It was 3 days short of 3 years to the date I saw Bob Dylan for the first time, and for the first time since that day, he was back in Denver. And, in many ways, it was again a “first show”. Wanting to attack this band w/ an absolute clean slate, free of any biases or expectations, I did not listen to any tapes, watched only the minimal Youtube clips, and, aside from simply relaying texts, I abstained from monitoring the setlists. Whether this affected me in a negative way, I cannot say, but in the days leading up to the show, I have never been more indifferent to an impending Dylan show. I fell asleep the night before w/o even the slightest tinge of excitement in my belly.
This apathy was only increased upon waking to a pouring and frigid sky (one that would no doubt turn to snow before the days end). I went about my day in a completely normal fashion and eventually arrived at the venue amidst low hanging, slushy clouds.
The first of two things happened to lift my spirits- a) the venue agreed to let us wait INSIDE all day, and b) the “line” was made up of only people I knew and enjoyed waiting w/….. no headcases, nutjobs, or general wackos to make the wait uncomfortable and stressful. We heard but couldn’t see soundcheck, which went something like- Maggie’s, Wicked Messenger, Hollis, Baby Blue, If Not For You, Things Have Changed, Deal, and ending w/ Beyond Here, of which we were treated to ONLY Donnie’s trumpet. Not bad. The venue’s staff seemed relatively competent, ignoring, of course, every venues penchant for redundant, logic-less strategies for doors. While I was feeling really good about it at the beginning, there’s nothing like a long bunch of VIPs to really stress you out. Granted, most of them had seats and we all made the rails, but that is just unneeded stress that I’m glad not to have to put up w/ for a long time.
Those of you following my plight this summer wont find it hard to believe that I was the one who had the burly bald security in my face for “running when I was told not to”. “Next time,” he threatens, “there will be BIG problems”. Oh, please. He wanders off and I am able to survey my real estate. The stage is incredibly low for an arena, mid-bicep for me, and the rails cant be more then 6 feet from the stage. I was maybe 1 or 2 people to the left of (what I assumed would be) ideal Tony-viewing area, but I was directly in front of Stu, and the size of the stage made it so that I could see all musicians clearly.
The all-too familiar intro music soon silenced conversations and summoned the shadows onstage. Unlike this summer at Round Rock, the lanky hatless figure who appeared between Stu and Tony was expected, and I hoped this would work to my advantage. As I said in my review of that show, it was the tease of Freeman being onstage which added to my feeling of utter disappointment. Since he was not expected to make an appearance tonight, I hoped I would be able to appreciate this new band for what it now was.
Stuck Inside, a very strange opener, kicked things off. In my only show of the tour, I was kind of hoping for Change, but was given this instead. It wasn’t bad, and I have nothing particularly negative to say about it, but I also found nothing noteworthy about it. It was a Bob Dylan song, nothing more, nothing less. I will say that, while I prefer a bit more Stu (especially on acoustic), the mix was really excellent, and anyone could be heard w/ a bit of focus.
It Aint Me was next, Stu again on acoustic, and it was an utterly standard version. That sounds negative, and I don’t mean it to, but it could easily be replicated in any town on any night. Dylan strapped on the guitar for this one, and while it was that weird, Koella-esque stuff that sprang forth, it wasn’t terrible. Stu’s role seemed quite diminished from this summer, which is a detriment to the tune.
Beyond Here continued this pattern. No high point, no low point, just a song, w/ a chorus, and a verse, and a guitar solo. Donnie’s trumpet could be heard, if you REALLY listened hard enough, but it sounded like he was playing it from miles away (though, he looked winded and red-faced by the time it was over, no doubt owning to the high altitude), and overall the song didn’t reach NEAR the level it did when I saw it in ABQ.
This marked the first time I had seen Most Likely in a very long time, and honestly, I could go another long time w/o seeing it again if this is how its going to be presented. It was just like all the other songs up until this point, it didn’t do anything special, it just sort of was….. I don’t mean to imply that they were bad songs, or boring, but, rather, they were standard.
The first song that actually moved me one way or the other finally came in the form of Cold Irons. This was one I always wanted to see (mainly from the previous band) but never got, and when it first started, I didn’t recognize the new arrangement. It was slow and dark, a bit spooky, but I really liked it. The song has enormous potential, and I cant wait to see what they ultimately end up doing w/ it, but tonight that potential was not reached. Not that it was bad, but it could have been a whole lot better, in my opinion (I just cant exactly pinpoint where it needs work). Perhaps it should have been longer; it seemed to just stop. Dylan did play a very nice center stage harp, prancing and contorting in the corner of my eye, and he really seemed to be enjoying himself.
Workingmans was ALWAYS a favorite of mine, and this more then any other song tonight made me long for shows gone past. The general consensus of those around me was that it was great, but I couldn’t see why. The whole thing seemed really subdued and content to just arrive somewhere, rather then to push it to the next level. The absence of guitar was replaced w/ harmonica, and while there was nothing technically wrong w/ it, to me, personally, it doesn’t excite me the way a beautiful guitar part used to. Even Stu, the lifeblood of that song, seemed to be merely going through the motions.
High Water was better, but ultimately forgettable. It’s a bit of a different tempo, slower now, and not as grooving. Tony was on upright for the first time of the night, throwing in a bit of (inaudible) slap, and for the first time I could see the front half of his body. He spend the whole night cuddled between his bass cab and the drum risers, his face practically in the speaker cone, which was very frustrating because I was really looking forward to seeing him play tonight. Apparently this is an unusual thing for him to do, but I had it happen more then a few times, and a friend suggested that maybe I am making him nervous, that he is not used to such unwavering attention. So instead, I spend much of the night watching Stu. He’s not someone I ever watched like a hawk, but I have spent a fair amount of time observing him, and I don’t know if its just tonight, or what, but his parts have REALLY been whittled away to almost nothing. He plays only the basic requirements of the song (not by choice, I’m sure), and I think played all of 2-3 solos all night. Not that a solo is everything, and I have said many times that his strength is rhythmic fingerpicking, but when he’s doing neither of the two, the songs themselves suffer. I thought overall the ballparks this summer were a step down from 08, but many times tonight I found myself wishing certain songs would have been “as good as the ballparks”.
A Denny-less Spirit was not something I was ever looking forward to, but was pleasantly surprised when Charlie stepped it up a notch and delivered on a song I assumed (given the rest of the night) would fall flat on its face. It didn’t, and I feel extremely more confident in the songs ability to continue to be a setlist staple.
Honest was as close to the album version as I’d ever seen it, and I don’t know that that’s necessarily a good thing. It suffered greatly because of Stu’s (forced?) lack of involvement, and, while it was one of the few times he actually took a solo, it was almost as if he’d forgotten what he’d been playing since last summer. Looking back, it was actually kind of interesting; the notes he left out, and if you were unfamiliar w/ how he’s been playing it the last 15 months, I don’t think you’d know the difference. It was a strange feeling thought, longing for a Stu lead on Honest haha
Easily the highlight of the night came as a double-edged sword. Man In The Long Black Coat was the single most wanted song from me since it reappeared last fall. I couldn’t get over the haunting beauty I heard on the tapes, and took almost personal offense when it was retooled as Man In The Floppy Red Shoes for the Euro tour at the beginning of the year. After such a travesty, I didn’t want to hear it! But tonight it was back to its sinister beauty. The fact that this wasn’t the band I’d yearned to hear play this sat heavy in the back of my mind, but it was what it was and so I was able to get past that quickly. Charlie fired off one of his better solos of the night, and Stu really seemed tuned in to the mists of the bayous. W/o a doubt the high point of the night, and one that ended entirely too quickly.
