Saturday, November 27, 2010
BLACK FRIDAY 11-26-10
After a rejuvenating day of rest and aggressive feasting, I returned to Manhattan at noon. I worked Turkey-Day toxins out of my system with twenty brisk minutes of jumping rope and then sang Jokerman and Sweetheart Like You in the shower. I had no plans for Black Friday; however I was nursing an itch to go see Dylan at the Borgota. I snatched a ticket on the Internet. The sliding skies were gray with a speck of blue as I boarded the 85th St. Academy bus. Destination: Monopoly Land – home of the Jitney, the worst public transportation system in any civilized city.
In the thirteenth spot, Nettie Moore was the performance of the night. The world’s gone black before my eyes –a mantra for business owners on Black Friday. When Dylan sang “She’s been cooking all day gonna take me all night, I can’t eat all that stuff with a single bite,” I tapped my belly and thought of the prior day’s feast starring two plump turkeys and a humongous ring of rather large shrimp from Ecuador. The highlight of Nettie Moore was Dylan’s surprise harp attack. I’d never heard him improvise a harp solo on this one before, delicious. The smiling Cowboy Band was digging it. Dylan was in a mischievous mood, sneaking in harmonica solos on the sly, skipping them when expected.
Dylan has locked into Change My Way of Thinking as the opener lately. I’m digging this version with refurbished lyrics. Dylan looked great in his white hat, green shirt and black pants with the gray stripe. His athletic gyrations were fabulous: hip swivels, knee bends, yoga kicks. This tour he has really settled into playing some nice lead guitar as evidenced on Beyond Here Lies Nothing. Suave Dylan growled for the ladies up front, “Oh how I love you pretty baby.” The verses of Just Like a Woman were handled with tenderness and the band knows how to treat this lady. Girl From the North Country was a nice choice, it has a day after Thanksgiving feel.
Desolation Row was stuck in the middle of this rumbling set. It’s tough for Dylan to do his epic song justice, so Bob just has fun with it in-the-moment. During one of the stanzas, he matched his vocal cadence to what he was plinking on the keyboards. Shelter From the Storm appeared out of nowhere. The arrangement sounded odd at first (a creature void of form), but Bob and his perceptive group rode this to glory. And hearing Dylan bellow this funky remake made me appreciate the lyrics in a unique way. The Levee’s Gonna Break was the hardest hitting groove of the night. Nothing but the blues – My Wife’s Hometown and Cold Irons Bound emphasized that. I like the intent of the new Cold Irons, but prefer the explosive renditions from 2004. For theatre lovers, Cold Irons was the keeper. Dylan appeared center stage, sang into the mic on the stand and carried his wireless silver mic like a hunter carries a tiny club. On the screen behind the stage there was a live black and white feed of the band, and you could see Dylan’s black shadow against the screen. Dylan before our eyes in 3D, it was better than Avatar.
Highway 61 and Thunder on the Mountain suffered from lack of lead guitar. Dylan engages Sexton with trade off licks, but Charlie just answers back with low-key spurts. The rhythm section does the serious jamming in this band. During the band introduction, Dylan introduced Sexton as the rhythm guitarist. Then (I have to confirm this on tape) Dylan said, “And on lead guitar Tony Garnier.” Sexton jerked his head backwards with a big mock smile. If he did say that, it was a precise dagger – Tony’s bass was leading the charge. Recile is a force; I appreciate his drumming more each time around. And Donnie keep up the excellent work. Rest well gentlemen, I’m looking forward to tour 2011. Peace.
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
“A worried man got a worried mind.” With that garbled growl I got off my couch and began to shuffle around during Things Have Changed. It’s one of Dylan’s most powerful songs, and being that it’s from a motion picture soundtrack, I don’t listen to it enough. People are crazy and times are strange for sure. Then Mr. Dylan unleashed A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall. Awesome. He wrote this in New York City forty-eight years earlier and now it sounds more apocalyptical than ever. With Masters of War two songs later, this segment of the show reflected the insanity of a world gone wrong. Unfortunately, these anthems never go out of style. Just today, North Korea bombed the South, and they’ve been flaunting their nuke facility.
