Review provided by Christopher Kundl. Every street in Ithaca has two things in common: They're all one-way, and they're all one-way in the same direction. If you see a restaurant on the opposite corner of an intersection that you'd like to go to, you have to drive in a huge circle in order to have a chance in hell of winding up in front of it. Very confusing. A nice college town, though, and my friend Ben and I pulled in at about 1:00 pm to a light dusting of snow to catch the smallest venue on this leg of the tour (though not exactly tiny at 6000). We arrived on the campus around 1:15, where we found conveniently close parking, in proximity to Barton hall, a beautiful ivy-covered building where the concert took place. We sat just inside the foyer doors until 5 pm, at which point we were ordered outside until about 6:15. Not necessary, as far as I'm concerned. It was pretty darn cold out, and I didn't see anything going on in the space where we were sitting to warrant removing us for an hour. Oh well; ya gotta do what ya gotta do, I suppose. The "staff" for the event were students from Cornell, and they were simply inefficient, uninformed, and lacking of any tact. I applaud their taking on of such a project, but they should have at least been monitored periodically. There were some "Campus Police" around, but as far as I could see, they did little more than collect dust. The only people who had arrived earlier were a group of Dylan fans who were following a segment of the tour, including Fredericka, Rob, Todd, Ken, and others I whose names I can't recall; but we had a good time chatting with them throughout the day. I gave them the copy of Tramps I'd made to listen to on the way down, and they kindly gave me a copy of an El Rey show I didn't have. Nice folks. (Earlier in the afternoon, we heard them soundchecking "One More Cup of Coffee", "Angelina", "Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior", and "O Babe, it Ain't No Lie") After waiting over an hour outside (freezing to death; I must give my thanks to Todd for lending me the blanket), they opened the doors, and the mad rush to the upstairs hall ensued. We were briefly patted down by "event staff" upon entering (they didn't notice the camera I had in my pants), and proceeded to sprint across the hall floor to the stage on the other side. When the dust cleared, we were in the front row (up against the rail), just right of center, with Ben on my left and Ken from Dublin on my right. The hall filled up pretty quickly (and seemed to be full, taking into consideration that they misjudged the amount of people that would fit on the floor, and that some empty seats in the bleachers were a result of folks who had managed to squeeze their way behind the sound board). Phil & friends hit the stage relatively promptly (from a Dylan fan's point of view), dressed casually in t-shirts and sneakers. Now, I'm not really a Grateful Dead/Phil Lesh fan, and I'm not familiar with the music at all, so you'll have to excuse the made-up song titles, as I don't know their correct names… The most impressive numbers were "Mountains of the Moon" (sung in a spooky, throaty voice by Phil), and "Let Your Soul Shine", sung and soloed by Warren Haynes of Allman Bros. fame. The jams, which were new to me, were sometimes interesting, but just as often sounded like a garage experiment. This might appeal to some people, but I couldn't quite connect. However, Phil looked like he was truly enjoying himself the entire time, which made it all worthwhile. At the conclusion of his set, after his bandmates had left the stage, Phil remained to say a few things about a) the historical significance Cornell had for the Grateful Dead (they apparently played a very famous/popular show there), and b) the liver transplant he recently had, encouraging everyone to donate organs, and to inform their family members of their decision to. Very nice and appreciated. The equipment change went smoother and quicker that I'd expected (Phil & co. had a lot of stuff onstage). Before I knew it, the lights were down, the boys ambled onto stage, and the deafening summoning call: "Good evening, Ladies and gentlemen…" Bob was dressed nattily as usual, with the short black coat with navy embroidering, and white-piped black pants with shiny studs running down the bottom foot of the piping. A good hair night, which for me means wild & crazy. They start out with: SOMEBODY TOUCHED ME: This was the first time I've heard this one, but it was enough to make me decide that it was my favorite acoustic opener of '99. What a great way to open the show. It reminded me of a rousing sing-a-long at summer church camp I attended in my childhood (although this time, Bob Dylan was leading us in it). Totally enjoyable and uplifting. The most telling thing about the bouncy energy of this number was the fact that, on the way home, I could hear Ben (who is only a Dylan fan by association with myself) singing to himself, "glory, glory, glory… SOMEBODY touched me…". I was impressed that he had a song so early in the set stuck in his head. There was an amp pumping out Bob's microphone directly into our right ears, so from our vantagepoint, at least, his voice was way up in the mix. Next up is SONG TO WOODY: This literally sounded like something from a bygone era, appropriate for one of Dylan's first endeavors as a songwriter. Delicate and beautiful. The mentions of Woody, Leadbelly, Cisco, etc. all thankfully received good crowd responses. It was such a haunting thing