November 3, 2021
Review by Adam Selzer
Back to the Auditorium! The gorgeous Louis Sullivan-designed theater where
Bob, Merle Haggard, and Amos Lee played five nights in 2005. It was a
wonderful week; a lot of us just hung out around the theater for most of
the week. Merle came out and talked to us a bit. One day I was walking
from my apartment to the venue (even a bus ride was a tight expense at the
time) and realized I was walking behind Amos Lee’s trumpet player; he
recognized me from the alley behind the Auditorium and we chatted the rest
of the way there. I met people I still hang out with that week. It was
what fandom is all about.
Permit me, if you will, a bit of food blog style “before the recipe”
rambling. It’s common to see reviews of, say, American Graffitti, in
which the reviewer marveled that 1962 seemed like a LOT longer than 11
years ago. Ebert noted that civiliations had risen and fallen since then.
Logically we should be in the same situation now. In 2005 smart phones
didn’t exist, Bush was president. It was a different world.
Civilizations really have risen and fallen. Merle is gone. Now same sex
marriage and weed are legal here (among other changes). But it doesn’t
seem like eons ago; it seems like it passed in a blink of an eye to me,
like I could go to that alley and everyone would still be there, like I
just missed a night because I had to work a double in some tourist trap
And when I got to the alley today, Matt Steichen, who I met right after
that run, and Jennifer, his wife (a Dylan superfan whom he met at a show
right after that run) were there with their kids. We watched the band come
in and exchanged some “Great show last night” “Thanks” type
greetings as they passed.
The Chicago Auditorium is a gorgeous venue, the second Louis
Sullivan-designed place Bob played in Chicago (if you count The Bear in
1962, which was was in an old Sullivan mansion; there’s a hideous
parking garage there now). Acoustically perfect, with murals about life
and death on the wall. Bob and the band came out a bit earlier than last
night, about 8:10, and the first two songs were great from the start.
I’m amazed at how clear his vocals are; all traces of the wolfman growl
of a few years back are gone, except when he needs them.
“I Contain Multitudes” was the highlight of the night for me. Instead
of spending most of it at the piano, consulting the lyric sheets, Bob was
center stage the whole song, clearly enjoying himself and really acting
the song out, prowling around at a crouch like a cartoon character going
on safari. Much more dynamic and FUN than the album take. “False
Prophet” was back at the piano.
“When I Paint My Masterpiece,” the first surprise of the night, was
closer to the Shadow Kingdom version than the 2018-19 one; bouncy and
loose. I miss the slow, sparse piano version, but the new songs have
enough “slow, sparse” arrangements that another would be hard to work
“My Own Version Of You” was improved a bit from last night; the band
was getting a bit tighter on it, and Bob ended with a piano section that
sounded like the kind of music that plays when skeletons are dancing. The
curtains were all red - they’re a neutral color, and the new light-up
floor makes them seem like solid colors, not like curtains colored by
stage lighting. My friend Ross pointed out that the curtains were red on
the new songs, and a mixture of other colors on the new songs. Neat.
Bob tried to do “Black Rider” from center as well, but forgot a couple
of lines in the first verse and moved back to piano for most of it. The
flub seemed to cost him some confidence, though the rest of the lines were
well delivered. The “murder ballad” lyrics on the Shadow Kingdom
rewrite of “To Be Alone With You,” coming so soon after “My Own
Version of You” and “Black Rider,” seemed particularly dark. This
show really does sleep with life and death in the same bed. Take advantage
of legal edibles, a new thing in town since Bob was last here, at your own
“Key West” seemed a lot tighter tonight - I still don’t think the
band has QUITE figured out how to do the song, paritcularly the shift to
the choruses, but it was a lot closer this time than in Milwaukee, where
the arrangement was messier. The band was fine the first night, but
getting better tonight. The piano mix was better.
