Reviews

Atlanta, Georgia

Chastain Park Amphitheater

July 28, 2011


[Tampa Steve], [Noel Mayeske], [Ric Harwood], [Linda Valleroy], [Michael Aderhold]

Review by Tampa Steve



I'm a recent transplant to Atlanta and this was my first experience at Chastain
Park Amphitheatre.  Is it the Red Rocks of the east?  I won't go that far, but
it's in a beautiful, wooded setting and has wide aisles that allow really easy
access to and from your seat.  It's not huge, either.  I can't think of a better
venue for a Bob Dylan show except maybe that place I mentioned in Colorado.

I had completely forgotten that Leon Russell would open the show.  When I saw a
giant mane of white hair down on the stage and heard his growl, I was
transported to the 1970s and I stayed there for the duration of his set.  He
played a bunch of soft, bluesy rock, sometimes in Vegas medley arrangements that
really did little to inspire me.  I was surprised he didn't sing "Tightrope" or
"This Masquerade".  His band sounded great, playing all the right riffs and
singing like a gospel girl choir even though they were all men.  But his sound
tech somehow managed to allow Russell's own vocal to distort unpleasantly
throughout his set.  It was hard on the ears and I sought refuge near the beer
stand.

As the sun sank and a nice breeze kicked up, Bob Dylan and His Band strolled
out.  The usual introduction was read aloud (although the emcee is really hard
to understand -- he rushes and mumbles, which is too bad because that
introduction is funny) and the band wasted no time launching "Rainy Day Women". 
If you haven't heard it lately, check out the last verse where Dylan just sings
"They'll stone you" repeatedly without telling you when or where you will be
stoned.  Brilliant!  Stu Kimball quickly switched to acoustic guitar for "Don't
Think Twice", which was a big early highlight.  Of course there was more gruff
gargling than actual singing, but it was full of the right emotion anyway.  I've
never been to any concert where the sound tech paid more attention to what was
important from moment to moment.  The drums were quiet when that was helpful and
loud when a little more rock was needed.  The vocals were way out front at all
times, and were very clear.  My only complaint was that the organ sometimes
detracted from the otherwise pleasant blend.  Sure, I love hearing the odd solos
that Dylan plays, but during an acoustic-led number the instrument is a shrill
distraction if it's too high in the mix.

It was easy to see from my vantage point that Dylan was having a good time,
dancing around behind his keyboard station and cocking his head.  When he
stepped out front for a couple of tunes, he theatrically motioned with his arms
and whole-body language to illustrate various points.  it was the most dramatic
display of this sort I have ever seen him make.  At times, it looked as though
he imagined himself balancing on a surfboard, his feet positioned in front of
one another and his arms waving akimbo.  During these songs he would produce a
harmonica and blow unpredictable, jazzy solos.  He's Bob Dylan!

I love the current version of "Tangled up in Blue", and the guitar interplay (of
which Dylan was a big part) on "Beyond Here" was great counterpoint to the
instrumentation on the other songs.  I could stand a bit more of this.  Further
highlights included a fantastic "Hard Rain" and an even better "Ballad of a Thin
Man".  I haven't been following the set lists, so it was a surprise to me that
this would be the set-closer.  I gambled that another song would follow "Rolling
Stone" and I was right.  I finally got to hear the newest arrangement of
"Watchtower" as I escaped the venue to get a jump on traffic.  It is now
completely subverted -- no rock whatsoever.  I love it.  To have Charlie Sexton
on your stage and get this kind of restraint is miraculous.  It's very high on
taste and very low on flash.  What a great show.

Tampa Steve

[TOP]

Review by Noel Mayeske



A solid, though generally unadventurous - but momentarily momentous - show with
Bob in excellent [circa 2011] voice. The easy highlight of the night - the
moment that will light this night in my mind - was a triumphant, transportive
version of Mississippi. From the first few notes, I was in a pure zone the likes
of which I havenít often been in at a Dylan show. It was that perfect
combination of very engaged performance, crisp vocals, nice arrangement rarity
factor (only the 34th time heís played it according to www.bobdylan.com and
second time in three years, following the previous nightís performance). A
perfect moment, really.

