The Riverside Theater
October 11 2023
Review by Bob Shiel
After 3 overseas and 3 U.S. tours, this current Midwest/East Coast/back to
the Midwest Rough & Rowdy Ways caravan has started out riveting & will no
doubt build momentum & serve surprises as has been the case on all the
other legs. Night one in Milwaukee at the Riverside Theater featured
a standard set list with better audio quality & a less muddy sound mix
than what went down in Chicago. Slightly disappointing, no locally themed
cover songs, which was the fun & buzzing question going in. Yet, plenty of
stellar performances individually & collectively by Bob & his 5 piece
The opener Watching The River Flow commenced with Bob's penchant for
mumbling the first line, which if my memory serves me correct began back
in the studio in 1990 on 10,000 Men. However, this annoyance didn't last
long & the sound mix was, overall, a slight improvement over the Chicago
shows, where Doug Lancio's guitar was inaudible from what I could tell.
Bob's piano, though, is definitely channeling some seriously precise
Jerry Lee Lewis swaggering & flamboyance. Plus, Bob nailed the final
chorus line with an exclamatory staccato!
On Most Likely You Go Your Way and I'll Go Mine it became obvious
that Bob's lyrics were clairvoyantly clearer than Chicago & that drummer
Jerry Pentecost's confidence is a mighty bio-energetic freight train
taking no prisoners.
I Contain Multitudes now has a faster tempo & hot syncopated rock tinge to
it, a tendency describing much of what Bob has done in concert to his
early COVID LP. I was delighted that Doug's fancy acoustic lick fillers
were prominent in the mix for once. Then, we have steady Eddy bad ass
bassist never miss a beat or note Tony Garnier, ever monitoring Bob's
every move & as Bob's 35-year band leader encouraging all to do the
False Prophet contained an instrumental bridge raising the *** damn roof &
a nice laid back Bob Britt slide note ending.
When I Paint My Masterpiece on this tour is still an experiment in
progress & in my humble opinion could use those 89 fiddle hooks I heard
from Donny Herron in Memphis last year. I say, "Bring Donny back into
Black Rider had me turning around to enjoy nothing but smiles on audience
members behind my 1st row balcony perch, complete with a little writing
station on the balcony wall & a close unobstructed view of Bob, whose
piano happened to be at just the perfect angle to glimpse his dapper dark
suit with white western embroidery and white patent leather shoes, not to
mention his lyric sheets, 6 harmonicas he's never touched, & water
glass. The point is Bob at 82 brought out the humanity of the audience in
my vicinity ranging in age from about 6 to 90 (no exaggeration), who
seemed ecstatic to watch what could be their grandfather lift their
spirits to the rafters. Meanwhile, no dissonant dud notes on Bob's
incessant piano plunking & triplicates tonight. The seating capacity of
the Riverside, although similar to the Cadillac Palace in Chicago, somehow
allows for a smaller lounge act vibe and superior audio. Certainly, the
stage is drastically smaller than the Cadillac's & the rafters seem
lower & the seating gallery feels tighter. All in all, Milwaukee was a 9,
whereas Chicago was a 7. Go back to a 2022 Key West & dump Serve Somebody
& Black Magic & we're looking at a 10.
Next, A Version Of You swaggered with a Ray Charles keyboard back beat out
of a Memphis back alley heading down to Clarksdale via Sonny Boy's
place, or was it Willie Dixon's joint. This song takes the cake for a
Rough & Rowdy mid-tempo ballad revamped into a quick step Americana blues
I'll Be Your Baby Tonight featured Bob's apparent fondness for
starting songs out with a slow piano solo crooning vocal before Jerry
kicks in & the whole affair goes from 20 to 60 miles per hour!
During Crossing The Rubicon on a sultry April Saturday night in Memphis 18
months ago was when I had my epiphany that this tour is Bob Dylan's
magnum opus as a live performer, but don't dare settle for you tube
imitations over being in the theater! Bob's 909th skin shedding over 62
years only gets better. Bob is still turning the key to the highway into
the crossroads of the deal he made with the Great Master back in 1962 or
On To Be Alone With You I inexplicably heard a circus merry go round
organ, but Donny was playing the f**king fiddle, okay? How does THAT
happen? When master musicians in unison hit their stride, that's how!
Key West was a sleeper, but not in a good way. To Bob's credit, the
risks he takes are commendable, but they only work about 90% of the time,
not always. The same can be said of what is happening on Gotta Serve
Somebody, which could badly use some keep it simple medicine, which works
well enough on up tempos such as Watching The River Flow.
Noteworthy, tellingly, & nevertheless, a buddy unfamiliar with Rough &
Rowdy Ways at this 1st Bob concert later told me that Key West was the
highlight of the evening for him. I will just say that from his vantage
point I can imagine this to be true, mostly because when the album came
out, initially I judged Key West to be the one undeniable masterpiece on
it (well, if you had to pick just one).
I've Made My Mind Up To Give Myself To You, with its 10 word title, is
perfect for Bob's wordiest album ever. Tonight it sounded sublime like
something Jimmy Rogers would compose and Tony Bennet would sing.