For an authentic American blues experience, Dylan and his Cowboy Band raged through High Water, Highway 61 Revisited and Workingman’s Blues. I use to smile when Dylan sang “I can live on rice and beans,” but things have changed – that line is truth for the American workingman. Donnie’s banjo plucking on High Water was outstanding, and Dylan delivered his finest vocal of the night. Highway 61 – Ford tough. Thunder on the Mountain received better treatment than it did a week ago in Poughkeepsie. Ballad of a Thin Man always works as the closer. Bob’s harp playing was sharp, shrill and decisive. The band was professional and precise. Suggestion: more lead guitar.
If you’re wondering why I haven’t described any band visuals, it’s because I didn’t see the band. The floor was too packed to fight through. You couldn’t see the stage unless you were in the thick of the crowd or an NBA power forward. There are two viewing decks, but only the person in the front row can enjoy the sights. This is the worst NYC venue to see a band, and it was hot to boot. This dump, aka Terminal 5, has several long bars and cozy couches – great for a karaoke party. After trying to find a spot during a strong Change My Way of Thinking, I gave up and just grabbed a Heineken and some couch. The ceiling of Terminal Five looks like the Titanic capsized and covered in black. I carefully listened to the music. Dylan’s gnarled yelling of Just Like A Woman was oddly entertaining as the crowd sang the chorus in an effeminate manner. This presentation fell somewhere between art and amusement.
From Simple Twist of Fate onward, Dylan had IT going on. I’ve seen Dylan in that rarefied air before. I wish I could have seen him shimmy, shuffle across the stage, but I had to change my way of thinking. I just enjoyed the audio ride.
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
I couldn’t resist the temptation of seeing Dylan at the Mid-Hudson Civic Center again. I was in the front row of this beaten-down hockey rink when Dylan played here in 1989 after the release of Oh Mercy! – great show. Dylan was master of his domain again in 1996 and ’98. He’s always loved playing in Po’ Town – close to Woodstock. He even recorded Modern Times down the block at the Bardavon. Across the street, in 1788, the U.S. Constitution was ratified by the state of New York. The history of Poughkeepsie is scintillating, but the city is currently a ghost town, shrouded in mystery. For every shop that was open, three were shut and abandoned. I was one of the few stragglers roaming around Market Street at 5PM.
In typical I Love Upstate NY form, Dylan came out dealing his best Woodstock era material: This Wheel’s On Fire, Visions of Joanna, Just Like a Woman, Just Like Tom Thumb’s, Leopard-Skin Pillbox Hat. Well, maybe some of those tunes were written in the Big Apple, but Bob was moved. The band clicked. Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum was funky like Sly Stone, and Beyond Here Lies Nothin’ shimmied like a rumba should. And Dylan bobbed and weaved during a Simple Twist of Fate that rang with a Hawaiian twang.
I was thinking this was a classic show until Kevin Bacon (I mean Charlie Sexton) and Dylan fell apart. One of several things could be going on. 1) Sexton is bored 2) The Tour has worn Ole Charlie down 3) Dylan has put the clamps on Sexton 4) I’ve been spoiled by over 100 Dylan performances. Charlie didn’t play a lick on what should be two monster jams: Summer Days and Thunder on the Mountain. I hope the Summer Days was taped so it could be played at the Roller Derby this Saturday at the Mid-Hudson – the instrumental was banal fiddle-faddle. Dylan plucked his organ while Charlie dreamed of 2002, when he, Larry Campbell, and Dylan traded torrid guitar licks beyond ecstasy. Summer Days used to be Dylan’s instrumental Free Bird. What happened? I remember when Denny Freeman became the whipping boy in the band after a stellar first year. Now Sexton is in the dog house, or he’s burnt out, but the results down the stretch were awful.
Dylan blew the lyrics during Thunder on the Mountain. The jam was easily the weakest one I’d ever heard during this powerhouse anthem. Dylan would be wise to mix up that same old ending that he’s been coasting with for two years now. The creative energy has been sucked out of that cow.
Dylan’s still got the mojo, the opening half of the show was divine diversification – everything I desire from live entertainment. The rhythm section was a force and the multi-talented instrumentalist, Donnie Herron, did his part. I hadn’t seen the band in a year and I was looking forward to rocking out to the same old ending. Not anymore.