Fargo, North Dakota

Newman Outdoor Field
September 9, 2006

[Ted Gracyk]

Review by Ted Gracyk

Only a few hundred people were waiting in line when the gates opened at
5:30. It was a chilly day in Fargo, and the evening would have clear skies
and falling temperatures. Unlike Dylan's last visit to Newman Field, the
stage was set up just past second base and not deep in the outfield. So we
opted to sit in the second row of seats behind one of the dugouts, putting
us level with the stage and just above the heads of the standing crowd. We
were close enough to see clearly, and with binoculars we could see Dylan
as clearly as if we were at the front of the crowd. 

There was free parking nearby. A number of people had driven to the show
from the west and the north; a good number of Canadians were there. No
food, no drink, no cameras. Although the advance advertising said that
lawn chairs were permitted if they were the type that wouldn't puncture
the lawn, the rules were changed sometime before the show and people who
brought lawn chairs weren't allowed inside until they hauled them back to
their cars. Once inside there was a good selection of beers, at $5.50 for
24 ounces, and there was fried food galore. But whoever was selling the
fried cheese curds should have been shot. They were tasteless and chewy.
If you wanted to eat cheap, you could get a hot dog, chips, and soft drink
for $2.00.

Elana James kicked things off with an instrumental version of Woody
Guthrie's "Union Maid" and her swinging group later sang the Woody &
Jack Guthrie song "Oklahoma Hills." The crowd was sparse for their half
hour. They closed with "Orange Blossom Special." Some past reviews of
these ballpark shows have described their music as bluegrass. Nope. Except
that last song, it was western swing and jump blues. Musically, the set
was stylistically similar to the Modern Times album.

Junior Brown was great and the growing crowd responded warmly. In
addition to his most familiar songs, his one long instrumental blues was
the MUSICAL highlight of the entire evening. After it, he remarked that it
was his attempt to be Albert King.

By the time Jimmie Vaughan took the stage, the stadium was almost full
except for the big block of seats right in the middle. The sound mixing
tent was HUGE and blocked the view of the stage from the middle seats.
Vaughan opened with a blues instrumental but it was strictly
paint-by-numbers. After Junior Brown, Vaughan sounded like nothing
special. They should have reversed the order of these two acts. Vaughan
didn't sing all that much, preferring to play guitar, and he avoided his
Fabulous Thunderbirds material. Lou Ann Barton appeared stage left about
halfway through the set. She sang well but she had no stage presence. From
the look on her face, she might as well have been cooking the cheese curds
up in the stands instead of performing for an audience. When Vaughan tried
to get a sing-along going with the crowd, he got a weak response. Based on
what we observed, most of the audience was glad when this portion of the
show ended.

As it got dark and the temperature dropped, a lot of younger fans who'd
come to show without looking at the weather prediction started to feel
pretty chilly in their shorts and tank tops. There was a delay while the
road crew brought four huge propane heaters onto the stage. Suddenly the
speakers boomed out Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man." Everyone got
excited: Bob was about to begin. Then nothing happened. We waited. We
waited some more. Five minutes passed? It seemed like it. Then we got the
"Rodeo" music and the standard spoken introduction, and it was actually
time to start.

For anyone checking on the nightly set lists of the shows leading up to
Fargo, there were absolutely no surprises in the set list. This was his
seventh performance in nine days and his voice was a lot rougher than it
had been a few weeks earlier. "Cat's in the Well" opened, and much of the
crowd wondered what song it was. Hearing "Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum" two
songs later made the two songs sound remarkably similar, emphasizing the
common nursery-rhyme quality of the lyrics. Between them we got "You Ain't
Going Nowhere." The band was tight and the music swung, but the total
absence of backing vocals deflated the "oo-ee" chorus of the song. Having
"Lay Lady Lay" and "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight" in the fourth and fifth
slots made for a sustained country feel, and Dylan made more effort to
sing these two songs than most of the others during the evening.

"Don't Think Twice" was a little less successful. As he did most of the
night, Donnie Herron played pedal steel. But he seemed lost during parts
of this song. The new album proves that Dylan can still sustain a flowing
melodic line, but he can't do it when he sings night after night and tires
his vocal chords. The shortcomings of his voice were only too clear with
"Don't Think Twice." "Masters of War" was the only number to benefit from
a croaked vocal delivery. The ragged burst of lyrics accentuated the
song's anger. For me, it was a highlight of the show. "Tangled up in Blue"
made it clear how important Stu Kimball is, now that Dylan doesn't play
guitar. His rhythm guitar sets the pace and keeps things together. Dylan
used his new "Tropicana" lyrics in place of "topless bar" This violation
of expectations got a chuckle out of many of us.

"Boots of Spanish Leather" was the remaining gem of the evening. Dylan
really put some effort into this one, and it really benefited from the
heartfelt delivery and slow pace (the evening's ONLY slow song) up to this
point, every song was performed with a medium or fast tempo). Although
Dylan spat out the lyrics to "Highway 61 Revisited" so that they were
nearly unintelligible, breaking the long lines down into little fragments,
the crowd gave it their biggest ovation up to that point in the evening.
Full of alcohol (the filed was covered with beer bottles after the show),
at this point the standing portion of the crowd only wanted familiar, fast
material. So "Summer Days" got a l of applause, even though (apart from
the lyrics) it sure sounded like he was just performing "Cat's in the
Well" all over again.

After twelve songs, the standard wait for the standard encore. The crowd
went nuts for "Like a Rolling Stone" and "All Along the Watchtower." Dylan
continued his recent practice of extended this last song by singing the
first verse again as the last verse, so his closing line of the evening
becomes "none of them along the line know what any of it is worth." When
the song was completed, Dylan walked to the center of the stage and faced
the crowd. The band members lined up across the stage behind him in their
matching suits. Dylan nodded to the audience and raised his arms so that
his hands were level with his face, both hands curled into fists, like a
fighter accepting applause after a prize fight.

Here a few other random observations. Dylan did not talk except to
introduce the band. His gold Oscar award was on display to his left.
Between most songs, Dylan walked back to Stu Kimball, who was just a
little behind him and to the side. Because Stu's guitar started off most
songs, Dylan had to tell him what the next song would be. During the
course of the evening, Donnie Herron contributed occasional violin, but it
was too low in the mix. Dylan's keyboard was also very low in the sound
mix. There were a few spots for harmonica, the best of which was "I'll Be
Your Baby Tonight." As Dylan performed, a gorgeous full moon rose directly
behind the stage. In the small gap between the dugout and the standing
crowd, one couple danced together through Dylan's set.


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