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Monthly Archives: August 2012

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1. Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat
2. To Ramona
3. Things Have Changed
4. Tangled Up In Blue
5. Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum
6. Love Sick
7. Ballad Of Hollis Brown
8. The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll
9. The Levee’s Gonna Break
10. High Water (For Charley Patton)
11. A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall
12. Highway 61 Revisited
13. Simple Twist Of Fate
14. Thunder On The Mountain
15. Ballad Of A Thin Man
16. Like A Rolling Stone
17. All Along The Watchtower
18. Blowin’ In The Wind

Overall, this show ranked probably about average in the NEVER-ENDING TOUR pantheon. Which means if you trust in Bob, you were repaid in spades, witnessing a master ply his trade. If not, well, then you may have been scratching your head knowing something is happening, but you don’t know what it is. Was that really singing? Or just a dead man’s last pistol shot, (baby)?

Personally, in all of his shows I’ve attended, I’ve never seen him so at ease with himself and the band. Switching agilely between instruments, often within the same song, sometimes within the same verse. In fact, tonight featured by far the most harmonica I’ve ever heard him play, as well as the relatively new grand piano puncturing the mix. That stands in grand contrast to the last few years of the organ drone swimming in the deep end of the sound, hanging on a note or two for minutes on end.

People complain that he doesn’t talk to the crowd, or doesn’t seem like he’s having a good time. Nothing could be further from the truth there. They question the motives of a septuagenarian who’ll gig pretty much anywhere that will have him. Well, this is what he does. He’s said himself that he loves to thrill a crowd. He has a steadfast commitment to his calling. By the encore, he was dripping with sweat (take the hat off Bob, it’s hot in here). What else would he do? He certainly doesn’t need the cash. To paraphrase the man himself… You may think he loves us for our money, but I know what he really loves us for. Speaking of which…

LEOPARD SKIN PILL BOX HAT, as any guess from recent set lists could tell, kicked things off, Bob on keys with his (fake?) Academy Award perched up top. A serviceable blues to get the crowd and band warmed up.

The waltzy hi-hat countdown that followed could’ve been any number of songs from the canon, TIMES THEY ARE A CHANGIN’, MY BACK PAGES, etc… Tonight, however, gave us a romantically re-assuring take of TO RAMONA. Musically, this was definitely a highlight of the show. The band showing just what a complimentary ensemble they’ve grown into. Dylan giving his most tender vocal. He held his harp with his left hand and played it while stabbing piano accents with his right. His left leg stuck straight out doing the jitterbug rag, as it would every time he sat at the bench.

Switch-up to the roving gambler center-stage for the apocalypse 2012 THINGS HAVE CHANGED. Having heard several of the summer Europe boots, I’d have to say this rendition ranked below average. Visually though, it was a treat to see our friend in the cowboy hat standing in full command of the stage. They’ve added a repeating triplet accent that begins about halfway through, commencing with a right hand signal from Bob to George to let it rip. Lots of harp, and three huge shots to bring it to a thunderous close.

TANGLED UP IN BLUE was the most interesting song of the show. Not the best or the worst, mind you. I knew the current version from bootlegs already, but never have I heard what Bob did with it tonight. For some reason, and I would love to know how often this has happened before, Mr. D. mixed in large chunks of lyrics that appeared originally in the drastic 1984 re-write of the song performed solo-acoustic in Europe that year. Yeah, it was wild.

We got, “radio blasting the news, right straight through”, “get on that train and ride”, “some were masters of illusion, ministers of the trade”, “beds unmade”, “towards the sun”, “stay out of the joint”.

Not sure if he’s been doing this for awhile, but it sure hasn’t been on the MP3s I’ve heard. He came in late with many of the lyrics, almost as if he wasn’t sure just what words he was gonna sing until they came rollin’ & tumblin’ out of his mouth. In the middle of all that came a truly odd piano ‘solo’, if you can call it that. Simmering, jazzy noodling that maybe worked, maybe didn’t. A baffling, unique take on a song you could’ve sworn you’ve already heard every which way, but that’s why we keep going back, ain’t it?

TWEEDLES started nowhere, went nowhere, and pretty much ended there too. It just never achieved lift-off, not helped by Bob’s (sudden?) decision to lengthen the final verse. He would sing one line, then not come in on the next bar as on record, so you’d think, “OK, next bar it is,” but no!! He made each line take up the space of about a half verse. He and the band fiddling, while the song burned. I really miss the breakdowns from last year’s performances that had those clashing, multi-guitar explosions.

LOVESICK was tonight’s MVP. As the tune built, security let the floor crowd rush the front of the stage. Dylan got a kick out of pointing at them while blasting off rounds of terrific harmonica, including a stellar full solo break. He threw in a little aside between lines, answering after,”Did I tell a lie?” with “I don’t know, did I?”. While he started this one center stage, he eventually ended up at the piano. Get this though… He didn’t switch to piano just before the final verse as would make sense, but waited until the middle of the second line of the final verse! Whatta guy!. Never known to make a foolish move.

