October 20, 2007
Review by Michael
Bloomington, Illinois is a very conservative town of 100,000 in the
farming cornbelt of central IL., known mostly for being the headquarters
of State Farm Insurance Co. One-fifth of its citizens work in insurance.
The other 80% wish they did too. So, we’re talking about an upscale
redneck cultural wasteland.
That reality (and a local university football game the same night) might
explain why the US Cellular Coliseum (capacity 8,000) was only 60% full.
As my Bob-fanatical 18 year-old daughter said, “Dad, you’re looking at
every politically liberal person in Bloomington, right here tonight.” And
I’m glad to report they were not disappointed!
First, the sound system engineers really deserve the highest compliments
for the acoustic mix they achieved for the show --- for all three artists
– Amos, Elvis, and Bob. Perfect from start to finish.
Amos Lee played a terrific set, mostly new material from an upcoming album
release. That shows a lot of confidence. His music varies from swamp alt
rock to R & B, to soulful ballads, with a little Texas swing thrown in.
Amazingly he got a half-standing ovation after his 30-minute set, and
there were folks who came just to see him. (He went out to the concession
stands after his set and just spent time talking with fans. Class act.)
After an efficient ten-minute stage gear changeover, Elvis Costello
strutted confidently out to his mic and launched into a 45-minute solo
acoustic set that won the audience over immediately, and they were very
vocal in expressing their appreciation. Clearly a lot of people came to
see Elvis. I can’t comment on specific songs, because I’ve never really
been an Elvis fan. (Didn’t really like the earlier now dead Elvis much
either.) That said, Costello wowed the crowd with his guitar virtuosity
and incredible vocal range. He told some funny stories about his dad, and
mentioned that he’s touring on a bus with his jazz pianist wife Diana
Krall and their two ten-month old twin sons. He played his classic hits
“Alison,” “Red Shoes,” and “Peace & Understanding,” as well as some new
material, and enjoyed a long standing ovation at the conclusion of his
After another very efficient stage gear change-up (kudos to a great team
of roadies who know their craft!) it was time for Brother Bob.
It was apparent from the first guitar chords of “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35”
that Dylan was totally “on” tonight. (Maybe stepping it up in response to
his great opening acts?) I always expect the first three numbers to be
marginal and dedicated to getting the soundboard mix right. Not tonight.
It was cracking from start to finish, and Dylan’s voice was crystal clear
Anybody who says Dylan’s voice is shot really needed to be at this show,
because he was all over his vocal range, singing high and low octaves on
alternating verses and holding notes for several beats on songs like
“Don’t Think Twice… it’s alllllllllllllllriiiiiight” and a terrific
rendition of “Tangled Up in Bluuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuue.”
The set list was a near-perfect mix of old and new, up-tempo roots
Americana rock from Modern Times complimented with ballads and waltzes and
blues-inspired shuffles and deconstructed classics.
Bob’s keyboard playing was pretty amazing, especially when he jacked
through an ancient red leslie amplifier (with his Oscar on top) to get
that signature 60’s vibrato and sustain. I was watching his hands through
binoculars from close-up seats, and he reminded me of how Miles Davis used
to punch out chords as a staccato counterpoint to the other instruments.
Bob’s not faking anything when he’s on keys.
Bob’s sidemen were really loving this show, because there was a lot of eye
contact and subtle smiling going on all night long. Tony on bass always
looks like a cat on a hot tin roof, staring at Bob to make sure he’s not
gonna miss an unscripted chord change. And when the tunes really
percolate, he grins like a kid.
George on drums is the central nervous system between Bob and the rest of
the band, sending out hand signals, nods, and stick dictation just to make
sure everyone knows how many bars are left to play, or maybe play,
depending on Dylan’s mood at the moment. Lotta sly smiles between Bob and
George all night.
Denny on lead guitar was his usual unpredictable self, ranging from
brilliant on songs like “The Levee’s Gonna Break” and “Working Man’s
Blues #2” to playing in the wrong key on his first solo in the encore
closer “All Along The Watchtower.” (He corrected it after two bars and
Tony and Bob shared a laugh.)
Stu on rhythm guitar was mixed so low into the band’s sound that I really
couldn’t say what he played. He seems to spend a lot of time watching
Denny on the far left side of the stage. (Seems to me that this band might
want to set up so that the players are closer together, if only because
Denny and Stu are a mile apart.)