to hear Bob sing the line about "hittin' some hard travellin' too", almost forty years after he penned it, coming true as if it were some sort of ominous portent. But it wasn't sung with world-weariness, rather, the innocence of someone one-third his age. Just perfect. I can hear this next lick coming before the lights come back up: IT'S ALRIGHT, MA (I'M ONLY BLEEDING): Ken from Dublin summed this one up well: "boy, he really nailed that one!" Indeed, I can't imagine any of the other performances of this masterpiece on this tour being any better. It was word-perfect and sharp as a razor. No botched lines, no passive singing… This was just awesome. Bob was in a great mood, and it shone through like the day in his facial expressions at the end of each verse and chorus (eyebrows raised, lips pursed, Cheshire grin, etc.). Good dynamics by Larry, David, Tony and Charlie (whom we stood more-or-less in front of). The "prez. Of U.S. sometimes must have to stand naked" line got a good loud cheer, and Bob made this hilarious "hey, I just write the songs" sort of smiley look in response to it, as if he got just as big of a kick out of how ironically pertinent the line continued to be. Next in line: TOMORROW IS A LONG TIME: Tender and touching. This was the second time I've heard this one live, and it was just as delightful as the first time around. It had an understated feel to it; Bob sang a major third lower throughout the choruses (except the final one), compared to the last time I heard him do it. That time, the choruses seemed to carry the song, as to where last night, the verses stood out. I noticed that only Larry sings backup on this one, and at the moment, I can't think of another song that bears this distinction. Anyone care to enlighten me? To round out the acoustic set, they crank up TANGLED UP IN BLUE: In all seriousness, last night's TUIB was a revelation. It sounded like a different song altogether. As some people have remarked about other great performances of Dylan's version of "On the Road", you would've thought he was singing about something that happened the night before! Definitely the best performance of TUIB I've heard. He swapped the "She worked in a topless place" verse for "she lit a burner on the stove". It ended with a harmonica solo that just went ON and ON… It was glorious. When I saw that TUIB had been omitted from the previous night's setlist, I thought, "hmm, maybe it's time for a change…" But the preacher man convinced me otherwise. As to where some nights, this song is a road-weary crowd pleaser, last night it crashed through the set like a freight train (bringing on a few tears as it did). Thus ended the acoustic set. The axes come on for MONEY HONEY: I wasn't familiar with this song, but it was a great way to kick off the electric portion of the evening. It was nasty and bluesy, and featured some good-'n'-noisy backing vocals on the choruses. A song I'd certainly like to see pop up again now and then (the lyrics are a kick too; someone posted them on RMD later that night…). Next up: SENOR: Featuring Larry on fiddle for the first half, Bob on harmonica for the second. Actually, something happened after Bob began playing his harp solo, he walked over to Larry and had a short discussion, Larry put down the fiddle and sat down at either the lap or pedal steel (I forget which), put on his picks, and waited for an appropriate point to begin playing, which apparently never came up (Larry just looked sort of confused). Bob played harp all the while. The confusion didn't hinder the beauty of the performance. It was dark and arresting. A good compliment to the following number: MAN OF PEACE: Loud and aggressive. Thematically (and sonically), this was a great one-two punch with "Senor". I was happy to see that this didn't become a one-off. During this song (I think) Charlie played a great scorching solo, and at the end of it, a man just to the left of me deliberately applauded him with his clapping hands extended, and Charlie responded by carefully mouthing the words "Thank you" as he did a mini-bow. What a nice gesture! Charlie is a-okay in my book, a fine guitarist, and a gentleman as well. After a good round of appreciation, they slide into: I WANT YOU: A good delicate break from the surrounding loudness. The lyrics were perfect with one funny exception: the guy with the Chinese suit had a Chinese flute instead (which Bob then proceeded to take from him). The choruses had a rough approximation of the original Blonde on Blonde riff running through them (that was easily recognized right out of the gates). This was the only song other than TUIB that most non-Dylan fans or highly casual fans would've recognized (a distinction that usually goes to a song like "Watchtower", "Like a Woman", "Hwy 61", etc.). But nothing could've prepared me for what was to come next: THIS WHEEL'S ON FIRE: This was utterly huge, expansive, thunderous… Perfect! It washed over the crowd like a tidal wave. The downright haunting backing vocals on the chorus served as the perfect backdrop for Bob's bitter, ghostly lead (this is one song where Bob's phrasing not lining up with the backing vocals works completely; it doesn't sound messy, it sounds gorgeous). I think when Bob wrote this at Big Pink with giving it to another artist in mind, he meant Bob Dylan circa 1999. All in all, a blazing inferno that made my night! (On a side note, Ben turned to me laughing at the end of the first chorus; he had recognized the song as the theme from British sitcom "Absolutely Fabulous". Oh brother…) to round out the set proper: CAT'S IN THE WELL: I thought "Wheel" was to be the electric closer, until I thought, "wait, there were no band intros." Well, the band was introduced, and this one rocked like crazy. Officially my new favorite regular-set closer (What a neat alternative to "HWY 61" or "Silvio" or whatnot!) Everyone took solos here, smiles all around. The whole time I thought, how neat is it to see a show where he plays a song from his self-titled first album AND one from the unfairly maligned "Under the Red Sky"? This, to me, was a regular set for the ages. After some WELL-deserved bows, they leave the stage to thunderous applause. -Encores- LOVE SICK: This one sounds angrier instrumentally every time I hear it (due in part to the change from Bucky to Charlie, and the corresponding equipment). It featured a great, weeping solo from Larry in the middle, and a little funky one from Bob at the end. LIKE A ROLLING STONE: Good performance. Bob was taking great liberties at stretching out the vocals on the chorus, much to the delight of the crowd, and the chagrin of Larry! During the final chorus, he delays one line (maybe "no direction home") SO long that there's no way he could squeeze it in before the next, and he stands there smiling. Larry looks all confused, Bob ends up singing "like a complete unknown" twice, and I thought, what a great Bob moment. He was screwing around, smiling the whole time as if to say "ha, only I know what's going to happen next!!!" Funny stuff. The acoustic stuff comes on for: FOREVER YOUNG: A nice alternative to "Blowin'" which I think was brought on by someone with a large sign to my left with "Forever Young" written on it in purple or blue (during the song, they held it up backwards to face the audience, which produced a big cheer). This was such a good show, even the crowd-pleasin' encores had a little variation. RAINY DAY WOMAN #12 & 35: Something happened at the end of "Forever", and Bob left the stage entirely while the other guys suited up a la electric. They began playing before Bob even got back to his guitar. He was having a discussion with a stagehand, then Larry, then the stagehand, and so forth until he decided to sing the first verse. He was a little distant initially, but came around during the instrumental break, when he became playful again, standing in all sorts of goofy positions, making faces at the crowd (and then smiling to Charlie). If there was to be a song that came together a bit slowly, I'm glad it was this one, which would've set the Phil-followers off no matter how it was played (provided that the words "everybody must get stoned" came out of Bob's mouth). Next: DON'T THINK TWICE, IT'S ALRIGHT: This was gentle and light, sung by Bob with a lighter, airier tone than his previous acoustic numbers. Another beautiful oasis of peace in a sea of searing guitars. Just as subtle and endearing as the original recording. Finally, they end the night with NOT FADE AWAY: Loud and charismatic. Obviously, it made for a great-feeling connection between Dylan fans and Dead/Phil fans, especially after all the negative junk flying between the two camps on the Internet. I saw a guy after the show wearing a T-shirt with Calvin & Hobbes hugging each other in the center, with "Our love is real" written above and "Not fade away" below. A great feeling to end the night on. High on the music, I shuffled my way to the truck with Ben among huge snowflakes. We got a bit lost on our way up to route 89 north, but it certainly didn't dampen my spirits. Ben and I have always found a way to laugh at our misfortune, and this would be no exception. My last memory of the night was falling asleep on route 90, with a line running through my head; "if today was not an endless highway… if tonight wasn't a crooked trail… if tomorrow wasn't such a long time…" General thoughts: The regular set was one for all time. Think of the song distribution in terms of albums: there was a song representing "Bob Dylan", "Bringing it All Back Home", "Blonde on Blonde", "The Basement Tapes", "Blood on the Tracks", "Street Legal", "Infidels", and "Under the Red Sky", as well as a great gospel opener, a classic outtake (though officially released on GH vol. 2), and a super bluesy live debut with R&B roots. When you take into consideration the encores, you can add "Freewheelin' Bob Dylan", "Highway 61 Revisited", "Planet Waves", and "Time Out of Mind" (13 album songs from 12 different albums), and of course the rocking Buddy Holly/Dead connection closer. If you would've showed me this setlist at the beginning of the year (or even at the beginning of the Phil Lesh tour), I would've said, "YEAH, RIGHT!" But once again, Bob Dylan has managed to truly and thoroughly impress me. "Woody", "It's Alright", the born-again "Tangled", "Senor", "Man of Peace", and "Wheel" were all genuine highlights (count 'em, six, maybe seven depending on who you ask). "Wheel's on Fire" was definitely worth my ticket. 17 songs, most played to perfection. This is one I'll cherish forever. If anyone has a tape or CD-r, please, get in touch. I'm certainly willing to accommodate a special trade for the best Dylan show I've witnessed yet. Regards, Christopher Kundl ChrisK61@yahoo.com PS) It would be unthinkable for me to not take the opportunity to thank some people who made the jaunt down to Cornell possible, Terry and Suman for the tickets, and Ben for, well, everything, as usual.
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