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Review by Eric Curtis
I just saw my seventh Bob show last night at the Centrum in Worcester.
I had never seen a show there before, and I was not very impressed
with the venue. The shows I have seen at the Wittemore Center in
Durham, and the Mullin Center in Amherst had better sound, lighting
and staff, however the quality of the performance last night exceeded
both of the other performances. The boys were real tight.
As my friends and I arrived at our seats, which were occupied by a
group of neo-hippies, Phil Lesh and his friends were in the middle of
their set. From what I saw and heard of them they were pretty good.
Derek Trucks is incredible, and his playing is by far the best thing
that that band has going for it. The played through a few songs, but
they mostly just jammed, which often took quite a while to go
anywhere. The few 'songs' they played seemed to get a rise out of the
dead-heads that were scattered throughout the arena. I haven't seen
such a large group of terrible dancers since VH1 replayed the classic
American Bandstand. They ended their set with 'Not Fade Away', which
I was kind of disappointed to hear, only because I had a hunch I would
be hearing it again later in the night.
Bob came on at about 9:00, and open with a quick version of 'Somebody
Touched Me'. I had missed this when he was opening with it the last
time around, and I was impressed by the performance. I got a kick out
of the strange look on the faces of the dead-heads seated around me
when the band started playing this gospel tune. Next came a real nice
version of 'To Ramona' played in a country western style. This was
another song that left the freaks wondering what happened to Phil.
Then they played a kick ass version of 'Mama, You've been on mind'.
The guitar work was real good and Bob pulled out the harp to finish
off the song, playing a real soft solo. Hard Rain followed. I was
real happy to hear this as were my friends and the other bob-cats
seated around us. I had never heard this live, so it was a real
highlight for me. Then came 'Don't think twice'. I was surprised not
to hear Tangled, but not disappointed as the band rocked through this
classic which ended with the best harp work have ever heard Bob play
live. This closed out the acoustic set, the first one I have ever
seen without Tangled.
As they started strapping on the electrics, I was very anxious to hear
what they would play. I knew that they had been playing a lot of
different stuff over the past few shows, and I was hoping to hear
'Folsom Prison' or 'Hootchie Cootchie Man', or something that had yet
to be played this tour. Unfortunately, two of the five songs they
played I had heard at the last show I went to over the summer.
Watchtower opened the electric set, and it seemed to be a little less
spectacular than the performance I heard this summer at the Tweeter
Center. Bob's leads weren't that great, but Larry's pedal steel
sounded good. Next was the highlight for me - Highlands. An
incredible performance with a few lyric changes (.. soft-boiled
egg..). The only flaw in the performance was when Bob forgot a verse,
and then a couple words from the closing verses. Mobile was next and
it was the worst performance all night. Again Bob's soloing was less
than impressive. My friend made a comment that he thought Bob had
been drinking before the show, because he was unable to play lead and
sing at the same time like he had done so well over the summer. The
band attempted to recover with 'Not Dark Yet', but that too was
sub-par, and not as good as the summer version. They closed the set
with a kick ass version of 'Everything is Broken', with all three
guitarists taking turns tearing up. This just about made up for the
previous two songs. The guitars were real loud, and everybody in the
arena was either dancing or bobbing their heads along with the music.
The encore was shorter than the last couple, but still had some real
good performances. 'Lovesick' was a played a little differently from
the previous versions I have heard. 'Like a Rolling Stone' was the
best version I've seen, though my friend thought it was a little
over-done. 'Girl Form the North Country' was good but Bob cut it
short when the entire audience started clapping along, way out of time
with Kemper's drum. The same thing happened during a performance of
this song that I saw last January. 'Not Fade Away' kicked ass and was
easily better than Phil Lesh's version, though considerably shorter.
Then they left the stage, and I was almost certain they would return
to play 'Blowin in the Wind' and 'Highway 61' or something, but then
the house lights came up and that was it.
All in all the show was real good, with a few weak spots in the
electric set. However, the acoustic set and Highlands alone were
worth the price of admission. I was a little disappointed that Bob
only played a 14 song set, when he had been playing 17 and 18 song
sets earlier in the week, but I guess that's just how it goes.
