Toronto, Ontario
The Phoenix
March 20, 2004

[Steve Wright], [Bill White]

Review by Steve Wright

Fantastic show.  The Phoenix is about the size of a high school gym and has
great accoustics.  This was my first show since Bob has been on keys.  Two
observations: one Bob does not play entirely to the band.  He interacts
with the crowd as much as when he is playing guitar.  Second, none of the
songs suffered as a result of his piano playing.  Bob's voice was far
better than either of the last two T.O. shows.  Highlights were Desolation
Row, Maggie's Farm, and Tangled Up In Blue.  Standing In The Doorway was
terrible, more like a rehearsal.  The song didn't end it stopped.  Bye and
Bye was a poor choice.  Bad pacing in a mostly high energy show.  Bob played
16 songs because there was a curfew.  The Phoenix becomes a dance club late
Sat. nights.  All in all a lot of fun.  We were about 30 feet from the stage
and the place was packed and very hot.  Look for 17 songs tonight, maybe
more, in a big warehouse of a club.


Review by Bill White

Since I first noticed that Bob was tinkling a piano exclusively in his
live show, I had a serious bent to Catch the Act. But where we live, a
visit by anybody worth seeing is kinda rare. I saw the news about first
Toronto date, duly alerted my friends down there and they snapped up their
tickets. I just got a new job, so Friday night was a no-go. Then I heard
abut the Sunday date, but it was the same thing. Couldn’t do it. But I
started thinking about it - real hard. But Saturday was perfect: drive
down, see the show, crash, drive home. Four or five hours each way, not a
big deal. But it was a huge deal to catch Bob and his Killer Band in such
a small place. Likely the smallest place he’s played in Canada in decades.

So I was really jazzed to drive from Aylmer, Quebec (opposite Ottawa),
through about a dozen big-time rain squalls on the 401 and meet up with
three of my best friends on the planet for this gig. In fact, this was
probably an anniversary of sorts – I believe the last time the four of us
were together for Bob was the Lansdowne Park show (with the Nevilles, Joe
Cocker and Michelle Shocked) some 10 years back. First time Bob played
“Unbelieveable” anywhere, live. Look it up!

The Phoenix is buried somewhere in Downtown Toronto and if you drove by on
any other day, you’d probably never even notice the place. The entrance is
set way back from the street, jammed in between a couple of office
buildings in a dull neighborhood of grey-glass boxes and low-rent low-rise
apartment blocks.

The doors opened promptly at 7 but the line moved like a sloth. We soon
found out why. Security was amazing – it was full arrest mode, I’ve never
been patted down so thoroughly in my life. No idea why they weren’t taking
any chances with the Great Unwashed, but it was one of life’s little
experiences having a guy three times as big as you making sure you weren’t

Inside, the place was, as noted on BobLinks by one other patron, basically
the size of a high school gym with a balcony up top at the back, where I
ended up with my friends Marsh and Chuck. Jamie, of Buckets of Bob
(Sackville radio) fame expressed his determination to hang out five feet
from the right-side speaker stack so he could “see both of Bob’s eyes” and
Paul picked out a spot dead centre less than 10 metres back on the floor
for the sound AND the proximity.

Me, I was happy to look down on the band from the balcony. It was akin to
a movie-theatre experience once the festivities began.

The place filled up pretty fast. I think I saw maybe a dozen women in the
crowd – out of 700 people. Clearly, a boys night out, this. Ironic, given
that the day we heard about this show, ma conjointe Anne begged me to join
my friends. She figured from the gitgo that this Phoenix thing would be a
boys night out. In fact, my pilgrimage to see Bob was the first time we’ve
been apart since we moved into the house of our dreams last July. But I

Anyway, the show began late by recent standards for this tour. The
“Fanfare for the Common Man” intro music spilled out of the PA in a mushy,
muddy mix at about two minutes after the hour.

Then nothing.