“I’ve Made Up My Mind…” was one again a huge highlight, with Dylan
drawing out words longer than you’re picturing, and “Jimmy Reed” was
a big improvement over last night. In the band intros he asked Doug to
take a bow, and you could see Doug internally debate whether he was
serious before giving a little bow. Charlie was again hitting the vape
during the intro, which we joked might be the reason the venue had signs
up warning that fog and haze were used in the show (first time I’ve seen
such a sign - the kind you usually see for strobe lights). Rather than a
dedication, Bob said “We’re happy to play here. We love Chicago, just
like you do.”
“Love Sick” was tighter, though Bob visibly forgot a verse and seemed
frustrated by it. This is the sort of thing that happens when you do an 18
song set with 8 brand new songs, several more that haven’t come up in a
long time, then add in two MORE new ones the next night. We could identify
songs that could be swapped out last night, but I figured he’d wait a
while before making things even more complicated for himself. These RARW
songs aren’t exactly sparse, lyrically! It’s great that Bob is so
willing to challenge himself.
Overall, I feel like people who missed last night were thrilled with the
show; those who saw Milwaukee generally felt that some songs were better
tonight, others weren’t as strong. I didn’t see Charlie doing as many
strange things with the drums. But the shows were both excellent, with
Bob’s vocals being the high point - I couldn’t believe how clear his
voice was on “Most Likely,” in particular - it sounded almost like it
could have been a 1966 performance at times. His range is -greatly-
improved from a few years back, and whatever they’re doing on the
microphone choice and soundboard end is making him sound terrific.
They’re still working out a couple of wrinkles in the new show, though,
so the later ones on the tour will likely be even better, and the other
RARW songs will get to be as good as “Multitides” was tonight.
Among us returning fans from 05, well - in those days I was between
restaurant gigs, overdrawing my account for $25 tickets, a couple months
away from selling my first book. Michael Smith worked in a tobacco shop.
Ray Padgett was about to start college. My stepson was two and I didn’t
know he existed yet. Now that two year old stepson just started college
around the block from the Auditorium; one of his required textbooks was
the one Mike and I wrote about the silent film business in Chicago.
We’ve all gone on to bigger and better things. At dinner with those two
and the Steichens and co before the show I was swelling up with pride for
all of us at how far we’ve come since then - hell, I couldn’t even
afford dinner before shows back then.
But those of us who measure our lives in these sorts of coffeespoons have
to reflect that if all that happened in a blink of an eye, well, we only
get so many blinks, right? Just two more blinks like that we’ll be how
old?…. This was all magnified by the show, which Ross described as
“totally a show about death - that stage is basically The Black
Lodge.” Hell, the ornamentations in the theater look a lot like the ones
Sullivan desiged for the Getty mausoleum around the same time as he built
the Auditorium! But even as civilizations have risen and fallen, the
Auditorium still stands, looking much as it did back when Teddy Roosevelt
first quoted the old proverb about carrying a big stick on that stage.
Some decades back people who planned to demolish it found that it was so
well built that it would be too expensive to wreck. That place’ll be
there til the mountains wash to the sea.
Review by Mark S.
This was my third Dylan show and first since seeing him back to back in
2006/07. I was in my late teens for those shows and my then obsession with
the Rolling Thunder Review guaranteed that I would leave disappointed
despite the generous helping of 60s cuts at both shows. I vowed to never
see the growling cookie monster ever again and yet 14 years later I find
myself in a box seat buzzing with excitement at seeing an octogenarian
sing weird, wonderful, NEW songs. All it took was a pandemic, a live
stream, and an atmospheric album to convince me to give the man a third
chance. I'm so glad I did.