Also, even though this show was one of the best I have seen, I don't
think it lived up to expectations I had for it. I had been checking
the setlists and reading the reviews in the weeks prior to the show,
and it seemed that Bob was playing a lot of different tunes, and
turning them out flawlessly. All the reviews I read said that Bob was
playing his best stuff in a long time. I'm not too sure what went on
in Philly and Baltimore, but if it was anything like the reviews read,
it didn't happen last night. But don't get me wrong, the show was
excellent, just not flawless. I guess I'll have to get the tapes from
Philly and Baltimore and see what I missed.
Review by Larry Fishman
Some general thoughts on the night first:
Phil Lesh. Frankly, I have always viewed the Greatful Dead's appeal as
more chemical than musical. I like the Dead, but a little more than say
Bachman Turner Overdrive and a little less than the Talking Heads.
After 100 minutes of Phil all I can say is boring, dull - deadly dull.
There were about three songs surrounded by long, spacy, jazzy and
pointless jams. The predominantly Dead crowd, spun, weaved and went
bonkers during the Dead songs, but I didn't get it. Though he seems
like a real, nice guy.
The crowd: It was overwhelmingly a Dead crowd, I didn't know there were
that many hippies still around. While waiting to get frisked at the
entrance mucho drugs were being sold and and I did feel like I was here
for a rock concert. The sign at the entrance stated: No Audio/Video
recorders, Cameras and laser pointers. Didn't realize those laser
pointers were such a problem - good thing I left mine in the VW micro
Bob sounded sensational, singing with passion and conviction the entire
night. The sound system and acoustics were good, at times great. Bob
looked happy, but a little stiff in his standard black outfit with
silvery sequins down the arms and legs, white shirt and gray bolo style
of tie. It was general admission on the floor so I was ten feet from
the stage, center. Yeah baby.
General thought. Dylan was different tonight that the other times I
have seem him this year. It was set list filled with a larger than
usual dose of sad love songs. The slow songs were real slow, sweet and
performed mournfully while the electric and loud songs were LOUD and
I was more looking forward to the night's show because of the recent set
lists. Zim has been varying his show dramatically and couldn't wait for
the set surprises. I only got one, but it was a doozy.
Onto the set:
1. Somebody Touched Me. One of the Bob's old gospel covers that he's
been favoring as an opener. An exquisite, upbeat song that cooked -
we're off to a great start. The first of five songs are acoustic to
open the show.
2. To Ramona. The first of many sad love songs. One of Bob's most
straight forward love poems performed with the right touch of
sensitivity and longing. A beautiful, underrated song done masterfully.
3. Mama You've Been On My Mind. Performed slowly with an outstanding
harp solo at the end.
4. Hard Rain. A slow, melancholy version of one of the most haunting
songs ever written by any artist. A song that I always listen closely
to on every listen because of the rich, yet frightening lyrics. The
slowed down chorus was sung along by many in the crowd.
5. Don't Think Twice, It's Alright. Done in a snappy, bouncy
arrangement and one of the highlights of the night. Peeling off the
guitar, he started his harp solo slowly, building it into a loud
6. All Along The Watchtower. I have have heard this song enough times
in concert I don't care how good a song it is - though the crowd really
responded to it. Did almost a heavy metal version of the song, as they
say in Spinal Tap: it was played at eleven.
7. Highlands. Yup, Highlands. Yahoo!!!! The best 15 minutes that I
have ever spent a Dylan concert. Performed crisply, the lyrics were
significantly rewritten - the scene at the restaurant with the waitress
was expanded, for example. The band tightly followed Tony Garnier's
baseline and Dylan's vocal performance was extraordinary and as nuanced
as I have ever heard. Monumental, Bob was right on it and it was fun
hearing the new vignettes. If my memory serves me well, he has only
does this song twice in concert before so I feel lucky to have been
there for it. I believe the other times he has done this he also didn't
perform Tangled Up in Blue - I'm not sure that means anything except
they are both story songs about two very different sets of circumstances
and times. Sure hope there is a good soundboard boot.
