November 11, 2017
Review by Peter Stone Brown
On a day that saw the temperatures dive into the 20s the night before, Bob
Dylan and Mavis Staples played the first of two nights at the Tower
Theater, just outside West Philadelphia in Upper Darby, PA, a theater
Dylan first played in 1988.
Mavis Staples and her three piece band plus two backup singers took the
stage at exactly 7:30, and for the next 45 minutes deliver a charged
upbeat set featuring several new songs that had the crowd on their feet
several times during the set.
After a 15 minute intermission and two announcements telling the audience
to power down their cell phones, the lights went dark and Stu Kimball took
the stage playing “Royal Canal” on acoustic guitar while the band took
their places, and lights coming on slightly as a hatless Bob Dylan took
his place at the piano. The stage setup has changed slightly so Dylan now
plays facing the audience, and the drums have been moved to the left side
of the stage and angled so drummer George Recile is facing towards Dylan,
reminding me of Levon Helm’s setup with The Band (though Helm was on the
opposite side of the stage). This setup allows the audience to get a much
better view of what Recile is doing, and as it turned out, several songs
were rearranged with the drums playing a major part.
This was evident on the opener “Things Have Changed” in a new
thunderous and rollicking arrangement with Dylan standing at the piano,
and at times you could almost see the kid who blasted his high school
auditorium 60 years ago. Dylan was in strong voice from the first note and
for the most part stayed that way throughout the night. A straightforward
and fairly rocking “It Ain’t Me Babe” came next followed by
“Highway 61 Revisited.” The opening three songs made it clear that all
the songs are now tightly arranged with everyone’s part defined and
built around what Dylan is playing on piano, and he took quite a few solos
throughout the night. Gone are the interludes where Dylan would play a
riff, and then pass it to the rest of the band. Instead the emphasis now
on the original songs is on dynamics and sudden rhythmic changes which the
band pulls off effortlessly.
Dylan’s turns at center stage are now reserved for the pop standards,
and as it turned out, they provided some of the most moving moments of the
night, especially “Why Try To Change Me Now” and “Once Upon A
Several songs, in fact most of them have been rearranged, some
drastically. Perhaps a better description would be that they were
re-dressed, sometimes in clothes other songs used to wear which made me
think of the line from “Desolation Row,” “I rearranged their faces
and gave them all another name.” “Tangled Up In Blue” is part “If
You Ever Go To Houston,” but it also has this sort of tick-tock rhythm
during part of the verse like a clock loudly counting out the time quickly
going by. “Trying To Get To Heaven” now has the emphasis on the last
line, “Before they close the door,” with Dylan stretching out the last
three words each time around. I’m not sure if these arrangements totally
work, but they were adventurous and interesting, and particularly in the
case of “Tangled,” refreshing.
What did work was “Summer Days,” which now, based around Donnie
Herron’s fiddle is sort of bluegrass meets swing at a hoedown without
being either bluegrass or swing, but some combination, and the crazy new
riffs on “Honest With Me” and “Thunder On The Mountain” They were
both hard rocking, in fact ferociously rocking with lots of roll intact,
and a lot of the credit for the latter song has to go to George Recile who
has a cool drum solo near the end that brought the audience cheering and
standing. It had the wildness of the best rockabilly, but it wasn’t
quite standard rockabilly either. But he sang it with such energy, clearly
having fun, that I found myself thinking now’s the time to resurrect
“Subterranean Homesick Blues.”
There were several other cool moments. Charlie Sexton’s guitar on
“Early Roman Kings” was raw Chicago blues, and he also played a couple
of sweet solos on “Blowin’ In The Wind” On “Desolation Row,”
midway through the song on the “Across the street they nailed the
curtains” verse, Donnie Herron played a great descending riff on
electric mandolin that changed the color of the song. On “Blowin’ In
The Wind,” Dylan sang it like he remembered why he wrote it with
particular emphasis on “too many people have died,” that made it hard
not to think of recent events.
While there weren’t any deep into the mystic moments, it’s still
pretty remarkable that at 76, Bob Dylan still keeps finding new ways to
present and sing his songs, and on this tour he’s singing with a
youthful clarity that hasn’t always been in evidence in the 21st
century, with a band that is unbelievably tight.
Review by Barry Gloffke
My 2 1/2 hour drive from Forest Hills, Queens, NY was well rewarded
with another stunning performance by our hero last night at the
Tower Theater in Upper Darby, PA. He is locked in tight and riding
wild mercury on this leg of the tour. The Tower Theater is a gorgeous old
venue from the 1930's situated on a busy corner in Philadelphia. Inside,
the arena is slightly sloped, and consequently offers great sight lines.
