August 8, 2008
Review by Peter Stone Brown
It doesn't seem like all that long ago, that every night when the set
lists would appear, a good friend of mine would inevitably complain how
the sets were weighted would songs from the '60s. Well for the opening
show in the cradle of liberty, the majority of songs were written from
1990 on. The show was over maybe an hour before the complaints from
people who weren't there were already posted. Now if history has taught
us anything, especially on the Never Ending Tour, opening shows of a tour
are rarely the shows were un-played songs are introduced or other
surprises happen. There are exceptions of course such as 1996, when Dylan
started his spring tour in the little town of Madison, New Jersey, and
started the show playing only harp and debuted "Wheels On Fire." Or a
little more recently and more dramatically, the fall 2002 tour where Dylan
started the show playing keyboards, pulling out for the first time in
ages, "Solid Rock," and played three Warren Zevon songs, as well as "Brown
Sugar." But generally such shows to open a tour are fairly rare.
The pre-show music set the tone for this one with lots of Bob Wills
intermingled with Howlin' Wolf, Hank Snow and various other artists.
Dylan and band took the stage at 8:05 by my watch, starting with "Cats In
The Well." Dylan's was singing low volume-wise and his voice was low in
the mix as well. Things picked up with a not bad "Lay Lady Lay," with
Dylan increasingly leaning into the vocals as the song progressed and
maybe on purpose, maybe not mixing up some lines such as "You can eat your
cake and have it too," which he did twice.
An insistent "The Levee's Gonna Break" followed with the energy moving up
a few notches and the band getting into an extremely funky mode, Chicago
blues, kind of funky, without it really being Chicago blues. But it had
the feel of Chicago blues, crazy wild Chicago blues with the dual electric
guitars getting nasty, but never flash with the rhythms accented, and
propelling the song at the same time.
"Moonlight," in the stop/start arrangement came next, with Bob starting to
play around with his phrasing and bringing out the harp for the first time
for a cool solo. "Tangled Up In Blue," in the arrangement debuted earlier
this year came next. While the boot recordings of this arrangement didn't
thrill me, seeing it in person is a whole other story. Starting off with
Stu Kimball on solo acoustic, with a kind of choppy rhythm, with the just
bass and drums, the full band doesn't come in until the first chorus, and
by the second verse you're totally drawn in, essentially forgetting it's a
different arrangement. Dylan, who by now, had warmed up vocally, started
really playing around with his phrasing, on the last two verses getting
into a half staccato, half sing-songy emphasis, something he'd return to
occasionally during the night. Sometimes it was to emphasize key words,
or key lines, but there's also quite a bit of humor that goes along with
it, and it was one of several vocal styles that would be revealed during
"Things Have Changed" came next followed by "Spirit On The Water," and
then the rearranged "Honest With Me," with both guitarists getting down
and dirty. Again it wasn't about flash, it was about sound and rhythm,
combined with subtle interplay, and a band that is one of Dylan's
tightest. Then it was back to swing for "Beyond The Horizon." At
previous shows, I've seen this song walk on the edge of disaster, but
tonight it was on the mark.
Next was a truly devastating "It's Alright, Ma." I was really happy when
Dylan finally dropped the slow, swampy version of this, and returned the
song to something approximating its original arrangement and beat. Then
he changed it again. Unlike some of the European shows, Denny Freeman was
on electric, with Donnie Herron still playing jazz-grass banjo. The song
built and built with Dylan thundering out each line, and then on a song
that doesn't need a guitar solo, Denny Freeman took a great one bringing
the song up even further and then repeated it. The political mood of the
audience was quite evident following the "Even the president of the United
States sometimes must have to stand naked line," equaling in volume
audiences more than six times the size of the crowd at the factory.
Whatever the indefinable magic thing is that happens, it happened during
that song changing the feel of the show totally.
A truly beautiful "Tryin' To Get To Heaven," came next, echoing the recent
versions from Europe. While Dylan may have messed around vocally with
some of the other songs during the night, on this song he was really
singing in a clear voice, from that place deep within.
Then it was back to the blues for "Highway 61 Revisited," with Stu Kimball
taking a more pronounced role on guitar. By this time Dylan was quite
animated, back to having fun with the phrasing, rushing some lines,
drawing out others. On the golden gambler verse, he sang it, ."trying to
create the next [long pause] world war." It was quite effective.
"Nettie Moore," was good, but not as powerful as some other versions I've
seen, but on "Summer Days," this quite interesting thing happened. Dylan
had been trying out various phrasing throughout the songs, then about
halfway through, he started each verse real low and moving to real high.
