Saturday, November 22, 2008



Almost two years ago to the day (11-20-06), Dylan closed out his initial Modern Times tour with a barnburner of a performance in Midtown at the New York City Center on a seasonably warm evening. It was windy and chilly on this occasion as I left work and boarded an A Train for Washington Heights and the United Palace Theatre. This renovated theatre also serves as a place of worship for Rev. Ike’s Church, so Dylan opened with “Gotta Serve Somebody.” Bob hadn’t played that in awhile. It sounded great as Dylan stood and delivered from center stage swiping in nifty harmonica licks between lines. A few songs later, Bob sang, “This is a day only the Lord can make,” as he concluded “When the Levee Breaks.” What a version! Hellfire blues, lean and mean.

“The Times They Are-A-Changin” and “Things Have Changed” sizzled in the second and fifth spots respectfully – awesome songs to contemplate as I swayed in my third row dead center loge seat. I was locked in tight and out of range as I pounded tap beer in my dark blue business suit, I was dressed like a member of the Cowboy Band. With the economy disastrously freefalling, anthems like “It’s Alright Ma” were more relevant than ever before –“Money doesn’t Talk it swears…Even the President of the United States sometimes must have to stand naked.” Good luck Obama, you’re gonna need some help from the Lord above. Dylan looked out into the crowd truculent as a rooster and howled, “He not busy being born is busy dying.” I’ve seen a lot of versions of this song over the years, but none were as powerful or as electrifying as this one. As one would certainly expect, “Desolation Row” was a thrill to witness, though it started out a little choppy. Dylan’s organ playing was magnificent here, fascinating stuff; nobody is on this guy’s wavelength, though the Cowboy Band does a magnificent job following along. This was a great night for the band. Surprising the faithful with “Tomorrow is a Long Time” in the fourth spot, Dylan had unleashed a supreme concert through the first half.

After spoiling us with lobster medallions, Dylan served cheese puffs for the next five songs. I’m quite fond of “Beyond the Horizon,” but Dylan has yet to nail it in concert. The musical arrangement was fetching, but his vocal cadence was way off. “Make You Feel My Love” had a great harp finale. “Spirit on the Water” was well played and received, but it was the fifth consecutive uninspiring selection. However, everybody was happy. Much ganja filled the air. There were no lines for fresh tap beer or the restrooms. Seeing a concert at this venue is a pleasure you must experience.

Bob stripped all the meat off the carcass with a curt “Highway 61,” knives scraped against bone. Recile was a beast pounding the percussions wildly. Tenacious rock-and-roll thundered through the palace, 67 year-old Bob Dylan had conquered NYC all over again. As the crowd went bananas, Dylan shuffled out from behind the organ, looked at Garnier, looked at the crowd, and then raised his arm and began to fidget around with the back of his neck behind his top hat. He looked like a pitcher in search of a foreign substance for the purpose of doctoring a spitball. We were back on track. Dylan performed “Ain’t Talkin” with visceral preacher-like charisma –“They say prayer has the power to heal so pray for the mother.” The band crisply played four unique and succinct solos. An incredible masterpiece was painted at the theatre. Dylan’s vocals were exuberant during “Thunder on the Mountain” and he dished out an extended organ instrumental. The three-song encore consisted of the usual culprits with extra zest. That “Watchtower” was positively wacky and the crowd adored Dylan’s guitar solo during “Blowin in the Wind.” Dylan’s still leaving a greasy trail, so I’ll be back for many more in 2009. "The world of research has gone berserk"

Thursday, November 20, 2008




It was a glorious road trip to Oneonta. I enjoyed the two hour bus ride from the Port Authority to Kingston while listening to Tell Tale Signs. After checking into a forlorn Super 8, my long-time friends King and Blaze picked me up for the last leg of the journey. Sticks, deer, a mountain and ninety miles of road headed west were all that separated us from Oneonta. It was a cool crisp autumn eve. We listened to Tell Tale Signs all the way – “Some of us turn off the lights and we lay off/ In the moonlight shooting by/ Some of us scare are selves to death in the dark/ To be where the angels fly/ Pretty maids all in a row lined up/ Outside my cabin door/ I never wanted any of them wanting me/ Except the girl from the Red River Shore.”

