South Bend, Indiana

Morris Performing Arts Center

November 1, 2019

[John Haas], [Adam Selzer]

Review by John Haas

South Bend, Indiana.  Wow. A very impressive concert.  Both my 
wife--who has seen him maybe 12 times--and my daughter--who first 
saw him in 1989 or so when she was six and has seen him about 
five times since--thought it was the best concert of his they’d seen.  
I’ve seen him perhaps 40 times since 1974 and wouldn’t go that far, 
but it was amazing, gorgeous, exciting, beautiful, quite touching in 
mysterious ways, and not to be missed, if at all possible.  

(Both wife and daughter confessed to tearing up at moments.  Me, I 
only cry at “Charlotte’s Web” and the “Mass in B Minor.”)

The stage lights come up at about 8 PM and 15 seconds and there’s 
Bob, looking shockingly small, holding an electric guitar, and they’re 
already chugging into “Things Have Changed.”  (It takes just a little 
while for the sound guy to get the vocals just right.) The sound level 
is not at the rock level (Bob hasn’t really been doing “rock” concerts 
per se since sometime in the mid-2000s, which isn’t to say they don’t 
“rock” on about a third or a quarter of the songs.  They do and they 
could much more--this band could do anything, one quickly realizes) 
but it’s not too soft either. It gets your attention but isn’t 
overwhelming. Could have been louder for my tastes, but maybe not 
without distortion, and Bob doesn’t want anything to get lost, 

At every level--from the arrangements (which are pretty radically 
re-worked at places) to the playing to the singing-voice employed--it’s 
quite obvious that he’s put a lot of thought into everything, and he
really wants the music to be right where he’s imagining it.  Nothing is 
sloppy, half-baked, or left to chance. Nothing is routine either, at no 
point does anything sound old or tired or phoned-in (and sometimes, 
not even very familiar). Maximum creativity at every moment and at 
every level is on display. Do I like every departure from the familiar 
more than the original?  Maybe not. Is it of the essence of whatever 
at his deepest of recesses makes Bob Bob to keep searching, 
improving, finding new songs inside the song? Apparently. Anyway 
Bob wouldn’t be Bob if Bob wasn’t doing what Bob does now and 
always, and I’ll go along with Bob being Bob every day of the week. 
There’s a reason he has a Nobel Prize and I don’t, and it’s located 
somewhere in the essence of Bobness--which, needless to say, Bob
has in spades.

So, I could maybe stop there.  If you’ve grokked somewhere along 
the line what makes Bob Bob, you’ll know what I mean when I say 
this concert was just so very Bob.  There were surprises (many), 
confusions (a few), disappointments (to the casual fan, I suppose, 
more than a few--though none to me), and sublime moments of 
great beauty, sly and difficult to define humor, and great humanity 
(while maybe still hiding a little behind that mask--the “song and 
dance man mask,” of course).  And that’s ok. In fact, it’s great. He’s 
Bob. That’s what I want.

But a few more observations.  

The first startling musical moment came for me with “Can’t Wait”--a 
song I love--which has this great slow-it-way-down vocal highlight 
which stops time and leaves you pole-axed.  As with the entirety of 
“Not Dark Yet”--also a song I really love--and which is fully rearranged 
and loses nothing in the transformation and at least for as long as it 
lasts becomes an entire world you’re inhabiting, and grateful to be 
doing so.

Not sure about the piano on “When I Paint My Masterpiece,” but, again, 
he’s Bob, I’m not, and I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.

Harmonica breaks are great throughout.  Chamberlain is fully integrated 
and on top of it.

There were three maybe four guitar solos, and Britt seemed to be 
taking all but one (the last, on “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a 
Train to Cry,” the last song, where Charlie clearly takes the solo).  My 
view of Britt was obscured by Bob’s piano, and it’s hard sometimes to 
see what Donnie is doing when he’s playing lap steel especially), but 
whenever I heard something approaching a fairly classical face-melting 
guitar solo, it didn’t seem to be Charlie, so I assumed it was Britt.  
These solos were great, and it amazed me that with Charlie Sexton up 
there--a 20 year veteran of the band too--he was largely devoted to 
rhythm guitar and various colorful stylings along the way. Here’s one of 
the top electric guitarists in the world right there on the stage and 
ready to go, and he isn’t taking the siolos?  Why? I think it’s because 
Bob wants the music right where he wants it, and he can trust Charlie 
to do that--that moment-to-moment precision is more important to the 
overall impression made by the songs than any solo, and Charlie delivers. 
The band does an amazing job--from this listener’s standpoint--of 
creating a mysterious soundscape that’s not a lot like anything you’ll 
hear anywhere else.  It’s mostly a pre-rock 1940s and 1950s sound--with 
some rock tossed in here and there. “Honest to Me,” eg, seemed a lot 
like whatever the Golden Chords must have been reaching for at that 
talent show back in 1958, Bob standing at the piano looking a lot like 
Little Richard, the whole band blowing like a hurricane.

