August 18, 2010
Review by Phil Levine
In the wake of last night's Bob Show '10 at Caesar's Palace here in Sin City, I
come not to bury Bob, but to praise him.
It was His Bobness' second show in Las Vegas in just 10 months, this time
partnered with an opening by Indiana's favorite son, John Mellencamp. And just
to be fair to the former 'Johnny Cougar', he did himself proud with a fine, peppy
set of old and new tunes. A very audience-friendly performance from an
underrated live performer of considerable merit.
As to the headliner…
Although the band was revved up and ready for action from the moment the
announcer introduced "Columbia recording artist Bob Dylan" (as though he might
be a rival to Justin Bieber instead of the world's greatest living songwriter…) the
selection of songs to start the show was disappointing. Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat
was a fun, bluesy song in it's day-it's day being when LBJ was president. (Although
Bob was certainly having enough fun for us all, smirking and making jubilant faces at
the band throughout the number..) And there's little good to be said, other than
some fine guitar picking by the forever great Charlie Sexton (looking every bit the
lanky Texas guitar titan that he is), about Bob's decimation of his lovely Lay Lady
Lay…picture Howlin' Wolf with a throat infection. Hardly the stuff of love ballads.
Ah but, ye of little faith. Even though the next two song selections were also from
the Dylan 60s canon, one could feel the intensity beginning to rise with a scintillating
'Stuck Inside of Mobile'. And the show officially (well, maybe unofficially but certainly…)
kicked into first gear with a smoldering Rollin' & Tumblin'. It's long ago become apparent
that while He is proficient in every genre of American music, these days (the Maurice
Chevalier chapeau and cowboy duds notwithstanding) Bob considers himself an itinerant
blues musician. A spirited Spirit on the Water led into a deeply funky Cold Irons Bound.
And then…some may argue, but I will state that in 3 decades of Bob show attendance,
I've never had a more deeply moving moment than during his rendition of his most
recent masterpiece "Forgetful Heart."And while I will confess that the recent end of
my marriage certainly was a factor in that, I would also argue (vociferously) that this
rendition, with each syllable clearly enunciated, set in a darkly lit stage was the
embodiment of why 5 decades into his career, His Bobness not only still 'matters', but
when he so chooses, can transfix even a casual listener. No man or woman, alive or
dead, could either have written, nor delivered, a more atomically powerful closing verse
than "the door has closed forever more, if indeed there ever WAS a door…" The
defining, last word on love found…and lost.
There's so much more that could be said about the rest of the show…a revisiting of
Highway 61 that could put Robert Johnson to shame; a nice version of Workingman's
Blues (a nod perhaps to being in the city with America's highest unemployment rate?)
then a back to back blues sandwich of Thunder on the Mountain and a most appropriate
Ballad of a Thin Man (alas poor Mr Jones, he is still ever so clueless…)
The three song encore starting with a punchy Jolene (still not sure why, but by this time
the adrenaline on and off the stage made the song selection almost irrelevant) followed
by Bob proffering up musical birthday greetings to Tony with a wop bop a loo bop a
wop bam boo version of Happy Birthday (hey, is anything He does surprising after last
year's Christmas delivery?) and then the perfunctory Like A Rolling Stone, with a plethora
of shouting and smiling on and off the stage
The Master and his minstrels then stand stage front for the "stare down" (Bob patented
this move long before Larry David on Curb Your Enthusiasm-besides nobody's curbed
enthusiasm longer than He) and then, need I say it?-off they go, heading to another joint.
When we next see Him here, Bob will be in his 70s (70s!!!). For those arrogant enough
to think that the Never Ending Tour is just that, a cautionary note: nothing, and no one
is eternal (as He often reminds us himself in song) and thus one would do well never to
to assume the tour is endless.
As demonstrated yet again last night, at the Palace, only His
Review by Sergio Zurita
I knew who Muhammad Ali was way before I knew who Bob Dylan was. The first time I ever
saw Ali was on television, losing by technical K.O. to Larry Holmes. The year: 1980. The
place: the Caesars Palace Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Watching Ali’s manager throw the towel in the eleventh round that night hurt me like hell,
even though I had only known of Ali’s existence for a few hours. Twenty years later, last
Wednesday, Bob Dylan took the stage at the Colosseum, inside Caesars Palace, to play one
of the most dramatic concerts I’ve seen of him in the last decade.
Every single aspect of the evening seemed to be in cahoots for the concert to fail: the
Colosseum has an identity crisis and doesn’t know if it wants to be a concert hall or an IMAX
theater. And the audience, well, it is the middle of August and there’s a record-breaking
heat outside, so almost everybody is drunk. And that drunkness reached its point of
euphoria when John Mellencamp was on stage. Now, three drinks after, that audience
does not want to listen to anything that is not explosive.
They want to parrrrteeeee. And Dylan, well, he is in the mood for love. The second song of
the show is “Lay, Lady, Lay”. He takes the center of the stage to sing it and play beautiful
harmonica in it. But nothing happens. He is trying to serenade a woman who is just not
interested. Then he plays lead guitar -superbly- in “Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis
Blues Again”, but the audience remains comatose.
Then he decides to play his most irresistible love song: a cathedral named “Just Like A Woman”.
He makes the keys of the organ sound phantasmagoric. There is smoke coming from the
incense that is always burning during his shows, and this gives the song a beyond-the-grave
effect. Dylan looks like a character from an Edgar Allan Poe story: like Vincent Price singing his
love to Legia.
The band follows that amazing, but ignored, rendition of “Just Like a Woman” with “Rollin’ and
Tumblin’”. And maybe the line “Some young lazy slut has charmed away my brains” had
something to do with what happens next.
In bullfighting, when a matador faces a bull that is not willing to give a good corrida, the worst
thing he can do is to let the beast have its way. He can’t force it to do what he wants it to
do, neither can he let it take control. In a situation like that you have to stand your ground,
patiently provoking the animal to attack.
“You think I’m over the hill/ You think I’m past my prime”, our matador sang in “Spirit On The
Water”. Let me see what you got/ We Can have a whoopin’ good time”, he dared. And then
he stood up and took center stage again, fixed his hair, grabbed his belt with his left thumb
and delivered a powerful, raging “Cold Irons Bound”. The crowd cheered in ecstasy. Dylan did
not let go and made it a one-two punch with “Forgetful Heart”.
It was like watching Muhammad Ali on the rope-a-dope in the legendary Rumble in the Jungle.
In that fight, Ali did not “fly like a butterfly” like he used to. Instead he went to the ropes
and let George Foreman hit him until Foreman got tired, and then Ali counterattacked and
won the fight by knockout.
Did Dylan use the rope-a-dope strategy at the Colosseum last Wednesday? I don’t know.
What I do know is that that concert felt like a beautiful victory, an example of grace under
pressure. After an amazing faena of songs, he went for the kill with the best, scariest live
version of “Ballad Of A Thin Man” that I’ve heard in the 48th Dylan concerts I have attended.
If this had been a bullfight, Bob Dylan would have ended on the shoulders of the adoring
crowd that finally got what it wanted: a fiesta. It was the birthday of bassist Tony Garnier,
Dylan’s most loyal wingman (more than 2,000 concerts together confirm this) so the band
and the audience sang “Happy Birthday” for him.
Then, after “Like A Rolling Stone”, the evening ended. Outside the Colosseum/ inside the
casino, people gambled, oblivious of what had just happened: twenty years later, in a place
filled with rubble, the greatest songwriter of all time painted his masterpiece to avenge the
greatest boxer of all time.
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