Reviews

Ithaca, New York

Ithaca College
Athletics and Events Center (A&E Center)

November 17, 2019


[Chris Lyons], [Bill White

Review by Chris Lyons



Superb show. The band is hotter than ever and Bob seems focused on honing
each song to its best possible (current) iteration.

The venue for the show, the Ithaca College Athletics and Events Center, is
a relatively new facility and some rough edges showed despite the many
friendly students assisting the crowd. The sound quality was not up to the
level of most modern venues, with too-frequent distortion and a mix that
was all over the place with vocals up vocals down, inaudible Donnie at
times etc.

That said, the show was great. The song list of this leg of he tour seems
chosen in part to emphasize Dylan’s voice - which was flexible, strong and
powerful throughout. Tunes like Lenny Bruce and To Make You Feel My Love
could not have been as effective if sung with the hoarse growl of some
previous tours. I even heard some nice vibrato at the end of long-held
notes!

The band was outstanding, even compared to most recent Dylan outings.  New
drummer Matt Chamberlain had a great night, bringing delicacy and fiery
rock and roll dynamics in turn to the songs. Not since the Winston Watson
days has a drummer brought so much infectious energy to the Bob Band
arrangements.

But the concert’s true MVP has to be Charlie Sexton. He offered a master
level course in guitar, a seemingly effortless melding of blues, surf,
British rock and country styles into perfect accompaniment to each song.

Notes on the overall effect of the performances:

Things Have Changed starts the show with a perfect example of what to
expect: A surprising re-arrangement of a familiar song, making you hear it
in a completely fresh way but with beautiful echoes of the original. Dylan
throws away with a shrug the tag at the end of each verse: “But…
ThingsHaveChanged”.

It Ain’t Me Babe is similarly musically disorientating, but as with the
opener maintains a strong link to the original, making it easy to follow
and appreciate the changes. Just lovely. Bob plays maybe his best piano of
the night.

Highway 61 tears the roof off the sucker, brings me back to the
end-of-the-world blues Bob might have had in mind when he first performed
the song, while being in 2019 totally new.

Twist of Fate brings things down, as with most of the songs tonight the
clearly audible lyrics were amended and improved in these versions. Bob
plays a brief, disciplined harmonica solo, the first of only three
tonight.

Can’t Wait was another standout, a song that seemed like a placeholder on
Time Out Of Mind, opened up on Tell Tale Signs, here exploded to a searing
intensity. Best vocal of the night.

At this point the energy of the show flagged a bit, to be picked up again
as the night moved on.

Masterpiece was not one of my favorites on this night, maybe the jumpy
rocking rhythms of the rest of the show making the groove in this case
somewhat clunky. Wonderful lyric rewrites.

Honest With Me offered another great rearrangement, but the music may have
been too similar in feel to the earlier Highway 61 (and suffered in
comparison).

Tryin to Get To Heaven featured a fast shuffle rhythm and a very good
vocal. Seemed more direct and like a love song compared to the wistful
tone of the original.

Make You Feel My Love seemed truly heartfelt, redeeming a song that I tend
to skip over. Excellent, dynamic arrangement and beautiful vocal.

Pay In Blood rolled out with the power and the balls it somewhat lacked on
Tempest - and brought the intensity of the show back up, way up.

Lenny Bruce maintained the intensity, but with a quieter song. It has
always been a favorite of mine. I never thought I would hear it live, and
Bob performed it with a loving grace - not oversinging or melodramatic but
simple and moving. More great lyric revision.

Early Roman Kings was another hair raising performance, astonishing
guitar, Bob center stage making karate slashes to the crowd as he sang
with vicious precision.

Girl From The North Country featured a piano arrangement much like Spanish
Is the Loving Tongue from the 70’s and was charming in its rueful
reflection of lost love.

Not Dark Yet rocked out, replacing the slow paced drama of the recorded
version with a jump beat; again a huge departure that offered new insights
into the meaning of the song.

Keeping the uptempo vibe going, Thunder On The Mountain was to me a strong
improvement over the Modern Times rendition, replacing the original’s
steam locomotive with a 200 mph maglev bullet train. Hot 60’s British Rock
sound. I do hope this arrangement gets a release some day.

Soon After Midnight swung as it does on Tempest, a nice tempo change that
fit well into the flow. Nice piano and vocal.

Gotta Serve Somebody has an almost completely new lyric - to me a massive
improvement over the original. More hot rock sounds and great great guitar
to bring the main show to a close.