Deal was another one I was curious/worried about how Charlie would handle. Its one that I really only ever liked for Denny’s leads, and usually skip on tapes once I’ve heard what he would do w/ it. That being said, Charlie absolutely nailed this one w/ his (new?) white Gretch. It wasn’t what Denny would have done, but it was no less incredible for it. Charlie grew up looking up to and listening to Denny play, but until tonight, I have never heard that influence in his playing. Here there was no doubt!
The same could almost be said for Thunder. Sounded completely different, but I REALLY liked the choices Charlie made, and also respect the decision to not just play a copycat version. In an ultimate guitar fantasy, I would love to see the song performed w/ both men onstage (and playing, Round Rock doesn’t count); especially tonight, Charlie was settin’ em up right and left, but he needed someone to knock em down….. I’m drooling at the possibility right now haha
Thin Man was absolutely Stu’s song this summer, and I’m glad to see that hasn’t changed a bit. It is his biting attack that takes hold of the audience and gives the song its power. I’m really glad they play it every night, if I were to be doing more shows this tour, I don’t think its possible to get tired of this one.
LARS is one that I've never had any feelings for one way or the other, and that really didnt change tonight, but for one line. Dylan's voice, which has been touch and go for some time now, was quite strong all night. Rough as all hell, but strong, and incredibly clear given the circumstances, I understood all that he said (aided by the fact that he seemed to have no trouble remembering all the lyrics). During LARS, this growl developed a particular bite as he snarled, "As you stare into the vacuum of your mother's eyes..." Wow! A fleeting moment, but proof positive he is still capable of summoning "it" when need be. Jolene, a song that, for some reason, I cant stop playing myself, wasn’t as good as on its debut tour. As some have noted, the main riff is missing. Which, I suppose, it fine, if the rest of it weren’t being played w/ a drab uninterest. The power I spoke of in regards to Thin Man used to be present in Jolene, again thanks to Stu, but his tele is now just sort of jumbled in w/ everything else and holds no sway over the song. I was also a bit disappointed in the choices Charlie made, as none of them really did anything for me. Again, not bad, but simply generic.
Watchtower rocked, w/ almost ballpark intensity complements of Stu’s low down grit. Charlie’s closing 2 solos were extremely ethereal, which probably comes off as more of a complement then I intended; there was nothing about them you could latch onto. They were far too flitty; no substance behind them.
And just like that, it was over. Closure? Maybe.
And so, for the first time since my first show, I get in my car and head not for a hotel, a couch or the next show, but back to my own house. I am happy I went, and enjoyed the show. I will go again if/when they come to my town. But I am just as happy to not be headed to Kansas. I am content knowing I wont see them again until 2010 (at the earliest), which is something I never thought I would ever say.
I know these thoughts may not be popular. I know that many will write them off, say I am being biased because I like Denny, or that I somehow hate Charlie, or whatever. However, I worry that, as a fan himself, Charlie becomes a surrogate for all those in the audience who want to be “friends” w/ Dylan, and as such, may overlook the actual quality of what the shows could slip into in favor of a playful display between Dylan and Sexton.
Love them or hate them for it, one thing you could never accuse the 05-09 band of being is “genaric”.
I created this blog a couple of weeks ago, w/ the intention being that, if the website I was a part of at the time, Expecting Rain, should go down, all my Bob Dylan show reviews would be archived somewhere else; here.
Literally the next night, I learned that the main reason I traversed the country in constant attendance of these shows, guitarist extraordinaire Denny Freeman, no longer worked for Dylan.
So now I'm stuck w/ this blog, and as of now, am only doing CO or TX Bob Dylan shows, which roughly amounts to one or two a year. I'm in the process of back-posting all the reviews, and hopefully, if I find the time, I'll post whatever other random writings, other reviews, etc I come up w/ here.
If ever there was a throwaway show, I would have expected it to be this one. I had heard the horror stories from several people of the downright nastiness of the crowd and venue from the last time Bob and the boys played there. The ticket cost more then the ballpark shows and the site kept crashing when I attempted to buy tickets. I eventually got through and settled for a 5th row, figuring I would have to drive through the state anyway on my way to the AZ show. When that one was cancelled Friday night, I viewed this show as more of an afterward to my actual tour; a mellow experience to maybe ease my transition back into classroom drudgery. To say I went w/ low expectations would be an understatement. So when it turned out to be quite possibly the best show of 09, saying I was excited would be an even bigger understatement.
My seat, though in the 5th row, was absolutely perfect for where I wanted to be, and even when everyone was standing, I could see Denny and Stu just fine (Tony was, unfortunately, blocked by the bulbous head of Gov. Bill Richardson, but he was soon to sit). Ballad was the surprise opener, which, I will be the first to admit, does not look like a good opener on paper, but it absolutely worked in practice. Last time I saw it (cant remember where) Stu had lead duties, but tonight those fell on Denny and he did not disappoint. For an opener, the band was really together, this was no “warm up”. Lay Lady Lay even impressed me, and I am NOT a fan of the song, but I could find absolutely no fault w/ it. The guy next to me commented on how happy Bob was, and I guess I’ll have to take his word for it, but the band was a well oiled machine (forgive the cliché), this was going to be another incredible show. The people in front of me even left after this one, so I spent the night one row closer haha
Beyond Here came out of nowhere and blew everyone away! Not only was it completely unexpected, but it was an absolute powerhouse! It was as though this song alone was what everyone lived to perform. Everyone gelled together so well that you would have thought they played it every night, not that this was only the second time it had ever been played. No one could have made a wrong move even if he wanted to, and Donnie could actually be heard blowing away on the trumpet. I looked around at the audience; everyone around me was wearing the biggest grins their faces would hold. I doubt too many of the grins faded when Stuck Inside appeared next. It was great; this must have been what I missed last night while enduring kick drum shock waves
Earlier today, I had been talking w/ someone here about the new Beyond The Horizon, and it dawned on me that I still hadn’t seen it, which was a drag because it was near the top of my must see list. Well, they’ve got impeccable timing Tonight’s was just as beautiful as I’d hoped. Not only does this new arrangement better fit the lyrics and the overall mood of the song, but tonight Denny and Stu really must have been on the same wavelength or something, because those two played as one. Amazing.
Its Alright Ma was intense. There is no other word to describe it. Intense. Stu was the man on this one. This was his song from the moment his pick touched the strings, and he did everything but disappoint. For a song that gets played as often as this one does, I know this is a hard statement to make, but I think this was the single best performance if not ever, then at the very least w/ this band. It wasn’t just me; everyone I talked to afterwards said the same thing. Which is when it occurred to me; I’ve done a lot of comparing to 08 recently, but this one was better then 08! This is where this band would be every single night had they continued their upward trajectory.
