This was it. The end. No more Dylan for at least 3 more months, more for those who cant go to the projected Euro tour. While that is not necessarily a long time, I was worried that feeling may have put a damper on the whole evening for me. I was dead wrong though, and couldn’t have been happier.
Much like the first 08 shows in Dallas, the last also produced sub-artic temperatures, cutting through fabric and flesh w/ the help of the wind. At least this time we had gloves . The ER extravaganza, which was originally slated to meet in front of the venue, was relocated to the restaurant across the street on account of the weather. A large table was secured, but since only one or two groups had arrived, I opted to listen to soundcheck at the back door of the theatre, a building that, even from the outside, commanded attention. I didn’t know it at the time, but the band hadn’t arrived yet, so I braved the cold to listen to techs and roadies set up haha The busses pulled up later, but by the time I made it back to the door, all that was left to hear was the end of a 12 bar blues jam. By then it was dark, most of the ER folks were in the area, so I took my spot in the warmth of the restaurant.
Because of the size of our group, I could not hear and cannot speak for the other end of the table, but from where I was, it really was a live action Dylan board. One of the best parts of a GA show, for me at least, is the chance to catch up w/ those who we only know through shows, to hear about the shows you didn’t make it to, to just generally be able to talk about Dylan w/ others who are as into it as you and get you in the mindset for the approaching show. The lack of that is one of the great detractors of seated shows, but this setup was even better; we were warm!
The conversations could have lasted long into the night, but as 7 came and went, we still hadn’t gotten a check, and one latecomer still hadn’t even received her sandwich. While there was no “dine and ditch”, the service was not worth what we tipped, and the only reason I would go back would be to get a drink (they can’t card when they don’t speak English ).
From where we were in the restaurant, there appeared to be a long line at will call, but those of us w/ the minted, gold (read: overpriced) tickets were whisked right in. There was, of course, no Super-Max style security, no checkpoint, no being escorted to my seat, no anti-scalping methods other then will-call. I dropped my jacket off at my 3rd row seat, and that was the last time I was even near it. I wandered about, checking the view from various areas as I always do. Milkcow, who has her own story, got in just at the nick of time. I walked over to her, and talked for no more then about 10 minutes when the lights went down. Since no one was in the seat beside her yet, I figured I might as well stay. . .
The lights came up, and the opening chords were not those of RDW, Cats, Maggies, or any other song I’d heard in recent years. I’m not ashamed to admit, I had NO idea what it was until Dylan began to sing. I don’t know when that one was played last, but it had to have been awhile. It had a great rhythm to it, really got the audience up and on their feet. The band was, as they have been almost all year, on top of their game, and the sound was tight. I believe Dylan did pick up the guitar for this song, but I really wasn’t watching, I’ll have to listen to the tape. The sound was good as well, despite being directly in front of a PA stack. The only hitch in the song was that Dylan’s vocals were pretty harsh. It sounded as though he’d just done 4 or 5 shows in a row, and/or REALLY needed to clear his throat.
I could see Denny and his guitar pretty well, but I had a feeling whoever owned the seat I was standing at would want it back, and since Freeman frequently shifts to face Dylan, I knew my position wouldn’t be very good for very long, so when the lights dropped, I ran a few seats over to where another ER member had a seat. Not only is she an incredibly nice person, but she was shorter then me, so I asked if she wouldn’t mind me standing behind her; a request she graciously granted.
Not only was the sound and view a million times better, but when the second song was Times, I knew we were headed in a great direction. This was a song that I’d been wishing for since standing in line at my first show, one of the few that I have a real personal attachment to. I wasn’t particularly thrilled w/ the arrangement, but didn’t specifically object to it either, and the sound in my new spot was so excellent I ended up really enjoying it. Dylan must have gotten a drink or hawked one into the spit can, because his voice was much smoother for this one.