I am not talking about what some people refer to as up singing. This was
jazz influenced vocalizing, with a definite rhythm to each word, and
there's a lot of words in that song, moving right up the scale. Each time
he'd get a little closer to what he was after and then on the last two
verses, he totally nailed it. At the song's end, as the lights went down,
Donnie Herron stood up and applauded.
A very cool "Ballad Of A Thin Man" closed the main set. Dylan had become
increasingly more alive during the night and on this song he became Bob
Dylan the performer, playing to acknowledging the audience. He'd sing a
line, or play a riff and in the Chaplin-esque way he's had from the
beginning, kind of step back from the keyboard, face the crowd, go back to
singing or playing and doing it again. Finally having the keyboard sound
he wants, he even took an organ solo, much to my amazement and
complimented it a verse later with a harp solo that ended the song.
As usual "Thunder On The Mountain" led off the encore, with great solo by
Denny Freeman, and Dylan moving into intensity mode for the line: "Shame
on your greed, shame on your wicked schemes/I'll say this, I don't give a
damn about your dreams."
"Blowin' In The Wind" closed the show, in the arrangement debuted last
year. When I first heard this version, I was kind of skeptical, but now
they have it down, and as a result it's moved closer and closer towards
Memphis soul, with the chorus building up in a way it wasn't a year ago.
Was this among the top Dylan shows I've seen? Probably not, but I've seen
a lot of shows, some legendary. What it was, was a damn good start to a
Review by Ken Sherman
The Electric Factory lived up to it's name. It was sweltering until they
opened the doors on the floor to let some cool evening air in. Bob put
the band through the paces of an efficient and cool set. His voice
sounded excellent and the vocal excursions outside his comfort zone were
limited and effective. This was as focused a performance as I have seen
in a long time, a performance ending two months of touring hiatus.
One theme that my ear detected was how many of the mid tempo numbers
sounded like they were based on organ music that used to be performed live
between innings at baseball parks. Starting with Lay Lady Lay, Moonlight
and a deliberate but easy tempo on Tangled Up in Blue, I just couldn't
help to think that Bob was channeling Eddie Layton, Paul Richards, Jane
Jarvis or some other ball park organinst of long ago. Swirling and warm,
I had the distinction feeling of sitting in Dodger Stadium with Bob
performing between innings. If you get to hear a tape of the show, listen
in particular to Beyond the Horizon which sounded a little like Take Me
Out to the Ball Game. If you've listened to Theme Time radio show, you
know this possibility is not a stretch.
It was mostly recent material but the old war horses had new life. It's
Alright Ma lived up to it's electric Factory tradition, and Blowing in
the Wind (yes, it too sounded like the lead in should have been Vin Scully
saying "and after four, it's Dodger's 2. Giants 1") was superb. Nettie
Moore put tears in the eyes of several around me. One lyric change of
note was in Ballad of a Thin Man when mr jones had read all of "John
If you hold tickets to one of Bob's upcoming shows, you can anticipate a
very enjoyable experience based on this early sample.
Review by Iris Seifert
This being the day of the opening for the Olympic Games, it seemed that
perhaps Mr. Dylan and band were trying for a gold medal last night, and in
my humble opinion they won it for several categories.
The audience was happy and attentive, and probably made the loudest noise
at the line "you think I'm over the hill?"- the energy was very pleasant.
People had been tailgating in front of the Electric Factory since the
early afternoon hours with lawn chairs, sun hats and soda cans, a
seemingly very social crowd, though I just picked up my ticket and went on
my way, only to return seeing that people had been let in on time.
The venue has balcony seating that wraps around to the right side of the
stage, where the view of the audience was interesting, but mostly it was
possible to see the musicians up close and personal, though mostly Mr.
Dylan's back side, but Mr. Garnier's smile was the more precious.
The venue being intimate (2500), the spark hopped instantly with the first
note of Cat's in the well off the stage and set an eager audience on fire,
which in turn seemed to ignite fireworks from the stage with sizzling
renderings of Levee, Honest with me and the obligatory Hwy 61 and Summer
Days, interlaced with a poignant and tickling version of It's all right
Ma, and a wonderfully revamped reggae version of Things have changed, some
hints in Spirit on the Water, a spirited Tangled up in Blue (a super crowd
pleaser with an excellent acoustic intro by Mr. Kimball), and an inspired
Trying to get to Heaven before they close the door, not to mention a
version of Nettie Moore after Hwy 61 that needed to be a bit faster to
absorb the heat of the previous song and to set the stage for Summer Days;
but just as you were already convinced of the Gold Medal, here comes the
climax with Ballad of a Thin Man, where Mr. Dylan again saved the his best
for last with the harp, just when it seems that something cannot be
The need to depart early was a tough decision to follow through. The sound
of Thunder on the Mountain escorted me out the side door, only to run into
George Alper in the parking lot selling his collection of photos of the
youthful Mr. Dylan by his father Joe Alper. Very touching, making me
wonder if Mr. Dylan has seen these photos himself, playing with George
building a tower out of building blocks - a little added to a little and
done often will accomplish great things, a saying that seems to apply,
also to the patrons Ben Franklin and Walt Whitman lingering in this town.