Deal, while never a real favorite, was equally solid. Houston was a little less bassy tonight, but sounded like everyone was more comfortable in their roles then in shows past. H61 saw two people in the front row leave, so two of us took it upon ourselves to keep the seats warm for them They came back after the song was over, but if there was one song to be in the front for, it was that one. In the grand scheme of things, it was another band effort, w/ no one outshining anyone else, but for me, the coolest thing was Denny’s solo, which was pure, 100%, unadulterated Denny Freeman. I don’t know that we’ve seen that in a Dylan show for a long time
I cant remember if it was during Nettie or Deal, but either way, there was some really terrible harp playing that interjected one of the better moments, as though he was playing it for the sole purpose of reminding people he was still onstage. Aside from that though, I felt Dylan was definitely in one of his better grooves all night. Sometimes, many times, it can kind of sound like he’s oblivious to what the band is doing at any given moment, but tonight he seemed really in tune w/ what was happening on stage, as opposed to the musical equivalent of just hacking your way through the walls of a corn maze when you get lost.
Summer Days was a bit lackluster, given the show it was in, but if anyone really impressed me during it, it was Stu. Not usually a song in the key of Stu, he was on point tonight when the ball landed in his court. The governor and his women, who were in the row directly in front of me now got up to leave here. It was VERY clear they had no intentions of returning, so I commandeered their space. No sooner did I look up at the stage again then the venue’s version of the secret service was in my face, screaming at me that I could not, under any circumstances, be there. I pointed to the spot a chair’s width behind me, and explained that I had only just moved from right there. Well, then that’s where I needed to be, he informed me. Um, ok. I mean, its not that big of a deal, the view is notthat different, but so much for no royalty in America Well, I guess it cant be a Summer 09 show if the venue isn’t giving me some kind of grief for one thing or another.
Jolene was the unexpected low point of the night. They made it work, but no one was on the same page at any part during it. Yes, it’s blues, so they figured it out, it wasn’t a “mess” but anything beyond that didn’t really click for some reason. Once someone picked up that he was supposed to do A after someone else did B, that person had stopped doing B altogether.
Around midday today, I had finally accepted that the Arizona show was not going to happen. And I was beginning to be comfortable w/ the idea. I went to this show knowing it would be my last of the tour, and, while I could not have asked for a better show, I cant help but be disappointed wondering what could have been in AZ. I cant stop now, I’ve got to have some more! This so far has been the only tour where, while on it, I question whether or not I really want to do any more in the future (local shows not withstanding). While it got off to a real rocky start at the beginning for me, if they continue on the way they have these past 3 nights, I forsee many more stretching down that road on out of sight (and, w/ a bit of luck, void of the Mel-ster).
This was almost the shortest review I have ever written (sorry for the “almost”), as it wouldn’t have taken more then a half of a page to describe the horrible situations I seem to keep finding myself in upon arriving at these shows. Luckily, it got better, and ended up being JUST as good as the spectacular Grand Prairie show the night before (and now yall are treated to more words from me haha).
In hindsight, it was just really too easy, even from the get go buying tickets. I bought what, on the map, appeared to be exactly what I needed, front row to boot. I’d never gotten front row on a presale. We arrived to a great parking spot and in time to catch only the tail end of the Mel-ster. Then it all went to hell. I was escorted to my front row seat……front row on the edge of oblivion! There was a good 10 feet to my right before the edge of the stage even started! I was directly in front of a monstrous PA that, as it turned out, served the sole purpose of blasting George’s kick drum out. That’s not the worst of it though, as the people in the outer sections who were sold “front row” got an excellent view of an empty football stadium, but nothing else. I talked to some folks who were REALLY digging the Mellencamp thing, and they agreed to let me have their (top notch) seats IF they left (a big if, they didn’t know yet).
I was understandably disappointed when they opened w/ Maggies Farm. Here’s a tour rarity, and I am being shaken, rattled and rolled by an atomic metronome. I couldn’t see anyone but Bob and Donnie, and worse, I couldn’t hear any sort of mix whatsoever, just that kick drum. I’m sure had I been holding anything fragile, it would have shattered. After it ended, the woman w/ the good seats looked over and smiled. I took that as a good sign, but it sure didn’t make my seat area any better. Lay Lady Lay is NEVER a favorite, but I’d have given anything at that point to actually see and/or hear the thing. The woman began texting and fidgeting, surely she’s had enough and will leave soon.
But no. Instead she remains sitting, and the boys launch into Stuck Inside, another rarely seen song this ballpark jaunt. Even before this situation, I was looking forward to it more then normal. I got REALLY mad when I hear a muffled and distorted Denny solo coming through the kick drum PA…..and it sounded incredible! If it sounded this good through this thing, imagine seeing it!!!! Meanwhile the blue glow of the screen continued to illuminate her face. I tried to watch Bob, really, I did, but I just couldn’t. He’s so boring to watch! I’m sorry, but he doesnt do anything I have any interest in doing myself. I couldn’t help myself, my mind kept drifting back to what a horribly frustrating spot I had. Denny is not an antennae for Christsakes! You can send text messages anywhere; you do NOT have to be in front of him to get them to go through! ARGH!!! I was losing my mind!
Just when things look their worst, it gets worse. They actually came over and tried to eject me from seat, claiming I needed to be in the 20th row. That’s SEAT 20, you as$hole! Cant you read?!?! (third time that night it happened, no joke) I am NOT a confrontational person, by any means, but I found myself speaking w/ an almost Milkcow-esque passion. Come on, I mean, is there really a line of people vying for a spot in front of the sonic boom machine? The fact that Hattie Carrol was playing burned me just that much more; its bad enough where I am, but now I get to “miss” all the good ones?!
Whoever was having a laugh at my expense decided he’d stressed me enough because FINALLY, after what seemed like eons, the Mellenheads got up and gestured me to their seats. Thank you! Just in time for Honest, I find myself in the perfect “BZ spot” listening to the clearest and strongest mix of the tour. Everything was exactly where it should be, and even Stu steps away from the generic. Folks, the 08 band is back! And man, how I’ve missed them
I literally could not have been happier to be in my new adopted spot then when the haunting opening of Blind Willie rings out! I excitedly zero in on Denny’s guitar as the song starts, only to be startled by a strange sound, like our party streamers from last night tuned down an octave or so. I honestly hadn’t noticed, but Dylan had strapped on his guitar for this one It was bad, but not terrible, and to my surprise didn’t ruin anything. The song was still chilling, and the other electric guitar parts were beautiful. Dylan did run right over the top of a Denny solo, but let him have a go the next time around. Stu was on acoustic, but couldn’t really be heard from where I was. Everything was incredibly solid though, on point and on par, just as good as when they disbanded last year.
The setlist just kept getting better w/ High Water, one that I was sure 5 shows would have produced by now. My all-time favorite version of it was Milwaukee 2008 when that new riff was louder sand stronger then it has been, before or since, but that’s not to slight this, as they were really working as a unit here. For the first time in my 5 shows, Donnie was audible on his banjo, and Tony slapped out a very few select lines on the upright. It sounded spectacular! I couldn’t believe this reversal of fortune.
Workingman’s too, wow, what a beauty. Dylan flubbed the first couple of lines, but that detracted absolutely nothing, and Denny did a real nice job w/ the solo. All in all, a very moving song. Things were really going well. H61 was more Stu then Band tonight, but it worked out because he took command of it rather well and never let it sag. Love Sick, can this be happening?! I couldn’t make up a better setlist! Dylan once again trampled Denny’s solo, this time on harp, but Denny was playing this great little line under the harp which, to me, stood out more then anything else. He did slide into a solo afterwards, but the rhythm under the harp was much cooler. Thunder was Thunder and I’m sure would have been impossible to listen to at my original location.
