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Review by Ed Newman
It was a great concert. I will start with that.
Let's put things in perspective. Duluth has been waiting for Dylan a long
long time. Even though he's been said to hail from Hibbing, everyone here
knows he was born here and lived in Duluth's Central HIllside till he was
Native Duluthians have lobbied hard to bring him home again, but with no
such luck. Some even sought to name a street after him a few years back,
but the City Council voted against it. The arguments against ran along
this line: He has never sung here or come here or tried to make a tie with
us here, why should he be honored here?
Well, the Faithful were rewarded. Dylan played a wonderful concert for the
8,000 loyalists present on Thursday night, October 22. The tickets for
this Homecoming were snapped up in approximately 5 and a half hours nearly
six weeks previous and I was one of those who got lucky.
A little background on the reviewer:
For me, it was like having an early Christmas. Yes, I was counting the
days. Yes, I have been a longtime fan. There is a Dylan poster on the door
to my office, that one from his 1960 concert at the Underground Cavern in
Greenwich Village. And a framed Saturday Evening Post cover featuring "a
rare picture of Bob Dylan in seclusion" (November 2, 1968) hangs on my
office wall. For Christmas last year I asked for, and received in my
stocking, the Time Out of Mind CD. I listened to it nearly every day the
first month of 1998. (It is a habit of mine to attempt to "internalize" my
favorite music.) In short, I was pumped, expectant of a special evening.
As it turns out, my high expectations were not disappointed.
The concert was held in the arena of the Duluth Entertainment and
Convention Center. The arena floor was festival-style seating, which means
no seats at all, so the crowd mashes up to the stage or dances or does
whatever else there is space to do. A lot of the time they
enthusiastically waved their raised arms.
Before the show I walked down to the railing directly overlooking the side
of the stage and studied the racks of guitars. There must have been nearly
a dozen guitars in racks on both sides of the stage which would be used
during the show. The soundboards were enormous, and the men who were
operating the equipment seemed so small in comparison.
The lights dimmed at precisely 7:30 and I returned to my aisle seat in the
third row of Section 12.
You could still see a lot of empty seats when the warm up band, David Allen
and the Guilty Men, took the stage. I'm not sure where these guys came
from or who lined them up, but they did not seem totally inappropriate.
They had a tough job because they had to make music for a crowd that
clearly had one purpose in being present at this event: to revere the
I personally enjoyed them. The sound system was good. Their rockabilly
energy was palpable and by the end of their set they successfully made me
forget, albeit only temporarily, why I had come here this night. That is
to say, they were talented, played with vitality and didn't shrink from
It was a short, efficient exhibition, and they quickly took their leave.
Preparations were made, equipment swept away, new mikes re-arranged.
Lights came down, and the crowd was roaring as the Master and his group
walked in from the back of the stage.
As he did in Saskatchewan, Dylan opened with Gotta Serve Somebody from his
Slow Train Coming album. The crowd was excited. It was Dylan, live. The
Man. The real thing. But I think there was also a bit of reserve in the
air. The opening bars were not familiar to everyone. And for those who
knew the song, it was different than we knew it. It was rockier... and,
even though I personally know the words, I wanted to have the crowd hear
and understand the words, too. So I had simultaneous emotions: an
emotional rush from Dylan's presence, and a niggling concern about where
the concert was going. As it turns out, I should not have been concerned.
The next day's newspaper headlines pretty much tell the story: "Legend
makes fans' dreams come true," and (subhead) "Homecoming concert puts
diehard followers into a nostalgic swoon," and "Dylan brings it home to
packed DECC," and "Legendary singer gives his birthplaces a historic
performance." The front page head proclaimed, simply, "Dylan brings it
home." Dylan played 12 songs before leaving the stage and being "forced"
back for an encore. The encore set went five songs. The crowd was pumped,
screaming, beside themselves, ecstatic... and Dylan appeared to clearly
enjoy the warmth and appreciation.
General comments on a few facets of the performance and then commentary on
A. Sound quality.... I do not know how many concerts they have at the
DECC, but I was impressed by the fullness of the sound without it being
annoyingly overpowering. The sound, from where I sat, was excellent.
B. Dylan's Mannerisms
The man himself... what a strange combination of moves. I saw a lot of
things in his movement and expression that seemed, well, different. I mean,
he does that usual guitar player schtick, but some of the moves seem like
he's striking poses according to an inward script... Then there were some
of those effeminate flourishes which no one seems to say anything about.
And the almost shy manner in which he conducts himself. And, well, he is a
character. Sometimes intense, sometimes amusing, always Dylan.
