August 17, 2011
Review by Peter Stone Brown
Bob Dylan returned to the Mann Music Center for the first time in 14 years for
his third show at the venue in Philadelphia's Fairmount Park, the largest city
park in the world. When Dylan played there in '97, he added a few songs to the
set list earlier in the tour he had rarely performed such as "One Of Us Must
Know" and "Seven Days," and one he had never performed, "Blind Willie McTell."
But for whatever reason, Philadelphia got none of those songs that night, though
he did to "Tears of Rage." I had to see "Blind Willie McTell," so four days
later I found myself driving to Wolf Trap where I finally saw it.
Foregoing the outrageous 15 bucks parking charge - my motto is real
Philadelphians do not pay to park, when you can park for three, we arrived at
the venue while Leon Russell was already in progress. Then the line to get a
drink was so outrageously long, we entered the theater just as he ended. No big
Dylan started with "Leopard-Skin Pillbox Hat" in a version that was a bit
stronger than the one two days earlier in "Asbury Park," and followed it with a
pretty decent "Don't Think Twice."
Moving to center stage for "Things Have Changed," the energy didn't quite kick
in, though Dylan seemed to be having a lot of fun onstage. That changed with
"Tangled Up In Blue" which was sung and played full force with stellar harp,
though I wish he'd sing at least another verse. But again, standing at the mic,
harp in hand, he acted at the song and the phrasing and emphasis came into play
on, "She opened up a big of poems and read it aloud to me," and then on the
final verse with special attention to and a brief pause before "Some are
Bob stayed center stage for "Beyond Here Lies Nothin' " more than nailing his
guitar solo. Returning to the keyboard, "Mississippi" seemed a bit looser than
the version in Asbury Park and his vocal was incredibly strong. With a better
view of the stage, and the full band, I noticed they very subtly use the "Love
and Theft" intro and go back to it midway through the song, and they're seemed
to be a bit more emphasis on the rhythm. Or maybe it was just Dylan's vocal was
so on, that the arrangement mattered less.
An excellent "Desolation Row" came next that included most of the verses with
Dylan slightly playing around staccato singing near the end of the song, trying
for a line or two and returning to singing it a bit more straight. This was
followed by a fairly rocking "The Levee's Gonna Break" that was as much about
the groove as anything else.
Dylan returned to center stage for "Blind Willie McTell. Donnie Herron's banjo
was an important part of the arrangement which may be the best one for this song
yet, giving if the feel of a New Orleans street band. The closing harp solo was
exceptional with two false stops.
As usual "Highway 61" was all about the jam, with not bad organ from Dylan.
The high point of the night was a beautiful "Simple Twist of Fate," tenderly
sung and played. The tone on Dylan's guitar seemed a bit softer, more in
keeping with the feel of the song and he played two well thought out guitar
solos, the one at the end getting softer and softer as he brought the song to a
"Thunder on the Mountain" rocked hard with Dylan singing every word loud and
clear saving special relish for the line, "Shame On Your Greed," shame on your
wicked schemes. "Ballad of a Thin Man" was equally good and again the best
vocal parts were on the bridge with the emphasis this time on "tax deductible
People started leaving before the encore probably to beat the parking lot chaos.
But tonight "Like A Rolling Stone" was simply really good. He sang it as if he
remembered why he wrote it.
Dylan these days is as much about the music, the band and the interplay between
the musicians as it is about the songs and the lyrics. And this band at this
point in time is one of his best in terms of backing and also in terms of him
playing with them. They've mastered the dynamics of holding it back, bring it
down then turning it on at the right moment.
While tonight didn't have the hit you in the gut intensity of Asbury Park, it
was a solid satisfying show.
Review by Jason Blakeley
I know that you fellow Dylan die-hards have seen the setlist…..a group of
songs that even the most ‘seasonal’ Dylan fan would dream of seeing in
unison. It’s damn near perfection, almost a modern-day 'greatest hits',
if-you-will. In fact, there was a time when I questioned whether or not
I would continue to attend Dylan shows on a yearly basis, but after tonight,
after my 25th Bob Dylan concert, I no longer have to ponder this question;
from here on out, i'm in. In other words, I'm going to see Bob Dylan and
his band every single time that they come anywhere near my hometown,
for the rest of his performing life, so help me God.
Would you believe that after all of this time I finally saw Bob and the band
perform Blind Willie Mctell, the song that I've pined too see played live for
more than a decade. How was it? All I can say is that this is the type of
stuff that dreams are made of. For real. Magical, mystical, out of this
galaxy, dreamlike, dusty and damn beautiful is what it was. It was
downright dangerous. And so was Ballad of a Thin Man. Haunting.