At my last show, Kalamazoo, I was blown away by the unity of the band. But in the couple of weeks between then and now, while listening to tapes of earlier shows, I couldn’t help but (albeit under a lot of guilt) feel a bit sorry that Denny was not in his same out front role that he enjoyed in, say, Dallas. It was obvious during Levee that this was not going to be a Kalamazoo night. Every other guy was still in top form, but they were not the one entity, Denny was again a bit ahead. I, personally, was thrilled. Levee has become a bit of a standard this year, and while you always get a range of good and bad performances w/ those standards, there was something extra behind this one. Maybe they were all just happy w/ the prospect of being rid of each other for a while, but there was an energy that I hadn’t heard in that one since early summer.
For the second time in 4 songs, I was completely in a fog as the next song began to unfold. I couldn’t even wager a guess; all I knew was that I liked it… A LOT! It was a very country-ish arrangement, thumping bass, great fiddle, great guitars…well, great everything, really. Part of me would have been fine if they’d have just continued on w/ no lyrics. Dylan was even on guitar, and still I found nothing wrong w/ the music As he stepped up to the mic and began to sing, I, and apparently everyone else, took the first few lines and sang ahead in our heads. The crowd recognized it at virtually the same time and erupted into cheers. I doubt very many knew when it was played last (not that long ago, it turned out), but I’d bet everyone counted themselves lucky to be there seeing it. It was easily a highlight for me, but after only 4 songs, I didn’t want to jump to any conclusions. I can only hope that this one gets played more in future shows. I was very impressed w/ absolutely everything about it. Dylan flubbed a few lines, but that is but a minuscule detail standing in front of a perfect song; it was over too quickly.
Things was solid, as it always is, but the next treat for me came w/ Desolation Row. I was (surprisingly) impressed w/ the music when I first saw it this year in Park City, and while the band did not disappoint in any way tonight, it was the vocals which took me away this time. They were not the start-stop staccato that he usually employs for this one, he was actually singing. After awhile, I let myself get lost in it, the vocals, the music, everything was so smooth and seamless. . . and. then. the. start. stop. styling. It. started. all. over. a. gain. Jolted out of a trance-like state, it took me a second to realize that they were still on Desolation Row. That’s not a complaint about the length, but the shift was so drastic, it was almost as if a new song had been started. Almost. I personally am not a fan of staccato Desolation Row, and he never went back to smoother styles, but there was enough going on on stage to distract from that. I was greatly impressed by Stu’s rhythm playing; it couldn’t have been better if he’d tried.
This was the first time I’d seen Beyond The Horizon this close to Denny, and it was incredible. Its one I always skip on album, but love listening to on tape, and man, can that guy ever play IF he leaves the organization before the NET stops, I’d hope they retire this song; I really cant imagine any other guitarist being able to so anything w/ it, and I almost shudder to hear anyone try. I cant tell you what happened anywhere but directly in front of me, and my only memory of this song was the guitar. I haven’t listened to the tape, I don’t know if it sounds the same on that, but take it from one who knows, it was beautiful.
Til I Fell In Love was the only one of the whole show that was stuck in my head on the plane ride back, and for good reason; the thing cooked! It has really come into its own this year, and I was pleased to see they were using it to close out the 08 season. Another highlight for me. That’s the difference between seeing a setlist and being there; the best song does not have to be the rarity that earns a million points at the pool.
Another TOOM song came next, and just like its predecessor, did not disappoint. A center stage Dylan played an excellent harp. Feel My Love is not generally a song I have strong feelings about one way or the other, but the energy boost given to Levee also applied here. Perhaps not the definitive version of the song, but one of the better ones I’ve born witness to. In all honesty, I could have sworn it was You Belong To Me in the intro. I knew I was wrong, but, I couldnt, for the life of me, figure it out.
A mind-boggling thing happened w/ the audience during Honest, a thing I have never seen happen before; they SAT DOWN! Now, I don’t mean everyone, but first, second, third row folks began to take their seats, even as the guys on stage started tearing the place down. What is going on?! Don’t tell me you’re tired! Stu took his only lead work of the night on this song, throwing out one of his best solos. It was not his average “Stu solo”, but something different. I like Stu fine, he’s a great player, but his recent solos are, well, I don’t know how to describe it, but they’ve got no personality in them; they’re what you’d expect the guitar solo to sound like at that point. This one was not like that at all; Stu the guitarist came through, rather then just Stu the trained Dylan employee. Way to go, Stu! I tried voicing my appreciation when the lights went down, but my sickness and extreme thirst caused my voice to jump up about three octaves before becoming inaudible even to dogs haha
Spirit is another in the category w/ Horizon. Hearing them try to play it w/o Denny in Kingston only solidifies it ashis number. He was on his white, decorated Strat all night tonight, whereas he usually has switched to the Gibson by the time we hear Spirit. Nice switch-up.
