The Riverside Theater
October 12 2023
Review by Adam Selzer
Back to the starting place! And back to the old-fashioned method of
heading out of town without a ticket in hand, and just hoping everything
will all turn out for the best. I finally met Henry, whom I'd known on
Twitter forever, during the Chicago run, and we drove up to Milwaukee last
night, a last minute decision for me. He'd been at the previous Milwaukee
night as well, and said it was on par with the best Chicago nights,
despite the lack of setlist surpises. "I didn't even go to the bathroom
during 'Old Black Magic'!" he raved. And that's high praise.
Met up with Peter from Scotland (his 101st show!) at the bar across from
the venue, along with some other friends from all over the midwest, and
had brandy old fashioneds, the official drink of Wisconsin. The bar was
full of people I recognized from other shows. Aquaium Drunkard showed up.
I ran into Trapper and a few other friends from previous shows once we got
inside. In all honesty this is part of why we get hooked on these shows -
seeing our friends. That "Almost Famous" vibe of being at the show with
all the people who've sailed with you.
And now back to the place where Rough and Rowdy Wars began. And, though
I'd never had trouble finding a ticket to buy on the street at face value
or less before, I was more confident now, since in these days of mobile
apps I could get one from a reseller on my phone if it came to it. But the
box office had GREAT seats that got released last minute so all was good.
Never let not having a ticket keep you from a show. Something will turn
After Chicago Night 3, I wrote that Dylan kept seeming as though he was
trying to land on a new melody, a new riff, a new way of doing the song,
and never quite landing on it. It was fascinating - if not as strong as a
night when he locks it in, it's a chance to watch him at work in real
time. We always praise him for taking risks onstage - and if every risk
paid off in full, they wouldn't be risks.
Tonight, it was like he'd found what he was looking for on "Watching the
River Flow," a howling version that showed him locking into a new melody
early on, riding the lines far, far harder than I'd ever seen him do on
that song before. I usually think of "River" as filler or a warmup -
tonight was the first time it ever had me leaping out of my seat and
cheering between verses, laughing with joy between lines. I wasn't the only
one - over to Bob's left Tony and Doug both seemed delighted. Tony is
always laser-focused on Bob (even though he's facing the back of his head
in this setup), and when Bob knocks something out, Tony is the first to
react. They were laughing and grinning through "River."
The stage setup - bare walls and road cases, the band circling bob like
cartoon gangsters in their hideout - now includes a ladder against the
wall, and Bob was wearing a small white cowboy hat. From that first song,
you knew they were here for blood.
The rest of the show stayed strong, if not as surprising and new as
"Watching the River Flow." Each song was a fine version of the 2023
arrangements of the song. "Gotta Serve Somebody" was more of a standout to
me than usual; "I'll Be Your Baby" (another that was always low on my list
before this tour, when the cantillation-and-piano opener made it a
highlight) seemed to have a longer instrumental section that usual.
"Jimmie Reed" seemed to have coalesced into the new arrangement it was
building towards in Chicago. "Mother of Muses" kept the audience rapt.
"Truckin" got a similar reaction to Chicago, with the whole crowd on its
feet. The Telly Savalas-looking guy in the Packers sweatshirt next to me
even scat-sung out his own lead guitar part and managed to sing along
without hitting one single note correctly (charming fellow, prodigiously
drunk, and given to wolf whistles. He spent most of the show sneaking
into other seats, which was fine by me). The crowd loves this song. It
is, after all, the first recognizable "hit" for much of the crowd, even
if it isn't one of his own hits.
It's one of those shows where all I can really say is "Great version of
the current show, plus a ladder and a hat," so I'll ramble a bit on "I've
Made Up My Mind..." (which Bob was also experimenting with a lot, trying
new cadences, and eventually landing where he wanted to). Listening
earlier today, the line "If I had the wings of a snow white dove / i'd
preach the gospel of love" reminded me of "If I had a hammer," a song that
never quite made sense to me. Can you really establish love between the
brothers and the sisters all over this land with a hammer? And what's
stopping you from getting a hammer? They sell them at Dollar General and
they're lot cheaper than the guitar you're playing the song on. Wings of a
snow white dove are a lot harder to get; you can't just ask your neighbor
if you can borrow their dove wings.
But most people who wish they had the wings of a dove in folk songs want
to fly to see the one they love, or go where the one they love is buried
(or, you know, to sleep in the sand). To rest, to get closure. In this
song, the wings are for going to work - the big theme of the song. The
road, the life, the muse, the fans, from Salt Lake City to Birmingham. If
the speaker in the songs had wings, he'd use them to do what he does. It's
not unlike saying "If I had 300 million dollars from selling my publishing
rights, I'd just go out and play." Or, in as the barber in Tom Waits'
'Barber Shop' says, "If I had a million dollars, what would I do? I'd
probably be a barber, not a bum like you."
We sort of HAVE to take that line metaphorically, not literally, because
if some guy with the wings of a dove flew into town and started preaching
the gospel of love, we'd probably all run off screaming. Or we'd take some
murky pictures and it'd be like the setup for an X-Files episode, and
pretty soon one of the stops on my walking tours would be the place where
a bunch of weirdos swore they saw a man with dove wings flying around and
preaching about love. And that is my "Philosophy of Modern Song" excursion
into the absurd for today.
