October 11, 2009
Review by Mitch Meyer
I thought that last night's Berkeley show was very good but not excellent, a
bit disappointing, really, but tonight's show was not a bit short of phenomenal.
After about 25 shows, I'd say tonight was one of the very best. My Dylan
buddy, David, declared this his favorite show ever … and I don't think he
meant just his favorite Dylan show.
What accounts for the dramatic difference? I thought that the set list last
night had a long run of pretty mediocre songs. What can one say about
"Tweedle Dee," except that it's by far the worst song on an album that
otherwise, I think, is his best since "Blood on the Tracks"? "I Don't Believe
You" was never a great song and the arrangement was dull. It didn't go
anywhere, and neither did very good songs like "The Man in Me" and even
the super-rare "Mama, You've Been On My Mind". "Spirit On the Water" is
not a great song and the version was dull," and "Cold Irons Bound" was
very good but lacked the thrilling mayhem of the band's versions a few
There were definitely some real high points, the best of which was "Hattie
Carroll," especially when Dylan walked out to center stage from behind the
key board to sing the final verse with total commitment. "My Wife's
Hometown" and "Ballad of a Thin Man" were also superb. And, as all the
other reviewers this week have said, having Charlie Sexton back is a gigantic
upgrade in terms of musicianship, freshness, fun and visual dynamics. But
still, almost half of the set list was weak, in my opinion, and somehow the
band rarely clicked into high gear.
But none of those shortcomings applies to tonight's show. Dylan and the
band were totally in gear from the first moment, and every song made a
strong and dynamic statement. First of all, the set list was excellent. When
I see Dylan I want not just great music but great lyrics. I know they can
rock 'n roll, but lots of bands can do that. Tonight, from "Love and Theft"
we got "High Water" and "Honest with Me" instead of the aforementioned
lyrically awful "Tweedle Dee". If it's possible to choose, for me the best
performances were the slow, quiet songs: the atmosphere for "This Dream
of You," "Tryin' to Get to Heaven," "My Wife's Hometown," "Hard Rain," and
perhaps most of all, "Forgetful Heart," were utterly incredible. Barely a sound
was heard from the crowd of 8,000 during those many minutes of subtle
beauty. Dylan's voice was clear and strong, and his phrasing was continuously
inventive and meaningful. And the music for each was dream-like, evocative
Even songs that evoked little last night were stunning and fresh tonight. I'm
thinking of "Thunder on the Mountain" in particular, which did little last night
but tonight featured Charlie's best solo, an absolute thriller, which then inspired
Dylan to break into what seemed to be a thoroughly spontaneous, improvised
organ solo, with Charlie throwing in filler riffs around it. To show how sterling
the show tonight was, even "LARS," which I often have to struggle to listen
to with a fresh ear, tonight was fresh, with new changes in dynamic range
and Charlie having all kinds of fun improvising.
That's one thing that is so great about having Charlie back. He's loose. He's
creating. He's mischievous. And, believe it or not, he is up there having fun.
What a change for the usually grim, constricted band! Shouldn't making music
be joyful and playful? This is all especially wonderful because I found it very
frustrating in the early years of this decade to watch Dylan taking most of the
guitar solos, with mediocre playing at best, while he had two great guitarists,
Larry and Charlie, standing around him strumming chords. It wasn't until
Charlie's last few months with the band that Bob moved over to keyboards
and gave the aforementioned guitar virtuosos room to spread out and play.
But it appears that in the intervening six years, Charlie's stature has grown
enormously in Bob's eyes and it now could fairly be called "Bob Dylan and His
Band, featuring Charlie Sexton." Charlie also keeps in eye contact with all of
the band members and has them all smiling at his antics throughout the show.
It's great to see.
One's personal experience always influences what one thinks of a concert.
Last night, I was right in front of Dylan about four rows back from the stage,
but it was disappointing not to be at the rail after waiting on line for over six
hours. And a tall guy near the front with a cowboy hat was blocking part of
my view throughout most of the show. But tonight, waiting on line the same
amount of time, we got the revered front rail position for the first time ever.
