive to the Dylan shows, only
waiting for Lesh to come on. This could not be farther from the truth
tonight. By the time 'Tangled Up in Blue' came up, the place was full and
Dylan was blowing some mean harp. This streak continued through the
finale, with the harp making frequent appearances. His guitar playing was
fantastic, with his acoustic solos containing tone that Clapton could only
hope for on a good night! Anyway, I was thoroughly impressed. I wish Bob
only the best in life and in music. Incidently, I got caught up in the
Dylan tour bus cavalcade on the way out after skipping the Phil Lesh set.
On the way, I spotted the hotel that they were stopping at. It was out of
respect for the man and his privacy, as well as thanks for such a
fantastic show, that I drove past without hassling them for an autograph.
Again, if you have the chance to catch Bob and don't take it, kick
yourself. He is in the best shape of his career.
Daryl W., Wilkes Barre
Review by Cory Hawley
Well, not to complain, but the Coors Light Ampetheater in Scranton, PA is
definitly not my favorite place to watch a show. Terrible lighting in the
parking lot. Terrible food. Though, Bob put on one hell of a show, from
what I could see. I had lawn seats and I really couldn't make out his
face, and the screens weren't effective as the sun was still out, glaring
on them. Duncan & Brady was great. A first for me. NExt came a song that
I'd been hoping to hear for some time, Song to Woody. Great job and Bob
seemed into it from the start. Next had to be one of my two best moments
at this show. Desolation Row, a bit faster and sounded incredible. I
didn't know what song it was until he got through the first line. Next was
Love - Zero, No Limit. This was about the time someone stepped on my
fiance's new t-shirt and my concert poster, bending it. Tangled Up in Blue
was awesome. I know he plays the hell out of this song, and I even could
have gone without hearing it tonight. But, once he starts, you don't want
him thave been all the fans singing along. Highway 61 got everbody out of
there seats and dancing all over the place. Especially all over my poster.
There's a huge grass field, and everyone had to choose my posyter and
t-shirt for the dance floor. Blowin in the Wind closed things out, and was
a usual good version. Phil came on, jammed a while, played St. Stephen,
jammed and then I left. I'll stay for the entire show in Camden on Friday.
I'm really looking forward to Stanhope, NJ though.
Review by Stephen Walter
From the mountains, to the prairies, to the oceans white with foam.
Include a river to be followed, and there you have the extent of my Dylan
shows this summer. The river may be only the Delaware off the stricken
town of Camden, the mountains the dinky Poconos, the sea not wine-dark or
even blue, and the prairies a bare field in northwest New Jersey, but hey,
whaddya want?--for now that's as close as I can come to getting out on the
road. Guthrie hated that God Bless America schmaltz anyway, didn't he?
Dylan's probably not too fond of it either.
The Delaware Water Gap: for those of you who think there simply cannot
be a gorgeous landscape in New Jersey, drive out this way sometime. I
myself had not done so for a long while and felt newly impressed by what I
saw. The Gap has been a starting-point for cross-country treks in my
past, so I could recall how one experiences a sort of Kerouac-ian
exaltation in winding through the pass and out to the other side; for a
born-and-bred Easterner, the whole continent seems to open up beyond,
stretching into untold distance, beckoning. Of course tonight we were
only going to Scranton, Pennsylvania, but it felt pretty damned good
nonetheless. It didn't hurt either that we appeared to be driving out of
the cloud cover that had been looming all day overhead; there were bands
of blue and sunlight in the east, and it seemed at least possible that we
might be released from the threat of rain.
Off Route 80 not far across the Pennsylvania line is the strangest rest
stop I believe I've ever laid my eyes upon. Well, more of a truck stop I
guess with a rest stop veneer, but they seemed to have everything under
the sun for sale there, including a variety of knives and hunting
equipment ... as I've always said, if you're looking for weirdness, New
Jersey will do you fine, but if it's the *really* warped you want, the
completely kooky, the mind-bendingly bizarre, you gotta head for
Pennsylvania. Ain't no short cuts. While, er, utilizing this rest stop,
I found a tiny "Personal Bible," about the size of a Cracker Jack prize,
sandwiched in between the toilet paper and the stall; it had been placed
there by the Little Bible Ministry of Pottstown, PA and was full of what
appeared to be a host of Dylan lyrics, mostly from songs he no longer
plays live. I took it as a sign anyway and tucked it into my wallet.