Perhaps the boss was as baffled by the snoozing crowd for Honest as some of us were, because we rushed uninhibited as H61 began. Just a Levee, seemingly a lifetime before it, this version really cranked. It is undoubtedly a standard, one that is almost always exactly the same as the night, week, month, tour before, but was pushed just a bit farther tonight.
Those who made it against the stage stared w/ respectful reverence for the entire Ain’t Talkin, and aside from Kalamazoo, which, because of the band thing I put in a different category all together, this was probably the best Ain’t Talkin I’ve attended.
Thunder blazed! That was incredible, that’s all I can say about it! Probably my favorite version of this I heard. Two notes though; 1) the woman who groundhogged her way to my left during this song threw what looked to be her keys on stage. Keys! They landed harmlessly in front of Tony, but I for one, would not appreciate having sharp metal objects thrown at me out of the dark. (Also, how does one get home?!?) And 2) at the restaurant beforehand, we were all laughing at the most obscure things we could yell out a request for. I joked everyone that the table holler for Stealin Berries. Its one of Freeman’s songs, one I’ve been messing around w/ for the last week or so and am about halfway through and stuck on. Maybe I’m going crazy, maybe I’m losing my mind, maybe I subconsciously heard it because it’s been on constant rotation for hours at my house, but I swear to G-d Denny played one of those riffs in Thunder this time! He was facing Dylan and his guitar was completely perpendicular to me, I could only see his strumming hand, and it was just a quick little thing, but what a killer coincidence! Again, I might just be losing it, but.........
LARS and Watchtower were really excellent, probably definitive attendance versions for me as well. I actually REALLY liked LARS this time, as opposed to just “meh”. The lights went down after Watchtower, but no one moved, and so you don’t know what to expect. It is were any other night, I’d have used the term “unfortunately” when they started into Blowin, as I really hate ending the night (or in this case, the tour year) on that one, but this was a year ender if I’ve ever heard one! Dylan once again picked up the guitar, and once again, it was not bad, not bad at all! Everyone sounded great.
As the boys lined up for the final time in 08, I cant imagine that any reasonably sane person in the theatre could have been disappointed. The setlist was not outlandishly absurd, Larry Campbell and Robbie Robertson did not come out from behind the curtain, we were not treated to a demo of an unfinished album, and Donnie still does not wear a hat, but did anyone honestly expect anything different?
As for myself, this tour year has been unbelievable. I saw more the double the shows in 2008 then I had seen before, total. I flew to shows. I drove. I got rails, and I got row “Z”. I’ve met a million cool people, and I’ve seen a million different towns.
I got to meet my idol, Tony Garnier!
GA. GENERAL Admission. At least, that’s what I thought it stood for. Dylan management and I apparently disagree (their G may lean towards “greed”… ). W/o going into a long rant about it (that is another topic for another time), I made the decision a week before to NOT buy into this horrible policy, even if it was a bit self-detrimental, much like my stance on TTS. Turns out quite a few folks felt that way, the “commoner” line was formed out of the exact same people it always has been; those who do (and will continue to) waste the better part of a day braving the heat, the cold, the wind and the rain.
And aside from heat, there was plenty of the aforementioned weather conditions. Even so, the time flew by in one of the more enjoyable waits I’ve had. Between meeting internet personas face to face, catching up w/ friends who don’t post, and just generally trying to keep a handle on the ever-changing door plan (exasperated by that new early-entry BS), I couldn’t shake the excellent feeling I had. This was the first show I’ve ever hemmed and hawed over before buying a ticket, and w/ the sound in Milwaukee, I had every reason to expect something miserable to suddenly appear and rain (or, as it were, snow) on our parade, but the venue seemed to at least have a plan, and when, 2 hours before doors, the line was still less then 20 long, I knew things were going to somehow work in our favor.