From our front-of-the-balcony vantage point, we could look down at the guy
at the sound board. From personal experience behind a board at a radio
station, I could tell he was not having a good time. His obviously had his
hands full. It was a mighty bad sign.

Easily a quarter of an hour later, we hear “Fanfare” again, louder, but
still mushy, followed by the now legendary “legend” intro, which still
brings laughs from the crowd when the guy gets to the phrase about
substance abuse. But even this was hard to hear, so the classic climax,
“Columbia recording artist, Bob Dylan” was barely audible. 

Damned if the band doesn’t blaze into a brilliant (and virtually
unrecognizable) reworking of “To Be Alone With You”. “Tonight I’ll be
Staying Here with You” provided a wonderful requiem for the late Johnny
Cash. “Maggie’s Farm” churned into a fantastic rocking jam. Both
guitarists traded solos, one-upping each other out to the edge – and
occasionally over – ringing lead riffs like there was no tomorrow. 

Then Bob roars into a devastating blues-rock version of “Desolation Row”,
which ended with probably the third harp solo on the night. Even though
I’m a virtual neophyte compared to most (this was only my tenth show since
78) I had been yearning to hear Bob play harp at a level approximating the
quality of “The Man in the Long Black Coat” on the Oh, Mercy album. My
favourite Dylan harp solo, that.

Well, when he got to blowin that harp at the end of DR you could rightly
say that maybe the MITLBC studio solo was merely a rehearsal for this
night. That harp solo absolutely eclipsed the Long Black Coat stuff.
Impossibly sublime. Best harp I’ve ever heard from Bob. Truly and utterly

Just after this amazing turn of events, confusion replaced order on stage.
Bob disappeared stage left. I mean, he just walked right off. The bass
player seemed to be calling the next tune. Richie Hayward jumped into the
drummer’s seat – the stage of the Phoenix being decidedly too small for
two sets of drums.

This break in the music brought back my memories of The Band in their
heyday trooping around the stage, swapping instruments. Only this bit was
significantly less complicated!

Larry Campbell, the consummate pro, slips on an acoustic guitar,
completely non-plussed.  The band starts Tangled – without Bob. They run
through the intro AGAIN as Yer Man suddenly strolls in from stage left,
saunters back to the piano, crouches down over the mike and leans into the
opening line, like Sun Green leaning into that megaphone.

The place went nuts!

You still can’t hear Bob playing piano, so I don’t know if this is a big
fake, if he’s not up to the job (we found out quite the opposite during
the encore numbers when the piano miraculously poured out of the PA), or
if the keyboard’s even plugged in…

But I don’t care! The band is slaying the joint and everyone knows this is
the best band AROUND. We don’t care that the sound ain’t pristine, we’re
just prayin’ that this won’t ever stop!

“Rainy Day Woman 12 & 35” was sorta comic relief in the set list, which,
as Jamie observed later, had a remarkable thread of unrequited (lost) love
throughout. But this version of RDW was hilarious! All the band needed was
the slap-happy horns and we would have had the original album version,
live. Even the crowd was in on it, adding spontaneous laughter and party
cheers – the only other thing missing out front was the clinking of
drinking glasses…!

As the set came to a close, we got some real recent treats – particularly
Honest with Me, with Larry’s snarling slide guitar and the rest of the
band roaring, eight-cylinder style….

I’d kinda wanted to hear “Cat’s in the Well” out of sheer curiosity, but
that wasn’t happening – I don’t think time was a factor, but
uncharacteristically (for an army brat), I completely lost track of time.
I had a watch, sure, but I only checked it twice. I made a mental note
(Marsh was penciling in the set list) somewhere at the beginning and the
next time I looked it was quarter to ten - “unbelievable, where’d the time
go?!” I thought. 

Truth is, we got mesmerized by the prophet, the master craftsman, call him
what you will, but catch him while you can: this ain’t a
buy-the-ticket-take-the-ride kinda thing; it’s a veritable Miracle to get
together in the same room as Bob in the first place…


page by Bill Pagel

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