Tulsa, Oklahoma
Cain's Ballroom
February 28, 2004

[Librado Castro] [Michael Sanditen],

Review by Librado Castro

Bob Dylan kicked off his 2004 journey across the Midwest and Atlantic
states with a nod to the dust bowl balladeers here in the shadow of Woody
Guthrie. The legendary Cain's Ballroom--in operation for four
generations--was filled to its capacity of 1,400 devotees who had lined up
in homage for hours outside the "Home of Bob Wills" (the founder of Texas
swing). The rectangular room features a wooden sawdust-ready dance floor
and low barnyard ceiling, with large framed photos of country and western
immortals gazing down from its walls. College students from Texas,
Missouri, Arkansas and a large throng from across the sooner state filled
half the room in harmony with baby boomers fortunate enough to beat the
two-minute phone tag for tickets. 

Minutes before the band took the stage a black sheet was removed from two
drum kits positioned side-by-side. As has been the word on the street,
Richie Hayward is accompanying George Recile for a spell, the line-up
reminding many in the crowd of the Grateful Dead-supported days of
thunderous rhythm behind Dylan. Tony Garnier's position continues to be
stage right (as the patron faces the band) with Larry Campbell on his left
shoulder. Freddy Koella is a far shout across the way at Dylan's side,
just in front of Hayward's bass drum. The Man himself faces Campbell
directly, thus has less eye contact than ever with the audience. Without
introduction, biographical or otherwise, the band entered the stage in a
dark haze of incense. From the shadows a ten-gallon white cowboy hat
appeared bobbing from right to left across the stage as a small,
fragile-looking man in a black suit, with satin rhinestone-trimmed shirt
and silver star piping trousers positioned himself behind a keyboard. A
spotlight engaged Dylan's slight form as he leaned forward on his right
boot, his left balancing him precariously as he swayed behind his
keyboard, bellowing "'Oh, help me in my weakness,' I heard the drifter
say. . ."  From the second row one could note his blues eyes squinting in
concentration as he held every vowel with care. Clean shaven, there was a
noticeable shock of long curls cascading down his neck. Almost immediately
they dripped beads of sweat. Campbell and Garnier were all business, even
grim faced, as Tell Me That It Isn't True kicked-off, but when Hayward
took his seat Koella metamorphosed into a contortionist. Whether it was
the novelty of the snare and high-hat in his ear--the tiny stage was
tightly spaced--or the fact that he's reached a comfort zone in the act,
Koella was the partner which Dylan fed off, the guitarist's spastic energy
being infectious.

With Cry Awhile, Dylan's voice grew clearer in the mix as the sound
technician rested his heretofore busy fingers. The drum combo and closed
room gave an intimacy to Hattie Carroll and It's Alright Ma, which Dylan
completed lyrically in full. This promised to be anything but a throw-away
show.  Indeed, Dylan was so transfixed on his craft that he declined
liquid refreshment until near the end of the set; meanwhile, a couple of
fans up front passed out from the heat during Every Grain of Sand, which
appeared in the eleventh slot. Girl of the North Country was an early
highlight, followed by a couple of all-out rhythm and blues assaults with
Hayward all smiles. Now relaxed from early jitters, Campbell, like Dylan
bedecked in black, danced to mid stage with a wink to Koella, as Garnier
gazed into the eyes of the new fella with the sticks. It was an exercise
that was repeated as the band left Dylan to his own devices for the most
part. This band, seemingly reforming a fellowship with one another after a
few months absence, meditated through a stirring Make You Fell My Love
while Dylan's piano became the lead instrument, the only time it would be
so in the evening. 

The last portion of the show oscillated between new fare and a couple of
nods to Jesus. This was also the rare time in the evening when Dylan
allowed grins, but only to his bandmates, who were introduced in monotone
before Summer Days. Toward the end of the set Dylan finally began
acknowledging those in the front row with scrutinizing glances. It was
perhaps his way of confirming his awareness of his enthusiastic acolytes
while staying focused on the tough task of a season opener. Dylan teased
them with a long pause before an encore which served up Cat's In the Well,
Like a Rolling Stone and Watchtower. With a repetitive waddle to the left
and a shimmy to the right, like a pinball, he received a final round of
applause and then ambled offstage toward more northern climes. Dylan's
voice was strong and his body willing. The gleam in the eye is still
there. Catch it while you can as those lucky few in Tulsa did in this
promising beginning to the 2004 journey.


Review by Michael Sanditen

Thanks Bob and Co. and Cain's Ballroom for bringing your minstrel show to
Tulsa even if it was for what seemed to be more a tune up than a dedicated
attempt. He was animated and smiling at most times if you could catch a
glimpse while standing on the ballroom's sprung wooden floor. For a packed
house, the crowd was attentitive and receptive. There was very little
crowd murmuring.  Bob played more harmonica than usual but no guitar at
all.....I guess he feels the Simple Twist of Fate Band fills that need
which they do indeed. Larry and Tony keep it steady throughout the set
while Bob breaks into a sweat just running along side. There were two
drummers. Everything seemed rusty despite rehearsals all week in Tulsa at
a discreet out of the way practice warehouse. In a classic room like the
Cain's we would have hoped for some country Bob and we got very little of
that. Tulsa just did not seem to inspire Bob. But don't get me wrong
because I am a little critical. Everyone I visited with after the show was
thoroughly entertained. Love that Bob. Hope you come back soon.

Michael Sanditen


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