The Alumni Field House at SUNY Oneonta was quaint, smaller than it sounds. The basketball backboards were raised to the low-lying rafters and the concessions consisted of bottled water for $1. They took our tickets from us and put them in a yellow sack and returned them after the show instead of giving us stubs. I’m not sure what that was all about. Dylan set the tone by opening with “The Wicked Messenger.” Getting up front was a hassle-free experience and the music was thundering. Under dim lighting, Bob looked dashing in a black suit with matching silver medallions, gold tie and white top hat.

Bob slipped out from behind his organ for a stroll to center stage on “It Ain’t Me Babe.” He side saddled by the microphone twisting to his right. Between singing lines, he added some tasty harp licks, circa 1966. His gesturing and posturing was fascinating all evening. Garnier’s bass was blasting my brain during “Levee Breaks.” Dylan taunted the college kids singing, “I was so much older than/ I’m younger than that now.” Donnie’s banjo sounded great on a brilliantly rearranged “High Water.” Near the end of each verse, the Cowboy band switched gears from thrashing blues to a feel good ragtime sound – the world of American music has gone berserk.

Dylan’s Wolfman howl worked over my eardrums as he shuffled to center stage for “Stuck Inside of Mobile.” Somebody yelled out, “Hey Dylan, eat some soup.” We were swimming in a sea of organ as Dylan chastised us with “Ballad of a Thin Man.” His organ playing was infectious, marching to its own beat. He also treated us to one of his patented and repetitive two note harp solos. It never grows old, only keeps getting better. The rock and roll bombardment continued on “Honest with Me”, “Tweedle Dee”, and “Highway 61.” Stu’s playing more leads than I can ever recall, it mixed in nicely with Denny’s jazzy touches. The Field House was dark during Tweedle, as Dylan was orating/ lead-singing – at times he looked like he was balancing himself on a surf board; then he looked like he was trying out for the lead role in West Side Story. There was a lot of finger pointing and gesturing to the audience. “Tweedle” was powerful and wonderfully strange.

The highpoints of the show were the slower numbers from Modern Times. “Workingman’s Blues # 2” was immense – booming vocals with chilling poignancy against a delightful arrangement. There’s nothing wrong with living on rice and beans. His vocal inflections and word play on “When the Deal Goes Done” and “Nettie Moore” was gripping. Denny really added some creative touches pulling out those Wes Montgomery – Grant Green like riffs. Bob was extremely animated during his vocal presentation of “Like a Rolling Stone.” He laughed into the microphone several times, as well as laughing in Donnie’s direction. Dylan further riled-up the crowd by playing a Gibson Guitar that was thrice his size during “Blowin in the Wind.” The crowd was pleasant, but not the type of crowd you would expect to whip Dylan into a frenzy. Whatever the reason, Dylan had IT going on in Oneonta, New York – a small old-time railroading town with two colleges, a Minor League stadium for young Yankees working their way towards the Majors, and the Soccer Hall of Fame. It was another new stop for the Bob Dylan Show, in its 20th year – one of its most innovative, strangest and finest years. Here’s to the next twenty. "I say it so it must be so"

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Bad News for Joe the Plumber


It was a performance dominated by anthems that changed American culture. Revisiting his old school, University of Minnesota, Dylan played “The Times They Are-A-Changin,” “Masters of War,” “It’s Alright Ma,” “Like a Rolling Stone,” and “Blowin in the Wind. ” Walking out into the lobby of Northrop Auditorium after the show, there was a thunderous roar, females were hysterically screaming. Initially I thought Tony Garnier had been spotted in the lobby, but everybody was reacting to the scoreboard on the big screen: Obama 297 Mc Cain 130. It was bad news for Joe the Plumber, but fantastic news for Obama, Dylan, all the young liberals on campus and yours truly. A poignant celebration broke out in front of the Auditorium. This was the place to be – a crowd touched by Dylan’s desire celebrating on Obama’s historic night.