C. Song Selection
I thought it a wonderful mix of past and present. Of course, I loved all of
his material... but, wow, like he played some of my favorites and in new
ways that we haven't heard before. Ballad of a Thin Man, Don't Think Twice,
Just Like a Woman.... and all the new stuff from his Time Out of Mind....
The encore selections were perfect... and when he did Blowing In The Wind,
I felt like I was no longer at a music concert, but at a Master's
Presentation. Seriously, I was moved up to another level ... Then, Dylan's
Benediction: "May You Stay Forever Young."
D. The Bands
The papers had only a single sentence of commetary on the warm up band.
(They "played real loud.") I'm still curious where these guys came from.
The guy seated next to me said Dylan's band members the same guys who
played with him in Green Bay six years ago, which produced a fabulous
concert for a small crowd... absolutely leveled the place with venom and
vibes. (Opened with Jokerman and never slowed down). The Duluth concert,
happily, was not that concert, because I personally loved both the hard
stuff and the acoustic stuff, and was impressed by the range of sounds,
from subdued to pugnacious.
E. The Crowd
I think the papers did a good job of covering the crowd. I used my binocs
to survey the audience and saw a fair number of unimpressed people in the
seats above, though there were many dancing in the aisles as well. The
floor crowd seemed more with it, swaying and swooning,... and yes, there
were those like me in the upper sections who had big smiles on their faces,
soaking it in.
F. No Talking?
The local papers made a big deal of a comical issue with regards to whether
Dylan would acknowledge that he was born here. Would he say anything like,
"Hello, Duluth" or some kind of statement to that effect? He did not say
anything other than to introduce the members of his band.
The few words he said were unintelligible for me. I intended to write down
the names of the band members as they were introduced. I did not catch a
It didn't bother me. As far as I am concerned, let his lyrics speak.
Listen to what he sang. Maybe something was happening there and a few
people didn't know what it was.
Oh, and I should mention that after the first number, I actually did catch
most of the lyrics. Of course, I already know the songs, so maybe it is
easier for me.
At this point, I will remind you that I am only telling what I saw and
experienced, not what the papers interpreted for me.
G. Biggest Surprise
I guess for me, personally, the biggest surprise was how much Dylan loved
to play guitar and that he is a guitar player who can really wail. I mean,
I have always type-cast the guy as a poet/songwriter/artist. But I
realized this night that he is an emminent musician and a unique performer.
It was a fabulous experience and a rare treat for Duluth.
THE CONCERT ITSELF
The audience was high on Dylan from the start, but there were places during
the concert where it bumped up a notch. He opened with Gotta Serve
Somebody in a fuller rock style than his original album, followed by I'll
Remember You, from Empire Burlesque. My guess is that a lot of the crowd
did not have these albums and was not familiar with the songs. Then came
Cold Irons Bound, which was cranking. This one, from his Time Out of Mind
album is one of my favorites, and the strange chord progression is
tantalizing, tormenting, truly original, piercing.
Nevertheless, the crowd, not as familiar with these tunes, did not break
loose till the harmonica intro to Just Like A Woman. He played that harm
with loud delight, repeating the chords a few times to many almost, just
rubbing it in our faces, and the crowd drank it up.
The song Can't Wait, which followed, is also from his newest album, and it
is another favorite of mine. There is this little guitar piece in there
that he also kept repeating. He seemed to enjoy the whole process of
performing, and pushing the limits. He appeared to be having fun as he did
slow, twisting knee bends, getting down inside the sound he was making.
The last electric tune of this first segment was Silvio.... not a favorite
of mine, but it makes a lively showpiece. On his Greatest HIts #3 album
(which selects one song from each album since Blood on the Tracks) Silvio
is the selection from his Down In The Groove album, and one that he
purportedly enjoys playing in concerts. (I checked his playlists from five
years ago, and Silvio is there, too.) "Find out something only dead men
At this point, the electric guitars were put away and acoustic guitars
brought out. The keyboard/synthesizer guy switched to mandolin and
electric bass was replaced with stand up bass cello. I found the sound to
be extremely satisfying, well produced.
Tomorrow Is A Long Time opened the acoustic portion of the program followed
by Masters Of War. While singing Masters of War I thought about the
messages he sings, the prophetic challenges, the put downs, the biting
insightful commentary in his lyrics, and how out of character it would be
for him to smile while singing much of this material. His pointed,
scorching words were perfectly released.
It was Tangled Up In Blue proved catalyst to turn the crowd ballistic. The
energy moved higher still with each verse and the excitation continued as
he entered into Don't Think Twice, It's All Right. The band executed like
a top notch bluegrass jam session. They were tight, volcanic and alive.
