The Woodlands, Texas

Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion

August 2, 2009

[Wade Greiner], [Bengt Lindell]

Review by Wade Greiner

This has been a very hot summer in Houston and Tuesday night, with the  
area hosting Bob Dylan with Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp and the  
Wynos, was no exception. Temperatures were once again in the upper  
nineties and though rain was predicted to possibly cool things down a  
bit, not a drop materialized. Did I mention it was hot? I went to the  
show with April and our son Alex and we decided to upgrade our lawn  
tickets to three tickets under the canopy to get away from the sun  
(and potential later rain) and for $ 10 per ticket extra it seemed  
like a bargain.

The venue (the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavillion in Spring, Texas, just  
outside of Houston) is lovely and the heat didn’t manage to spoil it.  
It is an outdoor venue with a very large canopy over the seated area  
and a large lawn area behind that. The food prices are outrageous, of  
course, (a soda was $5.50, bottled water $ 4.00) but that is to be  
expected these days. To keep Alex’s interest up when there was not  
music we brought along Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban to  
read to him. He is really into Harry Potter right now and he asked for  
it right away as we were waiting for the start of the show. The  
concert began at 5:30 p.m. pretty promptly with the appearance of the  
Wynos. They were good but it was so early and with so many folk  
milling about it was not easy to concentrate on what they were doing.  
I will definitely keep them in mind and check out a show if they come  
to a smaller venue down here sometime.

After they were done we got through about half a chapter of Azkaban  
and Willie Nelson came on. He sounded fine – his voice was strong and  
he was obviously happy to be back in Texas, dropping a big Lone Star  
flag behind him and the band for the set. His set consisted of a lot  
of his hits and some standards and a few medleys of the same. He  
started off with “Whiskey River” and played (among other) “Always on  
My Mind,” “Georgia,” “Crazy,” and “Still is Still Moving to Me” (one  
of my Nelson favorites). The crowd enjoyed him and he threw both a hat  
and a bandanna into the audience before his set was over. After he was  
done, it was more Azkaban.

About a half chapter later it was John Mellencamp’s turn. He had a  
very tight band and they sounded excellent. I am not a big Mellencamp  
fan (I don’t actually own any of his albums) but I recognized most of  
the songs as his hits from the 80s and I also enjoyed the new ones. He  
sang one that he said was written a few weeks ago that was very nice  
and at least one from the new album. I heard an interview he had with  
Terry Gross on "Fresh Air" about his new album and was impressed with  
the songs he played on the radio show. He had a middle section of just  
him on an acoustic guitar and he sounded good on that too. At one  
point he asked the audience whether they wanted new songs (April and I  
rose our hands for them) or old ones (just about everybody else voted  
for the oldies). He noted that it seemed like the biggest margin of  
victory for the old songs he had seen on the tour, and that we must be  
a nostalgic crowd. He was right and I was a bit worried that that  
would spell trouble for Bob. Mellencamp was a crowd pleaser and  
probably got the best audience response to his performance. His band  
was very good and I especially enjoyed the violinist. After he set we  
got through the second to last chapter of Azkaban before the lights  
went out and the announcer did the long introduction of “Columbia  
recording artist…. Bob Dylan!”

The initial cheers were huge. Probably the loudest of the night. The  
crowd was very ready for Bob. It had been 2004 (with Willie Nelson on  
a different Baseball park tour) since I had seen Dylan and I was ready  
too. He opened with “Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat” which seems to me a  
fine lead-in. It was solid, if nothing special, and I thought Bob mic  
was turned up a bit too loud making him sound a bit harsher than he  
needed to but he was clearly engaged, playing guitar, and sounding  
strong. After that it was “It Ain’t Me, Babe” played (again) very  
loudly and sang very loudly too, almost shouting. I began to notice,  
however, that folks were looking around and I heard some people in  
front of me say that they couldn’t understand anything he was saying.  
I could understand him well but maybe that is because I know the words  
already and my mind could fill in what was unintelligible to others.  
(April couldn’t understand him, she later told me, though she still  
enjoyed him.)