I ate an edible, packed my binoculars and walked the two miles to the
Auditorium Theater. Entering was a breeze and I soon found myself sat with
a lovely group of fans old and young(ish) alike. Looking over the audience
I saw several heads sporting Bob's Rolling Thunder Review era hat,
complete with feathers and flowers. I hoped that they weren't in the same
headspace I was in '06/07 but before I could warn them the lights went
down and the show began. Couldn't see Charley or Tony for most of the show
but Bob's piano faced us directly so that more than made up for the
obstructed view. Spent the whole show standing with my back to the box
curtain, binoculars glued to my face as I took in every idiosyncratic
move, devilish smile, or pose struck by Bob every few moments. As he
plunked out blues riffs on the upright piano I could easily see the
teenage Elston Gunnn backing Bobby Vee as expertly as he could in the key
of C. I thought, "I could play that!" but not in the dismissive tone
usually reserved for that line. It was oddly encouraging. Of course, he's
Bob Dylan and I'm some nerd on the internet, but hey, rare is the show
that makes me feel excited and hopeful about my own playing. So...thanks
for that Bob!
Spent quite a lot of time studying Britt/Lancio/Herron. I've read about
the inherent unpredictability of playing with Bob and at times you could
see all three players with their eyes locked in on him, trying to
anticipate either an early ending or extended verse. At one point in the
show Herron *really* tried to get Bob's attention but the man either
couldn't hear him or was extremely occupied with something stage right.
Surprisingly, in a night of expertly executed and playfully sung songs,
what stuck with me the most was an entire forgotten verse of Love Sick.
The tension was palpable as he mustered a few unsure syllables but Bob, a
little resigned but determined, signaled another go before improvising the
start of the fourth verse with something along the lines of "sometimes,
the silence fucks with you". Can't wait to hear a recording to catch the
exact wording but it was an unexpected and honest moment you wouldn't get
with most folks on the road these days.
After the show I booked it to the front of the stage in hopes of grabbing
a setlist or guitar pick. I was informed by several smirking men that
"they don't do paper setlists anymore, they've all got ipads now" but
little did they know I spied several printed sheets taped to the floor
monitors across the stage. Unfortunately I saw those sheets promptly
collected and we were shooed out by security. Oh well. I took a right out
of the venue and circled the block, curious where the crew were loading
I found a side alley and against my better judgement walked down it. I
turned the corner and found myself face to face with the nose of a big
rig. A security guard apologized for the presence of the large truck and
pointed me directly in the path of men-just-trying-to-do-their-job to exit
the alley. As I passed I asked one of the venue's resident ghosts if he, a
translucent spirit doomed to forever haunt the theater in no way
affiliated with the live, working men, had seen any setlists as the crew
were loading out. To my surprise he nodded and quietly told me to hang
around for a few minutes. I watched a couple of older men fretting over
handwritten manifests as crate after crate of "East-West Touring Inc."
gear was loaded onto the truck. Sure enough about five minutes later a
folded piece of paper backed with electrical tape was placed into my hand
and my heart burst out of my chest as I thanked the kind soul and high
tailed it out of the alley. I grabbed an electric bike and pedaled out of
the loop with a huge, goofy grin on my face. I saw Bob Dylan in 2021 and
it was like seeing your grandpa, who you love very much, walking a tight
rope. It was captivating, I was rooting for him, and it was extremely
entertaining to see him succeed.
Review by Bob Shiel
Bob Dylan came to Chicago tonight, perfectly timing his customary
week-within-Halloween appearance in the Windy City, historically one of
his most visited venues in his illustrious career as a live performer. But this
wasn't any ole Bob Dylan show. It was his 2nd post-COVID reappearance
on a live stage, on a somehow historic tour before it even happened,
given that 37 years ago was the last time the man did not perform live
for 2 years.
Last night's amazing tour-opening Milwaukee set list containing 8, count
'em, Rough & Rowdy Ways songs remained steady, except for When I
Paint My Masterpiece and To Be Alone With You replacing Simple Twist
Of Fate and Soon After Midnight and Melancholy Mood moving from the
#9 slot to #14.