Little pockets of the stage had been huddling all night, but when they came back in for the encore in a tight bunch, I knew we were in for something special. Tony was still giving out directions when George kicked it off. It SURE as hell wasn’t LARS…..was it Shake Shake Mama? It sounds just like……..and just then that unmistakable chord…..NOT FADE AWAY! The whole drive into town, I’d been racking my brain trying to come up w/ something Lubbock is famous for besides Buddy Holly. I mean, it must be known outside the musical community, but I couldn’t think of anything. By now you’ve probably figured out that I don’t put much thought into what Dylan is thinking, but I couldn’t help but wonder if, 50 some odd years ago, he hadn’t seen this exact song in the Duluth Armory. If so, it probably made tonight’s performance that much sweeter. Tony, at least, was having a real blast playing it . When it finally came time to wind to a close, there was barely a beat before the wash of LARS (fine song but does nothing for me) and a slightly more subdued Watchtower then the previous nights, but still nothing to shake a stick at. Stu really seemed to be doing a bit of exploring w/ it, and it turned out to be very successful for him.
I wasn’t ready for it to be over though. Not having to sit through everyone else, or stand all day in the sun, and dealing w/ the seating tonight left me wanting, needing more! How could it already be over when each new song held the title of “highlight” only until the very next song stole its crown away? I finally feel just as excited to see them as I did last year, they’re playing that well again.
If you’ve been reading my recent reviews, you’d know that I was due for a break. Whether it be the incessant mishaps regarding doors, venue people flexing their muscles on me or just the drab atmospheres for most of the shows, something just wasn’t clicking for me on the Hotter Then Hell Summer Tour. This one I had higher expectations for (even though, given my recent track record, that might be dangerous); my favorite guitarist, friend, idol, and all around hero was turning 65 at a show 30 minutes from the town where he grew up. Even if no one else in the audience knew, if the setlist sucked and the performance was phoned in, it was still a show I really wanted to be at.
The wait, while sticky and for some inexplicable reason, fly-infested, was not near as bad as it could have been. It was actually nice to catch up w/ friends not seen in many months, and make some great conversations w/ those more commonly contacted. I really have to say, I was not expecting much, given the stereotype of a Texas Willie Nelson fan, but there were three gals I got to know over the last few shows, and, aside from obsessively following Willie rather then Dylan, they really are just like “us” (whoever you define ‘us’ as).
Once again, the door I had chosen to line up in (one of two) was not opened; they did not have the combination to that lock They were able to discern this before opening the other though, and the run was actually really fun, if not erring a bit on the ridiculous side of looooonnnnnggggggg! Got my ideal rail real estate again, and set about the familiar task of waiting out the other acts while, at the same time, trying NOT to be shifted on down the line into rail oblivion.
When it finally was time for the Boys to come out, Happy Birthday was, predictably, NOT the opening song haha. Leopard Skin instead took the honor. Nothing really stood out about it, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Denny was further up in the mix then nights previous, and was playing enough to keep my mind off the fact that Dylan was also on guitar. haha
Once the lights went down, Tony scampered over (as it would soon be known) to tell Stu to bring in Don’t Think Twice w/ only his acoustic. It really made the song (usually a touch-and-go) that much better and stronger. Everyone was on point, even early on, and Denny even took a solo. Short, sure, but since Dylan was also on guitar, it made if that more rare (and needed! )
Things Have Changed showed that, indeed, things had changed from the shows earlier this week. The band was hot. If Wednesday’s show had been a partial return to form, this was their way of showing they were back! Excellent lead from Denny, new (to me) start-stop finish, and just a genuine passion announced that whatever had been plaguing them in the past few shows was out of their collective system. Just as strong and enjoyable as the 08 shows, it was evident early on that we were in for a treat. I couldn’t have been happier.
Spirit I could really have done w/o so much Dylan harp, but given what I’d seen in the past week, I was more then happy for the guitar parts we did get here. Not up to par w/ just letting Denny soar on the song (and perhaps a bit on the bright end) but it did the trick.
Levee rocked w/ its pre 09 intensity, Stu on lead, but at least mixing it up ever so slightly. 08 was easily my favorite year for this band, in order to give you a scale w/ which to judge this. It did honestly feel like I had gone back in time one year tonight, the songs were that tight and enjoyable!
This marked my second time seeing Houston, and man, I am still enthralled w/ that bassline! Wow! I couldn’t tear my eyes away to look at anything else. Especially when TTL first came out, I really couldn’t stand this song, but seeing/hearing it live changes all that. Tony even mock roared w/ the crowd on the Dallas mention haha
Tweedles, as far as I’m concerned, was in the same boat as Levee tonight. Both have become semi standards, but tonight’s were taken to the next level, which was even remarked on by those around me. I will add that George is the absolute perfect drummer for this song; I am continually impressed w/ his work on this one.
I finally got my first Charlie-less IFACCO, and….you guessed it, was left wanting more from Denny. All in all, nothing to gripe about, and ANYONE other then M. Campbell on guitar was good enough for me. H61 has become a lot more bass heavy, which, according to me, couldn’t really be any better. Again a standard, but a house rockin standard, no question. Nettie was really cool, Denny doing something I hadn’t ever seen before. The whole band was really killing it, w/ the exception of Dylan’s harmonica. Usually, I really like it when he plays harp, but this is was NOT working w/ the direction everyone else. I have nothing to say about LARS. Jolene again saw Tony on the upright, but staying w/ the tune of the rest of the night, the boys, working together, took the thing for an instrumental spin, who’s only low point was that it ended too soon.
Or maybe that was just nerves, for after Jolene came band intros, and our one chance to enact a plan though out many moons ago. Shiny party hats, banners, and those streamer-whistle-duck call things had been strategically distributed to those on the rail and second row around us in front of Denny. The plan had been to throw them on/hold them right after the lights went down after Jolene, but for one reason or another we were all still assembling our party regalia when Denny was introduced. He threw up a fist, but didn’t really see us, and Dylan moved on to Stu.
By the time he got to Tony though, we were all decked out, and the banners were waving. Tony looked down, saw us, and leaned into Denny, no doubt asking if it was his b’day. Denny then looks down, sees all of us, and has to bite his lip to keep from bursting out in huge grin. Tony slapped him on the back, and Dylan leaned in. I think Tony was wanting him to announce this. Dylan almost leaned into the microphone, contemplating it, before the band kicked into Watchtower. Denny did his best not to look at us in the beginning of the song, but the lights get rather bright on the audience during that one, and 15 shiny foil hats and duck call streamers got the better of him. Watchtower to me was one loud, quick blur that went by entirely too fast. I myself couldn’t stop smiling; I knew we looked like tremendous idiots out there, but fuck if it wasn’t fun. Denny was practically bouncing around on stage, well, I mean, for him haha.