Then, the dreaded Black Magic instead of a Grateful Dead cover. Oh, Bob!
Bring back Stella Blue!
On Mother Of Muses a delightful cat & mouse instrumental call & response
went on between Lancio & Britt, after which Bob pointed out, "A few
years ago this (the Riverside in Milwaukee) is where we started out this
tour & we're still on it!" The band intros did not include any of
Bob's corny jokes, which are always a treat.
The new, slowed down, & different Good Bye Jimmy Reed took some tips from
Muddy Waters. Bob Britt let loose on some choice slow blues signature
guitar licks like he did in 2015 when I saw him backing Delbert McClinton
from the front row at the Lincoln Theater in my hometown Decatur,
The closer Every Grain Of Sand, sadly void of harmonica, found Bob blowing
the temptation's angry flame line, and then the usual band standing in
formation we have come to expect. The dude from Madison next to me, who
sold me my ticket @ face value on the sidewalk about 75 minutes before
show time, had never seen Bob. He leaned in & sarcastically told me,
"Not bad for 82!" Loved meeting him & his lovely wife who is the real
Bob fan in the family. "Thank you, good people!"
No doubt the best visual site lines I've had at a Bob Dylan show since
2001, I came away in an altered state. I never remember what I hear
anyway, just what I see. And my takeaway is that I will NEVER forget what
I saw tonight, # 66 for me since 1986.
Review by Jerry Spanbauer
Note: I am writing this review AFTER I saw the setlist and reviews of
Dylan's Thursday night Milwaukee show, on which he added "Truckin'" and
some harp to the end of "Every Grain of Sand." The reviews of that show
are amazing and I suspect that that crowd got a slightly elevated show
It's always magical to be in the presence of a legend and Wednesday's
show was no different. The last time we saw Bob Dylan at the legendary
Riverside Theater in Milwaukee was for his first post-Covid return to
touring. The show received universal attention among Bob Heads and it
felt special to be there. Hearing him play 9 songs I'd never heard
that night when it was my 38th Dylan show was pretty remarkable.
My 39th outing (since 1986) on Wednesday felt no less special for
different reasons. My buddy Timmy (who has joined me for more than 30
of them) and I are becoming more sentimental and take these
opportunities way less for granted than we have in the past. It is not
lost on either of us that we've literally grown up from 18 year-old
punks to men of nearly 60 with the anchor of Dylan shows being a
constant during our entire adult lives. My fiance Marie joined us for
these last two (her first two shows) and she is starting to understand
our passion for Bob.
Entering the theater, we knew we made the right call on pursuing the
front of the balcony seats and they proved to be a fantastic way to
catch the twilight Bob. The biggest difference this time was the basic
knowledge of the setlist coming in. We knew the show would be built
around the "Rough and Rowdy Ways" songs and we knew they likely have
been reworked and have evolved since the 2021 show. Some of those
evolutions were successful and others are still a work in progress.
I much preferred the more bare "I Contain Multitudes" from 2021, for
example, than the busier 2023 arrangement. "Goodbye Jimmy Reed" had
less of a free swing vibe than the 2021 version from my point of view.
I'm still trying to process the others, but they weren't better or
worse to me in any appreciable way. We loved all of the older songs,
especially the poignant "When I Paint My Masterpiece," the playful
"I'll Be Your Baby Tonight," and the rocking "Gotta Serve Somebody."
I could comment on every song but others will do that better and a
recording will hopefully surface to allow you to form your own
opinions. The one thing that stood out to us was the amazing
condition of his voice for the third consecutive time. It's amazing
how well he is delivering his one-of-a-kind lines and phrases and
many of his nuances had us cracking up in joy! These last three shows
(2019, 2021, and 2023) featured some of the best live Dylan vocals we've
witnessed. We wish we had seen and heard some harp, and we always hope
for (and have been lucky enough to encounter many) surprises, but we've
learned to accept the shows on their own merits.
Let's face it, we are all going to wish that he played certain songs
that connect with us for different reasons, and I, for one, miss the
consistent burners like "Highway 61 Revisited" and others in that vein,
I will take every Dylan show at face value for what it is and not
quibble over what he did and didn't play. On this leg he had been
pening and closing the shows with songs that are connected somehow to
the city he is playing in, and I hoped that the same might be true for
Milwaukee. I was personally hoping for "Rock Around the Clock" (original
theme song from "Happy Days" series set in Milwaukee) and "Blister In
The Sun" by the Violent Femmes, but it wasn't meant to be. He doesn't
owe us a damn thing and it is a gift that he still shares his
performance art with us.
I do anticipate that when he returns to Milwaukee in 2025 he will phase
out some of the RARW songs and incorporate a different mix of new and
old then. Yes, I do think there'll be another album, and yes, I do think
we'll see more new songs in the live show in the future. He's getting a
little wobbly on his feet and maybe it's time for him to use a cane for
real instead of as a prop like he's done in the past. No matter what,
we'll be there when he returns to the Milwaukee area again.
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