Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Modern Times In Ancient Land

Tales From Mexico City 2008

It was a day only the Lord and Dylan could make. I had an action-packed 12 hours: climbed to the top of the Pyramid of the Sun – part of the colossal remnants from the archeological city of Teotihuacan dating back 2,000 years, stepped inside churches built in Mexico City during the early 16th Century, and saw a Cowboy Band ransack the most populated city in North America located in the gut of Mexico.
I purchased an inexpensive ticket for 275 pesos (about $25) for this performance at the Auditorio Nacional. My frugality landed me a less than desirable seat in the rafters and my second monumental climb of the day. I realized the folly of my ways and went to the hospitality desk to ask if I could upgrade my ticket. I knew this 14,000 seat venue didn’t sell out. A lovely Mexican maiden who spoke good English surrendered to my charms and handed me a third row, dead center ticket in the lower balcony for free. Dylan sounded great on guitar and vocals on a well executed “Raniny Day Women #12 + 35” and “It Ain’t Me Babe” opening.

All early reports about how tight the band has been this tour were validated with a resounding “Watching the River Flow.” That song seems to capture the pulse of the people of Mexico City. Maybe it was because my bewildered brain baked in the sun all day, but the ensuing “Masters of War” had me thinking about Mexican history. The United States has been the reigning Mater of War since its birth, but Mexico has experienced the ravages of war more than any other place in our hemisphere. Dylan led the charge perched behind his beloved keys; Austin’s Denny Freeman played some dazzling guitar solos.

Dylan was wearing a suit of black and a white top hat with a touch of grey, his Cowboy Band was in matching grey suits and black hats. Dylan popped the cork on a lethal “When the Levee Breaks.” “Some people on the road carrying everything that they own/ Some people got barely enough skin to cover their bones/ Put on your cat clothes mama put on your evening dress,” exalted the maestro. As our fearless leader provoked the third blitzing instrumental with some chunky organ riffs, he yelled, “Oh!” The Cowboy Band was led by the plucking of the Denny/Donnie combo, and the restless thumping of Garnier and Recile. Dylan ended matters by howling, “This is a day only the Lord, only the Lord can make!” Checkmate.

A reality check followed in a well received, yet anticlimactic “Spirit on the Water.” "Things Have Changed" was a powder charge throwing the evening back into spin cycle. “When the Deal Goes Down” and “High Water” were of the highest quality, and continued a symmetrical ballad/ rocker flow to the show. When Dylan sang, “The shacks are sliding down,” I thought of the all those poverty shacks piled on top of each other in the foothills surrounding Mexico City. It’s also noteworthy that the five songs just mentioned were the core of the show and they are all recent Dylan creations.

“Stuck Inside of Mobile” was bland and blunt. “Workingman’s Blues” was pure bliss, especially for those like me who enjoy rice and beans and Mexico City Blues, as Dylan sang like a bird on the horizon and Freeman whipped up another distinctive solo. “Highway 61 Revisited was extra vicious and elicited an enthusiastic standing ovation from the crowd. It reminded me of my tour guide during the day, Manuel. He’s a large native with an equally huge presence and white sombrero – a man of wisdom, though he spoke few words. Manuel was gunning our red van down from the pyramids toward Mexico City on Highway 85 at a 110 MPH clip. Highway 85 cuts through the heart of Mexico, east to west like Highway 61 slices through heartland of America, north to south.

After “Highway 61,” I heard a weird chant behind me, “Dill –awn, Dill –awn,” it took me a few moments to realize they were chanting for his Bobness. The Cowboy Band anthem, “Nettie Moore” followed. Hearing this and Workingman's Blues in the same show gave me chills. “Summer Days” was truncated. Dylan ended the set with his first "Like a Rolling Stone."  Dylan sang the often skipped verse, “You gone to the finest school alright miss lonely but you only used to get juiced in it."
“Thunder on the Mountain was a pure rush of adrenaline…best version… Mexico City was shaking. A nice harp solo introduced a fine “Blowin in the Wind” conclusion. There was a post-concert mob scene. At least 100 vendors were selling all sorts of Dylan merchandise: pens, stickers, shirts, posters, coffee mugs, shot glasses, etc. I picked up a few Never Ending Tour pens. Attention shoppers: clearance sale after tonight’s show.

Rest was hard to come by last night; I drifted in and out of strange dream sleep for a couple of hours. I felt like I had sucked the milk out of 1,000 cows, in one day. The mattress in my hotel room is like Formica. I would have rolled on to the floor, but this rug hasn’t been shampooed in half a century. It’s back to the nitty-gritty tonight, I’ll be tenth row.

More on the Mexico City journey in Chapter 20 of Tangled Up in Tunes: Ballad of a Dylanhead available in paperback and Kindle at

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