At the lineup, Tony kept slapping him on the back and shoulders, grinning wildly, trying to get to do something. I don’t think he could move, I think he was stunned; I saw the expression on his face, it was all he could do to keep a straight one. Finally, after moving his arms around a little, he gestures for us to go ahead and “take it down”. We, of course, do not. Someone said Dylan shook his hand, which I cannot comment on because I did not see, I didn’t even really see how Dylan was reacting to this whole thing, though I’m told he was also getting a huge kick out of it. Right before they leave the stage, Denny finally lifts his fists triumphantly, and act he repeats several times before they are actually off.
What started as an act of admiration, hidden behind a friendly desire to embarrass the elderly (hahahahahahahaha ) turned into something a lot bigger.
The show was excellent, really a return to the 08 style and power I loved so dearly. It has been the best 09 show I have seen, and that would be true if today’s date were the 8th or the 16th. Our little party, and the emotion if visibly stirred in a fairly stoic stage presence, will be what I remember about my time following the Dylan tours, long after tapes are obsolete and memory fails on setlists and venues. In short, I'll remember this, when I've forgotten all the rest.
Corpus Christi. Outside. August. The very thought was enough to scare away every Texan I knew (of which they kindly told me AFTER I’d spend the money on the ticket haha). It was so far out of the way, and so close to the coast, most (myself included) expected nothing more then a long, miserable wait in sauna-like conditions for nothing but a bland, local fare show. Sometimes it helps to be young and stupid.
After a fairly easy day spent scooting around one lone, spindly tree to keep in the ever-moving strip of shade, this run-in promised to be easier then yesterday’s turnstile incident; I mean, I’d already gotten the bad, so this had to be good, right? WRONG! It was easily the worst run-in I’ve ever had, leaps and bounds worse then the Dallas HOB in 08. It really shouldn’t have been that bad, however, our gate was run by a (literally) mentally challenged individual. He steadfastly REFUSED to open his gate (for reasons that I’m sure made sense only to him), even when the other was flung open and people started streaming in. My friends and I, who were the earliest by many hours, tried to leap over to the open gate. One got through, but I was shoved back by a gatekeeper, demanding to know if I have early entry. I did, and showed him my ticket. He shoved me back again, letting others stream in. I try again, this time he holds me back w/ his arm, absolutely refusing to let me in, while others stream in. Those who know me know I have never yelled at a stranger in my life (or even a friend, really) but I made an exception in this case. Suddenly, the original gate I was at was pried open, and so a new mob swept towards it. Again its gatekeeper shoves me back, and someone behind me grabs ahold of my shoulder and starts pulling me backwards. At this point, Andre intervenes and stops up my original gate to get a handle on this mob (the second gate is still pouring out folks though). Once Andre stepped back, I am the first through, and do make it to my ideal rail real estate, ONLY because this is a locals-only type crowd.
Things REALLY didn’t get any better when the most insane person on the face of the planet (and, at a Dylan show, that is REALLY saying something) pushed her way to right behind me, got what was coming to her from the small 18 year old girl who’s place she’d assumed, then proceeded to start a fight! Is this even worth it anymore?!
Mellenhead was still as obnoxious as ever, but he did something tonight that I thought was incredibly nice. He had been apologizing every show for being sick (no. 1 rule of performing, don’t apologize) and tonight, for his last song, he claimed he couldnt sing, and he pulled someone out of his audience because “he’s been singing along w/ every one of my songs all night”. At first I thought it was a plant, but when this guy got up on stage, I overheard him telling the Mel-ster “you’re my entire life! Thank you so much!” I mean, all things aside, could you imagine how cool it would be to be called onstage by one of your idols?
The boys were a little delayed, but eventually did come out to kickstart the night w/ River Flow, Dylan of course murdering the guitar. Except, tonight it wasn’t bad! Its nothing you’d maybe pay to see, but it was actually very interesting, and at some points definitely worth watching. Same for Aint Me, which sounded very tight from all audible parties (Donnie obviously excluded ), far better then a few nights previous in Houston.
From the opening note, Til I Fell In Love was a force to be reckoned w/! Clean, tight, powerful and smooth, I hadn’t really heard the band this solid since 08. The bass was the absolute standout, its powerful strides finding its way inside your chest and taking the place of your own heartbeat. You are at its mercy now. Easily a highlight for the night, and when a highlight comes as the third song, you know you’re in for a treat.
Spirit followed the kick ass trend set by its predecessor. Not only did Denny get a full 12 bar solo, but he got more! And he made use of that time too! It wasn’t mind melting, but it was beautiful, and at least a partial return to form for the song and the band. It stomped all over the previous nights version (not that the bar was set too high), and put a smile on my face, so that’s all I really needed.
They didn’t let up at all as they flew into Rollin. Far more of a rocker then any other version I’ve heard this tour, if not year, and Dylan really let Denny fly w/ his slide. Again and again, he’d complete a bit and look up, get a nod and slide right on into another. I had to keep reminding myself that I had only written, and not posted, my lamentations of the night before, as it seemed my complaints were being rectified haha
WMB was just as solid, Stu sounding excellent as always. Denny even got a pretty good solo off, reminiscent of a time when that was the norm. W/ the cool sea breeze (a barge floated past the parking lot that morning, that’s how close we were to the edge of the continent) coming in to keep the heat down and the boys playing the way they were, at least in my admittedly wacky viewpoint, this was already the best show I’ve attended yet.
I still maintain that Stu should not play lead on Tweedles. Not because he “sucks” or anything like that, but his solo is uninspired. It gets the people moving though, and there is nothing to necessarily complain about.
I have the exact reverse to say about his work on Ballad though, where I felt his leads were exactly what the song needed. H61 saw everyone giving it his all, and the result was great. Its one you’re pretty much guaranteed to get on any given show, but especially when played like this, you’re happy to have it. Nettie was strong and powerful, and Thunder was its pre "09 takedown" self, exceptional playing all around.
The encores were just as on point as the rest of the show. LARS was the low point, if I had to assign one, simply because there’s nothing much about it that I find interesting anymore. Jolene had a slightly different feel to it, as Tony was playing upright rather then the Ric.
Even though the songs have become fairly standard names this tour, they were all (minus LARS) songs I thoroughly look forward to hearing. When you factor in the all but “return to glory” renditions we were given for many of them, this show sticks out in my mind as a prime example of the whole ‘judging book covers’ adage. This setlist wont be talked about at this time next year, but the performance would have been……………..if anyone had dared to tackle Corpus in August.
It had all the markings of the “ show of the decade”; hell, it was the show of the decade. Great setlist, not one wrong note struck, the surprise return of a fan-favorite guitarist, I had a great view, it was a great wait, I even met and chatted w/ Stu for a while the night before. You couldn’t make this up. It was an INSANE show, better then most could ever hope for, so why did I leave sans huge grin, instead feeling slighted?
The wait was easily the most enjoyable wait I’ve ever had. As most have already commented, the bulk of the early entry folks don’t show up til around 2pm, so most of the day was spend hanging out w/ friends (and the occasional TX Willie fan haha). It would have been a scorcher of a day had it not been for the shaded arbor we had the fortune of sitting under, and a pleasant breeze kept the humidity down. Several news stations dropped by to shoot stories, and, after 2, some of the more colorful characters rolled in. It would be an interesting, if enthusiastic, crowd to say the least.