Donnie on everything is a rock, along with George he guarantees that on
each tune the roadmap will not be completely abandoned, no matter how much
Bob wants to take another detour. On stage on a riser set up right over
Bob’s right shoulder, he watches Dylan’s hands on the keyboard like a hawk
stalking its prey. His banjo and electric mandolin and steel guitar chops
That said, the real surprise of the entire evening was how great Bob’s
The last encore song AATW found Dylan still at the top of his current
vocal game, drawing out words and growls and sustaining the final phrase
“the wiiiiiind began to howwwwwwwwlllllllllll…” to thunderous applause and
grins all round from his bandmates, who knew the old man had just nailed
it one more time.
Then the band assembles front and center upstage, Bob in the middle with
his hands raised like a banty-weight prize fighter after a solid sixteen
rounds, harmonica in his right hand, like a trophy.
Review by Bill Pence
Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello and Amos Lee at the US Cellular Coliseum
The US Cellular Coliseum was the site for Bob Dylan's third local concert - the
first being at Illinois State University's Braden Auditorium in 1990 and the
second at Illinois State University's Redbird Arena in 1999. This time, Dylan
brought with him Amos Lee and Elvis Costello. This was my seventh Dylan
concert spanning a period of 29 years, the first being in the balcony behind
the stage at the old Chicago Stadium on the 1978 "Street Legal" tour.
Amos Lee started off the evening at 7:00pm sharp in front of an enthusiastic
crowd of about 6,000, of all age groups, in the 8,000 seat venue. He
reminded me of a young John Hiatt. Although I was not familiar with his
music, we enjoyed his set, particularly "Night Train". As an added bonus, we
got to meet him in the lobby after Elvis Costello's set. He seemed like a nice
guy, humble and almost uncomfortable with the attention he was getting as
folks were shaking his hand, congratulating him on his set and asking for his
Costello bounded on stage in a black suit, shiny shoes and his signature glasses.
Although again I was not familiar with much of his music, his enthusiasm and
passion for the songs won me over. He didn't perform "Veronica" but did play
"Alison". It was his father's 80th birthday, and as a tribute, he played a classic
from the 1940's. He encouraged crowd participation in his songs, and everyone
had a great time during his set. He finished with an anti-war song that he
wrote with T-Bone Burnette, a Christian, and the husband of Sam (Leslie)
Phillips. Although the crowd would have liked an encore, the lights came up
immediately after he left the stage.
After a short break (in which we met Amos Lee), the lights went down and
the introduction for Dylan came over the sound system. Bob opened on the
guitar for his first three songs, the classics - 'Rainy Day Women #12 and 35",
"Don't Think Twice, Its Alright" and "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight". He moved
over to the keyboard for a blistering version of "Tangled up in Blue", in which
his voice was very strong and clear. He would remain on the keyboards the
rest of the evening. He played his trademark harmonica on several songs.
Next up was "Till I Fell in Love with You" from Time out of Mind. Perhaps the
weakest song of the evening "When the Deal Goes Down" from Modern
Times was next. I like the recorded version of the song, but in concert it just
seemed to drag down the pace of the show. Next up were two more from
the new record "The Levee's Gonna Break" (one of the highlights of the
evening, as the band really cooked on this one) and "Workingman Blues #2"
where Dylan extended/accentuated "Workingmaaaaaan Blues" each time he
sang the chorus. "High Water (for Charlie Patton" from Love and Theft was
next and well performed. "Spirit on the Water" followed and again seemed
to slow down the pace of the show. As usual, the crowed reacted when
"You think I'm over the hill (No!)
You think I'm past my prime (No!)
Let me see what you got
We can have a whoppin' good time" (Cheers!)
"Highway 61" was another highlight! After six songs from his last three albums
(in fact, 9 of the 16 songs performed were from the last three albums,
showing that Dylan is far from an "oldies act"), another classic was warmly
greeted, and Bob and the band did not disappoint. In fact, this was my
favorite song of the night, although that's hard to say, because so many of
them were so good.
Next up was a great version of the haunting "Ain't Talking" and then another
highlight "Summer Days" from Love and Theft. The regular set closed with
"Masters of War".
