December 1, 2018
Review by Adam Selzer
Catching the last Beacon show clears up a long-standing sore spot for me,
one I thought I’d never manage to cover. Back in 1996, I wasn’t quite
16 when Dylan played Music Midtown in Atlanta - my second Dylan show. But
getting to public transit from my house in the outer burbs was impossible,
so I needed to rely on a ride from my parents. They’d laid down a rule
that my brother, my friend and I would need to be outside of the festival
to be picked up at a certain time, whether the show was over or not. We
had to leave Dylan in the middle of “Maggie’s Farm,” so I missed
“When I Paint My Masterpiece” by about five minutes. It’s hardly a
tragedy; the guy I went with called me up lately and had no memory of
having to leave early at all. But I put together databases of shows I’ve
seen, make lists of all the songs I’ve caught, and it’s always there,
glaring at me, a lie, because 20 years and nearly 50 shows later, I STILL
hadn’t seen “Masterpiece.” Every database has made me feel like a
bit of a fraud, and then I feel a bit like a loser just for thinking about
it so much.
This made it, perhaps by default, the top song I wanted to see. Sure,
given a choice I’d rather he pull out some obscurity that no one thought
they’d ever hear, but of all the songs that were in actual rotation at
any time in the last couple decades, “Masterpiece” topped my list,
even though there were some other songs on the “in rotation but I never
caught them” list that I think are better tunes. Naturally, when
“Masterpiece” made its surprise entry to the set this year, Bob
wasn’t coming anywhere near Chicago, where I live these days. Fixing
this error couldn’t have been so easy as to come at a show in walking
distance. But I’ve also never seen a December show, and any excuse to go
to New York will do. After all, Ringo Starr was just on Howard Stern
saying to “get off your ass” and go see Bob during his stand at the
Beacon, and I’m not the kind that would argue with Ringo.
A brief note on the Stu-less version of the band: the group seems like
they need a producer these days. Someone needs to tell them to try a
different guitar sound, drum a little harder, or maybe try finger-picking
on some of these arrangements. From the get-go, there were a lot of times
when I thought Bob was really on, but the band wasn’t giving him what he
needed. I’m not sure I’ve ever really thought that at a Bob show! The
band has had arrangements and solos that didn’t work out, but when a
song didn’t land I’ve usually thought Bob and the band shared the
blame. Not so tonight. The band was fine on most songs, and great on some,
but often seemed like they hadn’t quite adjusted to being a one guitar
That said, Dylan was in terrific form. “It Ain’t Me Babe” sounded
like a Shot of Love outtake (even had a bit of the “Caribbean Wind”
riff, I believe), and “Simple Twist” was just gorgeous. The
“Rumble” arrangement of “Cry Awhile” roars.
And then it was time. I’d made fun of myself a bit for going all the way
to New York because Dylan was playing one song (while still checking the
set list every day to make sure it was still there), and generally
expected that when the time came, I’d enjoy the song, breathe a sigh of
relief, and have a laugh at my own expense at coming so far to see a song
that had generally been “Just okay” in every arrangement since the
70s. And, anyway, it wouldn’t be nearly as satisfying as getting the
song as a surprise would have been.
But having shied away from clips from this tour, I was blown away by what
I heard. The whole first half of the song was effectively solo piano, the
closest I’ve ever really come to seeing Dylan solo. And with Bob leaning
right into the vocals. I was delighted, gripping my armrest, laughing with
glee, and feeling just the way one SHOULD when when accomplishing a 22
year goal. YES! I DID IT! High fives all around, my friends.
Brief word about the new lines in the song, about lions in the street with
a “mean and hungry look.” The Shakespeare line is “lean and
hungry” (unless there’s one of those things where it’s different in
the quarto than the folio), but I still feel like there’s a bit of a
Julius Caesar theme running through the show. The song is already about
the streets of Rome and the Coliseum, and the stage set these days has
heads of old statues like the rubble in the streets of Rome, then “Pay
in Blood” has the line “I come to bury, not to praise” written in.
