December 1, 2014
Review by Mike Skliar
This was my first Dylan show since last summer (2013) at Jones Beach,
Long Island, NY. That Jones Beach show was a multi-act affair with Beck
and then Wilco opening, and Bob's set was shorter. In so many ways, that
Jones Beach show felt like a transition to something else, and the 2014
shows are that 'new thing' that he's arrived at.
Those reading here probably know already the never-changing 2014 setlist
and the whole pace and feel of the show, so it's not as easy to write
something that gives the feel of this particular show. Right off the bat I
should say that I was lucky enough to be the beneficiary of a last minute
ticket miracle tradeoff from a friend of mine, so instead of sitting in the
back of the first balcony, I was sitting 6th row in the orchestra section, on
the side where Bob's piano was. Great seat and great sound- the Beacon
Theater in the last few years has really improved their sound from that
bass-heavy echoing cave of the 80's that I remember.
The whole staging and pacing of the show felt both deliberate and inspired.
It's almost like a two-act play, and the song choices play off each other in
unexpected ways. Bob's vocal performance was focused, intense, and at
times astonishingly powerful. (I overheard many casual concertgoers saying
at the end 'I could hear every word for the first time') The band's
arrangements have evolved and really envelop Bob's voice in sympathetic
ways that, for the most part, don't drown out the vocal nuances. The
arrangements as well as the timbre of the band's instruments for each song
feel like the culmination of serious thinking about the most effective sonic
universe for each particular song.
The biggest change since previous years is the emphasis on almost all songs
from the late 90's thru to now (last song is a cover of an obscure Sinatra
song that will apparently be featured on the new album to be released next
year, in 2015.) It's, I think, a conscious statement that this is what Bob's
musical world is about these days, rather than any hint of a 'greatest hits' or
'past glories' set. (After all, as he wrote back in 1964/65, "he not busy being
born is busy dyin'".) Lyrically and musically, the new songs performed form a
body of work that fuse the conversational wisdom and humor of, say, the
Basement tapes (1967) with a more harshly bleak, sometimes violent
On to the song-by-song-and this is just some free associations for each one..
Things have changed- a more gentle feel, and it felt like Bob was kind of
getting his sea legs a bit in this one, standing in his all-white suit and hat
She belongs to me- a powerful arrangement, and Bob sings it well. Nice
harmonica, with the harp solos here and elsewhere very short and to the
point. Great lead guitar, as all night, from Charlie Sexton.
Beyond Here lies nothing- a sort of Mexican/Spanish feel was created with
this, and while I've heard him do the song several times before, this may
have been the most powerful performance of it I've heard live. Felt like you
were in a tex/mex border town, just after the apocalypse was predicted.
Workingman's blues- Powerfully sung, and probably almost half the lyrics
were re-written from the original version on "Modern Times". There were
times I had trouble deciphering some of the newly-written lyrics, but it's a
powerful piece and a major song.
Waiting for you- this was my first time hearing live this obscure but sweet
and tuneful song he did to a soundtrack about 10 years ago- it had a
kind of 'Nashville skyline' meets tex/mex feel that's quite charming. Also
had trouble understanding a few words here and there, but its an
attractive song and an effective counterpoint to much of the darker
material elsewhere in the set.
Duquesne Whistle- a fine version, although I still wish they slid into it
starting with that old-timey feel as they do on the record (Tempest).
Pay in Blood- my first time hearing this live, and incredibly powerful. The
minor key spookiness adds a great deal (compared to the major key
blunderbuss of a studio version) and the lyric is menacing and threatening
and effective as hell.
Tangled up in blue- This song, great as it is, has been a bit of a problem,
live in the last few years- he performed the song so much and so well back
in the late 90's, and sang most of the verses back then. These days, he's
cut a seven verse song down to four verses, and the final verse, which
should be a resounding climax, is undercut by some lyrical rewrites that don't
really add anything. In fact, the new lyrics at the end kind of undercut that
'let's all sing along to this great one' feeling, and maybe that's intentional.
