Saturday, November 27, 2010

Black Friday at the Borgata 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

Times Are Strange 11-23-10

“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


Dylan in Poughkeepsie

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.

Sunday, July 25, 2010


7-23-10 Dickey Betts Band

You're my bkue sky, you're my sunny day, Lord you know it makes high when you turn your love my way, an unforgetable chorus, unless you happen to be the author. Dicky botched that which is like singing the wrong words during Happy Birthday. I was expecting an evening of raging Cajun jams, but by and by, it was an obstacle course for DBB (Dickey Betts Band). Around 1,000 diciples watched Dickey grind through Allman Brothers classics at my favorite little church on the outskirts of Central Park.

Lazy horses eyed me as I crossed town by foot - East to West. Barbaric humidity schvitzed my shirt by the time I arived at the venue simply called the Concert Hall, on the corner of West 64th Street. At show time, tickets for Dickey were still available for $65. I was thinking forty bucks. My friend Puca scored a freebie from a roadie. I resorted to chicanery. I slid by a ticket scanning lady with a used ticket, pretty smile and a positive attitude.

Dickey's guitar tone was rattlesnake nasty, although solos were cut short as he winced in pain -something was out of whack. After a half-dozen songs, Dickey announced a break to tend to those pesky blisters. I envisioned a Rocky scene backstage: Dickey's popping pills and swigging Jack while his success coach is burning blisters off with a blow torch. I also feared somebody would throw out the white towel, a painful prospect for those who laid out sixty-five bucks.

DBB returned with the Holy Grail, "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed." My excitement disapated like air from a poorly tied baloon as the jams flopped. During the drum interlude, Dickey disppeared for more blister treatment.
I took a leak and heard this bathroom banter:

"Yo man, Dickey sucks tonight, what's wrong with him," said the Infidel.
"Ya'll don't know what ya talkin bout. Dickey is sixty-seven, A god damn legend," said the Loyalist.
"He's wasted, drunk off his ass. I paid sixty-five bucks for this," said the Infidel.
"You're nuts!" said the Loyalist. "Five years from now when Dickey is no longer with us you would be crying about how you wish you was here."

And so the great debate raged.

Dickey rallied on the last two set numbers, whaling on a thouroughly explored "Jessica." The looping jam was as melodic as it was mammoth. Betts motioned to the Greg Allman clone that he couldn't hear any keyboards. The sound issue was straightened out, and by and by, the audience finally heard some piano. Dickey rocked out a refuse-to-die ending making this a sensational performance, worth at least twenty beans. Everybody in church was howling, dancing and clapping in the pews.

The "Ramblin' Man" encore was alright, Dickey's vocals were understated most of the night. The concert was fine entertainment. I'd rather hear bits of authentic genius than a hodgepodge of immitation. I headed East, walking past the sweaty horses and almost missed the Uptown Six Train. I couldn't pay for my Metrocard in time, and the station was hotter than the insides of a freshly baked pie - waiting was not an option. With the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in one hand, I vaulted over the turnstile like an East German gymnast. It was my Olympic debut and first public crime since 1976 when I was busted for stealing a Boston 8-track tape from Korvettes. This time I safely escaped on the Six Train. I grabbed a slice of eggplant pizza for the walk home, listened to "Elizabeth Reed" and passed out to "Whipping Post" from the Fillmore.

PS: Live "Blue Sky" sounds like "Franklin's Tower"

Tuesday, July 6, 2010




Leaving New Orleans on the Tuesday following Jazzfest, Aaron Neville was standing in line in front of me going through the security checkpoint for Continental. His identity was unmistakable: rippling thick muscles popping out of an undersized t-shirt, cap on backwards and the second most famous facial mole (Cindy Crawford #1). I couldn't think of anything to say to him. The Nevilles were the closing act at Jazzfest, but I ditched them to see Wayne Shorter who was honking sax in the jazz tent at the same time. Five minutes passed, he went through the checkpoint on the left, I stripped off my belt and sneakers for the guards on the right.

I went to the airport bodega to score Mentos. This time Aaron was on line behind me - he was purchasing a local paper, People Magazine and gum. I was speechless. He was wearing a Saints cap, so I though about striking up a Super Bowl conversation, but decided against it. I boarded my flight to Newark and Who Dat lounging in the First Class section. I smiled at Aaron and flashed him a piece sign. He laughed. I was little worried, the odds of a plane crashing are much higher if a rock star is aboard. Anyway, here's a few highlights from my week.

1. Van Morrison...He won over the greatest hits crowd early with Brown Eyed Girl in the second hole. The surly Belfast balladeer also pleased with lush versions of Moondance and Have I Told You Lately. He assembled one of his hottest bands and Van showed off his dexterity by blowing sax and harp, picking guitar leads and plunking keyboard. I cried lunatic tears when he played Fair Play from Veedon Fleece. It was the first time Van performed that in the twenty times I seen him. A set ending Ballerina and St. James Infirmary were the other keepers. He had the voodoo and mojo flowing.

2. Wayne Shorter...Each note from Wayne was emotional and smooth, he's the best saxman alive. He still has a youthful glow, he looks like Miles circa 1967. His quartet with Blades, Perez and Patitucci was the best I've ever seen. Seating inside the jazz tent was scarce, so I spent half the show standing by a garbage can to the right of the stage. I went up to the photographers pit to get a snapshot and a lady vacated her front row seat and I pounced on it. What a Sunday it was, Van>Shorter front row.

3. Zydeco...Accordions, washboards and violins - a zesty Cajun treat. All the bands on the Fais Do Do Stage got down to the nitty gritty. The small crowds in front of the bait shack were dancing, spinning and slugging cans of brew. I brought some Zydeco music home with me, I'm thinking about taking accordion lessons. 4.Jam bands...Widespread Panic whaled weird and wide for three hours. Warren Haynes and Government Mule did a nice job before WSP. A snuck a peak at Steve Martin's bluegrass band and wasn't all that impressed. I'd rather see him blow up party balloon animals
5. Food...As always the grub was good and plentiful. By 3PM on Sunday I ate clams, a shrimp po' boy, fried chicken and jambalya - out of control.


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