Saturday, August 23, 2008



Sparse gray trails of burning incense filled the air in front of the purple drapes. Like lonely wallflowers, an assorted array of instruments awaited the arrival of Dylan and his Cowboy Band. Bob was in his house, the Borgata Resort and Spa Casino Event Center, the site of inspirational and creative Dylan performances each of the last three summers. The venue lacks historic significance, maybe that’s why Dylan has thrived here. The quintessential time-traveling minstrel/ ambassador, Dylan effortlessly weaves America’s musical past from the 19th and 20th centuries into the here and now. I was taking in the ambiance prior to what I knew would be another scintillating evening at the Borgata. What is it about this place?

Nightgowns and jewelry sparkled and glittered, drawing attention away from the sagging wrinkled skin and receding hair lines of the affluent baby boomers filing into their seats. A column of speakers hung from the rafters, in front of each side of the stage, like rattlesnakes frozen in time, poised to strike. Square lights were lined up, Xs and Os on a tic-tac-toe board within wooden paneling. Projectors beamed rainbow-colored geometrical patterns upon powder-blue drapes next to the side entrances. Five circular cranberry contraptions dangled down from the ceiling like silicone-filled mammary glands. The Events Center was spacious and serene - modern elegance with a relaxed vibe. Dylan’s predilection for the swank Borgata is understandable, especially in the filthy/ scummy/putrid monopoly rat cage that is Atlantic City, N.J.

“Watching the River Flow” was the commencement to an evening of raging twists and turns. “Mr. Tambourine Man” made his presence known for the first time in two years. Those expecting anything resembling the sensual/poetic jingle from 1965 were in for quite a jolt, the time had come to eat or be eaten. Dylan bellowed his magical words in a deep harrowing howl that echoed through the night with the madness of an Edgar Allan Poe vision. Dylan twisted and mangled his masterpiece, yet it was vibrant and irresistible, “Quoth the raven nevermore.”
“Things Have Changed” and “Mississippi” followed; two of the great compositions of the last ten years. They were Tell Tale Signs that Dylan was and is inspired. I was enamored with Bob’s wildness during “Mississippi;” he shouted and growled while hurling himself at the organ. Dylan was in gonzo mode, there was no looking back.

Though I prefer stronger material, “Make you Feel My Love” was performed with incredible tenderness - the ladies were swooning. “Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum” was shot out-of-a cannon as the Cowboy Band sizzled. The band mistakenly (???) tried to end the song prematurely, but Dylan played through the mishap, refusing to let the song sink - every word must be heard.
“Visions of Johanna” was immense, at this point, the only surprise would have been complacency. The Maestro encouraged the band to wander, turning Johanna into a gripping improvisational piece. The creativity of the jams nearly matched the lyrical brilliance. Dylan broke out his entire arsenal of vocal chicanery - strange incantations, offbeat cadence, up-singing, barking, etc. The poet and preacher poured from his soul.

I eventually pulled myself away from this absorbing performance for a pit stop during “Honest With Me.” I refueled with a beer and a shot, and left a few brews in the urinal. My timing was impeccable, I bumped into a friend who had tickets up front; she invited me into the fourth row where there were some unoccupied seats. I was now standing in the Lion’s Den, part of the Cowboy Band circle, close enough to casually be tossing a pigskin with The Man. He looked in my direction, first toss, “Lenny Bruce.”

It’s been awhile since Dylan served up the underappreciated Mr. Bruce (I believe the last time was back in San Francisco on 10-18-06). Empathizing with Lenny’s struggles, this ballad is Dylanesque to the bone. Lenny Bruce was an outlaw just like “The Man in the Long Black Coat,” “”Pretty Boy Floyd,” “Black Jack Davey” or Bobby Zimmerman. There was a twinkle to Dylan’s nearly shut eyes as he swayed slowly and laterally while plucking his sleek keyboard. A smug smirk was evident when he sang, “I rode with him, in a taxi once, only for a couple of hours, but it seemed like it took a couple of months.” Dylan was in rare form, disturbing the peace like never before, just because he can.

“Highway 61 Revisited” in the thirteenth slot was the first predictable happening of the night, but beloved by all. Overplayed staples omitted from this concert included; “Spirit on the Water” (thank you Sweet Jesus), “Summer Days” and “Blowin’ in the Wind.” It was remarkable that Bob had not played anything from Modern Times until he mesmerized the Borgata people with a scathing “Ain’t Tallkin”. After the grandiose finale to his epic, Dylan shuffled to center stage and waved his right arm to the heavens, calling for rain. Following their fearless leader, the Cowboy Band loped into the majestic fanfare beginning of “Thunder on the Mountain.” Absolutely Brilliant! It was the first time these songs were paired - the best combo to end a set. Ever. Where does he come up with these ideas? Hearing those instrumental interludes signaling the ending and beginning of Modern Times in succession was overwhelming. Garnier and Recile were ecstatic; smiles a mile high as they pounded the foundation of another Thunderous Mountain. After all the years the bassist and drummer have played with Dylan, and all the years I’ve had the pleasure of listening in, we were still in awe.

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