Waiting for a taxi that would hopefully deliver me in time to the train
station, here came the last reward: the busses ferrying the stars into the
night, passing by, dark and mysterious, knowing that they can peek out,
but we can never look in. As these words flow through my fingers, Buckets
of Rain is playing as a cover version in this coffee place. "All you can
do is do what you must; do what you must do, and do it well - I do it for
you, honey can't you tell?"
Humbly, thank you.
Review by Mike Gardner
Seventh show for me and what a show it was. Considering that it
occurred at the same venue at which I first saw Bob, it seems like I have
now come full circle. I'm expecting to wake up and find out that none of
this actually happened. From the beginning...
I arrived at the venue at around 9:50 AM sporting a black fedora.
Since this was a general admission show, it presented a rare
opportunity to be on the rail, an opportunity that I was unwilling not to
take full advantage of. Upon arrival I saw four or five other people with
the same intentions in mind. One of these people was a veteran pooler
known to many as OutsideTheLaw. I had received a few freebies from him
over the years, and it was nice to put a face to the name. He told us
this really effed up story about the mayor of Detroit which I found
extremely amusing. I also met a couple who drove down from Maine and a
guy who flew from England at the expense of a friend of his.
Over time more people showed up to the venue. The scene became
somewhat reminiscent of a tailgate party, without the excessive
alcohol consumption but with the same vibe. Curious as to whether I had
encountered any of them throughout my time as a member of the online
Dylan scene, I asked nearly every one of them if they were members of any
Dylan-related forums. After casually mentioning my alias to someone, I
heard a female voice say "YOU'RE The Wicked Drifter?"
This voice, I soon found out, came from none other than our beloved
Quanta, who had driven up from North Carolina with her boyfriend. I was
surprised, for I had envisioned Quanta as being a philosopherish man in
his mid-40s, not "some youngish hippie chick" as I put it. But I didn't
care, I was happy to come across someone who had made a very good
impression on me. Jane (I think that's what she said her name was?), as
it turns out, reminded me a lot of myself. She has the exact same brand
of eccentricity as I do. We spent the next couple of hours or so
discussing the shows we had been to, arrangements of various songs.
Sometime during this period her boyfriend Keith brought out his guitar,
and he and I took turns playing it. I played the current arrangement of
Blowin' and one of my originals, as well as some noodling.
At around 5:30 the band arrived at the venue, and they began
soundcheck shortly afterwards. We could hear it from outside. They
played My Back Pages, She Belongs To Me, Don't Think Twice, Can't
Wait, Masterpiece, and I Don't Believe You.
After the soundcheck ended, the opening of the venue was imminent, and
the moment of truth near: Would I or would I not make it to the rail? As
soon as the security guard finished patting me down, I bolted into the
venue and toward the rail. I saw that it was already crowded there and
worried that I might not make it...until I found an open spot in front of
Tony's space right next to Keith and Jane!
I was relieved; I would finally get to experience a Bob Dylan show the
way I always wanted to: right up front. Nothing but a few feet would
stand between me and the band. I spent the next hour or so taking in the
atmosphere of the venue. Since I was so close to the stage I could smell
the Nag Champa burning. I had never noticed its smell before, but I must
say it is very pleasant. I also noticed that Tony's bar stool was
onstage, though he did not actually use it.
At 8:04 PM, the intro music started, Al Santos gave his introduction, and
the band members took their places. I gave Denny a double thumbs- up and
he nodded at me. Little did I know this would be a harbinger of things to
If I'm at a show of any artist that I'm extremely familiar with, I
have a habit of making motions with my hands in conjunction with the
rhythm of the songs, especially during at the endings. This has drawn
reactions ranging from a girl giving me her contact information to a
security guard threatening to kick me out unless I tone it down. None of
these reactions, however, were nearly as great in magnitude as the ones
that were elicited at this show: Bob Dylan himself not only noticed them,
but appeared to get a huge kick out of them! Many times throughout the
show he would look over at me and smile, or play off of them. (I suspect
he also liked my hat.) A few times I would look directly at him and try
to match his vocal phrasing; more than once he seemed to change it just
to throw me off after noticing me. And it wasn't just Bob. Stu, George,
and Denny all had interactions with me. Occasionally I would drive Denny
on during his solo, or George as he played a particularly intense riff.
