September 4, 2012
Review by Mike Skliar
That 'wild mercury' art form that is "Bob Dylan in concert" continued tonight at
the just-refurbished Capitol Theater in Port Chester, NY. Cutting to the chase,
it was a fantastic show, easily one of the best I've seen in recent years, maybe
even a lot longer than that.
Let's start with the venue- it's a beautiful theater from the 1920's, small and
intimate and newly-refurbished. The Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, the Stones,
Clapton, etc. have all played here and the ghosts of all of those performers must
have left some positive karma somewhere (perhaps in the dressing room?). No
seats on the floor, seats in the overhanging balcony. We were on the floor- I
was one person back from the front rail for about the first ½-2/3 and then up
on the rail for the rest. Sound was just about perfect.
Bob and band came on promptly a few minutes after 8 pm after a short
announcement from the guy that renovated the place and who used to run
Wetlands in lower Manhattan. The opener, Watching the River Flow, found Bob
on that electric keyboard/organ set up on the right side of the stage for the first
and only time in the evening. He then switched to the grand piano for the rest
of the evening except for the songs where he performed center stage either
alone or with guitar. Having been forewarned, I was lucky enough to be right in
front of the right side of the stage, directly in front of Bob's piano bench. Bob
plays piano with such joy and abandon, and has developed some great piano
chops, soloing all over the place in everything from Jerry Lee Lewis triplets to
Spanish influenced counterrhythms, but more typically laying down some right
hand single-note things influenced by big band, swing, bebop and other pre-rock
So back to the setlist, after a fine 'Watching the River flow' he moved to piano.
First verse of Love minus zero was splendid. Then Bob got a bit lost doing a little
fill in between verses- he basically went on one measure too long and when he
came in with the first line of the next verse, the band was already playing the
second line of the verse. It threw him a bit and took him another verse or so to
get his bearing, but when he did it was a gently countrified version of a wonderful
song that he certainly hasn't played enough- was great to see!
Then came two songs done center stage, with Bob playing a custom electric guitar,
"Things have Changed" and 'Tangled Up in Blue'. ON both songs, he was both the
lead and only singer (of course) and the lead guitar player, playing fills all over the
place. His guitar fills were aggressive and loud. Somehow he made it work, tho, and
both songs had a playful energy. Oddly enough, for "Tangled" he went back to
some of the rewritten verses from that "real live' 1984 version. Tangled, with that
loud electric guitar lead (played, I think thru some effects- it sounded more 'full' and
'metallic' then his guitar lines usually sound) sounded more electric and jamming then
it had in some time, and it was a nice re-invention of this many-times-revisited song.
A playful 'Rolling and Tumblin' was next-not my favorite song, but Bob's piano playing,
and fun 'acting out' at the piano made it go down easy. His "piano posture" is quite
something to watch- he'll deliver a line, lean away and at an angle from the piano,
facing the audience, give a wicked grin or a 'how'm I doin?' face, all while playing
some funky piano fill one handed with his right hand. He was clearly enjoying himself
tonight, as much or more than I've ever seen him.
Next came a song I've never heard live before (in about 75 concerts going back to
1978)- "This dream of you' from Together thru life. It was a soulful and fine version,
with him giving extra emphasis both in the singing and piano playing on the bridge.
After that, a playful 'Tweedle Dee', which was again (like Rolling and Tumblin) not
my favorite song, but he has such fun doing it that it was hard to resist.
Then came that moment when the whole show exploded with an intensity that was
astonishing- a version of "Shooting Star' done center stage, just with the mic (until
the last bridge and verse where he went back to the piano). Ive seen him do
"Shooting Star' many times before (Niagara Falls, 2003-ish? comes to mind ?) but
never this intensely. You know it's a great version when he gives those little vocal
fills- here it was on the first bridge, when he sang 'the last fire truck... from where?
... From HELL!' while stalking the stage like an old time preacher one third his age .
I can't emphasize enough how great this version was.
And from there, we got a perfect 'Highwater' also delivered center stage, with some
neat stop-start band parts where bob blew some great harmonica over it for
punctuation. Then he sat back down at the piano for a transcendent "Visions of
Johanna'. I really liked how he and the band just went right into the song, not doing
an entire instrumental verse first. There was no solo break at all in the song, in fact,
and while he skipped the 'little boy blue' verse it was really otherwise perfect. His
voice did this great expressive thing where certain lines ("say a prayer for him' for
example) he would deliver in this smooth soft and gentle croon, while others
emphasized more grit and bark. One thing that was really nice about this version is
that he didn't try to do some weird vocal melody in there and use it thru half the
song- it was respectful and restrained but passionate as hell.
Then came Highway 61. I've heard him play this song a million times before, but
never like this! Bob making animated faces and gestures at the piano while singing,
then finding some weird jazzy bebop-flavored melody on the piano and echoing it on
the vocal for a verse or two, then doing a piano call-and-response thing with Charlie
and Stu (the guitar players) that was really unique and felt like it really went
somewhere. Sometimes (I think including this song) he would end by simply standing
up and pointing at the rest of the band, as if to say 'wow, these guys are fantastic' -
and they are. I've seen this version of the band, with Charlie back in since 2008 or so,
get better and better every time I see them, and this was, as another song lyric
goes, 'up on another level' (for the whole show, not just that song). One thing that
I was reminded of also is that Bob, as we've seen from the radio show, is conversant
in all those pre-rock forms with a wealth of different vocal phrasings to choose from-
sometimes watching and listening to him is like hearing 80 years of recorded music
all at once.
From there we got a spooky slow "Can't Wait' that had a wonderful menace and
some high note-piano playing by Bob that really captured the mood against the
snaky groove the band was laying down. The rhythm section doesn't get enough
attention, but tonight the whole band was really 'on' and sympathetic to the music,
and to Dylan's vision of it.
