Chicago, Illinois

Riviera Theatre

October 30, 2010

[Adam Selzer]

Review by Adam Selzer

I think I have a line on the two major differences in Dylan shows now and
the shows ten years ago. The voice, obviously, is huskier, but that's not
the major change.

The first is the pacing. Without the acoustic set, the blues shuffles can
sort of run into one another. The band now has its own sound, its own
identity, but it's not one with a ton of tricks up its sleeve. That's not
to say its bad, though - it's a damned good band.

The real difference is the way Bob sings the songs. 10 years ago I would
go to three shows and, despite having the same arrangement, "Desolation
Row" would sound different every night. One night Bob would take on the
persona of a tour guide leading a group through Desolation Row, the next
he would sound like he was in Groundhog Day, describing the sequence of
events that he'd seen countless times before with a sort of detachment.
Maybe it was all just in my head to start with, but now, I don't pick up
on much narrative content most of the time - Bob's vocal gymnastics are
more about the melody than the meaning of the words. He finds a riff, a
new melody, with the organ and sings the riff. 

But it still works. In CHRONICLES he writes about a new style of
performing he'd learned that somehow used mathematics to draw listeners
in. He might have been blowing smoke out of his nose (as he often does),
but the performances still have that effect of putting me into a trance,
lifting me up and pulling me down. Except for the fact that his voice is
an instrument unto itself, he could do the whole thing as a harp solo. We
know the words to "My Favorite Things," but they aren't the reason that
Coltrane's version seems transcendent. I might be more worn out
emotionally from a SPringsteen or Counting Crows show, but no one does it
like Dylan does.

The Riviera in Chicago is not my favorite place to see a show - the old
movie palace was simply not made with loud music in mind. The sound always
gets all muddied up, but the seats in the balcony are comfortable, and the
Dylan show last night (my 38th) was simply a knockout.

"Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat" was a good blues rocker opener (as always),
leading into a surprise "Man in Me" with Donnie on trumpet and Bob playing
a harp solo that marked the first time of the night I got into that trance

"Things Have Changed" moved things along, with the band falling into its
groove right away and Bob growling through. Here, the band's biting,
basement-of-a-wicked-blues-club sound took center stage. I've seen some
good shows since 2002, but it's only been recently that the band really
seemed like it had found itself again, not like it was "transitional."
Receli is playing the song, not just the drums.

And though, in my dotage, I'll probably look back and prefer the
Larry/Charlie era, or even the unpredictable Freddy Koella days, there are
definitely songs that this band does better, and "Positively Fourth
Street," the next song up, is one of those. This band brings back melody
to a lot of songs where the melody got lost in the old guitar jams.

"Summer Days" was great, then messy, then great, then messy, then great. 

THe highlight of the night for me, hands down, was the gorgeous, lilting
waltz take on "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll," which found Dylan
finding the melody early (and singing in a much lower register than he
normally does - occasionally the notes got so ow that he seemed to have to
put a lot of effort into hitting them). And, having found the melody and
found himself comfortable with it, he put more effort into singing THE
SONG, not just the NOTES, but still very matter-of-factly reporting the
six month sentence, not giving into the temptation to say that line with a
bit of a sneer. A knockout.

How many arrangements of "Cold Irons Bound" have there been now? And how
many have sucked? Why, none of them. This song is the gift that keeps on
giving, Bob roared it out in front of a projected picture that I think was
the ground-level of the Eiffle Tower. During the harp solo, a video of Bob
playing was projected over it - the closest you're likely to see to a
video screen at a Dylan show. It didn't LOOK like a video screen - more
like a camera obscura or, I don't, a magic lantern/zoetrope sort of thing.

"Simple Twist of Fate" was another lovely, melodic arrangement that
reminded me of the album version.  "High Water" was a wicked rocker, as it
always is.

The collector in me was glad to get "If You Ever Go to Houston," now that
getting a song I haven't seen at a Dylan show is sort of a rarity (well,
actually, I got at least one in each of the last several shows I saw, but
I saw plenty in between where it was all stuff I'd seen before, and most
of the time I read the setlist and say "I've sen all those already.").
However, the song sort of overstays its welcome on the album, and does the
same in concert. Not BAD, but it's a song that goes on forever without
really going anywhere, just warning someone else about what to do if HE
decides to go somewhere.

There are times when I feel like I don't need to see "Highway 61" again,
but this wasn't one of those - the instrumental section at the end was
particularly awesome.

"Tangled" was in a weird new arrangement that was neat to hear.  "Thunder"
continues to rock - I think this was a song that was MADE for Bob to play
in concert. The words don't necessarily MEAN anything, but they're clearly
great fun to sing, and Bob finds endless weird ways to play with it.

"Thin Man" is another of those songs where Bob really seems like he's
singing THE SONG, paying attention to what the words mean, not just how
they sound in the riff. After "Hattie" this was the highlight to me.

"Jolene" was a good rocker, "Like a Rolling Stone" was perhaps the most
faithful take I've heard (this is another that I think this band does
better than earlier bands did, though I no longer feel like Bob is taking
on the role of one of the angels in "Wings of Desire" or anything when he
sings it these days). Then, as a special bonus surprise, we got a third
encore - a nice take on "Forever Young," giving us a fourth song from the
1970s for the night.

I was worn out by the end - in and out of trance states that picked me up,
shook me around, dropped me off and made me grin and pump my fists and
give the guy in front of a high five. My friend and I walked South until
we found a coffee shop that was still open, then walked out to the old
graveyard where it was easy to get a cab home. Some nights you walk out of
a Bob show and think "man, he blew it." Some nights you think "maybe
that'll sound better on the tape." Some nights it's all high fives and
"best show ever" and.  And some nights you just have to walk and wait for
the trance to wear off. Those are good nights.

Adam Selzer


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