Of course nothing this perfect can go off w/o at least one hitch, and it came right as doors were opening. There were two turnstiles to be opened. I was at the front of one, and when they waved us in, WHAM! Mine locked up! “Mine wont go!” I shouted to the old man “attendant”, “I’m stuck!” He just sort of stared at me w/ a ‘tough shit’ look on his face and didn’t so much as pretend to see what the matter was w/ his gate, so I had to take matters into my own hands; I dropped to my knees and crawled underneath the damn thing! When I scrambled up, I saw at least four pairs of legs pass me through the functioning door. I made a beeline for the stairs, and regained my position on the way down, almost taking myself out in the process; those stairs were slick! Got to the spot I wanted and was able to laugh about the whole thing (laugher soon stifled while sitting in the still air and direct afternoon sunlight )
I stayed seated for the Wiyos, and it lead to a MUCH more enjoyable experience. Their music really is great, as I said before, but I am not a fan of the theatrical part of their show at all. They’re excellent if you don’t look at them. Willie was much the same, except today he had Austinite and Tony Garnier’s former bandmate Ray Benson sitting in w/ him. While I’m not a huge country music, I do really like Benson’s playing, but unfortunately he was (more then likely) just there to hang out w/ his friend, as he only took one lead the whole night. ;?
The Mel-ster was raised up the slightest notch tonight, not because of his performance (see my original comments on that). He had a tray of snow cones brought up, from which he took one for himself, and told security to pass them out to the parched front row. Of course, the damn rent-a-cop started in the center and took tray AWAY from us, but one did manage to work its way back. He really didn’t have to do that, he could have given them to his band or something, so even if his image of being all about the workingman is a sham, he is about helping themeltingman.
In the usual pre-show banter, I was asked what I thought he would open w/. I guessed Beyond Here for an ideal, but for the logical, I went w/ RDW, which, surprise surprise, is what we got. I have never been a fan of that one, and this one was, well RDW. I could see Tony and Stu pretty well (actually, I could see just about everyone really well if I wanted to) except Denny’s neck. He was standing a little further back because of Dylan being center stage, and since it was RDW, I wasn’t really that concerned w/ watching his fingers.
I did, however, have to alleviate this problem when the next song was revealed as Wheel’s On Fire. While a rarity, I’ve never been too impressed w/ it since seeing it at my first show, but was very pleased w/ this one tonight. Sound was again great for vocals, Stu and Tony; Denny was still quite low, and Donnie may as well have been in Dallas for all I could hear of him. My sight problem was easily fixed by standing on one of the 3 trillion empty water bottles strewn about, and when Dylan dropped the guitar in favor of harp at then end, I was optimistic that Denny may move a bit forward anyway.
Levee is a perfect example of why Stu should not play lead while Denny is in the band. Not that there was anythingbad about his lead, but it was, for lack of a better term, generic. The song itself was an enjoyable rocker, and really got the crowd moving, but I longed for the days of early 08, when Denny was allowed to do what he does best (or, at least, moreso then now). Never was this longing stronger then when Levee was followed by Spirit. This used to be Denny’s song, in that he was allowed to do really amazing things w/ it each and every night, and on more then one occasion, take it to a whole other plane entirely. His solo (one of about 2 he would take the whole night ) was a Denny solo (w/ great tone), but it was far too short for him to really have the freedom to do anything w/. Spirit used to be beautiful; smooth and flowing, now it’s just rushed.
The lights went down, and the glint of the Dussenburg’s pickguard can be seen, being carried onstage by a tall thin figure. “Oh no,’ I though, ‘is he going to play more guitar?’ But as he got further towards the center, I could see it was not the guitar tech, but none other then Charlie Sexton! Hot damn! I’ve seen Charlie several times, but never w/ Dylan. (I though the Arcs were still on the road, but clearly, not.) The lights go up, the boys kick into Honest W/ Me, and the crowd erupts. (Charlie is from Austin and still very much adored by the inhabitants.) Tony had the biggest grin on his face, as though he was seeing his best friend after years apart and, from what I’m told, Dylan was just as happy. It was clear this had not been rehearsed, and I don’t mean it was sloppy, but, it had not been rehearsed. Charlie caught on quickly though, and began feeding off Stu when he played his usual part. I will be honest, while he is a top-notch guitarist, I don’t particularly care for Charlie’s style. Having said that, I was incredibly impressed. Just like in the “old days”, Charlie fit that song. Somehow, when he’s onstage w/ Dylan, his style doesn’t come through as obnoxious.
Forgetful Heart was next, and man, I had REALLY wanted to see that one since first hearing it on the album. It was absolutely beautiful. Charlie stayed on, and Dylan came center stage w/ the harp. They were all in a line across the stage, like mourners at a funeral, sparse, Aint Talkin’ styled lighting perfectly complemented the lyrics……..it was ineffable. It was easily the highlight of the night, and probably, technically, the best single song experience you could have at a BD show. Clearly, everyone was stellar, but the one who took the cake was Stu, on acoustic. I hate to sound like a broken record, but that guy is rhythm extraordinaire, and I really cant think of anyone who should be playing that role in that song but Stu.
And yet, I could not shake the feeling of, not disappointment, but rather dissatisfaction.
And it was then that I realized that I was finally upon the crossroads that I was afraid of running into at the beginning of the tour. And I’ve come too far to turn back.
Tweedles brought the house down, even w/ the unrehearsed “duets” between Stu and Charlie. If you didn’t go to a hundred shows though, and didn’t know all the usuals’ parts, you probably wouldn’t even know it was a spur of the moment thing thought, Charlie made it sound that good. Yet still, there was an uneasiness growing inside of me.
IFACCO was the only other song I really had to see live from the new record, and I could not believe my luck that I was getting both in the same night! Technically, this song was great, absolutely perfect. But I could not get into it to save my life. These were the songs I wanted to see specifically because I couldn’t imagine an end to the possibility of places Denny could take them. All I wanted was the chance to see Denny slay them. Instead, I was seeing Charlie slay them (hey, anybody’s better then listening to Mike Campbell’s album version).
I know, I know, this was a once in a lifetime opportunity! All of ER would KILL for a chance to be in my shoes at this exact second! There are plenty of times I can see Denny playing these later! I know, and I tried to tell myself that over and over again, but I am heartbroken to report I wasn’t near as happy as I should have been. I think it had a lot to do w/ the fact that Denny, since Charlie got onstage, hadn’t been doing ANYTHING. He was there, he was strumming, but nothing you couldn’t easily figure out by watching one verse. He just stood there like a wet noodle, looking at though he wanted to be anywhere but on that stage tonight. I think it was the tease aspect I couldn’t get over. Now, by that I don’t mean he should have gone and sat in the dressing rooms, but its become blatantly clear that I come to these to see Denny above all else. Its not a “lets go see Bob” its honestly a chance to see Denny in my mind, so there’s the expectation I’m actually going to see him play. If I’d have gone not even thinking I’d see Denny, I think I would have been able to appreciate it fully. It would be as if you “normal” people went to a show where Dylan just stood on stage and didn’t sing.