The entire band fed off of my energy throughout the show, as did I off of
theirs. But it was Bob who seemed to enjoy my antics the most and
responded to them more than anyone else.
The interplay between myself and Bob reached its climax during the
harp solo on Moonlight. Curious as to how he would react to me
motioning along with his harp playing, I decided to try him. After he
seemed to lock into a rhythm, I motioned along with that rhythm. He then
changed the rhythm he was playing, and I responded by doing the same
thing. Seeing that I wasn't going to relent, he then went on to play an
absolutely berserk, unorthodox rhythm that I could not for the life of me
follow. He was messing with me and we both loved it!
Anyway, the obligatory song-by-song review. After the band walked
onstage, Donnie picked up his violin, and I knew that could only mean one
CAT'S IN THE WELL
I was actually surprised to see Cat's open since it had only opened five
shows on the last leg, but it was a solid performance with some smooth,
low-key lead guitar from Denny. I noticed that Bob's voice was in much
better shape than it had been as of late.
I decided before the show that I would attempt to call every song
before it happened. (I ended up going 13-for-17.) However, they went into
the next song so quickly that I did not have time to contemplate what
would be next...
LAY LADY LAY
Lovely. Clever phrasing from Bob here, and a nice short solo from
Denny. Not much different than other recent performances of it, but
that's not a bad thing at all.
Bringing out the standup bass this early? This must mean Levee's is next.
Stu on Telecaster and Donnie on electric mandolin? Yes, this is
THE LEVEE'S GONNA BREAK
I was hoping to see this one considering that I find it to be one of the
current band's best-performed songs. It's fitting that he played it at
this show since the last time he was in Philadelphia he debuted it. That
said, this one was a bit slower than usual, but still cooked just as
Nobody changed their instruments after Levee's. What other song has Stu
on electric guitar, Donnie on mandolin, and Tony on standup bass? How
First song of the night that I hadn't seen before. Perfect placement,
too; a slow, crooned ballad after an uptempo swing number. Denny had a
fantastic solo; it's on jazzy numbers like this on which he truly shines.
And then, of course, there was that harp solo I told you about earlier.
Stu switched to acoustic guitar and Donnie to pedal steel. Since Tony was
still on standup bass and they were noodling in the key of E-flat, this
of course meant that the next song would be...
TANGLED UP IN BLUE
When I first heard the new arrangement of this song, I did not like it.
It was too evocative of the lounge jazz numbers such as Floater and Bye
and Bye, and to me that just was not a proper setting for that particular
song. This time, however, they slowed it down to a tempo at which it
perfectly evoked the emotion it is supposed to.
After this one, the standup bass was taken backstage, Tony returned to
electric bass, Stu picked up his Strat, and Donnie once again picked up
his fiddle. Before I could guess what would be next, however, the band
immediately launched into...
THINGS HAVE CHANGED
Another first for me. I actually don't remember much about this one
except that the phrasing games I previously mentioned reached a whole new
The standup bass came out again; I said to myself that Tony must
really like playing that thing. Donnie returned to the pedal steel and
Stu to his Tele. I called...
SPIRIT ON THE WATER
I normally am not too fond of this one in a live setting, but tonight was
an exception. Brilliant phrasing by Bob, and perhaps Denny's best solo of
the night. I noticed that Denny kept retuning the top string of his
guitar. He must have been having some problems with it, but it sounded
fine from where I was. (He switched to his Les Paul after this song and
stayed on it for the rest of the main set.) The crowd, of course, erupted
during the last four lines. Yes, Bob, not only COULD we have a whopping
good time, but we ARE having such a time.
So now Donnie is on lap steel, Tony is back on electric bass, and
they're noodling in the key of G. This must be either Honest With Me or
Highway 61 Revisited. But a couple of minutes later I realize that I have
completely forgotten that the latter is pretty much locked into slot #12
nowadays, so of course they went into...
HONEST WITH ME
This one was standard except for some great drumming from George and an
interesting interlude between the instrumental verse and the last verse.
So the standup bass comes out AGAIN. Is Tony ever gonna play the
electric bass on consecutive songs? Stu is now on his Tele for the
third straight song. As a Telecaster player myself I'm happy to see him
making good use of it. Donnie moves to pedal steel and George starts
playing a waltz rhythm on the hi-hat. I call...
BEYOND THE HORIZON
This could not have come at a better time, for I was exhausted from
air-drumming to HWM. This song has grown on me since I first heard it and
the new waltz arrangement has breathed new life into it. Great solos from
Denny on guitar and Bob on harp.