There were other highlights for me but nothing close to that. The showís more
mundane moments seemed miles away from that -- the standard blooze of Leveeís
Gonna Break and bored swing of Thunder On The Mountain (most of Modern Times
never has really grabbed me) were toe-tappers but nothing more. (Thunder On The
Mountain doesnít have much of  storyline but I wish it at least sounded meaner
and more fun, like the Jack White-produced version Wanda Jackson did.)

Mississippi, however, has plenty of storyline, so much so I was wondering how he
could keep all the words straight after not having sung it for three years until
the previous night. When he got to the line about "things should start to get
interesting right about now," it filled the metaphorical glass many of us
longtime Dylan fans have, the one we hang onto for those rare moments when the
really good wine is poured.

Donít Think Twice was another treat -- the type of quiet, introspective "young
Bob" song heís nearly excised from his set at this point. (Almost everything
these days seems to be from Hwy 61 onwards, except for Blowiní In The Wind and
sometimes Times Are A-Changiní.)

But I enjoyed the run of four consecutive 2000-onwards songs too that came after
a nice Tangled Up In Blue -- in fact, I wished heíd done more from Together
Through Life, which I really like as an album. Recent songs seemed like they
might dominate the setlist at one point, but the six post-2000 songs got edged
out by seven 60s songs by the end.

The balance of Dylanís ballpark organ compared to Charlie Sextonís guitar was
much better tonight than the Birmingham, Alabama show I saw in 2010. Although on
Levee and Watchtower (great pulsing new arrangement of the latter!), the loopy
organ did threaten to swallow the guitar whole several times. Bob spent more
time at center stage this year compared to last year, mollifying the "conflict"
between organ and guitar -- a clash of egos between Dylan and his skilled
acolyte, Iím guessing. Often, Bob would "vacate the boxing ring" by just going
to center stage to play a tiny bit of guitar or, more often -- like on a lovely,
stately Sugar Baby -- stand stage front, arms gesturing like a marionette,
stirring a little harmonica into the pot.

Even then, Charlie has obviously been instructed to not flash too brightly, to
keep the shades pulled down a bit. In fact it wasnít until Thunder that I really
noticed Sexton rolling off those peals of silvery rockabilly licks he does so
well. Regardless, most of the time he looked like a youngster just learning to
swim, engaged in every song, bobbing in the water eagerly as the band flowed
along.

A few more notes about specific songs: 

Rainy Day Women #12 & 35:
Nice bluesy version, nothing like the steamroller versions circa 2002 but a nice
way to start the show.

Things Have Changed:
Easily the most sophisticated musical arrangement of the night, other than
Mississippi. My guess is the band helped suggest the arrangement, because Bob's
organ sound was minimal and the band rode this one like Chet Atkins meets Marty
Robbins.

Tangled Up In Blue: 
Sounded great (the line "sure was gonna be ROUGH" really DOES sound rough in
Bobís 2011 old-man phrasing - appropriate) and I was glad to see heíd restored
more of the full song compared to the truncated 2010 version. Last year Iím
pretty sure he skipped the "opened up a book of poems" part completely, but that
was definitely back in tonight. That song continues to be, in my estimation, the
most surefire crowd-pleaser next to Rolling Stone on any recent show Iíve seen.

Beyond Here Lies Nothing:
Bob played guitar on it, that "mathematical method" that he said in Chronicles
he learned from Lonnie Johnson. I really like that staccato, unorthodox style
and wish heíd do it more.

A Hard Rainís A-Gonna Fall:
This song can be transcendent of course, but tonight it seemed almost too light
with the organ arrangement, more conversational than menacing/foreboding. It
sounded a bit like an old guy on the corner chatting about the actual weather
coming in, not the more ominous portents we associate with the song.

Ballad Of A Thin Man:
Iíd heard some 2011 boots where there was an echo to Bobís voice on this one,
and hoped it was just a glitch at that venue -- but after hearing layers of echo
applied tonight to this one song, I know itís on purpose. Bad idea. One of the
few attempts by Bob to advance a warhorseís arrangement I really donít like. The
echo succeeds only in calling attention to the technical aspect of the show --
the guy on the mixing board pushing the "echo" button -- instead of the real
gravity contained in his normal vocals. It reveals the man behind the curtain
instead of maintaining the drama onstage. And thatís a shame, because Iíve
noticed that Bob seems to want there to be an appreciable "center of gravity" to
his recent shows, and this song did that job well for a couple of years but in
the new arrangement it flops.

