New York, New York
Beacon Theatre
April 28, 2005

[Toby Richards-Carpenter], [Noel Stafford], [Jim Bishop]

Review by Toby Richards-Carpenter


Since Monday, the Bob Dylan show has been in town. And tonight, Thursday
night, for the first time this wild town found its way into the Bob Dylan
show. You couldn’t miss it. The audience crackled and whooped as show-time
approached, the theatre’s air warm, dense, murky. The freaks were out in
force: old men dressed like Dylan, suspiciously close in physical
appearance to their idol. Everywhere tousled hair and pipe-cleaner legs.
Women with hook noses. The circus was in town.

As the curtain drew back the band were off already, a firecracker
‘Drifter’s Escape’, Bob fretting over his microphone. His singing was
right on the money, passionate and angry, and somehow deeply American this
evening. Whether the flutter of New York butterflies had any effect I
don’t know, but tonight Bob Dylan depicted a tantalizing, fragmented
American landscape, dust and pride and conflict sweeping through the songs
like a wicked wind. We saw East Texas, Lincoln County Road, Vicksburg. The
North Country, the East Coast, the Southern Star. Mississippi.

The places were vivid for us tonight, thanks to Bob’s singing. The notes
he sang were controlled, measured out like medicine, full strength,
sometimes with a spoon of sugar, sometimes not. ‘Drifter’s Escape’ had
power and spark. ‘Senor’, which followed it, was sung with full commitment
as if to explore the song’s mystery, a journey at dusk, an excavation. I
swear my heart missed a beat towards the end. ‘Let’s overturn these
tables’, implored Bob. Then ‘disconnect these cables’, with such finality
that he hardly needed to add that the place didn’t make sense to him
anymore. Then Bob picked up his harmonica. He fumbled with his breath,
finding low, uncertain notes. The band melted away, George hit his snare
drum and the room echoed. Bob was crouched over, center stage, using his
harmonica to feel for a way out of the song. He may have found that way
out, but part of me wonders if Bob isn’t still meandering along on the
same journey.

Bob’s harmonica playing was of immense stature tonight. On ‘Floater’ he
seemed to be trying to hit the bass notes with his harp, matching Tony
Garnier blow for blow. The two biggest surprise performances tonight, for
me, were ‘Girl From The North Country’ and ‘I’ll Remember You’, both of
which were clarified by deeply considered harmonica accompaniment. On
‘I’ll Remember You’, artist and performer seemed overcome. It was just a
human being up there, more heart than guile, singing sweetly about someone
he loved. Not even the feistiest, most smart-ass New York audience could
reject that.

‘Down Along The Cove’, too, was emblazoned and embellished by the
harmonica. Long, hanging notes cut through the honking guitar patterns and
settled in the air, crying for mercy from the Lord just as the singer had
done so.

There was gold and silver everywhere in this show. ‘Blind Willie McTell’
mesmerized, Bob the master of words, keeping most of the lines on a short
leash, then occasionally growling like a wounded rottweiler. There was so
much space in the music, storm clouds gathering over the chain gangs and
rivers, to the sinister pluck of a banjo. 

‘Tangled Up In Blue’ got a massive reception from the audience, but Bob
elongated its performance, rendering it less a blizzard of images and more
of a shaggy dog story. Again, controlled singing, occasional release, and
a voice able to reach for notes in any direction.

The voice crooned away handsomely during a high-pitched pirouette through
‘Floater’, which contained a classic example of Bob’s ability to
resuscitate meaning from a lyric fluff. After telling us to sit up near to
the teacher if we ever want to learn anything, Bob promptly forgot the
next line about ‘Romeo and Juliet’. Makes you wonder what the young
Zimmerman was up to during those high-school English lessons.  

The closer to the main set, ‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall’, was undoubtedly
dramatic, but its impact would have been greater to me had it closed a set
with fewer highlights. The overall level of performance was just so high,
with joy to be found in so many unexpected places. Fresh meaning was
unearthed in ‘Drifter’s Escape’, ‘I’ll Remember You’ and ‘Down Along The
Cove’. Even so, Bob’s singing on ‘Hard Rain’ held a vice-like grip,
starting low-key and uncertain, focusing his vision and gradually
unleashing more and more emphatic notes. ‘It’s a hard, it’s a HARD, it’s a
hard, it’s a HARD, it’s a HARD RAIN’S a-gonna FALL’. Over and out.