8. Stuck Inside of Mobile (With the Memphis Blues Again). A loud,
kicking version. Another song that I have heard enough in concert - and
have never thought it was a particularly good song to play live -
somehow the humor is lost. There wasn't much he could do following
Highlands, but this wasn't it.
9. Not Dark Yet. One of my favorite TOOM songs, just a disquieting,
sad song performed in an exquisite silent way. I'm gonna miss the new
songs when he stops performing them.
Band introduction and a joke when introducing David Kemper, his drummer,
Bob said, "He's the only drummer who never lies...except when he is in
10. Everything Is Broken. Electric and loud. Booming the riff, Bob
rocked the house. Again quite loud. I like hearing the song, but have
heard better versions other nights.
11. Love Sick. I've heard this quite a bit over the last year or two,
but still really enjoy it. Sexton's guitar riff sounding organ-like at
12. Like A Rolling Stone. With Bob lightly, almost barely strumming
the guitar, he tore threw the classic mid tempo. I swear I saw Bob wink
and smile as he sang, "When you've got nothing, you've got nothing to
lose." I thought a better than usual version.
13. Girl From North Country. Stunning. A splendid acoustic version.
14. Not Fade Away. I was Bob huddle with the band before starting the
song. Not sure if he was changing the set list, but many they blasted
this puppy off. Phil Lesh played a version earlier in the night -
that's kinda weird - and Bob just trumped him with this crowd pleaser.
As I saw Larry Campbell march off with his guitar case I knew the night
was over. I was hoping for an additional encore as the left the lights
turned down for a few minutes. Ahh no luck, guess I'll have to wait
until thursday in Amhearst to see and hear any additional surprises.
Review by Thad Williamson
Though I've seen Bob four times in '99, tonight in Worcester is the first
I feel compelled to post a review. Let's cut right to the chase--what was
a very nice show turned into an exceptional, borderline-transcendent
show with the brilliant, brilliant performance of HIGHLANDS midway
Comments: The first two songs were a little flat--perfectly enjoyable, but
Bob just warming up his voice, really. The arrangement of Ramona is
interesting, a cute little waltz, but not really an arrangement that
matches the meaning of the song, and hence I though the performance fell a
bit flat of the song's potential. Mama was very good, Bob began to get
focused. Hard Rain saw Bob very sharp, the song was well-paced, richly
delivered, not an all-time Hard Rain but very impressive nonetheless. Don't
Think Twice was perfect, Bob picking up harmonica for second time in the
show (also briefly on Mama.)
No comment required on Watchtower. Then Highlands--the band started playing
that riff and what could you do but slap your mate on the back and say
"omigosh!" It was a version distinct from the hypnotic quality of the TooM
recording, instead quite bluesy, with Bob really spitting out the lyrics,
keeping you on edge with use of syncopation and rhythm. Every word and
phrase was exquisitely enunciated, you could hear every consonant. I'm not
kidding! And every verse in the song was there too, a few words played
around with .Even a stumble or two near the end over lyrics (one forgotten
line, one word that had to be repeated) could take nothing away from
this--a scintiallating Dylan performance, an example of him being fully
present in the moment with the audience, giving his all, leaving no doubt
he wanted listeners to be able to keep pace with the song, get sucked into
it, and almost believe one's self to be floating away to the
highlands...well done. Worth price of admission.
From then on, Bob was in a zone--good Mobile, very good Not Dark Yet (that
had me thinking how grateful I am Bob is still with us), and excellent
Broken (with Bob singing "seems like Everythiing is Broken"). For the
encore, Love Sick was very sharp, North Country a model of plaintive
sweetness. Rolling Stone was sung with real conviction, a
powerful performnce, best I've heard in a long time. Finally, in the macho
matchup of who has the more rocking Not Fade Away, Dylan dusted off Phil
Lesh (who closed with the same tune) easily.
A terrific evening, my last chance to hear Bob in the '90s and a great one
to remember the Dylan of this decade by---
Dept. of Government, Harvard University/
National Center for Economic and Security Alternatives (Washington)
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