This tour is all about Rough and Rowdy Ways. Although all these songs
sound good live, I Contain Multitudes and Key West stand out as stellar
melodic arrangements with mesmerizing lyrics, which Bob is delivering quite
intelligibly. I saw no evidence of the lyric or sheet music reliance reported
in Milwaukee on night 1 of the tour. But then, I was in the nose bleeds,
so what do I know? What do I know that is worth criticizing? Well, False
Prophet sounds too much like Good Bye Jimmy Reed, and My Own
Version Of You is the most pedestrian of the bunch. None of these songs
are going anywhere, however. Bob Dylan does what he wants to do.
With his wordiest album ever, Bob appears to want to make a statement
about what has transpired in human civilization and on his own personal
journey since his May 24, 1941 birth. Rough and rowdy, indeed.
The overall sound of the band is similar to that fantastic Fall 2019 tour,
and new drummer Charlie Drayton almost imperceptibly follows Bob and
the rest of the band, allowing Bob, at 80, to not have to strain to be
heard over the other 5 members of the band. This was true right of the
box on the opener, Watching The River Flow, the most straightforward
version I've ever heard Bob do of that song, and I've heard quite a few.
Talk about keeping it simple! Think blues shuffle 101. The shift to Drayton
from Matt Chamberlain, who flat-out wowed us in 2019, and even more
so George Recile for roughly 16 years before that, is pretty drastic.
Drayton is quieter and more invisible in comparison. Again, probably a
good thing for Bob's sake. Mostly, given that Charlie D's percussive chops
give you the feeling he could flamboyantly drum fill every nook and
cranny of every song with unnecessary virtuosity, blindfolded, his obvious
reverence for the guy everybody came to see was moving for me to
The magic of Bob's veteran multi-instrumentalist Donnie Herron was
evident on When I Paint My Masterpiece when his fiddle played off Bob's
piano beautifully, making their instruments sound as if they were playing a
gorgeous little cat and mouse game. Bob Britt is back, laying back much
more than what I saw him do when he backed Delbert McClinton about
6 years ago, and added sweet lead electric riffs on It Takes A Lot To
Laugh, A Train To Cry and hot acoustic ones on When I Paint My
Masterpiece - and on To Be Alone With You as Bob wailed away on some
killer harmonica. As for the new guitarist, Doug Flavio, who is technically
filling the legendary shoes of Charlie Sexton, although that ain't happening,
one gets the feeling he will play a more and more prominent role as his
first tour progresses. I might be wrong, but keep an eye out for this if
you're catching this already legendary tour as it moseys toward the east
Rocked-up I'll Be Your Baby Tonight closed with a soulful slow change that
left the crowd wanting more. Per Bob's penchant for changing lyrics, often
with comical twists, he suggested, "You might be hallucinating and might
think you see a ghost, but you still gotta serve somebody." One of
countless hearty belly laughs tonight!
After introducing the band, something he hasn't done for what seems like
forever, Bob said something like, "We love Chicago, just like you do." Well,
the feeling goes for you, too, Bob. We really do love you and wish you all
health and happiness in this world so lucky to still have you in its midst.
During the first encore, Love Sick, when Bob flubbed the lyrics completely
on verse 3, the one that starts with, "Sometimes the silence is like
thunder," the band kept vamping for 2 more measures until Bob came in
just fine, at which point Tony Garnier, bless his heart, stepped right over
to Bob's piano and purposefully pointed his bass guitar in the air towards
the towering, cavernous ceiling of Louis Sullivan's Romanesque Auditorium
Theater as if to say, "It's okay, Bob, we got your you know what covered!"
The stage lighting was highlighted by lots of reds and whites and even
lights under the stage floor, visually and aesthetically cool, but possibly even
helping to stabilize Bob's footing, which frequently appeared dangerously
wobbly as he ventured mid-stage from his upright piano and back all night
long, sometimes multiple times during a single song. I was afraid the man
would fall and hurt himself, possibly badly, and breathed a sigh of relief
when he safely exited the stage at the end of the evening.
As my new friend Cory R. stated so eloquently, "What a show!" And
thanks, Charles T., for your companionship and conversational banter
before, during, and after the formidable proceedings.
On to Cleveland, Columbus, and Bloomington this weekend!
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