I was excited to get HOLLIS BROWN next, as I’d never had it at any of my previous concerts. As far as I’m concerned, this is the most successful arrangement this song has ever seen. It works much better with each line breathlessly piling upon the next, rather than leaving full bars between them. A banjo-fueled romp of American Gothic dread.

Another debut for me next, as well as another high point. HATTIE CARROLL had some very lovely singing, though he almost gave away the brilliant final line at the first chorus, singing “Bury the rag…. away from your face”. Nice save. As if with something to prove after that misstep, he juggled piano, harp duties, AND leg jiggling simultaneously during the lead section. The Cowboy Band brought the song to a soft landing with a literal fade-out, as if on an album. Each player getting carefully quieter, with almost nothing left but a wall of harmonica. It was very cool, though Bob’s insistence on playing cross-harp these days left his note choices severely limited, resulting in a somewhat awkward final crescendo.

3 debuts in a row (for me)! WHEN THE LEVEE BREAKS was a pure slab of Texas roadhouse boogie. Some great, violent, menacing piano throughout, while Tony climbed way up to the highest notes of his double-bass. A hot extended jam in the middle, with the rhythm section looking at each other and laughing for some reason, hopefully not at their esteemed bandleader (don’t forget who signs the cheques guys!).

The latest fire and brimstone re-working of HIGHWATER was up next with Preacher Bob back in front, standing right next to Charlie. The new motif riff on this one is killer, and it was a barn burner of a rendition, though arguably a little too similar to HOLLIS BROWN to really warrant the inclusion of both on the set list.

Then came the low. Starting with a drizzle, HARD RAIN never actually poured. I did like Bob’s locking into a syncopated repeating melody during the final verse. George and Tony seemed to slightly miscue the ending, looking at each other and shaking their heads, then over to the pianist perhaps in anticipation of one of his famous, withering gazes. Lucky boys. The guy who forced folk into bed with rock never flinched, projecting the same steely squint he donned most of the evening.

Back to the barrel house for THUNDER ON THE MOUNTAIN. Nothing special. It did have the night’s funniest lyric flub, with Dylan declaring in Rimbaudian fashion, “I ain’t no angel, and neither am I.”

Then Bob went electric on us with his only appearance on guitar all night. SIMPLE TWIST OF FATE was a virtual carbon copy of the recent European takes, right down to the little duck squawk guitar melody that he plucks between each line.

HIGHWAY 61 began the final arc of tunes that, more or less, have come each night for the last few legs of the NET. Some explosively percussive piano during the peak, and when they brought it down, I swear Bob almost stumbled onto playing the “Pink Panther” theme. A so-so version of a song that, though it really cooks most every night, I personally wish he’d drop.

During BALLAD OF A THIN MAN, Bob really played with the echo effect on his voice. You can tell he’s phrasing certain words in certain ways just to hear it bounce right back. This was pure carnival theatre. A haunted house hosted by a cow punk, Madame Toussaud waxed figure of Vincent Price come to life. Charlie, Stu, and Donnie on guitars deftly doing some of what Keith Richards calls,”the ancient art of weaving.”

Now…I’d been under the impression that Dylan had NOT been playing piano on this. But, after spending the first half of the song center stage, he rushed back to play from there for the bridge to the end, the band even giving him an extra bar to get there. It was impossible not to get chills of 1966, and perhaps one of his greatest performances of all time. Of course I’m referring to the devastating ‘THIN MAN of THE BAND tour that can be seen in NO DIRECTION HOME, with (Cate Blanchett era) Bob giving the most harrowing piano/vocal of his career.

LIKE A ROLLING STONE was average, though it did have some gorgeous descending piano runs that started in the lead break, and popped back up sporadically from there. He even started to do it vocally, and threw it back in just before the final crash. This grand piano has been like a shot in the arm for this group.

The THANK YOU FRIENDS/BAND INTROS surprisingly did not have any mention of Charlie Sexton’s birthday. Wonder why?

WATCHTOWER was also average. I like how they have scaled it back in recent years to perhaps the closest arrangement to the album take. Shorter, but just as effective, and this band is definitely not about bombastic Hendrixian explorations.

BLOWING IN THE WIND was pure Sam Cooke. After beginning on the ivories, Bob ran quickly to finish the song center-stage on harp as well. This was the most heartwarming part. Fun to watch Bob have fun, wailing away on harp while looking select audience members directly in the eye, pointing at them. A huge build to a tagged ending featuring some piercing harp, then he was off into the warm Canadian prairie night.
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Post Script: if anyone out there is wondering how I could recall as many details as I did, trust me, it wasn’t some CHRONICLES style re-visioning. It’s that I’ve managed to obtain an exclusive recording of said show.

(photo of Bob Dylan in Lethbridge courtesy of Eugene Strickland. Thanks!)

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