November 15, 2009
Review by Bobby V.
Look out New York. Bob Dylan just finished off the last of his three shows in
Boston-town, and the man – and the band – is on fire. He’s arguably playing
more modern music than ever in the Never-Ending Tour’s recent past, with over
half of the selections for last night’s set list coming from the post-*Time out
of Mind* era (though no Boston-referencing “Highlands”, that would’ve been
sweet, if too long for a show). 3 *TooM*, 3 from *Modern Times*, and *3*! From
*Together Through Life* – overall a great latter-career display.
The show was electric, even if the crowd wasn’t always so. The ushers
seemed to be actually trying to get people to sit down after the start, and soon
all too many obliged. The higher ticket prices for the smaller venue might have
been the cause, the crowd being maybe a bit older than some of the arenas
offering general admission. But a Dylan theatre show can’t be beat, the Wang
was great, and I’m sure United Palace this week will live up to the hype, as
But for the relative melancholy, people still seemed to appreciate the
legend, and he reciprocated, with more jucking and jiving than ever, and
appearances not only behind the obligatory keyboard (facing crowd left), but
center stage with guitar in hand and moving about with mic and harp, as well.
And all three positions came in the first three songs! It was unreal. So no
worries to those with center-right tickets this time around, Bob will give y’all
plenty of face time too. The songs:
1. *Gonna Change My Way of Thinking* – Great to get a *Slow Train* track,
and to kick it off! Half of the fun at these shows is trying to figure out
which song is being played, and this pick didn’t disappoint. Sounded strangely
like 2 in a Room’s “Wiggle it, just a little bit” melodically in the opening
haha. Clear, super-clear vocals though to start off the show cleared it up; it
was on-the-money good.
2. *The Man in Me* – Center stage, unadulterated, gorgeous loud harmonica,
and a shout-out to those young-uns who may know the track from *The Big
Lebowski *if not the underrated original album, for not all songs on
tonight’s docket would be as recognizable to non-Bob heads, or fans of the
newer stuff, as there was a lot of that. Not many “classics” tonight,
though the show certainly was. The first of two great trumpet
accompaniments. 1st time in a long time for this one, I believe. And a
3. *Beyond Here Lies Nothin’* – Great track (great videos!), great trumpet.
These newer songs stay truer to the original arrangements, understandably; this
is his/their music now, and it was sweet.
4. *Baby Blue* – Wow! Great pick, and guitar center stage. He held it
almost upright like he might used to back in the day at the end of songs to get
out those last hard strums, like Johnny Cash. People who knew what the song was
responded with favor, those who didn’t were probably confused. But “c’est comme
ca”, it’s part of it, finding these old gems within their new arrangements – a
great experience in my book.
5. *Rollin’ and Tumblin’* – The first of three scattered *Modern
Times*tracks, and the rollickin’ good time that it is.
Got the crowd going.
6. *Tryin’ to Get to Heaven* – Beautiful, gorgeous, all the superlatives you
could think of and a nice change of pace. The first of *three!* straight from
*Time out of Mind, *all with great harp solo
7. *Cold Irons Bound* – Had that great ominous tone, with accompanying lap
8. *Not Dark Yet* – Some serious posing and emotion from Bob on this one;
this new position of being unadulterated center stage with mic and harp
suits him, and he almost literally reaches out and grabs the crowd at times both
in lyric and gesture. Unreal.
9. *Most Likely* – A nice, nice switch from the foreboding of the
*TooM*tracks to this fun one off of
*Blonde on Blonde* – the only one, unfortunately, for those of us who love
the album. This Charlie Sexton guy really starts to open up.
10. *Forgetful Heart* – Wow. I think, for many people, the best and most
affecting of the night. Unbelievable. The arrangement arguably “better”
than the album. Bongos, viola, standup, and the sickest harp, great vocals.
Unreal, pitch-perfect on this one.
11. *Highway 61* – One of 4 tracks from the 60’s, save for the obligatory
encores – which count I guess, cuz he feels he’s gotta do ‘em, so six,
really. But great for the crowd to get one they’d [better] know. A
possible shout out to the upcoming Muslim holiday Eid-al-Adha in a couple
weeks? Probably not, but “God said to Abraham, kill me a son” when he
eventually went for the sheep is what its all about, anyway. Sexton really got
after it. He goes to the floor at times, gets up, walks around – he’s a
presence on stage visually and sonically.
12. *Nettie More* – What can you say about this beautiful song? Heard the
keyboard pretty good on this one, if I remember correctly.
13. *Thunder on the Mountain* – Big crowd pleaser with that great *Modern
Times* album opening, which they stayed true to.
14. *Thin Man* (!!!) – Happy to hear it in all its foreboding, sarcasm, and
possible (but maybe not probable) stick it to those that were leaving early/not
so into it? There were a decent amount of radio-winners and first timers around
me, I think, who about halfway through decided they couldn’t play the
name-that-song game any more; maybe because they just didn’t know them to begin
with. Before the encores, maybe 2 or 3 of these songs had ever really seen the
radio (*Man in Me*, *61*, recently *Thunder*?), so that might’ve explained it.