Good reading, that Bible. Very inspirational. "Verses of Comfort,
I'd never been to Scranton, strange because part of my family comes
from here; my grandfather, an Italian immigrant, was for many years a coal
miner (with the black lung to prove it) and labor unionist in this area,
before moving his family to New Jersey. No, we did not get to hear "Dark
as a Dungeon" in his honor, though it would have been a fitting choice. I
still have no idea what or where "Steamtown" is and whether it is steamy
or not; suppose I'll have to look it up. See above comments on
Through the Poconos the sky had been exceedingly changeable, with
low-riding spattery clouds penetrated by sunbursts worthy of the Great
Comforter himself. We had left in just enough time to beat maximum exit
crush off 81, were bottled up for about half an hour and considered
ourselves lucky as the car climbed Montage Mountain, seeming to circle in
and around a single long black cloud and then, by the summit, to leave it
behind altogether. (Note to the uninitiated: all this jabbering about
the weather is what is known in literary circles and cafe society as
"foreshadowing".) With traffic backups increasingly predictable, it has
become a profound luxury to reach a venue in time for a drink or two; this
is especially true when one can step out into cool, transparent mountain
air, roll down the windows and pump up House of Blues '96 on the car
stereo. For my first Dylan concert in a long time, I often tend to feel a
little anxious, butterfly-y; don't ask me why. Few other performers seem
to have this effect on me of, what shall I call it, momentousness?
Radical uncertainty? Ah but here we were. We had made it. Damned that
vodka tonic tasted fine. Everything was going to be all right.
And it was, dear reader, it was. Montage Mountain is blessed with a
lovely setting, nestled in among the ski runs' summer greenery; granted,
the venue itself has all the allure of a construction site, which to some
extent it still is. No matter, at least it was something different, not
too slickly corporate (got to love the giant inflatable Coors Light bottle
presiding over ceremonies) or huge. The sound proved to be somewhat less
than magnificent, but hey, it's summer, it's Scranton, it ain't the Albert
Hall. We had decent mid-range seats in the lower level and reached them
"Duncan and Brady": I recall excitedly listening to the first
performance of this song, from New Hampshire, only last fall; it's a
sign of Dylan's subtly mutating setlists that it is now a standard
opener. Venue about a third full at best by this point, probably closer
to a fourth, with just a loose knot of people up near the rail ... so odd
to see us standing around in the daylight like this. Boy did we look
goofy. Dylan and band looked, well not goofy, but human. Little guy,
little band: Dylan, seeming like he'd just schlepped in off of his cot,
had neglected to tuck in the back of his red-and-white checked shirt.
Nevertheless, after a month of doubt and purse-lipped suspicion, all in a
flash it became clear to me that Dylan's opening this tour is an
absolutely brilliant plan. Not only is it a great opportunity, after
years of double bills and/or opening acts, for a Dylan fan to experience
precisely that which he or she has come for: a *Dylan* show, undiluted,
un-delayed--not only that, but also (whatever other considerations may
have driven Dylan's choice), I'm convinced he must enjoy the sheer ambush
value of jumping out unbidden amidst the pre-show hubbub, inspiring joy in
the hearts of those already assembled and panic in those not yet seated,
then proceeding to whip up and win over the whole disheveled lot of us,
with a packed house by concert's end eating right out of his snaky white
hand. It's Mythmaking 101, this shape-shifting transformation, and not
only does it shake the audience out of its usual concert-going
complacency, but seems to be doing the same thing for Dylan and band as
well. "Duncan and Brady" made for an ideal opener, the fun of it all out
of proportion to the grim story it told, a perfect match for Dylan if one
thinks of the tension between wild humor and out-and-out desperation that
animates so many of his greatest songs.
"Desolation Row" is a song which, for some reason, although it feels
sometimes like I have it on every other bootleg, I haven't caught often in
concert. What a version. Truest to the spirit of the song that I've
heard from the past several years, Dylan injecting a jagged, funhouse
humor into the chorus very distant from the somber, even spectral readings
of the mid-nineties, but in its own way just as disconcerting. The Nero's
Neptune verse caught me off guard, too. A stunner. "Love Minus Zero," on
the other hand, I can't seem to listen to without comparing it to those
rapturously beautiful '94-'95 renditions, one of Dylan's many close calls
with perfection back in the good old nineteen nineties.
"Searching for a Soldier's Grave" sounded wonderful, but I won't
pretend I was able to focus on it more than I was by rehashing
second-hand responses. It was my first time ever hearing the song and it
just flew on by. I need another listen, but I did hear enough to know
that I *want* another listen.
The next highlight in this extremely solid, well-paced show came for me
with a slightly bumbled "Tell Me That It Isn't True," appleberry-sweet
without ever becoming cloying. One of the bumble-rescues was not, I
believe, "it's telling me a lot" but rather "it's tearing me apart" which
rhymed about as well, which is to say, not at all. A good save though.
That guy up there, I tell ya, he's always thinkin'. Hey Mr. Dylan, so
long as we're on the Nashville kick how about throwing in "I Threw It All
Away." I think you played that once in '98, first in decades, am I right?
Then never again? What a surprise ... hmm ... think we'd better talk
By this point, you surely have heard that "Drifter's Escape" is
phenomenal. So let me say it again. "Drifter's Escape" is phenomenal.