Around noon time, I was kicking around in Bob’s old crib – second floor of what was Gray’s drugstore in Dinkytown. Dylan spent some time up there reading Woody Guthrie’s Bound for Glory in 1960. It was an unseasonable warm and glorious day, t-shirt weather. Gray’s is now Loring Pasta Bar, a nice place to woof down lunch. I had a few beers and a yellow fin tuna sandwich topped off with a jalapeno laced pickle. This was a historic day; Dylan’s first major concert took place on 11-4-61 at Carnegie Hall. I was born on 11-4-63.

There was a popping instrumental, but Dylan lyrically butchered “Cat’s in the Well.” The crowd went ballistic when they realized “The Times They Are-A-Changin” was second. His fellow Minnesotans were boisterous all night. Dylan offered up a pair of harp solos and went for a stroll to the center of the stage on solo #2. I liked Summer Days in the third spot, but only Dylan jammed on organ during the instrumental. It’s weird, there are these two guys in suits and top hats, Denny Freeman and Stu Kimball, who used to rock solos, but now their lack of contribution is staggering. Bob needs to free them up to play, or sack them.

During “This Wheel’s on Fire,” Dylan emerged from behind his organ and shuffled around the stage like a motivational speaker as he sang. He then placed the microphone on stand, continuing to sing, now motioning with his hands like a flight attendant reviewing safety procedures. A few Rockettes style kicks were thrown in for good measure. The next song started off like the Barney Miller TV theme, no wait a second, it sounded like “Chain Lightning” by Steely Dan, but I realized Dylan’s garbled words were “Tangled Up In Blue.” Yikes, this really didn’t work out too well. Two songs later, the reworking of “Stuck Inside of Mobile fared much better, though Dylan mangled and flat out blew several lines.

“Masters of War” was excellent, and with the inclusion of an eerie “John Brown,” this performance had the feel of a final parting shot at the Bush regime. Musically, the concert was a little ragged, Dylan never really got on a magical roll, though his organ playing was excellent and dominating the sound. “Shooting Star” was a great choice for his return to Minnesota: “Seen a shooting star tonight and I thought of me. Was I still the same did I ever became what you wanted me to be.” A black backdrop with stars appeared, created for this exact moment in the show, I suppose. Dylan started the song playing keys and then strapped on his electric guitar for the final verse. Huge roar; that was the extent of the guitar experiment. A late “Under the Red Sky” was another nice call, loosening-up the mood. I love “Thunder on the Mountain,” but the lack of Freeman’s guitar was disappointing.

“Ain’t Talkin” was a great way to wrap the set up. In his black pants with the singular red stripe running vertically and grey top hat, Dylan barked out his masterpiece with gritty determination. It was a wonderfully strange show. “Like a Rolling Stone” was necessary, as always. Dylan wailed a great harp solo to the crowd’s delight. It was a spot usually reserved for Freeman, who is quickly joining Stu Kimball and Stephen Marbury on the bench. Oh well, Tony and George are still cranking and Donnie’s happily hanging in. Before “Blowin’ in the Wind,” Dylan said something like, “I was born around the time of Pearl Harbor, I’ve seen some darkness, but I think things are beginning to change.” After thrilling the crowd with the final encore, the hometown hero, came to the front of the stage with his Cowboy Band lined up like statues behind him. He was giddy, smiling at the rowdy audience. He raised his arms upwards in a curling motion, holding them there suspended, palms stretched outwards as he swaggered to the left and shuffled to the right. I give all this to you, the good people of Minneapolis. Watching Dylan receive his admirers was worth the price of admission. We filed into the lobby and looked up at the screen. An African American man was elected President of the United States and the all white crowd broke into an hour of spontaneous celebration.


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