Tony still on standup bass + Donnie on banjo = High Water. Unless, of
course, the banjo is capoed at the third fret, then the next song is
going to be...
IT'S ALRIGHT, MA (I'M ONLY BLEEDING)
If I could only use one word to describe it: FIERCE! Bob's spot-on
phrasing was like a machine gun. Donnie's banjo playing gave this song
the edge it deserves. (I've always felt that Donnie should play banjo on
this one, even when it was in the swamp-blues arrangement.) After the
"President of the United States must stand naked" line, the crowd erupted
into a louder roar than they did any of the three times I had previously
seen this song, drawing a huge grin from Tony.
Donnie back on pedal steel, and Tony back on electric bass. For some
reason, I didn't think to call...
TRYIN' TO GET TO HEAVEN
Finally, another song I hadn't seen before. And it delivered. I cannot
stress how much I love the new arrangement of this song; it is nothing
short of gorgeous. Two great Denny solos complimented Bob's drawn-out
So now we're about to go into slot 12, so as I previously mentioned, this
HIGHWAY 61 REVISITED
Interesting version. Bob completely skipped the "fifth daughter"
verse, and on the "roving gambler" verse, seemed to get a bit lost. If I
remember correctly there was also an extended jam at the end.
So now Stu is on acoustic for only the third time all show (a stark
contrast to the Boston show a couple years back in which he played
acoustic on all but three songs), and Donnie is on viola. This could mean
one of two things. They're also noodling in A-flat, which eliminates
Ain't Talkin' and leaves...
Lovely and tender as always, Donnie kept on playing this weird five- note
riff on the viola that didn't really add anything, though it didn't
really take away from the song's aura either.
Slot #14? This must be...
Slower than usual, but it also cooked more than usual. Bob played
around with his phrasing a lot. I think during his solo Denny quoted an
old rock and roll standard, but I can't for the life of me remember what
So now we're approaching the end of the main set, and I really would like
to see Ballad of a Thin Man. Most of the songs I was hoping for were
no-shows, so it would be nice if one of them would show up in such a key
slot. Sure enough, Tony goes back to electric bass and Donnie moves to
the lap steel, which means that they will be closing the main set with...
BALLAD OF A THIN MAN
And this one had it all. Spot-on phrasing, killer Denny solo, and an
eerie harp solo to close it out. Not a single flaw in the entire
performance. A perfect way to go into the encore break, which lasted all
of about 3 minutes.
They've opened nearly every encore in pretty much the same way for the
past year and a half, and I don't see why this one would be any
different. Sure enough, George's snare hit propels the band into...
THUNDER ON THE MOUNTAIN
I don't really have much to say about this one except that Denny was much
more active than usual and played some killer licks during his solo.
It would have been great had this show, highlighted for me by my
interactions with the band, closed with the ultimate crowd interaction
song in Like a Rolling Stone, but when Donnie picked up the fiddle I knew
this would not happen. Still...
BLOWIN' IN THE WIND
delivered, highlighted by Denny's melodic solo in which he started by
quoting the original melody of the song and proceeded to put his own
twist on it. As he did last time I saw this song in Maryland, Bob sang
each line like he meant it. After "How many deaths will it take 'til he
knows that too many people have died," the crowd erupted once again. Bob
closed the show with an evocative harp solo; one could tell he was
playing his heart out. I left the venue in awe of everything I had just
So after countless concerts as a mere spectator, I stumbled across a rare
opportunity to be an active participant in the creation of the music.
Seeing the band and especially Dylan feeding off of my energy gave me one
of the biggest thrills of my entire life. There is very little for which
I would trade that experience. To top it off, even though the set itself
wasn't anything special, there was not a single lackluster or mediocre
performance. I still find it hard to believe that all of this actually
happened. It didn't even bother me that Donnie wasn't taking any solos.
Move over 6.16.05, this is the best Dylan show I have been to. I have
never experienced anything like it before and probably never will again,
unless of course I manage to make it to the rail at another Dylan show...
Review by Eric Tix
Dylan's show at the Electric Factory last night was thoroughly
disappointing. Now, I know that Bobby marches to his own drummer, but
this was just poor. Granted, for those who are hard core Dylan
aficionados, they probably were in heaven, but that still made it pretty
lame for the rest of us. The only big hits he did out of an almost 2 hour
set were Lay Lady Lay and Blowing In The Wind. The former only passingly
sounded like the original version, and the only way I could tell it was
the latter song was from the words, as the music was completely different.
Let's be frank here... Dylan's genius is in his writing and not his
performance, so it really was unfulfilling to have him do bad covers of
some of the few good performances he did have.