Still, this was one of the most effective recent versions I've heard, and it
still delivered a lot of the magic that makes the original studio version so
Placing "Love Sick' right afterword is an interesting choice- it's done so
powerfully, with that riff locked into by the whole band, that it almost
undercuts what came before. It's one of the highlights of the set and the
show, for sure, and Bob's growl on the lyric is just perfect. There's a place
in the middle where the band jams out on a related-but-not identical
theme that's just tremendous. A perfect end to the first set.
Intermission, and then, Highwater- with the arrangement accomplishing a
unique blend of 19th century old timey, bluegrass, and 21st century blues,
all at once. The whole sound of the band plus Bob declaiming that lyric
over the top is quite unique, effective and almost psychedelic (in a good
Simple Twist of Fate has always been a favorite, and the band plays it
straight here, with Bob giving a wonderfully playful reading (they walked
by the 'young' canal!) of the seemingly age-old tale of love. There was a
nice harmonica solo to end it as well.
Early Roman Kings had even more bite in it then I've seen before, with the
band deeply swinging that great Chicago blues feel so authentically, while
giving it its own spin. It's a pleasure to hear with Bob's voice leaning into the
phrases with that peculiar at times line reading that he owns so effectively.
Forgetful Heart is a wonderful contrast, quiet, beautiful, melancholy, and
Spirit on the water- previously not a favorite song, but the band gives it
such a great jazzy and jaunty quality, and Bob is animated as hell on the
verses (not just the 'you think I'm over the hill' bit at the end, but the '
you ever see a ghost' & 'I killed a man back there in paradise' verses too).
Again, a great contrast to everything else in the set.
Scarlet Town- the studio version of this never seemed to do much for me,
but live, I'm liking it a whole lot better- not just for the multilayered
instrumental arrangement but for the follow-thru on Bob's powerful vocal,
with so many memorable lines mixed in with so much strangeness. There's
almost a nightmare modernist 'desolation row' quality to the whole thing
along with some insane quasi-jokes (is 'under the hill' the opposite of 'over
the hill'?) Effective stuff.
Soon after midnight- again, a powerful performance, tho it's a song I've
heard him do a few times before- that mix of beauty ("I'm searching for
phrases to sing your praises") and horror ("I'll drag his body thru the mud")
that so characterizes "Tempest" and this whole show in general.
Long and Wasted years- a highlight of the show for many, probably myself
included. I still don't know what the hell to make of this strange song,
declaimed in a loud and powerful voice over this descending riff, but
whatever the hell it is, it sounds lived-in and as intense as a scene from an
Ingmar Bergman movie. Bob really gave it his all on this, and stood center
stage spitting it with fire and passion.
The encores were, first, a country-flavored version of "Blowin in the Wind"
and then this incredible cover of an obscure song once sang by Frank
Sinatra, "Stay with me" . Of the first, Bob sang it with evident passion,
and the conversational 'the answer, my friend..' fit in so well to the whole
ethos of his delivery these days, it's hard to believe it was written 52 years
ago. So sweet to hear and with so many resonant echoes of the recent
(Ferguson?) and distant (civil rights of every description) past
The last song might have been the highlight of the night for me, however.
There's a crooning quality Bob can get which not only doesn't sacrifice any
intensity, but adds to it, and he was careful (as he is whenever he seems to
do a cover song) to really follow the melody here, and delivered the goods.
It's a benediction and a prayer and a hope between artist and audience,
too, and works as an ending song on so many levels.