And of course a song called “Early Roman Kings.” I keep wanting to
transcribe all the “new” lines in the show and cross-check them with a
copy of Caesar to see if they’re in there someplace, an exercise that
threatens to make me look like a giant nerd, but that I know I’m going
to enjoy the hell out of.
Now, I could have probably walked out into the rainy New York night
jumping and clicking my heels after just seeing “Masterpiece,” but
that would have cost me the real surprise of the night: “Don’t Think
Twice.” I’ve seen that song any number of times, but I can’t think
of any show, or even any tape of a show from back to the Gaslight days,
where it’s been a clear highlight. I’ve never seen a BAD version, but
it’s not a song that gets a lot of radical reworks, it’s just a
country tune that skips along. The new version is basically solo piano,
with bowed bass and steel laying down what amounts to a sort of synth pad
to flesh the sound out. George isn’t even onstage at the drum kit until
the end. The tempo is slowed way down and Dylan, again playing as close as
I’ve seen him to solo, wringing everything he can out of every syllable.
It was jaw-dropping. I wish he’d do a whole show, or at least a four
song set in the middle of the show, like this. If we get started naming
all the songs in the catalog (many far more underused than Don’t Think
Twice) that would be great in this arrangement, we’d be here all day.
As for the rest of the show: I loved the new arrangement of Like a Rolling
Stone (certainly the most creative I’ve seen, plus he did all the
verses, not just 3/4ths of them), “Scarlet Town” was one where the
band particularly cooked, it great to see “Serve Somebody” for the
first time in nearly 20 years, and, especially, it was awesome to see a
really cooking “Takes a Train to Cry,” which I hadn’t seen since
1995 (and I didn’t know the song yet at the time, so it felt like a
So, that was a great night. The band feels like it needs some fine tuning,
but Dylan is singing a lot better than he did a decade ago (did he quit
smoking again?) and more like he did 20 years ago. And though I feel as
though the static set lists take some of the fun out of these days, it’s
nice to know ahead of time that I’m PROBABLY going to be able to check
off a gaping box on my list. Surely this is just magical thinking, but
maybe now that I’ve seen “When I Paint My Masterpiece” I’ll
finally be able to paint my own.
Review by Futzi Wailer
Wonderful night at The Beacon. First a light rain. Having seen Dylan 200
or so times since 1978 that’s always a good sign. Getting into the
Beacon can be tedious. Long slow lines are not uncommon and a friend told
us this was the case both Thursday and Friday nights. The rear entrance on
Amsterdam Avenue is your best bet. We arrived at 7:30 and walked right in!
Seats tonight were first row balcony so the view was perfect though the
energy was a bit low. Having seen Bob and the boys last week in Waterbury
we knew what to expect. Clear strong vocals, great phrasing and tight
arrangements. George was really on tonight. Even without Stu, Charlie
doesn’t seem to have a lot to do except on the blue sire numbers like
Early Roman Kings and ItvTakes A Lot To Laugh. The uptempo numbers have a
sameness to them, each built upon a similar respective riff. The slow
songs were the standouts though the upsinging during Make You Feel My Love
and Don’t Think Twice was a little annoying. Scarlet Town alone was
worth the price of admission. Love Sick blistering and Highway 61 as
powerful as ever. Bob seems to have forgotten a decade or two. Only two
songs from 1966 to1997, Simple Twist and Serve Somebody. At the age of 77
he has managed to fashion a new persona and a new sound. 2018 has been a
very very good year.
Review by Willy Gissen
A Warning from Bob Dylan
Any long-time Dylan fan should come away from his string of seven concerts in
New York City this year with a clear warning for the future.
As Dylan aficionados know, in the last few years, Dylan has chosen to create
a setlist and polish it for each year of his "never-ending tour." Just like a
Broadway play, Dylan takes his setlist on the road and works meticulously on
every song until he arrives in New York at or near the end of his tour.