Hopefully no Mr. Jones’s, but probably a few who didn’t quite know “what was
happening here” tonight…or better yet just what to make of it all. Unique harp
Encores – 15, 16, 17 – *Rolling Stone, Jolene, *and *Watchtower *per usual
as of late, but if that’s the nightly *Watchtower*, worth every bit. Sexton
absolutely went off in the Hendrix-type arrangement. Crowd loved having the
lights shown on them in *Rolling Stone*. And *Jolene* is a great song. But *
Watchtower* came on with the watching eye logo, and it was brilliant as ever,
the repeated first verse ever-stinging. Hopefully all who came tonight knew
just what this performance was worth, and, having seen it myself and been lucky
enough to get to closing night Manhattan ’06, New York’s bound to get a string
of great shows, too. One to remember.
Review by Harold Lepidus
Last night I saw Bob Dylan for the sixty-ninth time. It’s been a long,
bumpy ride over the last three-and-a-half decades, but the Sunday night
show at the Wang Theatre was certainly the best in recent memory.
The Wang Theatre is located on Tremont Street in Boston’s theater
district. It’s a classy joint - Boston’s answer to New York’s Radio City
When I first moved to Boston, it was known as The Music Hall. Poco’s “
DeLIVErin’" album was partially recorded there, and Bruce Springsteen gave
some incendiary shows at the venue in 1977. I remember seeing “long-hair”
bands like the Kinks, Dave Mason with Bob Welsh, and Frank Zappa in the late
1970s and early 1980s. Since the venue was renamed the Wang Theatre, I’ve
seen more upscale acts like Van Morrison, Bjork, Eric Idle, the “O Brother
Where Art Thou” tour, and, most recently, Leonard Cohen. Since the early
1980s, Dylan’s Boston theater of choice was usually the Orpheum Theater,
located just down the street. Seeing Dylan in such an intimate, prestigious
setting was sure to be a treat. Plus this is where the Rolling Thunder Revue
played on November 21, 1975.
Thanks to the Bob Dylan official presale, I was able to score a ticket way up
front in the “pit.” Great sound, great view. Just after 7:45, the lights
went down and the familiar introduction was heard (taken from a Buffalo
“Please welcome the poet laureate of rock 'n' roll. The voice of the
promise of the '60s counterculture. The guy who forced folk into bed with rock,
who donned makeup in the '70s and disappeared into a haze of substance abuse,
who emerged to 'find Jesus,' who was written off as a has-been by the end of
the '80s, and who suddenly shifted gears and released some of the strongest
music of his career beginning in the late '90s. Ladies and gentlemen, please
welcome Columbia recording artist Bob Dylan."
The band took the stage. In the back - George Recile on drums and Donnie
Herron on pedal steel, lap steel, trumpet, viola, and electric mandolin. Up
front, from the left: guitarist Stu Kimball, long-time bassist Tony Garnier,
and returning gunslinger Charlie Sexton. Way at the right side of the
stage, on keyboards, was Bob Dylan. His “Oscar” (or a facsimile) for
“Things Have Changed“ was perched behind him. He was wearing a white hat
and a black uniform (with what looked like a yellow ascot). As usual, he
started off pokerfaced, but that would not last long.
This was the 30th show of the fall 2009 tour. So far Dylan has performed
65 different songs (67 if you include Kimball singing two partial Tom Waits
covers). Most shows consisted of 17 songs.
Dylan opened this Sunday night concert with his rewritten version of “
Gonna Change My Way Of Thinking.” Dylan remained stationary while Sexton fell
to his knees for the first of many times during the show. It was obvious that
Dylan’s vocals were clear and strong. He kept within his range, and only got
raspy when the performance called for it. Dylan played an organ solo near the
end of the song, while Sexton took the guitar solos.
Dylan left the keyboard set up and moved center stage to perform "The Man In
Me". It brought back images of the Rolling Thunder Revue, when Dylan performed
an intense version of “Isis” on this very stage. Dylan stood with a special
microphone for playing the harp (harmonica) in his right hand, pointing with
his fingers for emphasis. Dylan played two long, powerful harp solos, with
Sexton filling in with tasteful riffs. Herron played trumpet, although it was
low in the mix.
“Beyond Here Lies Nothin’” was next. This one really comes alive in
concert. Recile was most impressive - the rhythm and percussion takes you right
into the jungle. Dylan played really cool 1960s riffs on the organ. Herron on
trumpet again, Sexton changed guitars again, as he would after almost every
song. Dylan maniacally smiled when he mentioned “midnight” and “ stars."
Sexton added to the atmosphere playing almost atonal solos. Herron's trumpet
was more prominent here.