This venue has a very unique setup: the first row is basically flush to
the stage and the stage itself is very low… I'd say no more than 4' high.
This gives the crowd and performer many a chance to exchange energy. My
fourth row seat was only 12' or so from the stage. The crowd was mostly
40s to 70s, energetic and extremely engaged. There were good vibrations
and lots of thunderous applause. The sound was superb.
I arrived in time to grab a beverage just before the end of the Mavis
Staples set. Stu made his usual appearance at about 8:30 followed by the
rest of the Cowboys in blue sparkling suits. Bob was hatless, with his
signature pinstripe black pants, white boots, white jacket and sequined
neckwear. From the first lines of THINGS HAVE CHANGED to the last chords
of BALLAD OF A THIN MAN, Bob and band were outstanding. George, Charlie,
Tony and Donnie each had individual moments of brilliance during the show.
Bob sounded fantastic and once again was rollicking on the piano. More and
more he is playing the part of Jerry Lee Lewis. His vocal deliveries are
clear and powerful.
All of the slow songs were delivered with care and conviction. Bob
especially went long and deep on SEPTEMBER OF MY YEARS. And AUTUMN
LEAVES is absolutely mesmerizing and chilling. The faster rockers were
sensational. Standouts were HIGHWAY 61 REVISITED, SUMMER DAYS,
HONEST WITH ME and especially the barn-burning version of THUNDER ON
THE MOUNTAIN…the drums man, the drums!!! The only blemish on an
otherwise perfect show was on HONEST WITH ME. Bob repeated one
stanza, so he must must have forgotten the one he meant to sing.
But, no matter. When our hero sounds as good as he does, and plays as
brilliantly as he does, he could be reading the phonebook and still give a
powerful performance. And a powerful performance it was. Exquisite
actually. Quite the artistic and musical endeavor. Rock, blues, country,
jazz, swing, funk, hollering, moaning, crooning and barking. An American
musical quilt. The audience was ecstatic, cheering for a third encore
about as loud as I have ever heard. Simply wonderful.
Look forward to the Beacon Theatre shows.
Review by Michael Perlin
And, for the 39th or 40th time (I really need to figure that out), I spent last nite
with Bob and the band (this time at the Tower Theater in Upper Darby, just
across the Philly border, a venue very much like the Beacon in NYC for those, like
me, who have seen him there over the years). This was the first time I had gone
to a Bob concert in almost three years, and I had a bit of trepidation. I hadn't
thought he was in particularly strong voice the prior couple of times I had seen
him, and I had no interest (make that zero) in hearing him croon the Tin Pan
Alley ballads. But I figured, give it a shot. And I am so so so happy that I did. His
voice was stronger than I can remember for many years, his pitch (at almost all
times, see below) was near perfect, and the band was even more superb than
before. As much as I love The Band (I love The Band!), I believe the current
group is the best backing group Bob has ever had in terms of his repetoire, style,
needs, etc. And last nite they were plu-perfect.
The last time that I saw him (December 2014), he played Stay with Me (a song
Sinatra recorded in 1963) as his final encore. I thought it fell flat, added nothing
to the evening, and it left me with one of those "Why is he doing that?" moments
that I have had other times with Bob's). Then, as he ramped up the Sinatra covers
and the other Tin Pan Alley songs (most really good songs, truth be said), I felt so
disconnected from them, and from his interpretations of them. And they seemed
to me that they were becoming the centerpiece of his live shows (a distortion, I
know), and then, when I was away in the summer of 2015 when he did his
NJ/NY/PA dates, I didn't have that usual "Oh man, I am missing this!" feeling I have
had when I have missed other tours. Last year, I didn't really think about going.
But, as the man says, things have changed. The YouTube clips I heard were a
mixed bag (I played the first covers album twice and never again, and never bought
Triplicate), but I felt it was silly to hold a grudge (channeling Maybe You Go Your
Way…[last heard in person by me 12 yrs ago, but,… never mind]), and decided it
was time to get back into the fold (I realize that at Bob's age and status in life, he
can sing Bach motets if he wants (that would actually be interesting), and who am
I to say the venture was foolish? Also, even if five of the 20 songs were throwaways,
that still left 15, and I have certainly gone to multiple Bob concerts when the set
list was 12-15, abd tho I was always left wanting more, I never regretted going.