Sugar Baby:
My other favorite song of the night next to Don't Think Twice and Mississippi. I
love the confidence Bob shows when he can quiet a few thousand people down to
the level of subtlety this song requires. Amazing.

By the way, that funny little black & white silent movie he showed before his
shows last summer (D.W. Griffithís "Intolerance") was not a part of this show,
probably partly because he had an opening act this time.

Speaking of which, Iíd like to mention Leon Russellís opening act briefly. He
really rocked! He played everything at breakneck speed, which was weird (odd to
hear Back To The Island played fast) but fun. He was in excellent voice and his
band was cracking. 

Hereís Leon Russell's setlist: 
Delta Lady
Rolling In My Sweet Babyís Arms (Hank Williams Sr. cover)/Stranger In A Strange
Land Sweet Little Angel (B.B. King cover) Back To The Island Wild Horses
(Rolling Stones cover) Hummingbird (great version!) Iíve Just Seen A Face
(Beatles cover) Out In The Woods Walkiní Blues (Robert Johnson cover) (played
and sung solo by the guitarist) A Song For You (played and sung solo by Leon)
Jumping Jack Flash (Rolling Stones cover)/ Papa Was A Rolling Stone (Temptations
cover) / Paint It, Black (Rolling Stones cover) / Kansas City (Little Richard
cover)

All in all, a lovely night under the stars (with fireflies) in Atlanta to see
two great bands play. Speaking of which, let me say a good word for the
much-maligned Chastain Park. Itís known as a place where people talk through
performances and go to "see and be seen," but that doesnít always hold true. The
crowd tonight, as at many shows Iíve seen there the last few years, was great --
appreciative, attentive, and not annoyingly drunk. Real nice place to see a
show. The 7,600 capacity venue couldnít have been more than 2/3 full though --
tons of empty seats.

But thatís okay because those who stayed home missed a really nice performances
including a couple of highlights that made it quite worthwhile for me and my
friend Al (Jeff Al-Mashat). It was my 15th time seeing Dylan and I sure hope I
get to see him many more times, especially with him in excellent voice as he was
tonight. With a more interesting setlist overall, any of his shows this summer
could be a real zinger because his voice is as good as it can possibly be at
this stage in his career - great phrasing, no "upsinging," a really empathetic
way with the words and storylines. 

Catch him in your town if you can because Bob and the band are sounding great!

[TOP]

Review by Ric Harwood



Bob Dylan, Chastain Park Amphitheater, Atlanta, GA, July 28
It was an exceptionally hot and muggy evening in Atlanta tonight.  The air was still 
over Chastain Park with very few cool breezes to freshen things up.  Leon Russell 
was impressive.  I wasn't expecting him to be as polished and solid as he was.  He 
even sang "Stranger In A Strange Land", which is a song I've carried with me since 
I first heard it on his Shelter People album all those years ago.

Bob Dylan's vocals were strong.  After seeing him a few times several years back, I 
had decided his voice had become weak.  Not tonight.  He belted out his songs in 
a very animated way in a very powerful voice.  The band was spot on the money, 
and it should have been a great show.  But here's the problem.  The music wasn't 
turned up loud enough.  Dylan's vocals were high in the mix as were the guitars 
and organ.  But the bottom end was missing - almost completely.  No pounding 
slaps of bass drum pedals or gut vibrating bass runs.  The sound was almost like 
that of a speaker system with the subwoofer unplugged.  My guess is that it was 
Chastain Amphitheatre's neighbors.  The home of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra 
is located in a rich section of Buckhead, surrounded by country clubs and mansions.  
Neighbors constantly are appealing to have the maximum decibels reduced.  I think
it interferes with their ability to concentrate on counting their money or something.  
I remember several visits ago to Chastain Park, Dylan got fined $25K by the city of 
Buckhead for playing 15 minutes late.  Shows have to end by 11pm and he played 
until 11:15.  With all the great venues in Atlanta, I'm hoping Dylan plays somewhere 
else in the future.

Highlights of the show for me were "A Hard Rain's A Gonna Fall", and "Ballad Of A 
Thin Man".  On the former, Dylan put so much emphasis into each line of the song 
that it was just amazing.  On "Ballad Of A Thin Man", there was echo behind Dylan's 
voice when he sang, "Do you Mr. Jones?, used to great effect. 
 