Dylan came center stage with an electric guitar strapped around his neck, for
“It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.” It would be the only time he would play
guitar all evening. He held his instrument in the same way former Rolling
Stones bassist Bill Wyman did - almost perpendicular, with the tuning pegs by
his left ear. Dylan played pretty sophisticated riffs up and down the fret
board. Kimball played acoustic, while Sexton played his black and white Fender
center stage Dylan at the end of the number. The song ended with duel solos by
Dylan and Sexton.
The spirit of Muddy Waters was summoned during “Rollin’ and Tumblin’.”
Dylan loosened up for this one, dancing behind his keyboards. Kimball was back
on his Fender, Herron played electric mandolin. Charlie Sexton really shined on
this one - playing killer slide on a large hollow body electric guitar, often
on his knees, tapping the strings with his finger. After the song
ended, Dylan shuffled papers on his keyboard, then seemed to share a joke with
Herron and Recile.
The next few songs were probably the highlight of the show for me. Dylan
performed three songs in a row from his 1997 album, “Time Out Of Mind.”
First up was an emotional read of “Tryin’ To Get To Heaven.” The black
backdrop was dotted with little “stars.” Herron learned over his pedal steel
his watch for clues from Dylan. Kimball and Sexton played duel riffs before
Charlie played a solo, then Dylan played a harp solo from behind his keyboards.
After the song, a standing ovation. Dylan once again moved to center stage for
a pounding version of “Cold Irons Bound”. At first, Dylan’s stage
presence and movements reminded me of Dean Martin, but that was soon replaced
by images of Maurice Chevalier, Charles Aznavour, and Leonard Cohen. Dylan’s
hands were animated as he sang, as Sexton played descending riffs on his
guitar. Charlie played slide next to Dylan during his harp solo. Dylan played
on bended knee, then smiled and posed for the crowd.
Between bursts of applause, you could hear a pin drop during “Not Dark Yet”
. Dylan remained at center stage. Garnier physically pushed Sexton towards
stage left at one point. Dylan played with the hair at the back of his neck
after playing another emotional harp solo.
It was back to rocking for “Most Likely You Go Your Way”. Dylan was
behind his keyboard, Kimball on acoustic. Sexton played the signature riff way
up the neck of the guitar for part of the song. Charlie also moved next to
Dylan during his keyboard solo.
An upright bass was brought out for Tony, Stu was on acoustic, Donnie was on
viola, and Charlie was on a black-and-white Fender. Dylan was center stage,
giving another emotional performance of “Forgetful Heart”, which was only
hinted at on the studio version. Charlie was strumming his guitar strings
without a pick. The emotional core of the song belonged to Garnier, coloring the
performance by playing his bass with a bow.
“Highway 61 Revisited” rocked, of course. Dylan was back on keyboard,
leaning back and having a great time. He seemed to be doing the fox trot, and
striking poses, during the solos. Sexton played stinging solos, including
running his fingers up and down the fret board imitating a slide guitar. Dylan
played another keyboard solo, with Charlie right by his side. Recile really
cooked on this one. At the end, Dylan flashed a big smile to his drummer.
“Nettie Moore” was another show stopper. Herron on viola, Kimball on
acoustic, Sexton playing more solos on his knees.
Back to rocking. “Thunder On The Mountain” got the crowd going - the
floor beneath me was vibrating. Sexton played a guitar that looked like it was
spray painted silver. Charlie placed his guitar pick in his mouth and
finger-picked his solos. Everyone on stage was smiling at one point or another.
It sounded like Dylan changed a lyric to “All the ladies of Boston scrambling
to get out of town”. Dylan stood behind his keyboard, legs spread apart. The
song ended with Bob and Charlie both playing solos.
The final song of the main set was “Ballad Of A Thin Man”, with Dylan
center stage once again. He used to refer to this one as his theme song, and it
seems to have regained that stature. Dylan made this song seem new, snarling
the lyrics with renewed vigor, with the occasional sarcastic smile for added
effect. The only criticism was that it was the same truncated version he’s
been doing for decades. It would have been nice to hear the complete song.
The band left the stage. Stage hands appeared, moving instruments around. The
crowd in the back seemed more vocal than those up front.
“Like A Rolling Stone” started the encore, with Dylan again finding
inspiration for a song he’s performed over 1700 times. The crowd was on its
feet by this time. After introducing the band, it was a fun version of
“Jolene” , from “Together through Life”. After sharing another joke
with Donnie, it was time for “All Along The Watchtower”, a song he’s
performed even more than “Rolling Stone”. He reinvented the song by
rewriting the melody, starting high, then going low before going high again.
The entire band then stood at center stage. Dylan struck a pose for the
crowd, and stood on his tippy-toes. He held out his hand, his eyes focused on
the balcony. He held the mic stand with his hand for a moment, before leaving
the stage. The lights came up at 9:40.
All in all, a great concert. Charlie Sexton really gave the show a much
needed boost. Dylan does not even need to play guitar any more, since Sexton
more than fills that role. Bob seems inspired, enjoying the current set up. I
hope he spends more time just singing center stage. It seems to suit him at
this point in his career.
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