Light years away from the show-opening version of years past, which I
recall as being somewhat turgid. I'll admit to being a little worried
about the state of Dylan's voice after this leg of excruciatingly hot,
steamy, patchouli-scented touring. I needn't have been. Vocals all
night, despite the acoustically-challenged venue, were almost
preternaturally clear and strong. That, coupled with insanely good
harmonica, made this perhaps the best song of the night for me--I mean,
this song went over the top and just kept going; Dylan must have gotten
caught up in it too (good spirits tonight, equable, lots of thank yous)
since he forgot to announce his band afterwards and had to do it in the
encore! Sexton's lightning bolt scared the s*** out of me and delighted
me all at once, an appropriate response, I guess, to this blasted yet
My response to the "formation," in contrast, was hilarity plain and
simple. Did I say something about myth-making before? Ah but I'm
easy. They had me at "Duncan and Brady." And by "Things Have Changed,"
forget about it. Sinuous delivery, threatening yet confiding, not quite
in the groove of the outstanding recorded version yet, as Paul Williams
has noted, but definitely getting there.
You know about the other encores, right? They're still good. "Highway
61"'s even better because Dylan puts more care into the singing of it. Not
that singing is what that performance is really *about* but it does up the
ante, I feel. "My Back Pages" was stately (too stately?) but
unfortunately I couldn't pick up too well on Campbell's violin from my
right-of-stage location. Incidentally, why is Campbell allowed to play
violin only on this one song? And, um, why is the sky blue? That one's
been bugging me too, lately.
Well it stayed blue tonight, until it grew gently dark near the end of
Dylan's set. During the encores we could see the red lights on the tour
buses through the scrim at stage left. That had kind of a homey feel to
it, I thought; in fact, the whole show, probably because of the setting,
seemed imbued with a kind of dusty, small-town, relaxed,
summertime-and-the livin'-is-easy peacefulness and charm, something harder
and harder to come by in these days of ever larger and more traffic-logged
amphitheaters, ticket inflation, cell phones, wanton drunkenness and
fornication (this last message has been brought to you courtesy of the
Little Bible Ministry of Pottstown, PA--hey, I owe them a *little*
something for their Bible, don't I?), etc. A nice show to ease a fella
in, then back out into the starlit mountain American night, the lights of
Scranton (or was that the mysterious "Steamtown"?) looking absurdly
romantic down in the valley below.
Lest you think I've grown soft-headed, let me close out on a different
tack. Scranton was my first Dylan show in 2000. Dylan in the '00s:
ponderous reflections must ensue. What's he got to say to us, now? Show
us? Do for us? First of all, I think he wants to show us and himself a
good time, for as many nights as he can do that; and it struck me Tuesday
night that this in itself is a gift so precious that it is almost
impossible not to take it for granted, all of us being, myth or not,
Beyond that, or during that, I imagine he'd also like to post a few
modest reminders on the local bulletin board, church door or tree.
That, for instance, things have changed, but that when the singer tells us
that he "used to care" it is not the same thing, is it, as flat-out
declaring that "I don't care anymore." More a bewildered questioning
infused with pain, with menace and with regret. And a reminder too, that
so perhaps did we. Care, that is. About what? Oh about a lot of things
I'm sure. But primarily about where we live. Where? On Desolation Row,
of course, which, however gentrified, strip-malled, McMansioned,
Martha-Stewarted, Land-Rovered, gourmet coffeed, window-dressed it has
become, is still--emphatically--what it is. That much hasn't changed, and
I believe that Dylan would like us to remember it. Maybe we could enter
it in our Palm Pilots, or call and leave ourselves a voice mail, that ours
is still a condition of glaring spiritual emptiness, with little hope in
But this, this coming together, this being shown a good time, surely this
is in itself a mode of caring, and as such a sign of hope. Surely Dylan
is caring when he plays and sings this way. The work he and his
collaborators have accomplished on stage in the nineties and now into the
year 2000 ... so much, and for so long, with such dedication and doubtless
at real human cost ... truly, who can grasp its significance whole? What
tongue would be adequate to tell it? The good they've done, hey it's loud
all right, but it's not a clanging gong, not by any means. The good
they've done leaks out of these Podunk tent shows and fairgrounds and
trails off onto starlit highways and lies down on tired beds with us.
It's modest, even fragile. But that doesn't diminish it, make it any less
miraculous. Not to me anyway; I take what I can get.
"Follow, poet, follow right
To the bottom of the night,
With your unconstraining voice
Still persuade us to rejoice;
With the farming of a verse,
Make a vineyard of the curse,
Sing of human unsuccess
In a rapture of distress;
In the deserts of the heart
Let the healing fountain start,
In the prison of his days
Teach the free man how to praise"
--W. H. Auden, "In Memory of W.B. Yeats"
Thanks again to all the fine reviewers this summer, and let me single out
Peter Stone Brown and Lloyd Fonvielle for their beautifully written,
incisive accounts of Scranton and Jones Beach. They've left me little to
add (though I sure have taken my time doing it thus far). Next time I'll
tell you a little more concisely about Jones Beach, which as a concert
experience was on a whole other level than Scranton. I'll tell you once I
dry off; it's late Thursday evening now, so let's say Saturday at the
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