By the third song, “Rollin’ and Tumblin’,” from the 2006 album “Modern  
Times,” people were beginning to file out. Quite a few folk left early  
from our section. I think some folk were pretty lost with his set. He  
played a lot of new songs and most of the old ones he did couldn't  
exactly be called "hits." This was in large part not a Dylan crowd but  
a general set of folk who were attracted by the idea of seeing three  
“legends” perform. But whereas Nelson and Mellencamp are excellent  
entertainers who are willing to play to an audience and give them the  
hits (or “nostalgia” as Mellencamp put it), Dylan is an excellent  
entertainer who just is not interested in playing to the audience's  
wishes. He is quite willing to play for an audience but he is not  
going to cater to their tastes. He didn’t when he got booed for “going  
electric” in the mid-sixties, or when he got booed for playing all  
religious songs in the late 70s and he doesn’t now, even when folk  
walk out on him. He plays what he wants to play and how he wants to  
play and if the audience comes around to it, great, and if not – there  
is always the next town…

So, following “Rollin’ and Tumblin’” (for which he switched over to  
keyboards where he stayed for the rest of the night) he performed the  
highlight of the night for me, a punching version of “Tryin’ to Get to  
Heaven.” It was louder and more forceful than other versions I’ve  
heard (nothing like the live version on "Tell Tale Signs") but this is  
a great song (one of my favorite Dylan songs) and it sounds fine with  
most any arrangement. He was very into it, singing the “… you can lose  
a little more” line with a striking high pitched “lose” that was very  
effective. He also played the harmonica on this one for the first time  
of the night and blew a nice solo. Then followed a solid, if  
unspectacular, “Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum.” Next – you knew it was  
coming – was “If you Ever Go to Houston.” Some others must have been  
able to understand him because there was an audible cheer when he sang  
“Houston.” After four "new" songs the crowd was a bit subdued (and  
getting smaller).

Then he dipped into the sixties for a hard rocking “It’s Alright Ma  
(I’m Only Bleeding).” But then it was back to the 21 century for “When  
the Deal Goes Down,” another highlight for me. I admit this was not a  
song that initially struck me from “Modern Times” but it has grown on  
me over the years and this was a nice version with Bob on harmonica  
again. Then back to the mid-sixties for a very loud, rave-up version  
of “Highway 61 Revisited.” I thought that might be it except for the  
encore, but he surprised me with a lovely version of “Nettie  
Moore” (another “Modern Times” highlight) featuring some fine  
harmonica. Then there was an very up tempo version of “Summer  
Days” (the best fast rocker of the evening, in my opinion) that closed  
the main body of the show. Dylan seemed to be enjoying the night,  
allowing himself a couple of laughs/cackles during “Summer Days”  
reminding one of the chuckles on "Together Through Life."

The encore was the standard “Like a Rolling Stone,” “Jolene,” and “All  
Along the Watchtower.” The crowd that remained seem to get into LaRS  
the most but were pretty hyped during the encore (at least in  
comparison with the rest of the show). I got the feeling that this  
crowd would have been happier with Dylan if he had done “Blowin’ in  
the Wind,” “Rainy Day Women 12 & 35,” "Mr. Tambourine Man," and  
“Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” and the like but I, for one, was glad to  
hear a set that consisted of a majority of songs from 1997 on. There  
isn’t much to say about the encore – they were performed very loudly  
(a theme for the night) and the crowd responded somewhat better to  
“Jolene” than some of the other new songs of the night, but that might  
have been the result of being seated between two “recognizable” songs.  
The concert came to an end and Dylan and the band did that odd thing  
they do of standing there looking at the crowd and walking off without  
even a bow. As usual, Dylan hadn’t spoken the entire night except to  
introduce the band members during the encore. And as usual, the show  
was awesome for a Dylan geek like me.

We left, all three of us a little giddy. All three main performers  
were good. April said she enjoyed the Nelson section the best, Alex  
said he like John Mellencamp, and I – well, needless to say, all three  
got one vote as the highlight of the evening. Alex (who is five years  
old) spotted a Willie Nelson plush doll on the way out and we got it  
for him. He slept with it last night and tonight, along with Harry  
Potter. Interesting company Willie! Alex also ended up summing up the  
night probably the best. Hugging his new Willie Nelson he said “I'll  
always remember tonight! I liked them all. They all sang good and  
played perfectly! They must practice a lot!” Amen.

Wade Greiner


Review by Bengt Lindell

Finally August 2 was here. My wife Pat and I were picked up in Welsh, Louisiana
by her sister Georgette and Georgette's John.

Was a great trip and the company made the trip to Houston a lot shorter.

If you ever go to Houston . more about that later.

At 5:30 - right on time - The Wiyos  of Brooklyn, New York opened the show.

Four guys with instruments sounding just like something Bob Dylan would have
heard on his Theme Time Radio Hour. They did a great job, considering the
ungrateful task to open up an event like this.