Guitars were exchanged and the sound turned electric again for Ballad Of A
Thin Man. Wow. Wow! Did I say wow? This was powerful stuff and he laid
it all right out there.
Til I Fell In Love With You closed the "official" program and the place was
reelin' and a rockin'... the crowd dancing all over the arena... (except
the sourpussed, non-plussed and disappointed remnant who do not know the
Man or his music.)
Suddenly, it was over....though I don't think anyone believed it would end
there. The crowd roared for more, and they got it. A gracious Dylan soon
returned to the stage.
The encore set began with Love Sick. It's yet another great song from his
new album and the crowd was not familiar with it. They respectfully
listened to the haunting lyrics, which were well enunciated right through
to its twist ending.
Then the dam burst. Rainy Day Women #12 & 35 has got to be the ultimate
party song and a boisterous, celebratory mood permeated the arena.
Guitars were exchanged and a wondrous Blowin' In The Wind followed and
something I did not expect happened. It was somewhat akin to an epiphany.
The crowd was there soaking it in, the music was dynamic and fully present,
but I was absent. I had moved to a higher plane, transcendant, somehow saw
myself watching the concert, recognized that I, yet not I, was in the
presence of a man who has made an impact on a whole generation. This was a
historical moment and a historical man. It was not just another
entertainment venue, just another concert. Dylan's importance came through
to me as he sang Blowin' In The Wind, with the crowd joining in on the
And finally, we went to Highway 61 Revisited. This is real homeboy stuff.
Highway 61 is Minnesota, is here and now and yet was back then. Through
the music of this man it is now a symbol of something more than a mere
thoroughfare. It's fun, fume and fame. It's a symbol of place and promise
and possibility. And the audience continued to drink from the well, with
The final number was performed after Dylan again left the stage and
returned. It served as both a second encore and a benediction. It began
as a rock concert, but now, with sermons ended and anthems sung, we
received his parting words of hope and promise.
May God bless and keep you always
May your wishes all come true
May you always do for others
And let others do for you
May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung
And may you stay forever young
May you stay forever young
It was a great concert. I will end with that, too.
Ed Newman is a freelance writer and longtime Dylan fan now living in
Review by Anne Karakatsoulis
'Unhinged in bliss'. I liked that phrase from the News-Tribune review.
Also they described the crowd as delirious, another apt phrase.
This is my 7th Bob concert, and was definitely the most excited and
appreciative audience that I have experienced. Bob must have been
thinking, 'hey, Duluth's allriiiiight'. The best part of the audience
was that there was no pushing or squeezing at all on that floor on
which every square foot was occupied. Duluth politeness ruled the day,
thank God. Bob in his infinite wisdom divided the sitters from the
standers by requiring that there be no chairs on the arena floor. I
think that was a great idea, although looking into the stands there
were plenty of times when many or most or all were on their feet.
It would have been a good idea, tho, if perhaps fewer people were
allowed onto the floor - it was packed. Getting onto the arena floor
in the first place, however, was not well planned. Gotta work on that
plan a bit. It was the running of the bulls with a thousand or more
let loose all at once to find their places. It scared the hell out of
me, and I just ran for the side to get out of their way, but as fate
would have it ended up in front anyway. And there I stood for the
best combination of poetry, great music and musicianship, and moral
and spiritual wisdom that can be found anywhere on this planet. It
feels like such a privilege to be there experiencing Bob and his band.
I'm not very good at remembering what happened during individual
songs, but 'I'll Remember You' moved me so much. There was so much
speculation beforehand on what Bob would sing that would reflect his
relationship to the northland. His selections were different than the
ones we came up with, but just as appropriate - such as 'I'll Remember
You', 'Masters of War' (maybe just a coincidence that the United
States Marine Band was giving a concert in the same building that night),
'Ballad of a Thin Man' REALLY played and sung well and I thought, hey
now that's a good choice, haha. And ofcourse he sang 'Hwy 61' - he rocked
the band rocked the arena rocked, and the same went for RDW. I always get
choked up when I hear Bob perform 'Forever Young'. I always am reminded
at that point that he is much more than a performer or musician or
poet, and we're so privileged to experience his Bobness live in person.
I found it tiring to wait in line all day, but really enjoyed talking
to all the Dylan fans. I'd do it again in a minute. Bob creates such
a spirit wherever he goes. He's a lesson to us all, if only we were
smart enough to figure out what that lesson is.
Thanks for coming to Duluth, Bob. You blessed us with your presence.
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