When Charlie was still on for H61, it was clear this was no ordinary guest spot. He was gonna be here awhile.. Again, no complaints from me, the next three songs were impeccable, and probably wont ever happen again. During Aint Talkin, I was again impressed by the lighting effects. On previous versions, I’d been far to busy watching Denny’s guitar, but since his soul was MIA tonight, I was able to notice the slightly defused shadows cast by everyone on the bare backdrop. It was great, ghostly, like a gathering of lost souls searching for something they can never find. The imagery was so pristine on top of the song that I highly encourage you to tear your eyes away from whoever you may stare at during shows and just listen to the music and watch the shadows.
Thunder saw Denny’s second solo of the night, which finally gave me something to look at. I liked his intro, it was a little different then what I’ve seen in the past. He still didn’t appear to be having any fun up there.
Standard encores, as standard as anything can be w/ Charlie sitting in after 6 years. It really was note perfect, I mean, I have no “normal” reason for being anything but ecstatic. It was probably one of the best shows I have ever seen, looking at the whole picture, and I’m very sad that I can’t seem to appreciate just how special of a show I just saw.
Dylan is, has, and always will be about the lyrics. I’m not suggesting or stating otherwise. But the live shows to me, are about the music., the music which has taken a curious dent since 08.
This left me w/ a lot of contemplating to do, so I hoped in the car, cranked up Twang Bang, and headed for (even soggier) points south.
If you ever go to Houston Boy, you’d better walk right
I should have listened.
It was an oppressively hot day as I made my way into the venue that would house the absolute strangest show I have ever attended. What started w/ the all-but invitation to the rubber glove room walking in didn’t let up until after the security hassled me about looking for my ride when the boys were already on the bus; no matter WHAT I did, there was some venue jerk more then happy to jump down my throat. Even objective observers commented on this strange occurrence. I got yelled at for wandering around, I got yelled at for asking for a glass of ice, I got my ticket checked AT MY SEAT when no one else’s around was, the list goes on and on. There must be someone who looks exactly like me in Houston… and he must be a real assh*le! Yet I remained optimistic.
I had been told that I would really enjoy the Wyios, so I was really ready to hate them, but they were actually a fairly solid band. The lead singer has a really excellent voice, and the steel player was a blast to listen to. I thought their “performing” a bit schmaltzy, and would have preferred they not do it, but, hey, that’s me. The music was great.
Willie I was also fairly impressed w/. He’s not one I’d ever pay to see, but he gave the audience what it wanted (more well known songs sung exactly like “Willie Nelson” would be expected to sing them) and there were no complaints from me. Early on, he began his rain of headgear upon the audience by flinging his hat into the crowd. Well, it acted like a boomerang, and, had I been leaning back in my chair instead of leaning forward, it would have landed square on my head. (Instead, it hit my back where it was promptly snatched up )
Meanwhile it just got hotter and hotter.
Mellencamp put on a “rock” show; he had “rock” songs, a “rock” attitude, a “rock” guitar player, and those who listen to “rock” on the radio seemed to gobble it up. Me, not so much. He did put on a great show, if you’re into that sort of prefabricated “Americana”, and everyone seemed to be having fun up there, so I wont knock it too much, but I could easily go the rest of my life w/o seeing and/or hearing him again.
Since I last saw Dylan in November, I had practically taken up a second residence in Austin, which afforded me the thrill of seeing Denny being Denny, playing what he wanted. While I had been looking forward to these shows all summer, it was not w/o a bit of apprehension. Seeing Denny in Austin has been better then ANY time I have ever seen him w/ Dylan, and it was natural to wonder if I could return to the BD extravaganza w/ the same feelings of affection and high regard I once held them in.
But all it took was that ol’ familiar intro music to slap a smile on my face that I just couldn’t seem to shake.
They opened w/ Leopard Skin and followed w/ It Aint Me, Babe, Dylan on guitar for both. Dylan should not be on guitar. There, I said it. Not only does he have 2 stellar guitarists on his payroll, but he really wrecks the energy of the song, if not the song itself, when he’s playing guitar.
He moved over to keys for Rollin, and I wish I could say that was a good thing, but that too had its issues. First, it made me realize that Denny was FAR too low in the mix; I really had to strain to hear him. Secondly, the keyboard was FAR too loud, making it so I could hear the ear-piercing interruptions to Denny’s slide clearly
The next, Trying To Get To Heaven, usually a favorite of mine, continued the downward slide. The band was tight enough, but Dylan’s phrasing was way too fast in the beginning. Then, he played a harp solo, which, was not terrible by any means, but Denny used to play a mean guitar in that space, and I was more focused on what we were missing. Yes, it is Dylan’s band, but if you have one of the best guitarists playing today in your band, you’re generally better served letting him play. Not a great return show for me thus far.
Tweedles was its normal rockin’ self, and a quick trip from Tony to the keyboards in the dark yielded none other then If You Ever Go To Houston. Tony was grinning for ear to ear, no doubt thinking himself clever for playing the obligatory haha. This was my first time seeing this song, and it was here that the night really began to turn around for me. This is a bass song, no two ways about it, and as I watched Tony smoothly guide and control the ride, I remembered why I keep coming back. There is really no greater joy then watching a consummate pro play up and down the neck like that. More often then not, a good groove is really all you need.
I was happy to get Alright Ma, but the uprigh’ts levels weren’t exactly, erm, level, and so the bass kept rising and falling. Deal Goes Down saw Denny’s first real notable solo, but I couldn’t help coming away w/ the feeling that it should have been longer. Highway 61 was really great, perhaps one of the better H61s in awhile. It got a bit jammy, in a good way, and no one person’s work stood above any others’. At the time of this writing, I am far too tired to remember if Tony actually solo’d, or if it was just high bass in the mix, bit it was good!
The only thing worth noting w/ Nettie Moore was that Stu was attacked by an extremely large moth at the beginning. It was very humorous watching him duck and twist to get rid of it, but he never lost a beat. It wasn’t a bad Nettie, but there was nothing extraordinary about it.
The same, however, cannot be said about Summer Days, which really took off. Just like H61, it was a team effort. Everyone was having a blast and it showed. Dylan was laughing out loud more times then once, and that laughter spread to Tony, who began slapping the upright, which automatically put this rendition into another category on its own
(Semi) standard encores ensued, w/ the exception of Jolene (another first for me). At first, neither me, nor those around me, had any idea what they were playing. Each guy’s pre-song noodling sort of just fed into each other. Stu was on tele playing the rhythm but it was bright and loud and perfectly complementing Denny’s lead on the BFG. This was a perfect example of what happens when Dylan plays to his guitarists’ strengths, rather then randomly assigning roles. I don’t claim to have listened to every Jolene ever played, and I certainly haven’t heard the last couple shows’ ones to accurately compare, but this one was something else!!! Wow! It didn’t sound like any version I’d heard before, in more ways then one.
While the mix was not the best tonight, one thing that was absolutely right w/ it was Dylan’s vocals, they were loud and clear and strong all night long. Not only was he singing great but it sounded great on the rail too. On the other hand, Donnie CANNOT be heard when there is ANY other instrument playing on stage, which is a HUGE shame. That needs to be fixed pronto.
It was a soggy show, no doubt, and I’ve never experienced such an up and down fluctuation in one show before, but it was a blast, and great to be back on the road w/ BD and Co, headed for another joint.