Back they came. Mississippi. Amazing to hear it, and hard to get my head
round its new, staccato arrangement. The glorious musicality of the 2001/2
performances has gone. In its place, awkwardness, sudden one-two jabs of
words. Bob began this performance with reticence, but thought, perhaps
fought his way into it, and various phrases began to leap out like licks
of flame. ‘Pain pouring down’. ‘Drowning in the poison’. Finally, he began
to ambush the refrain, and the song departed from us accomplished, fully
resolved. Not the outstanding performance of the night, but my God was it
great to hear Bob sing it. 

‘All Along The Watchtower’ ended proceedings again and, as at the end of
any great Dylan show, it was a relief to hear something so familiar. My
head was full, my heart was swelled.

This third Beacon show felt like a chemical reaction. New York fuelled it,
but Bob’s singing was the catalyst. He was a master in full control of his
words tonight, sketching great images for us, prompting us to open our
eyes to America as well as our ears to his music. We danced out of our
seats, through the theatre and into the night, and felt once again that
anything was possible. 

Toby Richards-Carpenter


Review by Noel Stafford

Not a single song from: Another Side, Times, BIABH, HW61R, BoB, Nashville Skyline,  New Morning, 
"the religious albums,"  Oh Mercy, UTRS, or TOOM! And it was still a killer show!  Only one man 
can ignore (or even have) so many of his most acclaimed albums and still present an amazing show.
The band was great, except for maybe 'I'll Remember You.' 

'Down Along the Cove' was a knockout - this is a song that can very easily lose identity, but the
subtle dynamics of the playing made it absolutely shine. 'GFTNC' was beautiful. 'Senor' was 
killer - Bob's harmonica.....

The banjo on 'Highwater' was defining. 'TUIB' - while previously overplayed - was a breakout for 
this tour (and a lot tighter than normal). My first 'Blind Willie McTell' was heavy. 'Tough Mama' 
was fun like 'Country Pie' a few years ago. Like a lot of people, I had no desire to hear 'Honest 
with Me' again, but, they, rocked, it, out!!! George Recile is a madman! Thank you, George.  

And did anyone else notice that AATWT sounds like Nirvana? The chorus of 'Teen Spirit' could 
easily be added to this arrangement. "...the hour's getting late - 123with the lights out..." 
That's George - He f***in' pounds those drums.

Merle was great - what a professional band - what a great band leader. This, to me, is real 
country music. He played 'Okee from Muskogee' which was nice, but the jazzy outro version was 
way more exciting. Sorry Amos, I only caught you last two minutes. 

A great evening. I have tickets for the next two nights (so I'm not so upset about having missed 
songs from all the previously mentioned albums). My breakout wish: 'Gates of Eden.' 


Review by Jim Bishop


I did a double-take.  Surely it could not be?  Bob in full Yankee captain's garb and his troops in
Confederate gray?  It was only for a split second but that's how it struck me as the curtain went 
back and the cannons blasted us into Drifter's Escape on this third night at the Beacon.

Once my eyes had adjusted to the glare and musket fire I saw that Bob's suit was not, in fact, 
Union blue at all but black with military-style braiding.  Nevertheless the image stuck.

This was a show about North and South.  We met the girl from the North Country and we traveled 
together all the way down the spine of America to Mississippi.  In between we wandered through East
Texas on the trail of the unseeing Mr McTell and even found time to drop in on Lincoln Country Road 
and Armageddon along the way!

Like all good captains (well schooled and skilled) Bob lead from the front.  He was a man in full 
command of his post, harp being his main weapon of choice tonight.  He blew it to rally us on almost 
every song staggering center stage, as if wounded by shrapnel, to deliver his orders.

The big guns: Senor, Blind Willie, Hard Rain and the newly re-arranged Mississippi were all wheeled
out to pound us and yet it was a lesser member of the company one of the rank and file who shone 
brightest and must receive highest commendation.  I'll Remember You acquitted itself with true 
valour.  Captain Bob set aside arms for a moment and sang this ballad as if to a sweetheart waiting 
for word from the front.  With voice tremulous and low and harp as sonorous as the last post he cast 
a hush over the hall that I shall long remember.  Much gulping and dabbing of eyes in the seats 
around me.

The Confederates played their part admirably, too.  Special mention must go to Lieutenant Recile who 
held steady the beat and to Soldier Donny Herron whose banjo in Blind Willie McTell brought the spirit 
of the South marching right into New York.  Medals should be cast.

The truth is that Dylan is both North and South.  He's East and West, too when the mood takes him.  
Tonight at the Battle of the Beacon he drew upon the full gamut of American myth and legend and 
delivered it to us in a single, coherent wallop.   The only appropriate response was unconditional 

Jim Bishop  


page by Bill Pagel

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