Portland, Oregon

Memorial Coliseum

October 7, 2009

[Dave Harper], [Jeff Rosenberg]

Review by Dave Harper

Tightest,  brightest show yet.  Punchy too. Coliseum sound isn't my favorite but
this one kicked ass.Show burst with Leopard Skin Pill Box Hat and it never
stumbled or fell.Strong voice throughout with moments as rich as we've heard
over the years.I thought song after song sounded better than the records. Even
old warhorses  like Most Likely You Go Your Way were as forceful as we've heard
and fiercely relevant.  Dylan totally occupied these works.Highway 61 reminded
me of rolling out on 84 along the Columbia on a fully dressed classic Harley,
all chromed, 3 headlights, tweaked up, 80 miles an hour, sunshine, clear road,
good as it gets.  Had that sound and feeling moving through it. This show was
full of highlights. Charlie Sexton, long, lean and serpentine, immediately
claimed the stage and held it all night.Working Mans Blues was soulful and
deeply sung. Amazingly on. Bob's stagecraft was also perked up with different
possitions for each song.

Looked good.   Sugar Baby was a knock out. Different than the Lonesome Road
arrangement on the record. Really nice.Spirit On The Water has evolved. More
muscular and up close.Even LRS had new tricks, and we've heard a few.In a
sepucharal voice underlining every word, Watchtower had the gravitas and
urgency it deserves. I heard somebody say Bob maybe doesnt take things so
seriously, got loose and all. That's not completely so. Bob Dylan really,
really means what he's saying and he's saying it loud and strong as it ever
was.The two hours flew by. The band was better than ever and as the hero
reminds us in Jolene, straight up, with a wink, he's the King. (and Santa Claus
Dave Harper
Portland, Oregon


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Review by Jeff Rosenberg

Well, some nights you get the setlist, and some nights the setlist gets 
you.   Portland Bobfans -- at least this one -- were crushingly disappointed
that, while Monday night in Seattle, Bob performed a half-dozen songs from his
wonderful recent album, tonight he only performed two, both of them tedious
blues shuffles -- Jolene I was tired of before the first time I heard it was
over, and "Home Town," so derivative he had to co-credit Willie Dixon.   None of
Together's more melodic material -- Feel a Change, This Dream of You, Forgetful
Heart, Houston, et al -- was to be heard.   And to think I'd gone in half-hoping
for a live debut of "Life is Hard!"   At least if he's gonna do the bluesy ones,
he could have thrown us another bone such as "Shake Shake Mama" or "It's All
Good."   Instead, he played four songs from Modern Times (but at least four of
the best).   And two from Love and Theft -- a Sugar Baby that was a slack,
tuneless echo of the versions of it from when Love and Theft was new, and
Tweedle Dee, a song at least as tiresome as Jolene.   

Then again, even if those more melodic songs were performed, the sad truth is
that Bob would simply not have performed them melodically.   It's no longer that
he sings an alternate melody to his songs' original tunes -- it's that he often
sings no melody whatsoever, simply singing the whole line on one note and then
going up to the exact same other note at the end of every line of the verse.  
Admit it -- it's predictable by now, and boring.   And it's not only that he
plays with the meter of his lyrics to drop them into the beat in surprising ways
-- it's that he no longer respects anything about the original phrasing,
including what makes it work.   It's not just that he sings "Sing a little bit
of these workingman's blues" as an exhortation instead of in its beautiful
written melody -- it's that he rushes the tag line "workingman's blues" so much
before the beat so much so that you can barely even hear the words over the
music.   And he did this at the end of EVERY chorus.

Looking at the contemporary careers of Elvis Costello and Bruce 
Springsteen, the contrast couldn't be clearer between aware artists who respect
both their repertoire and their audience, curating their careers carefully,
varying setlists consciously and not just haphazardly, and Bob, who -- after a
brief resurgence of self-awareness from roughly 1993 through the '90s and
spilling over into the first few years of this decade -- once again just doesn't
give a fuck anymore.   He might as well be back in that "haze of substance abuse
in the '80s" or whatever that incredibly stupid, unnecessary, and tiresome
concert intro says.   

So last night's show was incredibly frustrating -- but at the same time, of
course, incredibly entertaining.   Despite the non-melodic singing I complained
about above, I must say Bob's harmonica solos tonight were more melodic than
I've heard from him in several years -- meaning they actually contained more
than two or three notes!   Some of them even had a discernible structure and
overarching vision.   Of course, there were also the usual moments of completely
wrong notes too -- not on-purpose wrong, that's-not-even-in-the-key-of-the-song

It was good that Charlie was back, finally another instrumentalist with 
enough personality to be a decent foil for Bob to bounce off of in this 
otherwise faceless band.   The pedal steel was completely inaudible all night.  
Sometimes Charlie would prowl center stage, facing Bob up close when they were
both on guitar, sometimes even getting in his face when he was playing
keyboards, trying to make sparks fly.   At other times he would line up between
George and Tony, the three necks of their guitars making them look almost like a
horn section.   In fact, George and Donnie were basically in the same diagonal
line as the other three, which was a cool setup with Bob set off against them
stage left.   

And when Bob was center stage, that's when the night was as close to 
magical as it got -- the high point for me was Thin Man, which really did
achieve intensity and atmosphere in the room.   It's just such a treat to see
Bob as the showman, gesticulating and moving around without an instrument -- to
think that until a few years ago, the only other time he'd done that was on
"Isis" in Rolling Thunder!    

Other highlights were Most Likely and Ain't Talkin'.   And over the break, the
band tightened up and built some cool, surprising stop-start moments, rhythmic
variations, and spiffy turnarounds into the arrangements that I hadn't heard

But… now, I've probably seen somewhere between two dozen and three dozen
shows, maybe more -- I stopped keeping an exact count a few years ago -- but not
nearly as many as many others.   Yet there wasn't a single song on last night's
setlist that I hadn't heard live before, almost all of them multiple times.  
Well, except for the two unexceptional Together songs.   So that, to me,
constitutes a disappointing show, especially when even the versions of songs
I've heard several times before don't measure up to the earlier ones. 

One thing that occurs to me -- what happened to the concept of an acoustic
mini-set somewhere in the night, either for the first half of the show or as a
break in the middle?   Doing that used to seem to me to allow Bob and the band
-- and the audience -- to take a breath and refocus.  Kind of similar to how
listening to an album on vinyl provides you that momentary break between sides
to collect your thoughts, letting each distinct side make a stronger impression
on you, rather than it all going by in one sequence as on a cd.   In the same
way, separating a few acoustic songs from the rest of the night made both the
acoustic AND the electric sets better, sharper.   But these days, it seems, that
would require too much planning and forethought.

And another thing about the setlist -- two songs from Blonde on Blonde, 
three from Highway 61, one from JWHarding and one from Nashville Skyline -- and
then no other songs from the years between 1969 and 1997?   What's with that?  
I seem to recall a few albums he cut in the '70s.   I'm not saying he has to
play half the new album in order to vary the setlist, but he's neglecting huge
chunks of his catalog.

And I'm not saying the Emperor has no clothes, I just think they're looking a
little threadbare these days.   I love everything he does, even the bad stuff is
fascinating, and I certainly haven't given up on him -- as I said, I absolutely
love most of the new album.   And I'm sure this is another old tune with a new
refrain -- in the '70s I'm sure they said you shoulda seen him in the '60s… In
the '80s they said you shoulda seen him in the '70s, etc… but now it's my turn
to sing that same old song.   You shoulda seen him in the '90s.   He was really
at the top of his game.


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