Hershey, Pennsylvania

August 13, 1997

Star Pavilion

Thanks to Peter Stone Brown for the following review:

Music can be a magical experience both for the listener and the player 
and when it's really happening and it can take you away to places that 
can't be described and make you forget everything else.  Nobody and I 
mean NOBODY is better at churning up that magic than Bob Dylan.  These 
days it's when he wants to and he lets the magic happen the way it 
should happen--naturally.  He rarely tries to force it which is the way 
it should be because the magic can't be forced it has to happen.  A 
truly great Dylan performance should blow you away to the degree that 
you're not thinking of anything at all, that you're in a daze not only 
on the way to the parking lot but for hours, maybe days afterwards.  At 
Hershey the magic happened in moments.

All day the threat of severe thunder storms hovered over Pennsylvania.  
Luckily the torrential rain happened on the way to the show, not at it, 
like it did on another Wednesday night in Hershey 3 years ago.

Dylan in seemingly good spirits looked good and was quite animated 
throughout.  He seemed trim and not at all puffy like he sometimes looks 
these days.  He started out with a reasonably rocking "Absolutely Sweet 
Marie" in a reasonably strong voice.  The sound was a little weird at 
first, his voice almost distorting, but the sound guys eventually got it 
together.  They never really got the guitar sound together.  For some 
reason Bucky Baxter always seems to get sent to the righthand speakers 
(facing the stage) with Larry Campbell in the left-hand speakers.  We 
were in the center not far from the stage a little more towards the left 
and Bucky got lost in the mix--or maybe he's not playing as much as he 
did a while back.  It was hard to tell, but there weren't any of the 
cool pedal steel organ sounds he excels at.  I personally don't 
understand that way of mixing a concert.  It's not a CD.  There should 
be equal amounts of all instruments in all speakers.  Anyway, Dylan sang 
the second bridge first and mixed up a bunch of verses leaving out a 
couple too.  The same thing happened on an ok "Ballad of a Thin Man" 
where the audience who had been standing decided to sit down.  Next came 
an alright, but not astounding "Tough Mama."  It had none of the power 
or force of when he did it in '74 with the Band.  Again he totally mixed 
up lyrics.  Actually the wait between songs was almost more exciting 
wondering whether he was going to do it or do "Watchtower" like he did 
the night before in Scranton.  Next came "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere" which 
lacked the charm of when I saw him do it in Boalsburg in the rain 
earlier this spring.  He also left out the "buy me a flute verse."  Now 
"Nowhere" is a 2 to 3 minute song with only four verses.  On some of the 
long songs with several verses (like say "Memphis Blues Again,") I can 
see leaving out or forgetting a couple of verses.  And when Dylan's 
really on, you don't even notice it.  Not so at Hershey.  Instead we got 
Dylan's guitar noodling.  Now asides from the facdt that the tone of his 
Les Paul was totally wrong for the song, way too crunchy or something, 
he has this ace guitarist there not to mention Bucky on pedal steel, 
both of whom can easily deliver the guitar work necessary to make that 
song really happen, but does he let them play, NO!  Again it was ok, but 
not the special song it could be.  Boom, right into "Sylvio" which is 
the only time I miss JJ.  JJ and Dylan took this song to some amazing 
almost psychedelic heights.  

"To Ramona" was a nice surprise, though Campbell's guitar was too loud 
in the mix, his rhythm overshadowing Dylan's pseudo Mexican licks.  
Dylan's singing was really good on this one, but he mixed up the verses 
again.  He finally found what he was looking for in his solos about the 
third time around after a couple of dramatic errors, but when he finally 
found it, it was great.  Don't get me wrong, I like the fact that Dylan 
searches for a sound or feel on-stage.  It's one of the truly great and 
wonderful things about him.  Campbell set up a cool funky riff for 
"Tangled" but the song never really took off.  I've seen Dylan play 
great two-note leads on this that built incredibly in intensity, but he 
never really found what he was looking for.  "Cocaine" followed and 
Dylan finally really started singing.  It was a relaxed fun version with 
Campbell and Baxter joining in on the chorus and Dylan really leaning 
into each verse.  "God Knows," evidently back in its traditional and 
transitional spot was also pretty cool and rocked hard when the band 
really kicked in after the first verse.  This was followed by an 
absolutely beautiful "Simple Twist of Fate" with stunning echoey guitar 
work by Campbell and Dylan delivering on the vocals--the first time all 
night he actually sang a complete song without messing up the lyrics.  
"Highway 61" was "Highway 61," but the first encore was the high point 
of the night "One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)."  Done at a 
moderate place, not as slow as "Blonde or Blonde" and not as fast as the 
'78 versions, but somewhere in between, this song had obviously been 
worked on.  Dylan finally let Campbell handle the leads and he provided 
Steve Cropper styled guitar with more of the echoey delay he used on 
"Simple Twist of Fate."  It was truly wonderful and if they keep doing 
it every night, by the middle of next week it should be amazing.  This 
was followed by a beautiful acoustic version of "Heaven's Door" and 
suddenly the energy and passion that would appear only sporadically the 
rest of the night suddenly coalesced and the magic was happening, 
proving once again that it really doesn't matter what song he's singing 
as long as he's really singing it.

When Dylan lets his band, or his band takes the incentive to actually 
work up an arrangement as they did tonight on "One of Us Must Know" and 
as I've seen and heard them do on "Wheels on Fire" and "Seven Days," the 
results can be absolutely mind blowing and a lot more satisfying than 
when they just bang out a tune without thinking about it.  And if he 
started packing his set lists with those tunes (as he slowly appears to 
be doing) leaving out the songs he's played five million times, what 
heights could be reached.  But maybe that's like hoping he'll bring back 
the harmonica which in my opinion he plays a lot more emotionally than 
he does guitar.  And don't get me wrong, I like the way Dylan plays 
guitar.  But he has players with him who are wasting their talents while 
he noodles away.  I've seen Dylan play some amazing guitar where I 
couldn't believe he was doing it.  But if he could somehow get it 
together to save them up and deliver solos on just a couple of songs and 
really let loose, it would be so much more effective.  But that's 
probably not gonna happen.  But then again, I never thought he'd ever 
perform "Blind Willie McTell" live either.

It was on okay concert with a couple of strong moments, especially near 
the end.  But it wasn't anything special.

"I was just too stubborn to ever be governed 
by enforced insanity."  --Bob Dylan
Peter Stone Brown 

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