Neither the songs, nor the sequence of the songs, vary from concert to
concert, despite all the embellishments and re-arrangements of the melody
and/or tempo. Occasionally, Dylan will make minor adjustments, sometimes
adding or deleting a song, either for variety or to improve the overall
However, the sequence is critical, with Dylan emphasizing the songs in key
positions, such as the beginning or end of the concert, or especially the
encore. These songs almost never change in the middle of a yearly tour.
So Dylan's yearly leg of his 2018 tour followed the same pattern. Every concert
begins with "Things Have Changed," where Dylan laments his current lack or
desire for influence: "I'm locked in tight; I'm out of range; I used to care, but
things have changed."
And since his concert on August 6, 2018 in Singapore, Dylan has ended every
regular concert (not counting the encores) with "Gotta Serve Somebody." "It
may be the devil, or it may be the Lord, but you're gonna have to serve
This song from Dylan's first explicitly Christian album, "Slow Train Coming," gives
us clear direction regarding the course of our lives, and, moreover, provides a
sophisticated lesson in theology.
It tells us we can't opt out from the role Christianity plays in our lives. Making
no decision or trying to stay neutral in the debate about whether Jesus is the
Messiah is not an option. By our very indecision, we are making a decision, and
we are, in effect, rejecting Jesus with all the implications entailed for our
future in eternity.
Okay, with that preliminary explanation aside, let's turn to Dylan's just finished
concerts in New York. Predictably, he played the same songs and the same
order of songs for the regular concerts (not counting the encore) all seven
nights. But then on the last two nights, he changed his first encore song from
"All Along the Watchtower" to "It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry."
Was it just a whim, or was Dylan in a good mood, or was he somehow catering
to the audience? Long-time Dylan fans will immediately reject these explanations.
Dylan can be accused of many things but being shallow is certainly not one of
In my opinion, the explanation lies clearly in the last lyric of this song (we see
the importance of sequence again), "Don't say I never warned you when your
train gets lost."
And what was the last thing Dylan warned us about? Well, it was in the
immediately preceding song, "Gotta Serve Somebody." Dylan is warning us not
to stray from the Christianity he just described as being paramount.
Many may reject this explanation to feel comfortable with their pre-existing
values, but Dylan has never been about making us comfortable. He speaks to
us through his songs; in fact, he typically does not address the audience at all
with the spoken word.
And selecting this song gives us a warning in typical Dylanesque fashion. He
does not hit us over the head with his message but demands we think about
his lyrics to tease out the meaning.
And I believe this extraordinary change in his last two concerts, especially in the
all-important encore, was done with clear intent and purpose: to warn us to
hold fast to Dylan's Christian witness.
Review by Barry Gloffke
So there it went. Seven concerts in nine nights at
the Beacon Theatre and our hero leaves New York City on a high note. Bob
took the city on a whirlwind musical tour.
What a night. What a week. So many good shows (sans Thursday), so many
high points, so few low points, so many happy Bobcats.