After that, it was, in terms of setlist, the same thing he's been doing for a bit now.
Thunder on the mountain, Ballad of a Thin man, Like a Rolling Stone, All along the
Watchtower, and Blowin in the wind.
I could comment at length about each of them, but by now you can probably guess-
each song was delivered magnificently by Bob and the band. Notable moments
included playful phrasing on 'thunder, that weird echo so magnificent and spooky in
'thin man', the (yes he sang all four-verses) anthem 'like a rolling stone' sounding
great, and a terse and fine 'watchtower'. Blowin in the wind has also gotten a bit of
a makeover, and its both funky and soulful while still being true to those original folk
I thought, during that last song, that Blowin' is the only song he performed tonight
that was written in those folk years before he 'went electric'. There are so many
'early 60's classics' he could have performed but tonight, he played material from all
over his vast catalogue. Sadly, but as expected, he played nothing from the
upcoming and excellent album "Tempest". It didn't matter, though- and it's clear
that (especially if you've heard Tempest) the answer to the question 'when was
Bob Dylan at his peak?' is … 'who knows, the best might just be coming'!
Bob Dylan seemed to have a fantastic time tonight. I know I did!
Review by Jason Polanski
Bob Dylan played to a sold out crowd as the first performer to appear at
the newly renovated Capitol Theater in Port Chester, NY. I waited in line
to be one of the first through the door. The theater had a great setup of
a seated balcony above and a standing room only floor with bar down below.
During the hour and a half of waiting for Bob, they showed off projections
on the walls and ceilings including a simulation of the walls breaking
apart to show the Metro North railroad, which was located nearby the
theater. Shortly before Bob was scheduled, the new owner, Peter Shapiro,
came out to rally the crowd, speaking and quoting Jerry Garcia, among
others noted in the history of the theater.
Shortly after 8pm, Stu Kimball walked on stage strumming some blues riffs
and the band followed. I thought for a moment they began the opening riff
of "Pillbox Hat", but it was WATCHING THE RIVER FLOW, strong singing, Bob
wiggling his arms behind the keyboard, speaking of people disappearing
everywhere you look speaking to the many spirits of rock and roll hidden
within the theater walls.
After sort of messing up LOVE MINUS ZERO'S lyrics and looking real
frustrated, he grabbed the guitar and came center stage for THINGS HAVE
CHANGED and TANGLED UP IN BLUE. Having just seen the Indianapolis show
last weekend, I was struck by how different these songs sounded tonight.
In Indy, he filled the spaces between the lines in Things Have Changed
with ad-lib comments like "somebody help me". Here he used the guitar to
fill the space, very effectively. In Tangled, he just set the night in
motion, playing cool riffs, and singing a mixture of lines from both the
"Real Live" version and the modern version. As he sang the line "he's seen
a lot of women" he paused, took a really deep knee bend guitar hero pose,
then finished "they never escaped his mind".
ROLLIN AND TUMBLIN saw Dylan on piano, interacting with the band and
especially Charlie, who played a sort of slide type of guitar without
using a slide while Bob cranked out serious piano solo riffs. Dylan then
stayed on piano for my first ever performance of THIS DREAM OF YOU. The
way it started I thought it was "Baby Blue". The way he sang it was less
smiles and posing and more seriousness, the voice would go between a rough
bark to a soft tender croon. Better arrangement then the album or the
recordings I heard from a couple years ago. TWEEDLE DEE AND TWEEDLE DUM
followed with a similar prescription as "Rollin" and he got almost
playfully lost during the last instrumental breakdown, either it was
supposed to be that spaced out, or he couldn't find what he was looking
for, the beauty of playing in the moment.
The big surprise song and one that was well performed was SHOOTING STAR.
Bob started at the center stage mic, singing very tender then barking the
bridge letting us know how hellish the "fire truck from hell" really is,
then he grabbed harmonica and played an extra long solo, first of the
night, engaging the crowd to great heights, and in perfect dramatic
staging, he then moved to the piano, commanded the band back to the
bridge, preaching to us to "listen to the engine and listen to the bell".
This was far from the Duquesne Whistle he recently told us to listen to.
Bob kept energy at a high peak with HIGH WATER, center stage. Gone
completely are the soft instrumental breaks, replaced by electric guitar
riffs like "bang bang bang". Sometimes Bob played harp in harmony and
other times weaved layers of melody over these riffs. He strutted and
smiled around stage the whole song. And I guess once you know you got the
audience in your hands, you decide to play a song like VISIONS OF JOHANNA,
bob on piano, working on some phrasing where he would draw out the last
word of the line, getting crowd reaction.
HIGHWAY 61 seemed popular with the crowd. Bob was doing some really weird
phrasing where he would start a line at a lower octave and ascend upwards,
but really quickly. Though it was also a more compact version then some of
them. CAN'T WAIT followed with Bob out front in the mix on piano. He
looked bitter in singing, and would do these awkward movement at the seat
where his whole body would abruptly stop moving at certain beats.
The final part of the show was the expected and crowd pleasing lineup of
THUNDER, THIN MAN, ROLLING STONE, WATCHTOWER, AND BLOWIN IN THE WIND. Just
from my vantage point on the rail at center stage, I can never get over
the look he gives when he sings the "you got no secrets to conceal" line.
In fact, Rolling Stone had some great phrasing all around. And
"Watchtower" rocked, with Dylan deliberately phrasing it like a punk
rocker, "All along...the watchtower...princes...kept the view...all the
women...came and went." Watchtower also had a very long spaced out Garcia
like jam at the end, with Stu playing the spacey lines, Charlie keeping a
light riff, and George and Tony off in other lands. Maybe bringing the
opening remarks full circle.
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