Saturday, July 25, 2009

LAKEWOOD 7-23-09


Unable to sleep at 4 AM on July 23 2009, I decided to officially count all the Dylan shows I’ve seen. I discovered that later that night would be my 98th Dylan show.

I met my friend Stan, The Village Beast, at the Blarney Stone by Grand Central. We hopped into his Infinity, put on the Bluesville station and cracked open a couple of frosty ones. The rain kicked in as we headed west, cross town, and through the Lincoln Tunnel. This took a while, but everything about this day was timeless.
I loaded a Dylan show from Memphis 2006 into the CD player and the Village Beast sparked a bone. We were on the road again, slicing through the swamps and industrial wastelands of the Garden State. The precipitation escalated from a pesky drizzle to a hardcore pour. We were prepared for a monsoon and prayed for a “Hard Rain.”

By the time we reached Lakewood, the parking lots were filled and shuttle buses were offered from distant lots. This didn’t fit into our plans, so we improvised a parking lot behind the business complex across from the ball yard. Stan produced two yellow rain coats from his trunk. I grabbed the sleek looking Puma jacket, leaving Stan with a dirty mangy jacket, a suitable look for a Village Beast. In the near distance, we heard Mellencamp on stage, but we opted to stay in our makeshift lot and dance in the rain to “Slow Train” and other Dylan sermons.

Fifteen minutes before Dylan and His Band took the centerfield stage, we entered First Energy Ballpark, home of the Blue Claws. With the rain tailing off, the Cowboy Band strutted out in black leather suits with matching black cowboy hats. But Dylan was the one with all the beautiful clothes. He appeared center stage in a dazzling lavender suit with a white top hat featuring a rather large brim. He looked like The Joker, as played by Cesar Romero. Bob was crackling with fidgety energy, a tell tale sign that we were in for a whopping good time. The outfield was muddy, and you know how the Maestro loves to play in the slop.

Dylan belted out a rugged rendition of “Watching the River Flow,” immediately separating himself from preconceived expectations of those who never seen him before, although the crowd loved it. They adored “Girl From the North Country” even more - a delightful surprise. Dylan loped into a lengthy version of “Lonesome Day Blues.” My focus was distracted by a striking Jersey girl who was attracted to me. She began rubbing, hugging and kissing me as Dylan broke into “Chimes of Freedom.” I managed to enjoy both situations, but Chimes was the object of my desire.

Full attention was back on Dylan as he whipped up another raucous “Tweedle Dee” in the fifth spot. I cut a rug with the Village Beast on the right field grass, where the Blue Claws roam (local Minor League team). Then, Dylan summoned “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.” Sweet destiny! The lavender bard howled out the mystical words against a funky arrangement - all old things became new again. Everything made sense. I couldn’t ask for more.

“Honest With Me” sizzled before we all sang a little bit of the Workingman Blues with Bob. A monster of a ballad, “Workingman Blues #2” mutates in majesty each time Dylan performs it. Luckily, it’s been my fate to catch this of late. In between the visceral and tender crooning of verses, Dylan breathed a fiery harp solo, and closed it out with another. The band smoked, but this was a one-man show. Bob would grind his organ for most of the solos down the stretch. Amazed by Dylan’s voice on Workingman’s Blues, Stan placed his arm on my shoulder and said, “Hey Howie, I didn’t realize we were seeing Pavarotti tonight.”

Just like I’d seen it go down in Allentown, Dylan closed the bash out swinging: “Highway 61 Revisited,” “ Ain’t Talkin’,” “Thunder on the Mountain.” Dylan boogie-woogied on the organ American Bandstand style. Restless and animated, Dylan offered up amusing gestures. Every now and then he swatted at his ear like he was trying to eradicate an elusive mosquito. After plunking the final chord of Thunder, Dylan turned his outstretched arms towards the skies, palms out, and looked out into the crowd. How good am I? The master of illusion made all our worries disappear. Satisfaction lingered in the air over Blue Claw field. The encores were solid. The band sounded as porous as ever during a lengthy Rolling Stone instrumental interlude.

We stayed in the moment as long as possible shuffling around in back of Stan’s car while digging on Dylan’s new CD. Joey D, a bulky Jersey type of guy, joined us for a brew and a jig. His befuddled date watched in horror. I turned it up a notch by popping in a Jerry Garcia Band disc from the Roseland Theatre circa 1983. We were electrified for another hour. The fourth part of the day was almost gone - the red cooler was emptied and Joey D and his terrified date split. I headed to Wo Hop with the Village Beast. After a ninety minute drive, Stan eased his black Infinity into a narrow spot by a stack of garbage bags on Mott Street. The car clock said 3 AM. At 3:06, we were scoffing down spare ribs, pork dumplings, steak har kew, and chicken ding with almonds.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

7-14-09: All Old Things Become New Again

(Though he’s currently featured in a Pepsi commercial)

Reading David Foster Wallace’s Consider The Lobster as I sipped Australian white wine from a paper cup at a table for one, I was oblivious to the stressed commuters pouring into the into the Port Authority at 9:15. I glanced up at the Sonia Sotomayor confirmation hearings. The senate was grilling her, she had a pained expression. Feeling extremely content and anticipating adventure, I headed for terminal 69,destination: Allentown - off to see Bob Dylan and his Cowboy Band. The white wine I had for breakfast wasn’t bad, so I grabbed one more mini bottle for dessert.