Finally, when your knees no longer bend and you’ve forgotten what its like to have sensation in your feet, the doors are opened! I was the first one through my door, and the first one to fling back the curtain into the arena. There is a small collection of the “elite” plastered to the rails, but it looks to me (coming from house right) that I can still get my prime place. I charge over to where the elitists end, and look up; too far! Split second decision time…… I stay here I’m going to be staring at Denny’s ass all night. But if I try to go back, I could be too far again, staring at Dylan’s ass all night …. subconsciously I must have decided to make the gamble, because before I know it I’m shooting back the way I came, again coming to a stop at the end of the “royalty”. My gamble was a good one; I have a clear view of the guitars and bass. Looking strait ahead, I’m in line w/ they keyboard, and have an impeccable view of the center stage mic, if I were interested in that .This was the closest to Dylan I’ve ever been. Looking left and right, it appears everyone who should have been was at least somewhere on the rail. So far, so good. Take that, administrative jerks!
When they finally come striding out and hit the opening chords of Maggie’s, I was in for another treat; the sound was perfect! At first I was just excited that I could hear Denny loud and clear, something I attributed to being right where the amp was pointed, but as the song cranked on, I could hear everyone, perfectly! In talking w/ some others later, they noted that the vocals were a bit low for the first two songs, and yeah, OK, but they got it fixed, and I was perfectly happy either way (His organ was screeching loud for a bit, but was quickly corrected).
Maggie’s was a first for me, and I didn’t recognize it right off the bat, but I don’t think the band did either; it sounded remarkably like an intro-less Thunder for the first few bars. You’d have thought they planned it that way though; no one stuttered as they pulled it back around. Just a sign of things to come. One thing I noticed was that it was definitely a band effort, there was no one instrument that was more important to the song or one person to whom the song “belonged”. Everything came together so smoothly, and that was just the opener!
I was a bit surprised to head RDW come next, I never really thrill in hearing, but this was easily the best version I’ve ever heard of this song, thanks in no small part to Denny’s playing. It was the only time during the night that anyone stood out on his own; the band slayed this one too, w/ a passion that just normally isn’t there for this one, Denny was just that much better.
I couldn’t believe it when the level of dedication didn’t drop for the next number, Baby Blue. I watched Tony, but then became aware of what George was doing, and couldn’t help but watch him for awhile. And then suddenly I couldn’t peel my eyes away from Stu’s guitar… no one necessarily commanded the attention, but everyone was fascinating to watch. Everyone commanded the attention.
Just as an aside, Donnie is a guy I never really watch, mainly because I don’t play any of his instruments, but I did tonight, and he’s very “puppyish”. I don’t mean that in a bad way, and I certainly don’t mean to offend him, but there’s a charming innocence in his concentration. I don’t think that he has to concentrate any harder then anyone else, he’s an extremely competent musician, or that no one else is having any fun, but he seems to be the only guy who isn’t trying to project an “image”; he’s having a blast and doesn’t care who knows it!
Tweedle has sort of become Stu’s song, but like everything else tonight, he was not any more or less important then anyone else. I feel like a broken record, but they really were synced tonight, they played (and quite possibly breathed) as one single entity, I’ve never seen anything like it.
Someone asked me after Milwaukee if Stu’s new stage position facilitated the guitarists feeding off each other, and it was clear tonight that it definitely does, one only had to look at Levee for the perfect example. Denny on Strat, Stu on Tele, and the fullest sound I’ve ever heard w/ this song! And still, there were no mistakes, no flubs, no departure from the level they set w/ the first song.
The only word I could think of while watching Hollis was “stunning”. My only letdown of the entire night was that the slide after the “seven shots rang out” line was a bit anti-climactic, which, in hindsight, may have worked to its advantage. I didn’t want to admit it, even to myself, for fear of jinxing them, but at the point, this really was the best Dylan show I’d ever seen.