So I went last nite, and I am so so happy that I did. Again, the band was smoking,
Bob's voice was in the best form since the Terminal 5 concerts in 2010 - strong, on
key, in the moment, and - best of all - urgent (it is Bob's urgency that gives the
strength to his live performances that is like no one else I have ever heard sing other
than on the opera stage). And the set list was - in retrospect - even tho totally
predictable, a really interesting melange of his different personas and styles. Some
thoughts on most of the songs:
Things Have Changed - is this now the Wally Pipp/Cal Ripken of his openers? I always
go thinking, "gee, maybe tonite he'll raffishly bring back Jokerman (or Crash on the
Levee) (or Absolutely Sweet Marie) (well, no, I know he won't but a guy can dream).
It was strong, vivid, clear, impassioned, more uptempo than some I have heard, and
the band's accompaniment could not have been better. I can't recall if I ever heard
George go to the mallets when I have seen this as an opener before, but it really
It Ain't Me Babe - When I returned to seeing Bob live in 1994 (I was still pouting
about his Born Again period, see comment abou "grudge" above), this was the
encore. I have seen it a dozen times in person over the years, and certainly never
quite like this. Completely different rythym (almost march tempo; I felt like my band
conductor was leading a 1-2-3-4), and I was struck by the lyrics (perfect for a "boy"
in his early 20s when he wrote it) being sung with such depth by a grizzled and
world-weary man in his mid 70s.
Highway 61 - Those of you who know me know that I use Dylan lyrics as the opener
of the titles of most of the law review articles I write. Just this year, I published one
that began "God said to Abraham/Kill me a son" (on the need for the insanity
defense in international human rights law if anyone is interested). And when I go
to services at our synagogue on Rosh Hashanah and this is the torah portion that is
read, I keep hoping our rabbi breaks out into this song (she hasn't yet, but I may
drop her an email to suggest it). This is one of my all time live favorites (I have
seen it over 25 times) and I was not at all disappointed. Uptempo, blasting the
how-did-he-think-of-that lyrics, again, great synergy with the band. And , a nuance:
2 bars of solo piano before the 7th (final) line of the song in each verse which really
added to the tension (the other sine qua non of BD concerts besides urgency is
tension; this had it, in spades)
Why Try to Change Me Now - OK. I held my breath. Back story: Before my mom
passed away in 2002, she lived for many years in Century Village, outside of Boca
Raton, FL. I would always check out the talent at the upcoming shows in the
clubhouse, mostly performers whose mediocre careers had peaked in the 50s (or
imitations of them: my all time favorite was the announcement of a chanteuse with
the words, "You'll swear you were listening to Vicki Carr!"). When Bob went center
stage, and grasped the microphone lke a HS bandleader, I thought, "OMG. How will
this sound?" To my utter amazement (and relief and pleasure), it sounded good. Far
better than anything on the Sinatra covers album or anything that I had heard from
Triplicate. Strong, clear enunciation, totally in tune, and, it was more than fine. I
exhaled. Four more to go.
Summer Days: There were always three songs I had wished Bob would retire - this,
Honest with Me, and Tweedle Dee. I always thought, with so much to choose from,
why these? Alex, our son, who used to come with me to concerts when he was in
middle school and high school, once answered, "Dad, maybe he just likes to sing
them." And I think Alex was right. Last night, I was so happy to hear this, sparked
by Donnie's mournful and evocative violin playing. The song rocked, Bob was loving
it, and after the Tin Pan Alley song that preceded it, it was the perfect palate
cleanser (though more than that; again, see my comment about urgency above).
Melancholy Mood: Back to center stage, and more crooning. Again, no criticisms at
all, and as I had figured, he was really into the phraseology, the nuances and the
let's-party-like-it's-1939-again (this was the B side Sinatra's first singlefrom that year(!))
mood of the song. So, so far so good.
Honest with Me: See my comments on Summer Days. Some new things.
Instrumental intro vamped the perfect 12 bar blues pattern. In verses 3 and 4, Bob
did a recitatif (that for a second, made me fear he was reverting to the long-buried
"upsinging" of the mid 00s) that somehow worked with this very uptempo song.
All in all, another palate cleanser, but one that, as with Summer, left me with a smile.