Absolutely with-out-a-doubt bad to the mother""""""" bone. Not like
the studio version that I love so much...a different arrangement. Somehow,
someway, just as magical. One thing that I feel needs to be stated:
This band that Bobby plays with each night.......they're the real deal,
the cream of the crop, the mash potatoes AND the gravy. It's seems
impossible for Bob to be matched, but these fellas are literally the perfect
backing band for his show. Anybody who knows anything about music
would agree. They're perfect for their leader. And that's another thing,
that's right folks...I called him they're leader.
Believe me when I tell you that these fine musicians and men are very
much under the control of their higher ranking and commanding officer, Mr.
Robert Zimmerman, the Warlord of Words. He may not stand alone these days
playing songs with his acoustic guitar and stunning the audience, but there's
absolutely no question that he is in control of each and every movement that
this incredible 'force' brings forth. In fact, he IS the force. The force his
him. Mr. Soul himself. Amazing.
If you are reading this review, and if you've ever considered seeing Bob Dylan
in concert....then please do yourself a favor and pick up a ticket for his next
show in your area. Yes, his voice is better some nights than it is on others
(but aren't you, yourself, a better human being on some nights than others?,
aren't there days that you, yourself, knock them dead at what ever it is that
you do, and other days that you merely float-on through, and maybe even
drag a little a""?). Let me say this, I don't see Bob every night. I see him
every year or so, and I won't lie, there were nights over the past 15 years
that I considered the show I was attending to be my possible 'last' Dylan
show....but something always kept me coming...and in recent years, I
became more and more motivated to continue attending, in fact, I’m now
certain of it. Nowadays, I no longer ask this question....I know that I will go
to every show I can for the rest of Bob's life. He's more aggressive, more
possessed, more articulate than he was 10 years ago. The show, the tour,
the legend....is actually getting better.
He snarls, yes. He gnarls, yes. He's been labeled 'washed up', yes. Some
nights he sounds as if he may have swallowed a few nails before the show,
yes. But guess what, he's overcome the tough years, and he's come out
clear through on the other side, even stronger. He's persevered. He's
become a painter, a disc Jockey, and an actor in his later years. He stands
at center stage for part of the show and takes lead on guitar and harp in
those ‘all-too-perfect’ moments. He opens his heart up right there on stage
and the love comes pouring out. This is what he was born to do. He took
the bull by the horns in life. He left home and he became what we all wish
we could become. A man who follows his heart, a man who faces adversity
and pushes through, a man who believes in himself and in his purpose. A
man who knows what he has to do, and is doing it every day of his life, one
show at a time. A real life wonder. He's downright broken down and
busted....but he’s lived a legendary life, and he's earned that crooked
cockeyed snapshot growl of a voice. His dues have been paid, and he's out
there looking for you if you want to find him. These days, he's the leader
of the group. The commander of the ceremony. Doing what only a legend
does (playing 100+ shows a year for decades). He was better tonight than
he was when I saw him in 1996. Better than in 2004.
Tonight reminded me of why Bob Dylan is at the top of the heap.
John Lennon and Roger Waters look up to Bob Dylan for a reason. It’s not just
a coincidence that both of these legends look up to Dylan. He just happens to be
the real mother""""""" deal. The man of the hour. The supplier of soul. The
best there is and the best there ever was at what he does. The cream of the crop.
The mystical, enigmatic, Maniac of Expression.
So go see him. Go see him this year. Let this year be there year that you let him
in....believe me, your life will be better for having done it.
As Bob so appropriately concluded this evening in song, "There are many here
among us, who feel that life is but a joke. But you and I, we've been through
that, and this is not our fate, so let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late."
and it's true....The hour is getting late. I know that it's hard to believe, but given
the way our world works, the curtain will most certainly fall sometime in the next
40 years. Don't let this happen before you go see him in person. He's Bobby
Diggity Bad"ss D. The prophet, the painter, the poet, the pillar. He's out there
pouring his guts out. You want soul, then go see the Sultan. Trust me, he’s the
real deal. The Ace of Spades.
On a side note, thank you to Cute and Lisa for joining me on this adventure, I will
always remember this night. Peace and Love. And thanks....to Bob and the Band.
A truly mystical night.
Review by Stephen Trageser
Since the other reviews provide such richdetail, I will note only a few observations
in this review. From my perspective, (orchestra center, behind and slightly to the
right of the sound board) the first three songs (Pill Box Hat/Don't Think Twice/Things
Have Changed) sounded more than a little wonky. Both my friend and I mistook the
opening of Pill Box Hat to be Rainy Day Women (and we've been listening to these
songs for nearly 40 years.) No need to panic or despair, but a good time to heed the
call of nature, and grab a beer. The performance began improving with Tangled Up,
then more so with Bob on guitar for Beyond Here Lies Nothing. Mississippi was okay,
but I was more happy to experience the recitation of Desolation Row that followed.