It was like Dylan and his band playing just for us, with no one obstructing our
view or trying to squeeze in front of us. (I must say that the Berkeley crowd
both nights was completely orderly and well-behaved … unlike the drunken
bar brawl that was the standing area at the Stockton baseball field a couple
of months ago, complete with a fist fight and drunken Mellencamp fans by
What a gift to see Dylan on a night when everything clicked for him and the
band, and when they are in the midst of a creative surge due to the return
of Mr. Sexton! Every style of song they tried, which was a vast range, hit
right on the mark. It was a beautiful thing to behold.
Review by Iris Seifert
It was cool Sunday night, and you could see the Californians in ski-jackets and
ski-hats - around me was a Mexican blanket, that we found last minute in the
car, and it must have been quite the sight with my yellow cap! It showed how
wimpy we have become... the stories of my Minnnesotan husband about sitting in
snowmobile-suits watching football games eased the cold a bit. But we are in
California now, older, and even the stage had 4 heaters and a couple of what we
deemed heatingtubes on the left and right front. And Mr. Dylan started the show
before 8:00 PM.
It was a good mixed show - he started with "Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat". And
then "This Dream of you" - a premiere? Then it was alternating amost between old
and new, or newer songs. Right away it was noticeable that the signature sound
of Mr. Freeman"s Gibson guitar was missing, but Mr. Sexton made up for it with
his inteeresting contributions, show-wise (allthough i prefer the more
inobtrusive behavior of the other band members) as well as musically, especially
when he played some duets with Mr. Dylan in "High Water" and a bluesy "Hell's my
wife's hometown - the two men seemed to have a good time together; i did not
hear the shows with him and Mr. Campbell, so it lacks comparison. In the end it
is of course up to Mr. Dylan to pick who he plays with ...
Incidentally, i liked the new sogs live better than on the recordings; an
actual highlight of the evening was for me the rendering of "Forgetful
Heart" - somehow i like the slower numbers better where you can really hear the
instruments, here especially Mr. Garnier's bass line (he played stand-up bass
with the bow!) instead of just feeling it as an artificial heartbeat; but i
came to a rock'nroll-show in the end, didn't i? (I must say "Highway 61" came
off better with Mr. Sexton...)
The song "Tryin' to get to heaven before they close the Door" had a
different feel for me Sunday night. Waking up in the hospital after my
recent surgery, one of the first thoughts was "oh shit, this is not heaven, life
has to be continued on Earth", so : did Mr. Dylan feel similar when he was so
ill in '97? Or was he a bit more God-revering and thankful for Life? Or did he
just "go down the road feeling bad"? How did other people like Walt Whitman, or
even Mr. Keagan feel? There were definitely people there Sunday night that could
not even write about the show, like a Quadruplegic close by. Did this person
enjoy the show?
Well, in summary it must be said that Mr. Dylan put on an excellent show
Sunday night, it's just that "i came for so much more, i came for YOU" to
quote an old Manfrd Mann song. But then: the same song also has the line
"who am i to ask you to fight my wars?"... So, really the only moment it
felt like "the man in him" there Sunday night was when he blew his harp
(which he did fabulously in many songs!), during the song "Forgetful Heart", and
at the final line-up. Otherwise it seemed like Bob Dylan trying to compete with
the much younger Mr. Sexton for stage space - a battle he can only win if he is
more himself without fear (like two yeas ago when i first saw him, and it seemed
like one could feel all his pain); a man doing his job - nothing wrong with
that, i enjoyed it immensely!
So long from California,
Comments by Jessica Waterston
Just got back home from the best show ever! The band was on fire the entire
night. Love the interchange between Sexton and Dylan. The setlist did not
disappoint. Crowd respectful and cooperative. What a night!
Review by Mark Stevens
I'd have to give this the nod as the best of the two, one of those
exceptional nights where the songs are blended nicely with precise and
evocative ensemble playing, with Bob taking a bit more care with the vocals and
phrasing. Better Harp and Guitar playing from him as well, last night he was a
bit raggedy (those of you who go to multiples know what I mean) Charlie was even
tastier tonight, and while I loved Larry Campbell to the point of indecency , it
was great to hear what Charlie can do with a bit more room to stretch out.
"Forgetful Heart" was magnificent, and the audience stayed quiet enough for the
fragile and spectrally brilliant version to work. If you were listening, you had
goosebumps.just amazing. Tony was grinning from ear-to-ear several times
tonight, that should tell you more than this review!
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