From where I was, it seemed like a great crowd as well. While they weren’t the most active, they seemed to have a sense of what a great show they were taking in. Everyone of course went nuts when Dylan came center stage, or sauntered over and picked up the Gibson hollowbody for H61, but they seemed fairly versed in recent NET happenings and didn’t seem like they were there for the “wrong reasons”. As far as the guitar, he plays if exactly as he plays the organ, which, take that any way you want, but I personally would prefer that he leave that to the guys who he pays to do that.
I hate to repeat myself a million times, and there are only so many different ways to say “near perfect”, but it really was. The only low point of the whole night was that there was NO low point; there was nothing to judge the highs against. The setlist wasn’t the best, (I’d have liked to see some Love and Theft mixed in) but the performance was beyond belief. Best Dylan show I have ever seen.
Despite the sign in the lobby, this is not “Bob Dylan and Friends”, this is him and his band, and man for man, I think this band has finally arrived in the place he wants/needs them to be in. While I may go to see certain members stand out, no one else does, and he, and they, don’t need to be known as Bob Dylan, a killer guitarist (or drummer, or anything), and a random assortment of other guys. When listening to tapes of other line-ups, many times there was a “unity” factor, and while no one ever mentions it, I think that was more of a factor then anything in the “Larry/Charlie” days. I’ll be the first to admit that, from the beginning, not every member of this band was given an equal role (and, depending on the tour, who that was has been different), but if this show was any indication, those days are over.
Sickness. Its to be expected, especially when you come back from many long days and nights of traveling through uncharted territory, drinking energy drinks and touching gas pumps. Its almost a welcome forfeit when you get back to your own bed. But I’ve never attempted to do the same while already under the weather. And let me tell you, it sucks most of the fun out of seeing new country. But no matter how burnt out, spent up, head pounding-cant breathe-coughing up a lung-over it you think you are, along comes the night before the show, and the excitement you think you didn’t have wont let you fall asleep.
I had read the weather reports, I’d followed the storm, I knew it was going to be miserable, but when I got up that morning, I was greeted by the sun. When it hit me; I was in Wisconsin. East Troy. Alpine Valley. I knew I had to go. As soon as I pulled up directions, the wind kicked up, and in came the clouds and the fog. It was instantly cold and miserable, and, a little ways down the road it began to rain (oh, how easy it would be to allude to the sky crying haha). The actual stage is now apparently owned by those bastards at Live Nation, so the gates are closed and locked, but the “ski resort” was wide open. And I use ski resort in the loosest of terms. Its hardly even a hill, more of a mound, and I’d have laughed at its puny size had it not silenced one of the best guitarists around. There are no signs, no plaques (its not exactly great publicity ‘Welome to Alpine Valley, we killed Stevie Vaughan’, but still…), if you’re not a music fan you probably have no idea what happened there. Being there made me angry. There were a million things that went wrong that night, I wont bore you w/ the details, but it was really the ultimate act of selfishness, a man who had no business in the sky just had to fly the “celebrities”. As I said before, it is not a gigantic mountain, I wouldn’t think that is a safe flying height no matter what you think is or isn’t around. Whereas the grave in February was a somber experience, this one just made me mad.
Back in Milwaukee, the rains were really having their way, not a torrential downpour by any stretch, but enough to get you very wet if you attempted to wander around the city. I spent the rest of my wait in a coffee shop next door, which seemed to be blasting out the collected works of Bob Dylan. Normally I wouldn’t mind, but it was very gimmicky. What, do you think Dylan will be drawn in if you play his tunes, like a rat to the Pied Piper?
In any event, when doors finally opened, I was able to look around the theatre; none too shabby a place. I think the balcony was bigger then the main floor, and wouldn’t have liked to be stuck in the far reaches of it, but most of the place seemed to have a relatively great view. Security was tight as hell though. I was yelled at many times that I would have to turn my cell phone off, even though the upright was still out in front. Each time though, I was asked if I had a pass.
