Chicago, Illinois

Cadillac Palace Theatre

November 10, 2014

[Adam Selzer]

Review by Adam Selzer

Since Dylan stopped mixing up the setlist, and since I kicked the message
board habit, I stopped feeling quite as compelled to see as many shows as
possible. When he announced 3 Chicago shows in walking distance, I figured
I’d just see one, a concept that would have been unthinkable to me once
upon a time. I’d just go to one, I wouldn’t walk past the hotel or the
bus, and I wouldn’t dig the garbage from the bus out of the dumpster
(not that I ever did that). No, I’d take this casually. Michael G Smith
(my oft-time companion) felt the same way; we just got tickets for the
last show of the stand.

Not that I’m upset about the now-static sets. Both shows I’ve seen
since he stopped mixing it up were very, very good shows. The laid-back
acoustically-minded show in Champaign last year was terrific, and felt
totally different from any Dylan show I’d ever seen. The summer show was
less-laid back and marred by a terrible venue, but still a good and solid

This time, with the playlist even more set in stone, the show has evolved
into the form I think it was building towards and settled into the sort of
theatres that I think are its natural habitat. This was not so much a
concert as a theatrical event, right down to the intermission and the fact
that it was sponsored by Broadway in Chicago. Right about at 8, a gong
sounded (!) and Stu played an acoustic “noodle” that sounded like
“North Country Blues” (before the second set he played an electric
noodle, so we got an acoustic set and an electric set, in way). The set,
bare but for several large old-fashioned lights, looked sparse but
carefully planned.

By midway through the first set it was apparent that this was a very
carefully crafted setlist - well planned out ahead of time so that the
songs all worked together and had a certain flow, moreso than any Dylan
show I’ve seen. I mean, the Fall 2001 shows all seemed arranged to make
all the songs played seem like they took place within the world of Love
and Theft, but this was a much more deliberate attempt to create a show
(and “show” is the word here) that takes place in the world of the
last three albums, with occasional visits from other (mainly recent) sets,
plus one or two greatest hits. New lyrics here and there. This is a set
where he could work in certain other songs if he felt like it (“Aint
Talkin” comes to mind), but stuff like “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight”
or “Mr Tambourine Man” probably wouldn’t fit in. There are no real
fillers, no jams that teeter on the brink of falling apart, no songs that
never quite hit their groove . Everything seems planned to work together,
musically and thematically. 

The first set, in particular, felt like I was watching a performance of a
single album, with Dylan certainly putting a lot into the vocal delivery,
particularly on the ballads. Some years back, after the era of
“upsinging,” there were a lot of shows where he found  a rhythm for
the words and locked in on the rhythm, which worked fine, but made me feel
like he wasn’t thinking at all about what words he was saying, he was
just focusing on the rhythm and melody. It worked out fine, really. 
Tonight, though, he was telling the stories and playing the parts, and we
got one winner of a performance after another.  Nice harp on “She
Belongs to Me,” a really WICKED “Pay in Blood.” A heartfelt and
chilling “Workingman’s Blues.” “Duquense Whistle” was amped up
like a Count Basie number, and even “Waiting For You” didn’t sound
like filler; it sounded like a goofy Basement Tapes number. There was a
certain dirty, fuzzy guitar sound throughout that bit through the whole
thing and gave it all teeth. I felt like I was watching a band that had
been out marching through a war, and had snuck into a hangar to record the
songs they’d written about the things they’d seen, the girls they’d
met, and the sins they’d committed. Dreary as it was, thematically, we
were all smiles during the intermission. “It’s like seeing a play,”
Mike commented. 

The second set wasn’t quite on the same level as the first to me, but if
it missed it it didn’t miss by much. “Scarlet Town” was badass. Nice
“Simple Twist” with some new lyrics that I hadn’t heard yet, and an
absolutely killer “Forgetful Heart,” with no trace of the wolfman
growl in his voice. “Long and Wasted Years” was biting in a way that
made me think of the recent divorce rumors, but it’s best not to read
too much into these things.

“Blowin in the Wind” as the first encore hit me in a way that that
song never does. I’ve seen good versions, in fact I’ve seen better
versions, and if I just saw a clip of this version on Youtube it
wouldn’t grab me. But context matters - particularly with that song, I
think. I think it’s a good song and all, but it’s hard for me to
comprehend why people were so over the moon about it in 1963, when I guess
it was exactly the right song at exactly the right time. People in 1963
related to it in a way that I never can; no matter how much study I put
into it, I’ll never really FEEL it, in the way that “I Wanna Hold Your
Hand” still sounds fresh and exciting to me now, but can never sound as
fresh and exciting as it would have 50 years ago. But tonight, it occurred
to me that this set had been so full of war, sin, corruption, violence.
There was a hint of murder in half the songs. Vows of vengeance all over.
The love songs had a “lost her, now I’m wandering the earth looking
for her” theme. Even “She Belongs to Me” seems sort of sinister in
context of the rest of the set. And then, after all that - “Blowin’ in
the Wind,” asking when it can all stop and implying that the answer is
out there. For a minute there I felt like the whole show was an experiment
to see if that song could be made to mean something again. It felt
positively uplifting. 

And then “Stay With Me,” the cover of the song Sinatra recorded for
the soundtrack of “The Cardinal.”  Another that didn’t grab me in
youtube clips, but, in the context, was a perfect closer, and obviously
carefully planned. We all know that playing songs off not-yet-released
records is something Dylan doesn’t do anymore; he hasn’t done it in
ages. Sure, it’s a cover, but if it’s on the new album it’d be the
first time in over 20 years that he’s previewed a new album track in
concert. But this little prayer of a song - saying “i know I have
sinned” after all those war and vengeance songs and then praying that
someone or some force will  “stay with me” after all those “she got
away” songs - just worked like gangbusters to me. A two minute plea that
seemed like an epilogue; a perfect closer.

This was a very solid show. I’m not saying the songs are all connected
to tell one coherent, linear story or anything, but I felt like I’d
spent a night at the opera. I walked home wishing I’d gone to all three
and wondering if I could make it to New York, after all. 

Adam Selzer


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