For the encore, the band came back with a powerful version of "Thunder On
the Mountain", which features my favorite line of:
"Some sweet day I'll stand before my King".
After that, Bob introduced the band - the only time he spoke to the crowd.
They finished with the classic "All Along the Watchtower", leaving the crowd
wanting, as they continued to cheer for more until the lights came up.
Overall, Bob's voice sounded stronger and clearer than I had expected. He
didn't do any of his Christian-period songs, although that didn't surprise me,
as I had been checking his set lists each night.
Dylan's band has to receive special notice. They especially kicked it on
"Summer Days", The Levee's Gonna Break", "Highway 61", "Thunder On the
Mountain" and "All Along the Watchtower".
All in all, Amos, Elvis and Bob left some 6,000 people very happy as they
headed out into the pleasant night in downtown Bloomington.
Review by Mike Sennett
Dylan's show in Bloomington last Saturday was his first in the area in
over 8 years. In 1999, he had played in Normal, IL at the Redbird Arena
with Brian Setzer opening on that tour. (Bloomington and Normal are
pretty much one city.) This time the venue was the new US Cellular
Coliseum - which is smaller and probably better acoustically than the
basketball arena in Normal. Our seats were in the 9th row, so we had a
great view. Most of the seats were filled by the time Elvis Costello came
on for his set, although it didn't appear to be a complete sell-out.
Costello played a great set, opening with "The Angels Wanna Wear My Red
Shoes" and "Watching the Detectives". His set also included "Alison", a
medley of "Radio Sweetheart" and Van Morrison's "Jackie Wilson Said", and
of course "(What's So Funny About) Peace, Love and Understanding". I
hadn't seen Elvis Costello since 1979, on the Armed Forces tour - he was
in a much better mood this time around .
Dylan and his Band came on around 15 minutes after Costello's set ended.
They opened with "Rainy Day Woman #12 and 35" - Bob on electric guitar,
playing a few nice riffs towards the end of the song. The next number was
"Don't Think Twice" and it was one of my favorites for the evening -
recognizable from the open guitar chords but still an innovative
arrangement. "Tangled Up in Blue" was impressive - on most of the verses
Dylan would end with "Tangled up in ." and not sing "blue" as the band
pounded out the final chord of the verse. After this, Dylan stuck to
newer material for the next six songs - the band was tight and you could
even hear Dylan's keyboard riffs fairly clearly. From our seats, we could
clearly see that Dylan was enjoying himself, smiling from time to time and
swaying along with music. I liked the "When the Deal Goes Down" and "The
Levee's Gonna Break" better in concert than the recorded versions -
musically it seemed much fuller and stronger. Dylan's vocals were good
throughout the show, although a few times they became indecipherable - I
barely understood the "Highway 61 Revisited" lyrics at all. But on the
very next song, "Ain't Talkin" - Dylan sang every line clearly - and it
was one of the highlights of the show - ominous, brooding and very
atmospheric. The last two songs were also strong, Dylan and the band
really rocked on "Summer Days" and "Masters of War" was a fitting end -
although once again the words were hard to understand. The encores
followed the pattern of the rest of the evening, with the focus more on
the ensemble playing than on Dylan or the songs.
Overall, it was a strong show - I was really impressed by the band's work,
and Dylan was in good form most of the night. I wish the setlist had
included "Things Have Changed", "Nettie Moore" or "You're a Big Girl Now"
but maybe I'll hear them next time I catch up with Bob. As a side note, I
was able to see Bruce Springsteen in Chicago the day after Dylan's show in
Bloomington. Without trying to directly compare the shows, it was
striking to note some of the differences - Bruce being the focal point
throughout the entire show (except for sax and guitar solos), Bob standing
off to the side behind his keyboard and letting the band take the
spotlight; Bruce talking to the crowd often and even lecturing us briefly
about the Bill of Rights, Bob not saying a word except to introduce the
band; the crowd singing along with Bruce on every song, Bob phrasing the
lyrics in a way that makes it impossible to sing along with. Two very
different approaches - Dylan's tailored to minimize the wear and tear of
constant touring while keeping the music and songs vital - Springsteen
coming out every three or four years for a big blowout tour with his old
E-Street buddies. But at this point, I can't imagine Dylan doing things
much differently - and I'm not sure I'd want him to.
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