page by Bill Pagel
Review by Scott Bauer
Crouched over his piano, like a musical hunchback, Bob Dylan ducked and
dived in place Tuesday night, weaving his way through a typical set list
of standards and a few surprises to inaugurate Haymarket Park in Lincoln,
Neb., with its first ever concert.
The park, home to the Northern League baseball team the Saltdogs, had
never quite experienced anything like a Dylan-Willie Nelson show. Yet here
they were, with the stage placed in center field, playing to gray-haired
grannies and tye-dye-wearing toddlers.
Dylan, dressed in black with red trim, stayed behind the keys for the
duration of the 14-song set, gyrating and shuffling nervously in place to
the left of the stage. He seemed to want to jump out of his skin, even
more than usual when he's playing guitar.
The opener, "To Be Alone With You," together with the next song,
"Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You" were perfect segues from
Nelson's opening set that had the crowd on its feat and smiling.
While Nelson was his usual gregarious, waiving self, Dylan too
stayed true to form barely acknowledging the crowd and not speaking a word
other than to introduce the band mates. There were no waives from Bob.
Instead, he focused on the music which was loud, hard rocking and
crystal clear. Without Charlie Sexton to take lead, and with Bob behind
the keyboard, the band seems to be more equal in its playing, with no one
stepping forward routinely to take charge. That works both as an advantage
and hindrance. On tunes where Sexton would have stepped in and taken
control, like "Summer Days," the crowd instead gets Tommy the guitar tech
brought on stage to strum along behind Bob.
That doesn't mean the band doesn't sound good. It does. But with
Bob landlocked, and Sexton out of the mix, it's got a different vibe.
One positive thing to Dylan's lack of guitar playing seems to be his
re-discovery of the harmonica. He played it on both the first two
numbers, and again later in the show. Each time he played it with gusto
and emotion. The same can't be said of the piano. Either it was too low
in the mix, was being drowned out by the others, or he just wasn't hitting the keys.
Whatever the reason, it did not distinguish itself.
Willie's appearance in Dylan's set, for a rendition of "Heartland,"
was particularly appropriate in Lincoln, the sight of one of the Farm Aid
concerts just across the street and home to thousands of farmers, or
relatives of farmers. It served as the only Dylan-Nelson duet of the
night, but it was a standout.
Also appreciated was fiddler Elana Fremerman's guest slot with Dylan
on "Floater." Fremerman, from opening act the Hot Club of Cowtown,
seemed to be thoroughly enjoying herself playing just to stage right of
Bob, smiling and seductively sliding the violin bow in his direction
throughout the song.
Dylan's set was heavy on rockers, with "Cold Irons Bound," "Honest
With Me" and "Summer Days" all getting the usual treatment.
At the end of the night, as "All Along the Watchtower" brought the
show to a close, children could be seen sleeping on the grass with their
parents dancing alongside them.
Once the stage lights came up, Dylan was whisked away in a jeep to his
awaiting bus. Seconds later the band walked up the right field ramp, with
no fans lining the path.
"Great show," I called out. Garnier and Larry Campbell looked in my
direction and nodded. "Thanks," Tony said, not breaking stride while he
lit a cigarette. And then they were gone, heading for another joint.
page by Bill Pagel
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