In the last couple of months, the drive between Colorado and Texas has become a familiar route to me; I travel it at least every other month in search of the next great show. But I am used to using it the other way; when headed North, I’ve never been going to a show before. It gave the whole thing a rather strange vibe, from getting my first ticket (and then being pulled over again 2 minutes up the road ), to hitting the first live armadillo I’ve ever seen 5 minutes after that, all the way up to the car in front of me hydroplaning and shooting across the road into a ditch on the way to the venue, to the seat NEXT to mine winning a pre-release copy of Electric Dirt, something just wasn’t quite right about the whole thing.
Seeing Larry in the wings from my 3rd row seat however, eased my mind, and upon spotting Levon, a true legend, a little to his left, I was ready. They took the stage to standing ovation, and kicked off w/ Ophelia. It didn’t take long to notice that something was amiss. Besides the two musicians I’ve already mentioned, there was an acoustic guitar, another electric, a mandolin, a B3, an upright bass, and 5 horn players! A blind man would not have noticed anything but the horn players though, for aside from the vocals, they were all you could hear. Don’t get me wrong, I like horns, but not that many, and not that overpowering. It was really counterproductive to have anything acoustic onstage at that point.
I tried to shrug it off, figuring that it was merely a mix issue, and that it would be worked out and took to watching Levon. Behind his frail appearance, he still is a young man (as clichéd as that sounds) and that is clear to anyone watching him perform. The entire show, but especially behind his kit, he was grinning from ear to ear, mugging for the audience, and just generally having a blast. What a life.
The next couple of songs I didn’t recognize, they were, I suppose, fun little horn numbers, whether or not they were meant to be fun little horn numbers I don’t quite know. The audience, too, was really getting on my nerves. We, for some inexplicable reason, had 4 extra people squeezed into our row who weren’t made to leave, so everyone was practically sitting on each other’s laps. The girl one to my left was carrying on a phone conversation that seemingly consisted of only “Oh em gee” and the guy to my right was air guitar/air drum/conductor man (keep it up pal, I think they’re going to invite you on the road w/ them any time now ), as well as being the know-it-all commentator, who, in actually, didn’t have a clue what he was talking about. I was beginning to think I’d gone at this thing w/ too high of expectations.
The first highlight of the night came next though, in the form of Long Black Veil. The horn section took this one off, Theresa took lead vocals, and it was a great, chilling version. This was the first time I’d actually gotten to hear Theresa singing (aside from just backing) and I was deservedly impressed. This song too, unfortunately, suffered from the odd mix. Larry took a mandolin solo, but it sounded as though the instrument wasn’t even plugged in; it just clicked.
The bassist and organist left after Veil, leaving just the Helm and Campbell families onstage. Levon came center to take the mandolin for Got Me A Woman, his daughter Amy taking over on drums. They worked out the mandolin issue enough to where you could actually hear it on occasion, so no complaints about this one. Was happy to hear it, even if it is a standard at Rambles and other Levon gigs. The next song, however, blew my mind, rather unexpectedly too. Anna Lee was the first song on Dirt Farmer that I really grew tired of hearing, and I still skip it occasionally. Not that its not a fine song, but its just not usually my kind of song. Tonight though, I could not help but be amazed. The power and strength of Levon’s voice is something to be reckoned w/ ; it never wavered or shook even while holding the long notes (even more impressive in the high altitudes), and the emotional power throughout was really ineffable. Campbell’s fiddle perfectly complemented the mood of the song. You would think the events happened just yesterday, and that this Anna Lee was his everything. This was truly one performance that will stick w/ me for a while.
The rest of the band returned shortly, and it was much the same as it had been. There were Band covers such as Rag Mama Rag and Shape I’m In, other regular Ramble favorites, and even a song or two from the new album. At this point I had accepted, but was still not a fan, of the horn section, who between then all, played at least 10 different types of horns, including 3 varieties of sax……. on the same song, which got to be a bit redundant. If it were up to me, I’d have lost at least 2, possibly 3 of those musicians.
The best, and one of the final songs of the night was an incredible Chest Fever! Larry took the whole intro himself, everyone else on stage stepping back and watching to form a semi-circle of reverence around the guy. He took lead vocals as well (one of the only times his mic seemed to be on all night) and everyone just took it away and rocked w/ it.
John Prine was brought out for The Weight, which, honestly, could have been a lot better. It suffered from FAR too many people being on stage, and Prine looked and acted as though he’d never heard the song before in his life.
Prine was the next act, and I opted to stay and see what all he was about. I know I have a couple of his songs on my computer, but I’d never really searched out any more of his works. He’s claim to fame seemed to be good songwriting though, so I was interested. But I sat, and I sat, and I sat some more, listening all the while to the most cheesy, boring, pointlessly high school lyrics one can imagine. It was really G-dawful! In multiple songs, he took to rhyming ‘fish’ w/ ‘dish’…… and these were not songs about eating seafood off plates! He rhymed ‘dog’ w/ ‘log’ and the audience lapped it up. All the complaints I’ve heard about the Dylan band actually applied here. He sang one note throughout the whole song, enunciating the vowels making him hard to understand. His guitarist was literally playing the most boring, easy riffs imaginable in that place. The contributed NOTHING to the song, and just generally added to the suck (a word I have never used to describe a show before) of the whole thing. I do not understand why the audience went crazy.
In my entire life, there has only been one other show I have ever wanted to walk out on (Ziggy Marley opening for Dylan in 08), but for some unimaginable reason, I stayed. Glutton for punishment? Probably. I really wanted it to get better, though I knew it wouldn’t. I had at least one song on my computer, I knew, at least ONE of his songs had to be good. So I sat, shaking my head. He sent his band away. That didn’t fix things, he was still as terrible as ever. I sat some more. I sat and I froze, having become unaccustomed to the cold, thin night air, waiting for something that would never come.
And then, just like that (w/ know-it-all incorrectly predicting a different song), it came! It really came! Sam Stone! For a show that was so mind-numbingly bad up to this point, this was like a completely different person was on that stage. It was incredible! This was the reason I had stayed! His band came back out towards the end, the bassist bowing a very moving low end to the tune.
The next song saw a return to the previous suck-tastic formula, but the bassist grabbed his red Fender P-bass for the first time of the night and dug in, laying down a smooth line. I can listen to any song as long as a song has a good bassline, so Prine continued to sing about bees and knees, and I let the bass thump on.
This was a far better formula, but even it grew old after five or six songs. This guy CLEARLY didn’t know when to stop! And finally, I could take no more. When, at last he vacated the stage, I stood up and made a beeline for the exit, while everyone else whooped and screamed their hearts out. I knew I’d be missing a lame encore, (that is probably STILL going on), but I didn’t care. On the way out, I passed some friends discussing the show: - That bass was turned up too loud. - Yeah, I thought he was a lot better when he was by himself…. You CANT be serious!!!!???!!!??!!!!
I’ve had a lot of requests to write this review; I think I’ve actually has a lot of requests to write a glowing review. And I really wanted to write a glowing review. This was Levon! At Red Rocks! The sound was a huge reason I was excited about this show; shows always sound great at RR, but that was perhaps the biggest disappointment of all. The bassist may as well have been playing a banana, and other acoustic instruments, as well as most of Larry’s vocals, were lost to the cosmos. Perhaps other rows had better mixes, but I’m not so sure.
I’m not about to say it wasn’t a good show, or that I wouldn’t go back (I would in a flash), but for a show that I’d hyped up so much (in my mind), things could have been better.