A long pause before returning for the encore. Was the crowd not
enthusiastic enough?

Bob strapped on his guitar for Thin Man. Grinning and addressing the
audience head on with “You don’t know what it is, Do ya?” Were we supposed
to be in on the joke or was it directed at us? As always with Bob a
mystery.

Takes A Lot To Laugh hews close the original, but again with steaming rock
intensity. A great finish to a wonderful night.

Bob appears to be stronger than ever on this set of shows, and I hope he
keeps going forever. I also hope that at some point this show or one like
it becomes available. The performances here taken together would be my
Bob’s Greatest Hits Vol 4.

[TOP]

Review by Bill White



On Monday, I drove home to Aylmer, Quebec, after a phenomenal concert in
New York State. Thanks and praise to Paul Bagnell, who quarterbacked all
the arrangements and gave me glowing reports of the shows he went to see
in East Lansing and Ann Arbor. It was an honour to see Dylan and hang out
with Paul again!

The last time I saw Dylan (probably the last time he gigged in Canada) was
at Montreal’s Bell Centre in November 2012. It was a letdown. Bob should
have opened for Mark Knopfler because Knopfler and his band were
incredible. Clearly, Dylan was just not excited to be in a room with
16,000 people.

Now, the evidence points to greater comfort at smaller venues. Mosquito
net curtains ringed the ceiling of Ithaca College’s cavernous indoor
track-meet arena to dampen the echo. I suspect it also helped that the
sound technicians had the volume down a bit. As a result, for us, up front
and off to the left, the sound was crystal clear. A bit distant at the
back of the hall (see below) but no echo.  From our vantage point, Paul
and I couldn’t see Charlie Sexton much but we sure could see Bob.

From the get-go, this was no ordinary concert. Bob heaved every ounce of
his being into the performance. The only possible down side was his
harmonica, which has always been simple; some might even describe it as
lame. Certainly, his skill with that instrument doesn’t hold a candle to
Mick Jagger’s stupendous harp on Blue and Lonesome. But Dylan he made up
for it with great piano work and above all, his staggeringly pointed
vocals. Trilling. Desperate. His last breath.  Sharp. More persuasively
rhythmic and yet offbeat with the lyrics than ever before – and I’ve
been lucky enough to have seen this guy almost 20 times since 1978. By
contrast, Paul has seen Dylan more than 60 times.

I have only twice been brought to the brink of tears by a song in concert.
The first time was Tuesday Afternoon by the Moody Blues in 1992 at
Ottawa’s National Arts Centre. I put my reaction down to the virtually
note-perfect rendition and the astonishing million-miles-away sound of the
drums when they turned off the PA… the total effect was a sea of
emotional nostalgia.

 The second time my eyes welled up was on Sunday night in Ithaca, during
Not Dark Yet. The new arrangement is akin to a cinematic requiem. The
dull, burnt orange glow basking down behind the band from the huge
Hollywood spotlights evoked the last sunset you’ll ever see. The band
fades out as Bob sings “It’s not dark yet…” and they stop
completely to let him fill the auditorium with “but it’s getting
there”. Then Charlie Sexton steps in with stunning bluesy sighs leading
back to the melancholy melody. This arrangement cracks the emotion of the
song wide open. For me, it was the absolute peak of the show. Suffice to
say that the band, with the new drummer and guitarist must rate as one of
the best Bob has ever assembled. Sexton is the star but he’s just a neck
ahead of the other incredible musicians and they are locked down tight:
for example, Highway 61 rocked out better than Lake Placid in ’99.

The song selections provide a unique précis of Dylan’s recording
career. New arrangements could be traced back to the stylings of Blonde on
Blonde or Nashville Skyline – though none of the songs from those
records were featured.  Lenny Bruce was fantastic – a sublime addition
to the show. So was the piano version of Girl From the North Country. I
went searching for beer during Make You Feel My Love, which I’ve always
loathed, despite its apparent popularity. The song ended and the beer line
hadn’t moved more than a foot, so I went back to my seat to enjoy the
rest of a perfectly thrilling concert experience. Thunder On the Mountain
rocked the place to bits but when it was over I had to ask Paul “What
was that?!” The new version was unrecognizable to me.

Catch this tour if you can: the show is unbelievably good. Bob’s
BACK…! Here’s hoping Canada beckons.

Bill White
Aylmer, Quebec

[TOP]

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