I would never have guessed that Bob could stop me in my tracks and 
overwhelm me with “Girl of the North Country,” a very familiar song for 
almost half a century now, but boy did he ever.  I could have stayed 
inside that one for a long, long time. (Should have known: Back in 1997
he knocked me over with the very familiar “Mr. Tambourine Man” of all 
things at Deer Creek in Indiana.)  Both Tony and Donnie bowed their 
fiddles on this one, and it was like a slow, deep river carrying the song 
along and couldn’t have been better. (Tony’s electric bass was sounding 
fantastic all night, by the way.)

“Tempest” is not a greatly loved album on my part, and I was very 
curious how those songs would look this time, and how they’d be 
accepted.  I like a lot of the lyrics, just not the delivery on the album. 
“Pay in Blood” was really good live, really good; “Early Roman Kings” is, 
however, a highlight.  The crowd just loved it for whatever reason, and 
Bob seemed quite intent on getting it across. I suspect something was 
happening there and I’m not sure I knew what it all was, but I did enjoy
it very much and it left me wanting more.

It was nice to see “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry” as 
the final encore, for a rather personal reason.  I first began listening to 
Bob in earnest when I was nine or ten, in 1966, and the only album of 
his I had regularly available to me was “Highway 61 Revisited.”  No one 
else in my circles was into or even aware of Bob, so I had to find my own 
way into that record, and for whatever weird reason, that was the 
standout song for me more than any of the others.  Charlie’s guitar solo 
on that song tonight was of special interest, therefore, and it did not 
disappoint. Somewhere, Mike Bloomfield was smiling, I like to think. I 
wouldn’t have complained if it was louder, however.


Review by Adam Selzer

It’s wonderful how a concert can make you see things in a song that 
you always missed before According to my notes, I have seen Bob Dylan 
play “Highway 61 Revisited” 30 times over the years, plus who knows how 
many times I’ve heard recordings. But somehow, the way Dylan sang the 
second verse in South Bend made me realize there was sort of a punch 
line - or a threat - when Louie the King says “let me think for a minute, 
son” to Mack the Finger. Consider the first verse. We’ve already 
established what they do to sons on Highway 61.

As I was sitting there laughing with delight over a new revelation in an 
old song, Dylan sang the verse again. After the first line he seemed to 
realize his mistake, but rather than trying to fudge his way through he 
just sang the whole verse again. 

There seemed to be a number of missed cues like that tonight, but Bob 
was absolutely singing his ass off.  I had to miss the Chicago show due to 
work, so I drove two hours through the falling leaves to this one, listening 
to the new bootleg series (I never thought the Cash session was worth 
a major release, and haven’t heard the major release, I still don’t). The 
venue was gorgeous, and security was the tightest I’d ever seen on 
phones - they made me turn mine off 15 minutes before the show

Though the arrangements of the first few were good - especially a 
“Simple Twist” with an awful lot of harp - it took until the new a capella 
bridge in “Can’t Wait” for the show to really get going. The new 
arrangements feature a lot of a capella interludes and intros, and Bob 
was leaning in and singing in that style Allen Ginsberg likened to hebraic 
cantillation.  After he crushed that bridge, the concert reached a sort of 
a zone and stayed there. The arrangement on “Masterpiece” was
fleshed out a bit and a lot tighter than it was a year ago, “Pay In Blood”
is reinvigorated, “Lenny Bruce” was stunning, and even “Early Roman 
Kings” absolutely roared. The new arrangement of “Not Dark Yet” was 
fascinating, replacing the resigned lament of the original with a swirling, 
building, claustrophobic arrangement that seemed a lot more urgent 
(I suppose that 20+ years after you first note that it’s getting close to 
dark, it’s -gonna- be more urgent). Nothing shocked me like the slow, 
almost solo “Don’t Think Twice” from late last year, but its replacement, 
the stately lament of “Girl From the North Country” in a very tight 
arrangement, was nice. Occurred to me that it’s a much different song 
coming from a 78 year old than a 21 year old. When he was 21, you 
could assume the Girl From the North Country was still IN the North 
Country, and maybe the romance will rekindle. Now, is she still alive? 
Has she not moved to Arizona or something by now? It’s a
whole different sort of lament. 

The songs are very tightly arranged these days, not the loose jams and 
grooves of the old days. The well-dressed mannequins standing guard 
upstage and the lighting - keeping Bob’s face pretty much in the 
shadows at all times - give the impression that this is a presentation that 
Bob has put a lot of thought into. The new band was tight - Matt 
Chamberlain played unflashy drums with very light fills and accents,
never seeming like he was playing the drums instead of the song, and I 
didn’t end up with a firm opinion on Bob Britt, except that he blended 
right in (and maybe that’spart of why there are as many “Time Out of 
Mind” songs in the set as there were on the “Time Out of Mind” tour). 
Donnie was on violin most of the night, which was great. I do miss the 
days of there being surprises in the setlist, but the tight performance 
was well worth it, and I can’t wait to see how the band and the show
have evolved next month. Still feels weird to know the setlist ahead 
of time (I didn’t memorize it, but I’d seen it, of course) - and not to be 
calling Peter Stone Brown after the show. RIP, Pete. I’m sure you’re 
at every show somehow, though, so I’ll see you at the Beacon next 


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