Anyway. The show was great, and after several straight shows without any
harmonica, he picked it up and blew a solo to close out the show. The
emotional rush in the crowd when he started playing the harp, right at the
last second, was... well, you can get the tapes, but it's always different
when you're there. I was so glad I was there. Even good video probably
won't ever convey how much fun it is to watch Jerry Pentecost on drums.
Of course, you've gotta know what you're getting into at a Dylan show.
This isn't going to be the greatest hits and he's not going to tell
charming anecdotes about his career between songs. The woman next to me
checked her watch a lot; at one point she leaned over at one point and
asked if I'd ever seen Dylan before. I gave her my number, and she said
"And you're just a kid!" "I'm forty-three," I told her. "A kid," she
After the show, she asked, "What's the appeal? Is it the poetry, the
music?" I told her it's a bit of everything - including seeing my friends
and having adventures. It's the chance to see a master singer at work,
noticing the subtle changes night to night... no one else is doing what
Dylan does. Certainly no other 82 year old is playing a set that's mostly
recent songs and doesn't include even one of their top ten Spotify tracks
(The only sonsg in Spotify's 50 essential tracks in the setlist are
"Watching the River Flow" and "Goodbye Jimmie Reed!"). This is a chance to
see a great artist making great, and NEW, art. It's finding those new
things in the songs that seem to come to life when he plays them onstage.
I'll say it more this run, but this tour is a landmark tour in Dylan's
career. It's not the most accessible show he ever did; I'm a lot less
confident bringing newbies than I was in the Larry-Charlie era. But this
is a carefully constructed show that he's clearly proud of, a show with a
lot going on under the surface as the multitudes these songs contain
reveal themselves, and consistently strong vocal performances as the show
gradually reinvents itself, even as the songs stay largely the same. I've
kept going to shows consistently over the years, but it's the first time
in the "Static set" era, or even for a while before, that I've been
motivated to get to as many as I can. Milwaukee was already an unplanned
bonus for me, and I've got one more, maybe two, before the Brooklyn shows
next month. See ya soon!
Review by Nancy Cobb
After the Chicago shows, I took the train up to Milwaukee for the 2 shows
at the Riverside Theatre. The 2 Deco venues were both old and stylish, had
the same capacity, but the Riverside seemed quite a bit smaller and
denser. The setup on the Riverside stage was haphazard and cluttered with
equipment compared with the sleek clean lines in Chicago. It almost
seemed like Dylan was in a garage band because you could see the exterior
gray concrete wall, and rolling garage door of the warehouse portion of
the building through the stage. The band was in the same semicircular
arrangement around Dylan except that they seemed to be ever further away
from him. On the second night someone arranged a bunch of wooden
equipment boxes like a string of pearls around the boundaries of the
stage. The other noticeable feature of the "look" of the band was that on
the 2nd night Bob had on a cute bespoke hat in a coffee color that seemed
to be a cross between a cowboy hat and a bowler. He hasn't worn a hat in a
long while and he didn't fuss with his hair one time.
The two shows had the identical set list except Truckin' was in position
14 instead of That ol' Black Magic to the extreme delight of the crowd and
everyone rose to their feet, most likely blocking the view of security
personnel towards any potential transgressors. I have noticed a pattern
in these last five shows. More and more songs are now starting off with
just Bob on vocals, accompanied by Bob on his new and improved piano. What
he plays is not chords or background but different melodies or rhythms
from the song he is singing. In the second portion the band starts in
with an instrumental interlude, then a piano solo by Bob is usually mixed
in. The third part, the finale, is in a more rollicking tempo. It seems
like some of the songs now are structured like mini -symphonies.
Bob is in a happy and experimental mood these days and the audience and
the mainstream newspaper critics are both enjoying it!
Comments by Marty Traynor
Happily, we were able to get to Milwaukee for both shows. In brief, I
really liked the show on Wednesday and loved the show on Thursday. I
will limit this to a few random observations.
On Wednesday, we sat in the front section of the balcony and had a great
view of the stage and could watch Dylan and the band interact better; as
others have noted, the overall feel was the set for a garage band
populated by a well-dressed group of musicians. On Thursday, seated on
the floor, we had a good view of Dylan himself and much better sound.
My advice, if given a choice, take the sound over the view.
Dylan seemed to be in a good mood both nights, as was the audience.
The near immediate transition from song-to-song almost gives these recent
Dylan concerts the feel of a symphony with movements rather than a
collection of songs. This is accentuated by the way many songs feature
musical themes and variations, and they vary by performance.
Bob's hat on Thursday evoked his Rolling Thunder I hat, with a feather on
the left side.
The band is very good and clearly Dylan leads the music from his piano.
After the Thursday show I told my daughter that the way to get a bunch of
Dylan fans off their seats is for him to cover a Grateful Dead song.
Wow! A harp break at the end of Every Grain of Sand!
Black Rider stood out for me in these shows, especially on Thursday. At
every Dylan show any given song can have unexpected impact.
Most likely you go your way - - - - - - - - - I'll go mine.
From the balcony we could see some of the pages Dylan flips through as
he starts a song. The letters are huge, like the top line of an eye chart.
I like the Rough and Rowdy Ways songs much more in their live performance
versions. An official live album from these shows would be terrific
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