Tonight's penultimate stop on Bob's Fall U.S. 2018 tour was icing on the
cake to a wonderful week. The first half of the show was solid, if not
spectacular and the second half superb. My rundown goes like this:
Bob and the Cowboys charged out of the gate with the rising curtain
putting down a churning, burning THINGS HAVE CHANGED. That was followed
with the great vocal dynamics of IT AIN'T ME, BABE. They always nail
HIGHWAY 61 REVISITED and tonight was no exception with Charlie's riffs and
George's driving pulse. The harp on SIMPLE TWIST OF FATE tonight was
sublime. CRY A WHILE was nasty. The guys give this grit and grime. This
was my first highlight tonight. WHEN I PAINT MY MASTERPIECE... what is not
to like about this version? Simply beautiful, and so cool the way the song
picks up as the band jumps in halfway through. Another highlight. A Solid
and rocking version of HONEST WITH ME. TRYIN' TO GET TO HEAVEN was very
nicely played by the Cowboys tonight. They stayed with Bob's every move on
the piano. SCARLET TOWN was damned near perfect. I love the way Bob goes
center stage and commands the room. Tony's standup bass gives this
atmosphere. The first words of MAKE YOU FEEL MY LOVE were off microphone,
but nevertheless he turned out a lovely version. PAY IN BLOOD came and
went. The show takes off from here with a crowd rousing LIKE A ROLLING
STONE. Bob seemed to give the crowd ample time to howl before he dove into
each chorus. Next up is a scintillating take on EARLY ROMAN KINGS with
sizzling guitar work by Charlie. Another highlight. Another highlight is a
stunning reading of DON'T THINK TWICE, IT'S ALRIGHT. Bob's vocal phrasing
and dexterity and devastating. Again, Tony's standup bass gives this
atmosphere. Moody and mad is LOVE SICK. So good. Another highlight. The
band rocks the heck out for THUNDER ON THE MOUNTAIN. Great work by the
boys on this... and of course the fun drum solo by George makes it shine.
By all means this song should have the house on its feet dancing. But not
these days, not this venue. The slotting of SOON AFTER MIDNIGHT works so
well here, and I don't think I have heard a bad version in the nine shows
I have seen so far on this leg of the tour. Tonight it was smooth and
pretty. Another highlight was the refurbished and rocking GOTTA SERVE
SOMEBODY... 'you might be in a honky tonk, or in a nursing home, searching
through the rubble, with a fine tooth comb'. Excellent!! For the second
night in a row we are treated to a blues burning IT TAKES A LOT TO LAUGH,
IT TAKES A TRAIN TO CRY for the initial encore. Another highlight. Closing
out the Beacon run was one more beautiful version of BLOWIN' IN THE WIND
featuring nice violin from Donnie and harp work from Bob.
Bravo! Well done by Bob and the Cowboys.
See you in Philadelphia for one last show.
Review by Peter Smith
He not busy being born is busy dying.
Bob Dylan doesn't announce farewell tours, but I can't help but think of a
farewell tour when I see someone perform at 77. After seeing
septuagenarians Paul Simon, Joan Baez, Elton John and Loudon Wainwright
perform earlier this fall, I can't help but compare them to Dylan in their
advanced years. Unlike his talkative peers, Dylan spoke not a word from
the stage at the Beacon Saturday night. No videos, no stories, no
reminisces of early days in the city. Ain’t talkin. Instead, a retreat
from the spotlight; the entire band and Dylan were set up at least 15 or
20' back from the edge of the stage, behind the heavy red velvet curtain
which rose and fell as the show opened and closed. The lighting, always
dim the last few years, seemed even dimmer. Between songs the lights were
But on night 7 at the Beacon, Dylan and his band were humming. The sound
at the beautifully restored theater was perfect. Dylan's vocals and piano
were clearly distinguished (stage left) at the same time as George
Recile’s drumming (stage right) was tight and rocking. Favorites
reimagined throughout the evening were when I paint my masterpiece, like a
rolling stone, and trying to get to heaven. The phrasing in each was
altered from the recorded versions and gave new emphasis to Dylan's
poetry. When he does that the results can be disappointing sometimes, but
on these rearrangements the new melody engaged immediately.
Not having read reviews from earlier stops on this leg of the NET, I
expected an intermission and a few classic American standards. But Dylan
rolled right through, and without crooning. Great original song
selections. The pace was quick, although the songs were unhurried. Dylan's
version of a 2 minute offense challenged the audience to follow closely.
If you kept up and paid attention, you were rewarded with a late vintage
Dylan performance at his best.
Thanks to my Saint Louis friends, Tom and Nancy, for kindly allowing me
the use of their Citi Card for the pre-sale. We had some fine 2nd row
seats in section 6 of the loge with a straight ahead view of Dylan seated
at his piano. Excellent show!
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