When finally the lights went down (half and hour late, as usual), we were hit w/ the unexpectedness of Thunder as an opened. I must admit, I didn’t recognize it for a few bars; the Freeman intro that makes Thunder Thunder was missing. Or perhaps I literally did not hear it. For all that I kept hearing about the sound in the Riverside, I was very disappointed, I could barely, if at all, hear Denny all night! I was right in front of the PA, which is never the place to go for perfect sound, but the mix coming through the PA was very funky. I originally had an aisle seat, but traded when a much shorter woman’s view of Dylan was blocked. I had a good window on the boss and she had a better view of the band anyway
Love Minus Zero was next, and even w/ the “interesting sound” I was excited. I’d been listening to Warsaw pretty much non- stop this summer, and love Denny’s solo. I waited and I hoped and I prayed, please let Denny solo, please…… not tonight! Dylan took it on harp. It wasn’t terrible, it was quite good, but it wasn’t why I go. Yeah, I know, its why everyone else goes, I’m not the normal audience member, I’m sorry, I probably would have loved this show a lot more had I been normal; Dylan was probably higher in the mix then I’ve ever heard before. Vocals crisp and clear just like on a studio recording, harmonica the same, and organ….oh G-d, what is that?!?! It sounds like a guitar drowning, its clear, its high in the mix, it’s the organ?! As has been noted, he is playing a different keyboard, on a different setting, and in all honesty, it really wouldn’t have been that bad had it been lower. As loud as it was, it just sounded really weird and kinda irritating, moreso when played over a barely audible Freeman.
Lonesome Day, another first for me, suffered again just due to the mix. I’d love to hear it properly mixed, because everyone seemed to really be cranking w/ it. Hard Rain again saw Dylan solo on harp, and again it was very nice. Almost every song thereafter saw a Dylan solo, either on harp or on organ. Denny barely took any all night (and when he did, I couldn’t hear them ). Stu was rhythm guitar extraordinaire, finger picking like a madman all night and actually loud enough to be heard. The only one I distinctly remember him playing lead on was Tweedle. I love that song, I have yet to hear a bad version of it, and Stu did a fine job w/ it, but his strength is definitely on acoustic rhythm. Make him loud enough to hear, and let him do his thing. I was consistently impressed w/ him. He seems to be enjoying his position among the other members (and second billing during band intros) as well, probably glad to be out of solitary.
The bass was an interesting component in Milwaukee, at times hard to hear, then boiling up to slam you back, rattling your chest and taking hold of your heartbeat. Sometimes that was great, but not so in the bowed Girl From North Country. Tony was further upstage then I’d ever seen, on level w/, if not behind George, and w/ the exception of upright, played almost solely to him as well.
The absolute highlight of the night for me was High Water, always a good song, but made a million times better by the band. Donnie, Stu and Denny were all so tuned in to this incredible riff that seemed to float around stage, and Tony was throwing some slap in there to complement it. It was, bar none, the best High Water I’ve ever heard! Unfortunately the slapping stopped after the second verse or so, but the song stayed strong.
Love Sick was another highlight, actually complemented by Dylan’s high vocals. Summer Days was the band’s number, and they ran w/ it, doing a better instrumental verse then I have to assume has been happening lately.
The whole show was really very impressive, I don’t mean to give the impression that it wasn’t. Every single guy up there was really on top of his game, it was an excellent setlist, Dylan was really hopping around every time I glanced over that way, came out for many center stage “croonings” (though I cant tell you which haha), for the most part, the overwhelmingly local crowd remained standing (and those who didn’t made no attempt to force others to do the same), it was just a good time had all around, Security almost didn’t let us stage rush, and later that night, when me and Pooler standin_on_the _gallows were curious as to what was clearly marked off the setlist minutes before they went on, security wouldn’t even let me near the stage, “not w/o a pass”. (What is w/ this pass, was there one left in my name somewhere?! Haha)
Outside after the show, I did see the soundman, and considered asking him about the strange mix, but ultimately let it go. Don’t get me wrong, I loved that Dylan’s vocals were so high, after all, I listen to him at the shows and I think that his voice is his best instrument on these songs, but that drowning guitar doesn’t ever need to be that high again. Dylan may have even mentioned it, saying something along the lines of “on silent(?) string guitar, Denny Freeman……”, but I couldn’t make out exactly what he said. You all know me here, you know what sort of a bias this was written under. I think had any of you “normal” people gone, you’d have gotten more of a thrill out of the sound at my location then I did. If you went to see and hear Bob Dylan, it was probably a 10. If you went to see and hear the band, more like an 8.