October 19, 2009
Review by Jay Meehan
The wind began to howl hours before two riders were seen approaching along
the southeast shore of the Great Salt Lake Monday afternoon. Rumors had got
out early that the storms brewing to the west were heading our way with an
attitude and the front preceding them didn't disappoint.
The shoreline setting of "Saltair," with its "modern Moorish" architecture, had an
almost otherworldly feel to it as the cloudscape roiled like a freshly poured
Guinness. It would be Dylan's first stop at this specific Utah venue and, although
hopeful, no one was quite sure how the two would mesh.
Not having my finger directly upon the pulse of this particular tour segment, it
came as a total surprise when, once inside, I overheard a couple of bobcats
discussing the return of Charlie Sexton to Dylan's band. Someone has to be the
last to get the word and this time it was me. You could have blown me over
with harp solo.
Having taken in an "Arc Angels" show with Charlie and Doyle Bramhall II and the
boys this past July, I knew he was at the top of his game, but never dreamed
Bob and he had reunion plans in the works. Visions of past shows featuring
Charlie and Larry Campbell will no doubt dance in my head forever.
Once the show kicked off with "Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues
Again," it became readily apparent that Charlie's place in the band had been
dramatically altered since his last hitch with the group. Where, previously,
arrangement-wise anyway, he wasn't allowed out after dark, in this current
setup, curfew has been revoked.
Charlie, as seemingly everybody but me was well aware, is now featured
front-and-center in a Dylan stage show more than anyone else in recent
memory. When Bob is at his keyboard, center stage belongs to Sexton.
His physical interplay with Bob speaks volumes as to the ever-evolving
onstage reinterpretation of the Dylan canon.
Where, in the past, it was longtime bassist Tony Garnier who subtly conducted
the band while monitoring rhythm and chord changes, some of those duties
now seem to be shared with Charlie. Much of this appears directly related to
Sexton's more-overt stage presence, however. Both they and the rest of
the band, of course, take their lead from Dylan.
Another pleasant difference from recent tours is that, these days, Dylan himself
spends much more time center stage either embellishing his vocals with harp or,
now hear this, guitar. On this night, intricacies within his dual-leads with
Charlie were very "tasty" with notes always properly spaced and never cluttered.
I'll leave it to others more well-versed than myself to break down the set-list,
but suffice to say that to my ears it was one for the ages. As far as first timers
for this tour, we got a brilliant and semi-theatrical "Senor" along with a
softly-swinging "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight" in the two and three slots along
with the incessant "The Levee's Gonna Break" at six.
The fun level of the show bordered on the ecstatic. The extremely-wide
demographic danced and stomped and hooted and hollered throughout and
any problem with the mix that might have raised its ugly head kept, for the
most part, hunkered down. Not to belabor the point but the overall sense
was one of pure joy!
Review by Rene Vallieres
The night was dark and stormy with whiffs of sulfur rising from The Great Salt
Lake. The venue was a bit seedy but appropriate for Dylan’s proletariat
sentiments. I cozied up to the stage and got within 20 feet about a half hour
before the show. Since there were no seats, we were all crammed together like
penguins seeking warmth on an Antarctic island. About five minutes before the
show the penguins started to get restless hooting and hollering with
anticipation. I must admit I was one of them.
The band entered right at 7:30 and played through 9:30 with a short break
before the proverbial encore set. The first song was, alas, not "Gonna
Change My Way of Thinking" but rather "Stuck Inside of Mobile with the
Memphis Blues Again". I was a little disappointed but it's such an iconic
song bringing back memories that I couldn't help but think, “This is great!”
In fact, the first three songs were magical, "Mobile", "Senor" and "I'll Be
Your Baby Tonight". The magic wore off a bit after that but it was still all
very cool. The acoustics were perfect. You could pick out every instrument and
every word Bobby was singing. It was loud and raucous (at least for Utah). He
played the crowd perfectly with even a raised eyebrow bringing screams of
delight. He actually started to do a little shuffle while on the keyboard during
"Thunder on the Mountain" and the crowd went crazy.
The highlight for me had to be "Desolation Row" - nine minutes of classic
Dylan. It started a little rough with all the band members looking at each
other and then Charlie Sexton took over and got everybody on the same page. Then
fireworks! It's only the second time they did it on this tour. I was grateful
he did it for us.
Yep, it was better than I thought it was going to be. It was uplifting in a
strange way and I don't know why it should be. Is it the music? I entered the
concert feeling a little discouraged in a general way but leaving feeling all’s
right with the world - strange how good music changes perception.
One last anecdote: Utahans are not known for their exuberance so when one guy
in the crowd toward the front turned around between songs early in the concert
and chastised us for not dancing, "After all this is rock ‘n roll!" he screamed
- I smiled.
Review by John Weber
Bob in all black with silver stripe on pants. Blue shirt, western hat with
feather. Everyone else in gray with black shirts. Statue still riding along.
Stripped down lighting. Venue was two level with maybe 3500 there (4624 max).
Long, black rectangle with poor sound.
Bob was pretty reserved except during Baby Tonight when he and Charlie were
doing the maths. The crowd was pretty mellow except during Levee, Hwy. 61,
Rolling Stone and Watchtower. Bob/Tony/Donnie smiles during one song otherwise
straight forward. Front stage lighting only for Thin Man so shadows on back
wall. Short line up. No 'gives you chills' moments but pretty tight. He's doing
the stunted vocals / march beat deal a lot. A solid "C".
Review by Lee Thomsen
This was a fine, fine show by a rejuvenated Bob and band. Having Charlie
Sexton back changed the energy dramatically from my last Dylan sighting last
summer at Deer Valley. There was a playfulness between Charlie and Bob that
started from the very opening notes of "Stuck Inside of Mobile."
First, the venue. The Great Saltair is in the middle of nowhere off Highway 80
near the Great Salt Lake. A lot of people missed 30 minutes or more due to the
one lane exit and single entrance into the parking. Many of them probably never
suspected that a concert would actually start at 7:30. Fortunately, my friend
and I were in the know, and even though Mapquest sent us a good five miles in
the wrong direction, we arrived in time. The local newspaper gave the venue a
poor review for sound, but we were standing exactly halfway back, and I found
the sound to be splendid.
The first surprise of the night was "Senor (Tales of Yankee Power). Unlike last
year, when Bob remained rooted the keyboard, he came out front to sing with just
his harp for this number. It was soulful and less "sing-songy" than much of the
show last year. He was using more parts of his register, and this was a
highlight of the show. "High Water" had several great jams from Charlie, and
while I've never thought the live versions of "Thunder on the Mountain" captured
the tremendous groove of the studio cut, this version was full of energy and
ragged solos. Bob and Charlie would echo each other on keyboard and guitar,
really having a grand old time.
"Ballad of a Thin Man" was haunting, made even more spooky by the lighting
which cast ever-changing shadows on the back of the stage. The three
regular encores were absolutely smoking, including a rollicking "Jolene"
which eclipsed the album version.
This was an added highlight for me as I took my 11 year-old daughter to her
first rock concert. While she had a hard time seeing -- she's only 4'10" after
all -- she came away with a great T-shirt and memories of seeing a legend in
fine form, though she didn't get to hear her favorites "Spirit on the Water" or
"Moonlight." Maybe next time.
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