A few days ago I finished reading a biography of Duke Ellington, and started
thinking about the parallels between these two music icons- both of them
using melodies, thoughts, moods, etc. from all around them, and composing
and re-contextualizing it all in ways that continued to be new and exciting
over 50+ year careers. There's something of the 'elder statesmen' in both
their late work as well, a witness to bygone eras, a messenger from the past
bringing one more message of the old truths from times gone by. One
difference, however, Duke would always play the 'big hits' (sometimes in a
medley of 10 songs) and leave the audience feeling like they heard the
highlights from the catalog, while Bob these days takes the opposite
approach. Perhaps a better analogy is Pablo Picasso, getting abstract and
changing up his art, or Miles Davis, who, like Bob, rarely looked back.
(and I can say I've seen Miles live, but not the others)
Well, that's about it…. Quite the evening!
Review by James Mahoney
One of the most significant periods in which Bob Dylan kept (with few
exceptions) to a basically unchanging setlist - as he has for over a year
- was in his 1965-66 tours, and there was an intermission then, too,
(after which the band came onstage). Some of the wiser reviewers this
tour have seen it as an act of carefully-staged theater, like a
Shakespeare play, which, necessarily repeats the same lines every night -
which is why some folks have had the intention - and the money - to see
all five shows here at the Beacon. And there's always a chance that,
maybe instead of The Setlist, Bob Dylan will play all Basement Tape songs…
or maybe close with "Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands," playing it out of
costume, just wearing a pair of jeans and a hoodie? Right.
After that '65-'66 tour, though, Bob stopped touring for seven years. If
you listened to the words of the songs in this Never-Ending Setlist, he
remains locked-in tight and out of range, chopping Tangled Up in Blue to
half its former size, with a brilliant harp solo, and in the last lines of
"Forgetful Heart," he says the door has closed forevermore, if indeed
there ever was a door. Wake up, folks. He does mean what he says.
This may be a farewell tour, just as his release of the full Basement
Tapes, followed by an album of standards from 50 years ago, may be a
valedictory recording - this isn't Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga doing this
Remember, though, that the last words Bob Dylan may sing on Wednesday
night (if he repeats himself, which is, of course impossible to guess) are
a dialogue NOT with you or me (even remotely), but with God - "Stay with
me." So may it be…
Review by Michael Thomas
Sometimes the way I judge a Dylan show(it is, indeed, a "show"-as Jon Pareles'
says in his NYTimes review, something Bob has been trying to communicate for
years), is what I am hearing or wanting to hear in the days following. After
seeing and hearing the gritty blues and folk/country ballads over the 19 song
set, not only at the Beacon on Monday, but also at NJPAC and Academy of the
Arts, I found myself listening again closely to Time out of Mind. It seems that
Bob is back in that sphere, musically less, perhaps, but more in, well, that frame
of "mind." What surprised and moved us most memorably in 1997 was that
yoking together of despairing, apocalyptic moods with the purity of urgent love
and nostalgia. That is what we have been hearing in these fall sets. After
reviewing the many set lists over the past 20 years, one must acknowledge
Dylan and the band's generosity by playing that many songs, with the
wide-ranging moods and arrangements.
Those who have never heard "Workingman's Blues" were fulfilled by its original
form, almost genre-less in its boundlessness. In addition, "Love Sick" was a hell
of a way to close out the first set, as good as a visceral eighth line of a fourteen
line sonnet, and the essence of emotional and rational transition. We were
then led through the many tones of Simple Twist of Fate, with its new
revisions, variations from the Rolling Thunder tour, enhanced once again by his
shifting male to female and back again point of view. I will also never forget
the subtly of "Forgetful Heart" with added percussion and bowed bass. A lot
has been said of "Long and Wasted Years" already but I must echo the
reverence for the strange world that song inhabits. I feel like it will be a long
time before we can explain it, if we, in fact, really need to explain its mystery.
It still astounds and annoys me that there are always audience members who
want something other than what Dylan gives them. "Play us a song we know,"
called out one listener, who most likely owns only the Greatest Hits and
Highway 61, during the Newark performance. In "Brownsville Girl," the other
piece in my listening frenzy, Dylan says, "And you know there was somethin'
about you baby that I liked that was always too good for this world." Rather
than thinking this time of some long lost friend, or a dear cousin who died at
28, I imagined myself singing those lines back to the man himself. Let's ride
this car "until the wheels fall off and burn," he sings back.