Tryin' to Get to Heaven: Only the second time I have seen this live (Asbury Park,
8/08, the other). Back then, when Bob was only in his mid-late 60s, I thought the
lyrics were so ominous, as if this were a valedictory-on-life (and he wrote it when he
was in his mid-late 50s, of course). But somehow it sounded less predicting-doom
last night than it did nine years ago. Though when he sang "c-l-o-s-e-t-h-e-d-o-o-r,"
his drawing out each letter really was pretty doomful. But, again, mostly just the
ruminations of a world-weary man on the vagaries of life. And Miss Mary Jane in
Once Upon a Time: So, # 3 in the cocktail lounge sublist. I did an involuntary cringe
before he started, thinking of how brilliantly Tony Bennett had sung this. And his
voice creaked a bit on the word "time" in the first line (more on that later). But Bob
vamped the bridge in a way that that would make aany 30s bandleader proud. And,
as he descended the sclaes near the end, his voice took on a burnished, rubato
tone that really amazed me (in a very positive way).
Pay in Blood: Even though I had known what the set list was going to be, I looked
up with a startled glance when I heard this as it was the first Tempest song of the
night. Bob's post 2012 concerts that I had seen had all had at least 5 cuts from this
album, and the way the evening had been going, I had actually forgotten that three
were coming. It was fine, but did not add anything much, I thought, to the
evening. I took notes throughout, and this was the only song about which I wrote
nothing down as it happened.
Tangled up in Blue: I am always happy to have Bob rearrange his songs, change
keys, alter tempos, etc. I am not one who wants everything sound
just-like-it-sounds-on-the-records (go to an Eagles concert for that…). But this
version did not do it for me at all. But, just hearing him sing the lyrics is a joy that
will always be a joy. Alas, he skipped the "topless bar" and "Montague Street" verses
as well. Well, the original remains the ringtone on my phone, so that's OK.
September of My Years: #4 of the 5 pop songs. Another Sinatra cover, with the
baleful lyrics that always remind me of a timer with the salt dropping from top to
bottom (the opening lines: "One day you turn around and it's summer/Next day you
turn around and it's fall"). Since I am now 54 years older than the first time I saw
Bob, these do resonate. And songs like this can turn mawkish so easily. But this
didn't. Here, when the notes vectored up, his voice broke a bit, b/c the top of this
is really, truth be said, out of his range. But it was so ineffably poignant that that
Early Roman Kings: I have seen this every concert since it was released, and that is fine
with me. Love so many of the lyrics - "sharkskin suits"; "sluggers and muggers". Your
basic two chord song but, so what. Such energy. Such sneering sarcasm. A real
wake-me-up. Loved it. Again, George's drumming was spectacular, and Charlie's guitar
work between verses was an eye-opener. My notes here said, "Talk about the band!"
Soon After Midnight: Probably the best of the four versions I have heard. What stood
out here again, was Charlie's guiatar work. On his solo, I had the sense he was seguing
from Sincerely to Sleep Walk to Blue Moon. And it worked so perfectly.
Desolation Row: One of my very favorites of the entire oeuvre, and, after the
disappointing Tangled, I was a bit apprehensive. There was no reason to be,. Upbeat,
a rticulate, and compelling. At one point, the band sounded to me like Springsteen's
sounds just before the key change in the first recorded version of Born to Run, which
was not expected. Listening to the lyrics for the umpteenth time, I was once again
struck by the utter brilliance of his choice of words, images, metaphors. One for the
Thunder on the Mountain: Hot! Blazingly hot! Started with the rock-blues chords of
C-C-F-C-G-F-C (was Bob channeling Bill Haley?). Again, Charlie's guitar playing and
George's drumming each got another exclamation point,. This was one that I thought
a while ago he might have well retired, but absolutely not, based on this performance.
Autumn Leaves: OK, the end of the crooning. I actually love this song, and have
played it in my concert band multiple times over the years. But I thought it was the
weakest of the covers (perhaps coming so near the show, it was just harder for Bob
to reach the high notes). A sweet, poignant song, but.. there are other better
choices for him if he wants to keep up this mode. I can offer a few suggestions if
he emails me …
Love Sick: What a great finale to the regular set. Again, maybe the strongest version
of this that I have ever heard. I've been listening to it a lot lately, in part b/c I am
using it for the first time as a source for an article title ("My brain is so wired," a piece
on neuroimaging and competency to stand trial determinations). The opening chords
are the best chord grouping since, well, wait til the end of this review for that.
A terrific rendition.
Blowin' in the Wind: Donnie led off with a violin solo that was exquisite. The piece
was played in a kinda bluegrassy mode, but this is one of those songs that can be
played in any mode and it shines. And I thought: how many songs are there that I
have seen the same artist perform over a five decade+ period? Not many.