To me this song is simply beat (except it doesn't suck)poetry set to music, and while
the voice sounds different, the arrangement was appropriately delicate and in keeping
with the original studio recording. After Desolation's flex of the mind, Levee' Gonna
Break got the 'olfeet moving, which for an overweight- middle-age- white-boylike
myself adds up to a complete workout. Blind Willie McTell was next, and it was a
completely sweet arrangementthat was as moving and enjoyable as the original, (or
nearly so, anyway.) The version of Highway '61 was not quite as rocking as in previous
years, and, as with most of the other up-tempo songs tonight, it featured a more
balanced mix of guitars and keyboard; whatever, it worked. Simple Twist followed,
with a gritty arrangement and really cool Bob guitar playing. The rest of the show,
from close of main set Thunder then Thin Man, plus Rolling Stone and Watchtower
was simply crowd- pleasing- how-could- you-have- a- pulse-and-not- like- it rock. I'll
remember this one especially for the way Bob showcased his full range of musical skills
with mouth harp, guitar, keyboard, and vocal s while collaborating withhis highly
talented band.Appropriatelyenough, his performances arenot billed as simply
Bob Dylan but as Bob Dylan and His Band.
Review by Michael Perlin
I’ve waited a few days since I was at the Philadelphia concert since it was, I
hate to say, just a bit of a letdown after the glorious one in Asbury Park. I
have no regrets that I went, I heard some exceptional Bobmusic, and my life is
much richer than it was than, say, it was on Wednesday morning. But I did not
come home with the same over-the-top exultancy that I did from Asbury.
Why? I expect there are two main reasons: (1) the arena, and (2) the set
(1) The Mann is a beautiful amphitheater and it is a pleasure to hear
music there (I was last there for Bob in 97, during another monsoon [see my
Asbury review]). But, at Asbury, I was standing at the rail. Here, though I was
fortunate to be sitting in wonderful box seats (halfway up the orchestra), as a
result of that distance, it didn’t have the immediacy of standing a few feet
from the band. At the Spectrum in 06, our seats were in the 4th row, and "that"
almost equaled the standing-at-the-rail surge of feelings. A good lesson for the
future. NB: The friend whom I went with (and who got the seats) had seen Bob
and Patti Smith with me and Linda at the Electric Factory in 95. Now "that" was
(2) In 08, I saw Bob in Brooklyn and in Asbury Park on consecutive days.
There were eight songs played in the second concert not at the first. In 10, I
saw him in Long Branch and NYC nine days apart. There were six in the second
concert not at the first. This time there were only three changes. I wished it
had been more. Also, maybe not coincidentally, it was only the 2d time that I
have seen Bob in my 48 years of seeing him in person that there were no “all
time firsts” (an astonishing record, for sure). So that left me a little less
than totally blissed out.
Having said all this, the music was great. In order:
1. "Leopard Skin": Probably a better rendition than at Asbury (by
“better”, I mean more focused, more urgent). The Philadelphia "Inquirer "
review said this: “(Was that “Leopard-Skin Pillbox-Hat,” he opened with in a
predictably unfamiliar arrangement? Indeed it was.”) My reaction was
“Unfamiliar?!” And then, of course, I realized. To those of us for whom this
isn’t simply going out on a summer night, there was nothing “unfamiliar”
about it; but, to a reviewer (actually, a fair, balanced and thoughtful
reviewer), it was. That was a good wake-up call for me: don’t presume that
“civilians” will ever respond the same way that Dylanistas do to anything
about Bob. The boys, btw, were in white dinner jackets looking precisely like
they were ready for a 1960s Junior Prom… 2. " Don’t Think Twice": Even though
he played this nearly 1000 times, it never loses any of its freshness (the
applause that greeted the intro when it became clear what he was going to be
playing was absolutely joyous). This was the first of three changes from the
Asbury concert. A real “old time music” feel , and his emphasis on “my soul”
was so stark and such a piercing arrow. A return to the duh-dit-dah-dit-dah
ending that always puts a smile on my face. 3. "Things Have Changed": It
seemed to me to be even more uptempo than the Asbury version, which is fine.
As many times as I hear it, I always wait for the satisfaction of the D chord
on the “drinking champagne” (and subsequent phrases), one of Bob’s best chord
selections in all his work (at least in a song in Gm). Brilliant.