Review by Thelma Blitz
Yes, that was Bob Fucking Dylan right in front of me on the stage
singing "The Workingman's Blues" in the splendid, gilded neo-
classical Beacon Theater, NYC, where the tickets, scalped and
otherwise, ran into the hundreds and thousands. Dylan and his well-
oiled band on a darkened stage, Dylan in all white, shining like
beacon in the dark. Dylan's presentation was stoic, he never cracked a
smile, neither did his musicians (They're professional musicians," said
professional musician Jeff Lewis also in attendance.) Bob said nary a
word to the audience but that they'd be back after intermission. However
he did let loose on "Forgetful Heart" and "Lovesick" as I observed there
were no longer any pretty, gospel- tinged soul sisters behind him as there
had been in the past. No, he'd gone through all of them, but they left
their imprint on his songs. "Lovesick," "I'm sick of love. I wish I never
met you," drew a big audience cheer. Lyrics variations included "
sometimes I wanna take to road and plunder" changed to ""sometimes I feel
like I'm being plowed under." "Long and Wasted Years," "Soon After
Midnight," and the very moving "Forgetful Heart" split by a plaintive
harp solo, recalled those absent ladies and did the talking for Dylan's
heart while his face remained impassive, indifferent, world- weary.
"Stayin away from women, I believe I'll dust my broom," he sang, hats off
to Robert Johnson, as he reflected on the absence of the singing black
mamas of born-again Bob days . Good to hear a few oldies, "She Belongs to
Me," "Tangled Up in Blue" and "Simple Twist of Fate" new with a lyrics
change, " She left a note behind...You should have met me in '58. That
way we could have avoided a simple twist of fate." (The twist was she
walked out on him, leaving him to wake up in bed by himself.) 1958 was
the start of Bob's singing career, his earliest known recordings. there
was Bob Dylan, strong and blustery , snarling the savage, "Pay in Blood,"
("but not my own") which might express the rancor of a returning soldier
who was put through hell by a president for some nebulous kind of
justice, who now felt like killing him, " You've been accused of murder,
how do you plead?.....I come to bury, not to praise" Some lyrics changes
were made to this fierce song. Verse 3 was omitted. In verse 4 "You've
got the same eyes that your mother does, if only you could prove who your
father was" was replaced with "Life is short and ?? is long, they'll hang
ya in the morning and sing ya a song. " "You crossed the line" was
replaced with "you lost your mind." "Man can't live by bread alone"
replaced with "Heart so hard it must be made of stone," Verse 5: "You
bastard I'm supposed to respect you" was softened to, "My conscience is
clear, what about you.? The crowd gave him a standing ovation. He
returned with a jazzy update of "Blowin' in the Wind" and a gospel hymn
of humility, contrition and faith "Stay With Me," a Frank Sinatra cover.
Yes, kid, we're stickin' with you, 73 year old forever young master song
poet of our generation. We're hoping this is just another intermission.
Review by Larry K.
No need to go through the set list, just a few observations after an
astonishingly strong show. The band has risen to another level, very
tight, propulsive with well-planned dynamics. Tunes from Tempest seemed
strongest, most heartfelt, although Bob's vocals were incisive throughout.
Charlie seems now to be as sharp as Larry ever was, and that is pretty
sharp. Bob's piano playing has improved tremendously. Stu's rhythm playing
is really flawless. George Receli's drums were holding it all together
seamlessly, and Tony - great, as always. Many highlights: all the Tempest
tunes, Forgetful Heart, Tangled Up in Blue, Love Sick...I thought
Workingman's Blues was kind of choppy and strayed too far from the
beautiful original, and I still find a lot of the harmonica solos
uninspired, but these are minor distractions from the overall amazing
performance we saw tonight.
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