Next out were Willie Nelson and his band. What can I say? Willie received the
loudest ovations of the evening. Many might have come just  to see King Willie
the I of Texas.

He is a pro, no doubt about it. However, he rushed through his 55 minutes long
set.  Willie was pointing, lauhing, throwing it hats, picking up and wearing
hats that was thrown at him - before throwing them out again - and so on. He
massacred a couple of songs, including Kris Kristofferson's Me and Bobby McGee,
while waving and pointing at his fans. Despite this there was a couple of
breathtaking moments including a magnificent performance of Always on my Mind

Next up was John Mellencamp, who played a surprisingly vital set. He did a
great. Job. Personally, I preferred the songs he played alone without the band,
but the band was great. I am not an Mellencamp connoisseur, so I don't know all
song titles, nut my favorite was a solo number about keeping on dreaming because
dreams can change things.

Dylan was up next. What was he going to play? How would he sound? 

Orchestral music came on, lights dimmed, ""The poet laureate of rock 'n' roll.
The voice of the promise of the '60s counterculture. The guy who forced folk
into bed with rock, who donned makeup in the '70s and disappeared into a haze of
substance abuse, who emerged to 'find Jesus,' who was written off as a has-been
by the end of the '80s, and who suddenly shifted gears and released some of the
strongest music of his career beginning in the late '90s."

The  now familiar introduction came on and then . "I see you got you new
leopard-skin-pill box hat"

Bob, on guitar, sounded focused. The band sounded tight. They looked good; Bob
in a black suit and a white hat. The rest of the guys dressed in white jackets
and black pants. They looked sharp ad sounded sharp.

Next song was "It Ain't Me Babe". A solid version, ending with some good guitar
soloing by Bob.

The set was Rollin' and Tumblin'. The next song was too. Bob was now behind the
keyboard, where he remained the rest of the evening

Things slowed down a bit for the fourth number. "Trying To Get To Heaven Before
They Close The Door." Dylan's singing was sincere. He picked up a harmonica and
played a couple of great solos.

Next song was Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum. I never took this song too seriously.
It's probably more fun to sing and play than to listen to. But it was rocking
and OK.

IF You Ever Go To Houston. I didn't thing Dylan would pick this song. The choice
was too obvious. But, we all loved it. The song has a great groove and a great

"It's All Right Ma" was up next. Our seats were a bit back, but Bob seemed to
enjoy himself. He took some dance steps and even giggled a bit. "It's Al Right
Ma-a-a-a-a, It's life And Life O-o-only."

A waltz came next. An intimate performance of "When the Deal Goes Down." The
large Cynthia Mitchell Woods Arena in Woodlands shrunk a little. Again a great
harmonica solo.

After this waltz came a  great, classic rocker . "God said to Abraham, kill me a
son". Highway 61 connects Minnesota with the Mississippi delta and Louisiana.
The song totally makes sense in Dylan's world.

Nettie Moore  came next. Another intimate performance, another great harmonica
solo. You go, guy!

Last song of the regular set was "Summer Days." The familiar guitar was ringing
through the arena. At the End Don Harrington picked up a trumpet, but maybe I
was the only one who couldn't hear it. Bu the way, during Dylan's set the sound
was a little 'so-so" at times. But that could have been our seats, However, we
were sitting just a few rows from the mixing desk.

Encore! A majestic "Like Rolling Stone" came first. Lights flowed over a
clapping and dancing crowd. 

Jolene was next; Another song from Dylan's new album. "Jolene, I am your king
and you are my queen." Not that great, really.

Before the last song  - All Along the Watchtower -  Dylan introduced his band. 

I guess  the song itself is Bob's tribute to Jimi Hendrix. "The wind began to
howl" and Mr. George Recile behind the drum kit went ballistic.

Tony Garnier on "base geetar" held a watching eye over his fellow band mates
during the evening. I wonder if he knows what goes on in Dylan's mind after 20
years on the road with him? 

The concert was great. However, it's hard - at least for me - to grip what's
going on at a fairly big arena like this pavilion in Woodlands north of Houston.
It's also very busy, with people walking around all the time.

As expected, Dylan didn't say too much. Anyway, at the end of the show when
Dylan and his band bowed to the audience, our hero put a hand on his heart. It
felt really sincere.

Also, I would like to take the opportunity and gripe a little about
Ticketmaster. I understand that tickets have to cost a lot. But what is it about
the fees they impose on the fans, their customers? "It's alright ma, it's greed
and greed only .."

Bengt Lindell


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