Ballad of a Thin Man: The chords. Am - G# - G - F# - F - Dm - C - Em - Am - C - Em
- Am - F - Am. No other song in rock history has this combination (sometimes played
in Bm, which is more than I can get my head around), and no song has this passion,
this lust, this power, this anger, this joy. I still terribly miss Like a Rolling Stone as an
encore (will he ever come back to it), but I cannot complain going home with this in
my ears, on my lips and in my head and heart.
All in all, an outstanding night and outstanding performances. I was with my friend
Len - although we had both attended many of the same Dylan concerts over the
years, we had never come to one together before - and it was so great to be with
someone who got it and appreciated it and felt it the same way I did. And he just
announced an April set of dates in Italy. The man is like no one else in music. Ever.
We are all so fortunate to share space with him. Thank you, Bob. And thank you
for keeping all of us forever young.
Review by Adam Dean
It was.......different.Different than even my 2 most recent past shows at
Academy Of Music in 12-14 and Mann Music Center in 07-16, both of those
shows having a basic "static" set-list. Bob's concert-show has taken on a
distinctive Broadway even vaudevillian feel even-more-so than the recent
past shows. The stage set-up changed with Bob now stage-right with the
band spread-out stage left and Stu/George/Tony in a tight unit stage far
left. Charlie is in the middle and front-and-center quite a bit and he
just wails out the electric solos. The songs (and quite varied musical
styles) are well-timed and placed to bring shining moments and
dark-gloomy-retrospective moments to the show. Bob "the crooner" is now
full-blown with him swirling the microphone, dressed in a 50's-esque white
satin suit as he croons classic standards, and the crowd went wild for all
of it! The "crooner" songs are well interspersed among the rockers and
deep ballads so that the show tempo doesn't lag. The enunciati
on of words has improved BUT the re-writing of most of the older tunes
and even the relatively newer ones was somewhat startling, particularly
Tangled Up In Blue which was almost unrecognizable unless you listened to
the lyrics. That said, it was still good, even GREAT, slick and with a
nice flow to the show. Bob is on-stage for about 1:45 including the
encores. If you can see it, go! One never knows. I'll be there again
Review by Laurette Maillet
I haven't seen Bob and his people for 5 days and I miss the fun.
Take the bus 109 to Upper Darby. The Tower is just accross
the bus terminal. 6 p.m. some folks are queuing to get in and I
don't understand the reason. This is all seated tickets. It is freezing
cold and I forgot the gloves Larry (my couchsurfing host)had bought for me
in Pittsburgh. The buses are parked on the side of the theatre and I
spot Barron walking by. I chat with Fans, here and there but I am waiting
most for my good friend Jack Fate. It is nice to hug a great Soul. It
warms me immediately. I am confident to find myself a ticket but Jack
insists to buy me one and gets me outside the cold. One more time I can't
express all my gratitude. Jack and Kim will be blessed for the time and
more. I am all the way on the top. The theater is small (3000) so my view
is perfect, plunging on the stage. I have a seat on the aisle so I will be
up during the entire show. Mavis is doing her show. 45 minutes, no more,
no less. She is not so talkative tonight. She doesn’t mention how Bobby
moves his body! For me it's pretty much the way he walks that is weird,
like if walking on eggs. It takes now 15 minutes to change the scene. Stu
is on at 8.30 p.m. Bob didn't change his pants since Las Vegas! He is in
Black and White since the beginning of the Tour. No hat. I will call that
Tour : the B&W Tour. The boys are in blue. Where I seat the sound is
perfect. Bobby's voice is clear. I watch individualy each one of the
musicians. Though they have been doing that performance for 15 shows
now, they still look inspired. George, Charlie and Donnie have their
moment of "glory". George on "Thunder on the mountain" Donnie on "Summer
days" Charlie on "Early Roman kings", "Soon after midnight" and much more.
Tony and Stu perfect as the rythm duo. I focuse on the stage and on some
fans obviously as much exited as I am. The show is a roller coaster; up
on the Dylan songs he is performing on piano(most of the time standing up)
down with the Sinatra covers he is performing center stage. A good balance
of Rock and Croon. There is no song I will reject except. .."Tangled up
in blue". I still believe this is not the best version. well! One of my
"individualist" karaoke tonight as no one next to me is moving his ass on
his chair! Again, folks leave the theatre long time before the "Ballad".
The first row is 600 dollar ticket a seat and I heard a stupid one tried
to take a photo and was immediately taken ... out! I move quickly out and
run to the bus terminal to catch the 109 bus back where Olivia (my
couchsurfing host) will pick me up and drive me home. That was again an
excellent show! Good night Bobby!
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