It was a gorgeous day and my Greyhound journey flowed smoothly until we were abut ten miles from Easton, Pennsylvania, home to former Heavyweight Champ, Larry Holmes. A shadowy character in a pork pie hat, dark clothing and sunglasses, grabbed his large duffel bag and moved to the back of the bus. Seated a couple of rows behind me, he rummaged through his bag of trickery and began talking to himself. I heard the sounds of compressed air slowly escaping from canisters and then I heard a sustained blast of aerosol spray. A vile smell filled the air, something like Red Bull meeting Aqua Velva in a kiln.

Strange got stranger. Around the time we reached Easton, two pretty girls, exchange students from Romania on their way to Harrisburg, struck up a friendly conversation with me, asking me 99 questions about America. I suggested that if they really wanted to dig America, they should join me, Willie, Mellencamp, and Dylan at Coca Cola Ballpark. Alas, they had never heard of baseball or Dylan. Fortuitously, Allentown was just minutes away, but I was stuck in a swamp of madness. I had two Romanian angels in front of me and a hallucinating hell cat behind me on the verge of passing out from inhaling mystery fumes. Ain’t that America?

I bought a ticket for the sold out concert at the box office for $73. A reliable source informed me that David Bromberg and his Angel Band were seen entering Coca Cola Park as spectators. Willie had just taken the stage as I joined the festivities. Willie did his thang, briskly unloading his greatest hits and paying homage to Hank Williams with a medley that included Jambalaya, Hey Good Lookin’ and Move It On Over. My favorite tune from the Willie set was Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain.

Last Minor League Ballpark tour, I didn’t fully soak in how lucky I was to be on a baseball diamond for the Bob Dylan Show. Coca Cola Park was a glorious vision. The infield was barricaded, but I got as close as possible to home plate and wondered if I could still rip one down the line and clear the left field fence, 336 feey away, or if I’d launch one uo to the clouds, about 250 feet from the plate, a can of corn for the centerfielder who would be positioned where the stage was. I squatted in the visitor’s dugout by myself for ten minutes before I was evicted by a stunned yet pleasant security guard. We bonded over some Minor League chatter. I was pleased to learn that Shelly Duncan had a great first half for the Yankee’s triple affiliate in Scranton. Shelly at the All-Star break: 22 Dingers 68 RBIs.

Every nook and cranny of Coca Cola Park was crammed with advertising: AT&T, Dr. Pepper, Martin’s Potato Chips, Toyota, PNC Bank, and Verizon competed for the working man’s bucks on the right field fence. I rested my beer in a News 69 cup holder and stretched out in the Empire Blues Shield on-deck circle. Looking away from the Stars and Stripes dangling in the centerfield breeze, a sign in left reminded about the other white meat: Pork Always A Grand Slam! Aint that America, something to see.

JC Mellencamp followed Willie in the line-up. The locals dug his groove, but JCM is too Plain Jane for my taste - a poor man’s Tom Petty. I enjoyed a chicken taco and a couple two, three more beers. Everybody in Coca Cola Park seemed to be in great spirits as the sun set over the Lehigh Valley.

At 9:15 PM the lights went out. Standing next to the barricade by the side of the stage, I saw security lead the Cowboy Band across the neatly manicured outfield grass to the stage. Shuffling behind them like a toy soldier was Bob Dylan - red striped black pants, black coat with silver buttons, red tie and black hat. I scurried closer to the left side of the stage. From my vantage point, I could only see Dylan. He looked like the Jack of Hearts standing there with his electric guitar strapped around his slender torso during Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat. A phenomenal version of Don’t Think Twice with three solid guitar solos followed. This was the best Dylan has sounded on guitar since the late ‘90s and the Maestro’s voice was a rumbling force to be reckoned with. The music thundered and a subtle echo added ambiance to Dylan’s voice, or was my mind just playing tricks on me?

The Cowboy Band blazed through Rolled and Tumbled kicking off a slew of successive songs featuring Dylan’s latest and greatest. Spirit on the Water worked in the clean-up spot and Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum ripped on its heels. By this time, I was prancing on the dirt in foul territory between home and first. Children and parents were dancing by their picnic blankets. Tweedle might be Dylan’s most underrated song and it was proceeded by the crème de la crème, Working Man’s Blues #2. Dylan voice was pesky and poignant - a tip of the hat to the industrious laborers of Allentown, a city that’s seen better days. Sensational Performance. ‘Nuff said.

After stranding us in the city that never sleeps with women who give us the creeps, Dylan warned us about travel to Houston. Dylan then led the charge down Highway 61, firing up His band and His crowd. Serving up “hog-eyed grease in a hog eyed town” Ain’t Talkin’ mystified. Masterpiece after Masterpiece, Dylan never had to retreat to his past as the most important musical figure of the 20th Century, because he’s the king in Modern Times. Even for a legend like Willie Nelson, opening for Bob’s gotta be a humbling experience.

The effusive praise continues. Thunder on the Mountain was crazed - each jam winding and wondrous, each delectable syllable crooned with meaningful inflection. Like a Rolling Stone was encore #1. Bob proclaimed he’s the king during a maximum impact Jolene - hotter than the studio track. Watchtower closed the night out in deafening fashion. The crowd went berserk, relishing the maestro’s mojo and begging for more, but Bob gave it all he had. I departed the same way I came, by foot, a two mile stroll down the lonesome Airport Road listening to Planet Waves on my CD walkman. I passed an endless graveyard with no tombstones. Each grave was marked with an ID plaque and a planted American flag.It appeared the dead were still clutching on to Old Glory. I retired to room 216 at the Red Roof Inn, but didn’t get much sleep. I had a restless fever burning in my brain.


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