About midway through, there were actually times when it was hard to hear
the performance clearly, because so many people around us were engaged in
conversation. It was like being in a club with a really good bar band.
But we weren't in a bar, and it wasn't a $5 or $10 cover charge. For the
casual but loving fans, it just wasn't captivating at all. Now, just let
me be clear... this isn't so much that I'm upset that he wasn't coming up
on stage as a paid monkey to perform nothing but his glory days songs.
I'm perfectly cool with people taking a different path on a show, but he
just wasn't good (beyond being a decent bar band.) To me, a Clapton show
isn't complete without I Shot The Sheriff and Let It Rain, and I'd much
rather hear his greatest hits than his deep blues based shows. However,
the show he put on a couple of months ago was still very enjoyable because
he and his band brought it, even if it wasn't the set list that I would
When all is said and done, just play good freakin' music and have a top
notch crew behind you. Dylan can do that, but didn't. Technically, his
bad was OK, but they just didn't have 'it'. I didn't know one Lyle Lovett
song before I saw him back in June, but he brought a top notch band, and
he played his greatest hits for the most part. His players impressed, and
not in a 'monster jam' type of way, but they were just solid professionals
who had more game than Dylan's band. And, even though I hadn't heard any
of the songs prior, they're Greatest Hits for a reason: they are good
freakin' songs. Dylan knows good freakin' songs, and didn't give a damn
about drawing from them. I found it selfish and pretentious. The only
solace I had after the first hour was to keep reminding myself of how much
joy I got from Jimi's versions of Watchtower and Rolling Stone, and told
myself that politely putting up with this and not walking out was my thank
you to Bob for penning those tunes. I've been to a ton of shows this year,
and it's pretty bad when I can say that I even enjoyed The Verve more
than this, and I didn't enjoy The Verve show.
Review by Jon Mertz
August eighth, 2008...080808, a line of symbols of the infinite, a series
of circles, without beginnings or ends.
My Sweetheart and I went to Philly with our friend Gregg to see Bob Dylan
at the Electric Factory, a grand old rock&roll dump on Spring Garden
street. It was the club's 40th birthday.
The conversation on the way to the cradle of liberty revolved around the
Founding Fathers, Gregg arguing the Federalist case while I stood with Tom
Jefferson on the high ground. The word "egalitarian" was bandied about.
Jefferson, Adams, old Ben Franklin - this is the stock from which America
sprang. They would all die of apoplectic rage, we decided, if they knew
what a mess had been made of their grand experiment. Thank god they've all
long since turned to dust.
Traffic started sucking at City Line Avenue. Gregg used to live in Philly,
and retains the bloodthirsty skills required to drive there, so he proved
an able pilot. Continuing our conversation, we decided that the British
hadn't followed Washington's army out to Valley Forge because traffic
sucked too bad on the Schuykill. After many delays we spied the water
tower emblazoned with Ben Franklin's face, the logo of the club. We
parked, made our last-minute preparations, and went through the frisking
and metal detection phases of entry.
Hopes of a spot at the rail (like we had for the Pogues last time we were
at the Electric Factory) dissolved as we arrived late. The little place
was packed. But we found a decent spot with a good line of sight and soon
the lights dimmed and Bob took the stage with his cowboy band.
The band were all in grey suits and sported fedoras and pork-pies (except
young Donnie Herron who was allowed to subvert the dress code.) Dylan
himself was dressed tonight as a riverboat gambler, with a handsome black
widebrimmed hat and a black suit. His Oscar gleamed behind him atop his
organ's leslie cabinet.
I've seen Dylan more than once, maybe twenty times or so, starting in '85
and including the Dylan tribute at Madison Square Garden. I thought this
show stood with the best I've seen. The band started strong with "Cats in
the Well", rocking hard and steady. Tony Garnier and George Recile
anchored the sound, the various stringed instruments fell in layers
overtop, and Bob provided a carnival atmosphere throughout with his Dr.
Phibes organ. His singing was strong and adventurous, sometimes veering
off into gutteral Tom Waits territory, sometimes rising to hit higher
registers I didn't know he could still access.
The guitarists, Stu Kimball and Denny Freeman, provided a few highlights,
especially Freeman who went off at some strange angles in his sporadic
solos, but my Sweetheart and I saw the Larry Campbell/Charlie Sexton band
too many times to not long for the old days, guitar-wise. Kimball drew the
ire of the bandleader in "Summer Days" when Dylan left his keyboard to
give him some face-to-face instructions, evidently about his volume level.
Later, when Dylan introduced the band, he said "Stu Kimball on guitar...at
least I think that's Stu Kimball..."
