Milwaukee, Wisconsin

The Riverside Theater

May 13, 2015

[Jerry Glocka], [Tom Wilmeth]

Review by Jerry Glocka

Bob and band rolled into town for another NET stop at Milwaukee's historic 
Riverside Theater.  Built in 1928, it's undergone many renovations over the 
years and is now a true showcase venue with good sightlines and great sound.  
However, when Bob and band played here the fall of 2009 the sound was a 
bit muddy, even from the 12th row, left of center. Tonight, in the 4th row 
of the balcony - again slightly left of center, the sound was clean and 
well-balanced.  Dramatic use of minimal stage lighting greatly added to the 
presentation.  With the opening "gong" sounding shortly after 8:00, Stu 
enters from stage right, strumming his Gibson J-45.   After a few minutes, 
as anticipation builds, Bob and the rest of the band stroll on and launch into 
"Things Have Changed'" and they're off and running.  Even knowing what's 
coming in the unchanging set list of this this leg of the tour, you really have
to marvel at the care and precision Bob and the band bring to each of the 20 
songs performed.  Bob seems most intent on getting his words heard. His 
singing and harp playing came through loud and clear in the mix. The "newer" 
songs of the last 10-12 years are all improved in a live setting - especially the 6 
songs from "Tempest".  "Scarlet Town", "Duquesne Whistle", "Pay in Blood" 
and "Early Roman Kings" (with Stu on maracas) were definite highlights.  A 
menacing, re-tooled "Love Sick" closed out the first set with even more 
dynamics than the original.  "A Simple Twist of Fate", one of the two "Blood 
on the Tracks" songs, had Bob at center stage, plaintively singing and blowing 
mournful harp between verses.   With Charlie and Donnie trading elegant 
guitar and pedal steel licks and Tony and George seamlessly locking down the 
rhythm, you come to realize just how integral these guys are to  Bob's live 
shows.  After seeing over twenty iterations of the Never Ending Tour, one 
thing remains clear - you never know what you're gonna get at a Bob Dylan 
show.  But if you go without expectations, the rewards are many.  
Enjoy it while it lasts.      


Review by Tom Wilmeth

Last week’s Bob Dylan concert was as meticulously crafted as a classical
music program by the Milwaukee Symphony.  Long known for altering his set
list from night to night, Dylan now presents an unchanging program of
songs, no matter the location.

A Texas friend of mine saw this tour last week.  He felt certain that Bob
would acknowledge his surroundings by performing “If You Ever Go to
Houston.”  Nope.  Even when in his old stomping grounds of Minneapolis/St.
Paul, Dylan gives no special nods to location.  The set lists for the
three nights he played there last fall were identical to each other and to
the rest of the tour.

What does this tell us?  That this artist wants his audience to hear these
songs in this order, the great majority of which come from his newer
releases.  “Things Have Changed” opens the evening, clearly announcing
that listeners should abandon all expectations of a greatest hits review. 
There will be no “Lay, Lady, Lay,” “All Along the Watchtower,” or “Like a
Rolling Stone” tonight.

But to my surprise, the sold out Riverside Theater audience seemed fine
with this.  An occasional shout would come from the crowd, but the most
discernable yell was not for an old song, but was an early Happy Birthday
greeting.  In his most recent interview, Dylan talked about how his
younger audience is far more accepting of his current concerts, stating
that many of his early fans are now locked in a music “time warp.”  Based
on the enthusiasm shown by this tour’s audiences, Bob is an accurate judge
of his fan base.    

A few old songs did surface.  “Tangled Up in Blue” and “Simple Twist of
Fate” came near the end of the first set and the start of the second,
respectively.  And when the audience recognized these numbers, certainly
they were pleased.  But there was no sense of, “At last; this is what we
came for!”  In fact, reactions nearly as strong greeted the start of “Pay
in Blood,” “Forgetful Heart,” and “Duquesne Whistle.” 

Dylan seemed especially intent on having the audience absorb his lyrics. 
Gone was the muddy sound that has sometimes marred his shows.  I am
convinced that the improved fidelity was not simply a happy accident of
this specific evening.  To insure sound clarity, bassist Tony Garnier
played guitar as often as he played either his acoustic or electric bass. 
The crisp sound was also helped by drummer George Recile’s light use of
brushes on several numbers.  Any rhythm that might have been needed to
accentuate the understated bass and drums instrumentation was always
present in Stu Kimball’s solid guitar work.

As for Bob, he no longer plays guitar at all.  Piano has become his
primary instrument.  Dylan split his time between a baby grand and center
stage, where both a modern and an old time ribbon microphone stood. 
Unlike concerts of a decade ago, the piano is now clearly present in the
sound mix, and there is no secondary keyboard in the band.  Dylan
occasionally played rudimentary piano on his early albums, but now he
seems very comfortable with the instrument.  

Donnie Herron is Bob’s utility man.  He rapidly switches between a wide
variety of string instruments, and is strategically located on a raised
platform near Dylan.  It was interesting to observe Herron as he intently
watched Bob’s hands on the piano keys, making sure that his string part
would fit exactly with what Dylan was playing. 

In addition to piano, Dylan still plays harmonica.  These harp interludes
invariably drew enthusiastic responses.  Bob selected his harmonica for a
given song from a wooden box near the piano.  Lined with green fabric, it
was placed below a bust that appeared to be of Mozart.  While this perhaps
sounds pretentious, it actually fit well with the comfortable stage
ambience.  The lighting was not dim, but rather subdued, placing focus
onto the songs being performed.  Some lovely lighting elements
occasionally adorned the dark curtain that draped the entire rear of the
stage.  These were usually vertical shafts of golden light; static forms,
as opposed to disruptive light shows or recognizable images.  

As the evening’s program unfolded, only once did I think Bob might be
calling-up a tune that the band was not expecting.  Late in the second
set, Dylan said something to lead guitarist Charlie Sexton.  Sexton
immediately removed the electric guitar he had just put on and quickly
strapped on an acoustic.  Even within a rigid set list, Bob is still
experimenting with different musical variables.  

Dylan had been moving between the piano and center stage all night, often
strolling the length of the performance space as the band played.  But
during the chords that linked the beautiful “Long and Wasted Years” with
the final song of the main set, Dylan stopped by the drum platform and
stretched repeatedly.  He then walked to the microphone and sang “Autumn
Leaves.”  His graveled voice was a perfect match for this song of longing
and remembrance.  

The two numbers performed for the encore, like the entire program, were
carefully selected.  The first was a beautiful version of “Blowin’ in the
Wind.”  More than a closing crowd pleaser or a reminder of his origins,
Bob may have been demonstrating the continued relevance of this song. 
Like Hal Holbrook’s recent Milwaukee performance that channeled the
frighteningly timely political views of Mark Twain, Dylan’s words still
glow like burning coal.    

The final selection presented each night of this tour is “Stay With Me.” 
Perhaps Bob is using the theme of this last song as a thank you to his
audience for remaining loyal to him during his lengthy career.  It could
also be heard as a hope that they continue to listen.  Maybe those
stretches he did before “Autumn Leaves” suggest that Dylan is only now
getting warmed up.

Tom Wilmeth
Grafton, Wisconsin      


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