The show was short at a little over two hours for Bob Dylan and Leon Russell both.  
Dylan walked out and played his first song, "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35", at about 
9:10 pm.  "Like A Rolling Stone" was great as the first song of his encore.  After that, 
he sang a short "All Along The Watchtower", the band took their bows, the lights 
came up, and the show was over by 10:20.  No second encore with "Blowing In 
The Wind" as I was expecting.  I'm looking forward to Dylan coming back to an 
indoor venue in Atlanta next time and blowing the roof off the place.

Ric Harwood

[TOP]

Review by Linda Valleroy



Bob Dylan was simply marvelous in Atlanta last night.  He was vivacious. 
Dancing the Bob Dance a lot.  Flashing grins.  Even waving his arms at times. 
He seemed to be having a wonderful time from Rainy Day Women until the end.  He
attacked the keyboards with joy and freshness.  And the band was on the same
fine roll.  I have been listening avidly since Bringing it all Back Home in
1965, and going to his concerts since his return to touring in 1974.  I have
seen many fine concerts, and this was one, but I can't remember one like this in
which he seemed to be having so much fun throughout.  It was a great night under
the stars out in Chastain Park Amphitheater.

[TOP]

Review by Michael Aderhold



Some facts: Chastain Park, outdoor venue, capacity 7000 (attendance 5500?), hot,
humid, sticky (low 90s at start, low 80s at 11pm), Leon Russell opened with
solid set.

'Got back a little over an hour ago and have now had time to digest what was the
best show I've seen Bob play in a decade (though I must admit I felt a little
cheated by the short setlist--see below). Yes, his voice was harsh at times, but
he was singing. I can't explain it, but his vocals were significantly better
than they were in 2007 and 2009. And he was so animated, really into it. There
were even times when a song seemed to be on autopilot (Levee, Thunder) and Bob
rescued them with his organ improvisation, pushing Charlie and the band to new
heights (no, really!). Actually, the difference may be the presence of Charlie
Sexton. Though his playing was understated, basically a complementary role, he
seemed to know how to draw the best out of Bob. ['not a new insight--I've heard
others say the same thing, but now I've witnessed it]

Setlist
1. Rainy Day Women
2. Don't Think Twice (so beautiful, it could make a grown man cry)
3. Things Have Changed (Bob, center, harp crystal clear--piercing)
4. Tangled Up in Blue
5. Beyond Here Lies Nothing (Bob, guitar)
6. Mississippi (started slow but took it to another level with his
SINGING--I'm not joking!)
7. Levee's Gonna Break (great Bob/Charlie improv)
8. Sugar Baby (Bob, center)
9. Highway 61
10. Hard Rain (jaunty arrangement, nailed every line)
11. Thunder on the Mountain (more improv jamming)
12. Ballad of a Thin Man (He killed it! The entire concert was worth it for this
one song!) (and the echo! YES!) Encore 13. Like a Rolling Stone (maybe a little
flat, but the crowd woke up) 14. All Along the Watchtower ('not a fan of the new
arrangement)

The lights stayed down for a couple of minutes--teasing--a roadie even
brought another one of Sexton's guitars back to the stage, but the second
encore that has been played for most of the summer was not to be. The
14-song setlist was the low mark since returning to the U.S. (some nights
have had 17). I'm guessing that two factors played into this:
1) The show was not a sellout, and the crowd, while not as chatty as the
typical Chastain Park wine & cheese socialites (tables take up what would be the
first 30-40 rows at this outdoor venue) really didn't get into it until the
encore. Maybe they/we didn't deserve a second encore. 2) This was Dylan's third
show in three nights and fifth in the last six. Think about it. He plays New
Orleans on July 26th. 24 hours later he plays Pensacola, and 24 hours after
that, he plays Atlanta. Three shows in just over 48 hours, the third after two
days of riding over 500 miles on a tour bus! I think we can let him slide on
this one.

The bottom line is this: if some of you were beginning to have doubts about
whether Dylan could deliver (his voice, the professional sameness of the last
few tours, the huge dropoff that was Together Through Life compared to the
brilliant trilogy that preceded it), then doubt no more. Sure he may still have
the occasional "off night"--we all do--but if you let that possibility keep you
from the show, you may very well miss the magic that is still Bob Dylan.

[TOP]

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