Donnie Herron, formerly with BR-549, is the band's multi-instrumentalist,
adding violin, mandolin, pedal steel, and banjo as needed. A perfect
sideman, he shone throughout without ever dominating the mix.
This version of the band, although in some ways not as strong as previous
incarnations, has the versatility to switch from genre to genre at the
bandleader's whim. They shifted gears from gutbucket blues to
turn-of-the-century parlor songs easily, letting Dylan's high mercury
roller-rink organ come to the fore for "Moonlight", "Spirit on the Water"
and "Beyond The Horizon" from Modern Times.
There were no real surprises in the setlist, which drew heavily on Dylan's
most recent work. It can't really count as a surprise that Dylan
re-arranged his best-known songs drastically, as this has been his modus
operandi since the Never-Ending Tour began. It was a bit of a surprise to
me that all of the latest re-arrangements worked so well. I really liked
the latest versions of "Tangled Up In Blue" and "It's Alright Ma (I'm Only
Bleeding)", even though I venerate the originals and have heard him play
several other good arrangements over the last twenty-three years.
The Philly crowd hooted and cheered loud and long after each song. A guy
behind me asked what the statuette on the cabinet behind Dylan was, and I
told him it was his Oscar. The next song was "Things Have Changed", so I
said "And he won it for this song." It was a great performance. At my
prompting, Gregg bellowed "You deserved that Oscar!" as the applause died
Sometimes Dylan shows are roller coaster rides, with some weak moments and
some peaks of amazing transcendence. This show rocked from the gate and
kicked up a few notches in the home stretch. "Nettie Moore" was really
wonderful, with Dylan's organ doubling Donnie's viola to create the
illusion of a string section. "Summer Days" seemed a bit perfunctory until
the guitar break in the middle; after correcting Stu's volume level, Dylan
kicked the tempo up by gestures and pointed glances, and when it was
rocking as fast as it would go he barreled into the final verse. "Gonna
break the roof in - set fire to the place as a parting gift." Can't say he
didn't warn us.
"Ballad of a Thin Man" followed, the high point of the evening for me. It
was as if he had rearranged this song so many times that he had actually
worked his way back around to the original. His organ swooped and hooted
like Garth Hudson on a merry-go-round, and his sneer was vintage 1965. I
was writing the song down on a piece of paper when he said "you walk into
the room/with your pencil in your hand..." Stung, I put the pen and paper
in my pocket and hoped nobody thought less of me for it. Dylan took an
actual organ solo in the song, and later followed it with a harp solo. It
was a strong end to a strong (if fairly unremarkable) set.
Encore was "Thunder On The Mountain" followed by a so-so version of
"Blowing In The Wind". I looked around me, marveling as always at the
wonderful cross-section of America you see at a Dylan show. All ages, it
seemed, except I didn't see any babies. And everybody seemed to be having
an absolutely wonderful time.
The band did their stare-down at the end. Dylan exchanged secret hand
signals with George Recile and sort of grinned. He seemed in a good mood.
I know I was.
I tried to buy a poster of the night's show, and the last one sold just as
I was getting out my credit card. We went out into the clear August night
as sirens split the air, a helicopter patrolland drove to South Street
where we had cheese steaks and more beer. We drove past City Hall,
Independence Hall, and Ben Franklin's grave before we steered for home.
I'm surprised others found this show sub-par. It may not have had any
startling moments of sheer absolute brilliance, but it was a splendid
night of great songs played by a great band, and Dylan's performance was
strong and focused. He played harp in five songs, and was in better voice
than I've ever heard him. He looked great, sounded great, and gave me
every penny's worth of my ticket price. I was uplifted by the night, happy
as always to be on the same planet with Bob Dylan.
Review by Ken Dorchak
I flew up from Ft. Lauderdale to see Bob play at the Electric Factory.
Seeing Bob I such a small place is always a treat. The concert started
with Cats in the Well and Bob immediately displayed that he was in good
voice. Lay Lady Lay came next. Amazingly my buddy called it and he was
not disappointed. Well sung and played. The night's first high point
came with The Levee's Gonna Break. The band was really really strong on
this - the tune just rocked out. Bob mellowed the scene with Moonlight.