At this point in time, I am beginning to focus more on the band, and
continue to marvel at their tightness, their “collegiality,” their ability
to pick up unconsciously on their bandmates’ turns of a phrase. As I’ve
said before, it’s still not at the level of the Larry days, but it’s getting
1. "Tangled:" My first sense of dispiritedness. Bob’s harmonica playing was
outstanding (his work on that instrument is so so much better than it was
5-10-15 years ago; where did this "come "from"?), "but all" "in all, this
didn’t add much to the Asbury performance (causing my first grump of the
evening) (Well, no, that’s not true. My first grump was noticing all the
people walking back and forth in front of me to get beers or whatever.
Hey, world: it’s a Dylan concert. You shouldda gotten the beer at
intermission. Or you can wait an hour… grumble).
2. "Beyond Here: " Exceptional guitar work. At one point, Bob, Charlie, Tony
& Stu were all in a straight line, and it was like a synchronized swimming
event (in terms of the way they meshed). I remain sorry that Donnie doesn’t
play the trumpet on this but, nevertheless, this is a terrific song, and one
I was happy to hear for the 2d time. 3. "Mississippi:" I was so thrilled to
hear this on Sunday. Was it old hat by now? Well, no, but… I realized (I
missed this on Sunday in my first-ever-hearing-euphoria-high) that the
1-2-3-4 declamatory sound in the band’s arrangement was almost "exactly" the
same as the T"angled "arrangement from the fall 08 concerts. Has this been
picked up on? Again, as with "Tangled", a bit of dispiritedness.
4. "Desolation:" Intentions announced in the first four bars of the
intro, but I screamed anyway. I hadn’t heard this for at least five
years, an eternity. Each year, I appreciate the depths and textures of
this song more, and this was an outstanding performance with exceptional
ensemble playing by the band and brilliant keyboard work by Bob. This was
the 2d change from Asbury. 5. "Levee’s Gonna Break:" Just as "High Water"
was, to me, the musical high point of the Sunday concert, so was this the
high point of Wednesday’s. Propulsive, band in perfect sync. I saw the world
premiere of this (Philly, 11/06) and that’s always in my mind when I hear it.
The “I woke up this morning” verse had a tension and an urgency that was
other-worldly. Startling performance. 6. "Blind Willie:" Again, I prefer the
original arrangement, but the power of this song is so extraordinary that it
almost doesn’t matter. Bob’s harmonica playing here was even better than in
"Tangled; "almost like you would expect from a Delta bluesman from the 30s
who might have, uh, been Willie McTell. Tension. Great music is about tension
whether it is Miles and Trane, Verdi, or Bob. And the tension here was
unforgettable. 7. "Highway 61: H"ere, Charlie, Tony and Stu faced Bob and his
keyboard (like they were gonna launch into a Battle of the Bands, tho all in
the same band). I loved it. Nothing special for the first run thru, but they
kicked into overdrive in the second jam, and it smoked. Really smoked.
8. "Simple Twist:" Exquisite guitar work. Exquisite song. The 35+ years since
I first bought the vinyl of "BotT" disappeared into the vapors. Exquisite.
9. "Thunder: " I felt like Charlie couldn’t "wait" to start his solo (‘Oh, Bob,
c’mon man, let me play!”) and when he did, yowza! And then, as the band again
(a la "Highway 61") seemed to flag a bit, George took over (in all my
reviews, have I ever even mentioned a drummer since Winston left?), and the
band took on more energy for the last verse. 10. "Ballad of a Thin Man:
"Along with L"evee", the musical high point (as it was in Asbury along with
"High Water)" But even "more "foreboding and ominous and more mournful than
that performance. This may have been the best version I have "ever" heard of
this song. It has always haunted me and always will. 11. "Encore:" "LaRS. "
And here I got a little let down. We sang along to the most anthemic anthem
of all Bobsongs, but I didn’t feel that pizazz, that drive that I so often
do at this time in the night (half the time, I admit, I start to cry at this
point; I didn’t). 12. "Encore:" "AatW:" Same reaction. I have heard both
"LaRS "and "AatW " at least 35-40 times in person in my life. Usually, there
is something special that lingers with me and that carries me til the next
concert (in 2012, most likely). But, alas, not this time.
So, some wonderful wonderful moments, some great music, but, coming so close to
Asbury, not nearly as memorable as so many others have been. On the other hand,
my friend’s 12 yr old daughter insisted on buying a BD t-shirt on the way out.
And my friend told me the next day that her daughter had started to download Bob
onto her iPod. So, for "la dor vi dor" (from generation to generation, in
Hebrew) purposes, the concert was definitely a success. I am glad I went, and,
as always, I give thanks that Bob is here and a force and presence in my life.
We are so lucky…
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