Then came Tangled Up In Blue. Great arrangement - the last two verses
were amazing with signing in a brokered, staggered singing of each word
building towards the Tangled chorus. The middle songs, Things Have
Changed, Spirit on the Water and Honest with Me, were fine with Things
Have Changed being the stronger of the three. Beyond the Horizon was
special for sure. This song has taken its place along with Boots, Girl of
the North Country, and To Ramona, as a great ballad. It was sung with
great care. It's Alright, Ma was spectacular. Jammed out and sung with
great energy. Tryin to Get ot Heaven was another highlight which have
featured a new arrangement but is still a lovely ballad. Highway 61 came
next and was played with the current arrangment and rocked. Nettie Moore
- again another ballad which was given a great reading by Bob. Summer
Days - now a set list staple - started off a bit blah but by the second
half just exploded and was a lot a fun. Ballad of a Thin Man closed the
main set and was truly treat. One of the best renditions of Thin Man to
be sure. The encores of Thunder and Blowin were as solid as the entire
show. Overall, a truly great show.
As for Bob he seemed to be having fun and appeared at time to be mugging
for the crowd. A lot on body action while playing the keys. He seems to
have put on a bit a weight which made for a very solid stage presence.
Now, if only Bob could please find his way back to Florida for a winter
tour. Time will tell. But, the trip was worth it for sure.
Review by Brian Slattery
I first saw Bob Dylan in 1994 at the Roseland Ballroom in New York City.
My second show was in 1995 at the Electric Factory in Philadelphia.
Since then, I’ve seen thirty-six shows,—not nearly as many as I would
like but more than some are able to see; so I count myself blessed—and
this year I found myself back to where it almost all got started for me.
As I traveled down to Philadelphia, I wondered what was in store for us
on this opening night of this leg of the tour. Would the set list be
similar to previous legs of the tour? Would Bob’s voice be strong?
Would it be warm? Would it have no form? Would it be like a dead
man’s last pistol shot? I didn’t know for sure, but I was confident
Bob would deliver the goods.
I got to Philadelphia and met up with my cousin and his friend, who were
both seeing their first Dylan show tonight; so I was hoping their first
Bob experience would be a positive one. After raising a few pints to
Bob’s health, we made our way to the venue, taking a cab ride that I
thought could end with our arrival at the venue or with our being
tortured by a maniac who moonlights as a cab driver (those with me could
attest to this). Luckily, for us, and for all those graced with the
opportunity to read this review, we made it to the venue safely. Now,
I’m not making a comment on Philadelphia, its crime problem, or the
demeanor and temperament of its residents, but upon entering the venue, I
had the strangest exchange with security. I always bring a pen and paper
to write down the set list. Well, while being searched, a guard asked if
that were a pen in my pocket (no, that’s not the set up for a bad joke)
to which I replied in the affirmative. He then informed me I’d have to
give it to him since pens were not allowed. When I queried him as to
why, I was told ‘you could stab someone with it.’ I have never heard
that at any other venue in any other place, and I’ ve seen Bob in
Newark and Camden. Anyway, we made our way into the venue, sans pen,
scoped out the place, had a few drinks, and waited for the show, which
started at 8:03 p.m. “Cat’s in the Well” was a strong opener, but
the sound seemed a bit muffled. I was concerned that this would
continue, but by “Lay, Lady, Lay” they seemed to have worked out the
kinks. What followed was a great, solid performance from Bob and the
boys. There weren’t any major surprises in the set list tonight, but
the songs Bob chose to play were all played with energy and more powerful
vocals than I’ve heard in a couple years. And even better, Bob seemed
to be having fun. In “Things Have Changed” Bob sang at one point ‘I
used to care buh-buh-but things have changed.’ And I’m sure there
was a sly grin on his face. The new arrangement for “Tangled Up In
Blue” gave it a funkier, jazzier sound, which worked for me, anyway.
Bob’s vocals were on point and his new phrasing punctuated each line,
making the song new yet again. “Honest With Me” rocked. “Beyond
the Horizon” gave us crooning Bob, with ever-changing lyrics. (I
particularly like ‘my boots and sombrero, my saddle and spurs, if I die
tomorrow, everything’s hers.) And “It’s Alright, Ma” reminded us of
the power of Bob’s poetry and the timelessness of his lyrics.
“Tryin’ To Get To Heaven” was a heart-felt plea, and “Nettie
Moore” was sorrowful and soulful. A staccato “Ballad of a Thin Man”
rounded out the set, with Bob doing some great harp work before
walking off stage in the darkness.
After a couple minutes of wild cheering, Bob and the boys returned to
the stage for the two encores. “Thunder On the Mountain” was fun
and rollicking, and “Blowin’ in the Wind,” with a wonderful harp solo,
was a perfect closer to the show. It left us wanting more, but it also
left us satisfied with what we were given, as often is the case with a
If you have any questions or comments, or just want to talk
‘Bob’, get in touch. You can reach me at email@example.com
Also, you can check out the NYC Dylan Meetup page on Myspace.
Keep On Keepin’ On,
Brian J. Slattery
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