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Bob Dylan review in the Philadelphia Inquirer

Saturday, June 24, 1995
The Philadelphia Inquirer
Music Review, by Tom Moon

Astounding evenings with Dylan and his guitar

Last week's announcement that Bob Dylan would play the Theater of Living
Arts was accompanied by an explanation: Dylan, now touring stadiums with
the Greatful Dead, was restless.  He had days off and wanted to play.

But few in the TLA's capacity crowds Wednesday and Thursday could have
been prepared for what they encountered: Dylan was being literal.  Not
content to stroll through his house blend of hits and back-page
obscurities, he wanted to *play*.  As in play guitar.  As in, play guitar

At times during the astounding, and significantly different, evenings, you
could mistake the fretboard fireworks of Dylan and guitarist John Jackson
for the kind of music associated with the Allman Brothers - heroic
extended solos that travel winding pathways, hypnotic repetitive riffs
that start at a whisper and build to a roar.

Dylan, who is on a year-long creative jag that has yielded his most
satisfying live performance in over a decade, has always been a
workmanlike guitarist.  He accompanied himself with sure, spare
rhythm-guitar strokes, but rarely attempted solos.  Now, in a quest for
musical settings that amplify and reanimate his poetry, he's re-examining
things he once took for granted.

Up close and personal in the 800-capacity TLA, he didn't play anything by
rote.  An openness to possibility charged Dylan's performances with
anticipatory electricity, as though even the road warrior and his band
didn't know exactly what was ahead.

At times, it felt like Dylan was rethinking his approach to performance. 
He played lead as much as rhythm, and substituted loose, improvisatory
renditions for the more methodical, tightly wound treatments of the past
tours.  "All Along the Watchtower," one of the few songs repeated both
evenings, became a chilling, blood-red anthem in which the urgency of the
lyric was mirrored by Dylan's determined, surprisingly melodic guitar

Jackson, who is from Memphis and plays like it, deftly shadowed Dylan
during the extended guitar explorations, molding the leader's ideas into
potent, carefully sculpted phrases.  On the blue moan "Silvio," Jackson
supported Dylan with crisp rhythm guitar for the first few rounds.  As the
intensity increased, he tossed out offhand lines designed to spark Dylan
further.  Before long, the two were engaged in a heated, crosstalking

Clad in veteran-entertainerwear (a sequined jacket Wednesday, a
powder-blue satin shirt Thursday), Dylan programmed enough hits to keep
fans happy.  Wednesday's set included "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" and
"Tangled Up in Blue."  On Thursday, those were replaced by "Like a Rolling
Stone" and "I Shall Be Released."

In the anything-can-happen atmosphere, Dylan's vocal quirks - the
hurriedly bunched phrases, the whiny delivery - became part of the
improvisatory mood.  I've heard Dylan sing "Like a Rolling Stone" in
probably a dozen different settings, but never did it mean as much as it
did Thursday, when his lines rang out like harrowing cries from a
long-wounded soul.

Dylan seemed intent on reminding his rapt audience, which reflected a wide
demographic range, about the strength of his back catalog.  His "Masters
of War" summoned the bile and bitterness of the times that produced it. 
His "Girl of the North Country," part of Wednesday's three-song acoustic
segment, evoked an innocent longing not often associated with the cynical
latter-day Dylan.  Remarkably, everything he pulled out sounded polished.

Despite the fact that Dylan and his band (which also included drummer
Winston Watson, bassist Tony Garnier and pedal steel guitarist Bucky
Baxter) have been working stadiums, the TLA shows were full of disciplined
touches - dramatic texture changes, stop-time sections, songs that ended
by gradually shifting into majestic marches.  Dylan knows how far to
stretch a song, and only on the too-long acoustic treatment of "Mr.
Tambourine Man" did his judgment falter.

Of course, part of the problem with "Mr. Tambourine Man" might have been
visual.  Both nights, Dylan put down his guitar to emphasize certain words
with croonerlike hand gestures.  It made for a surreal picture: Suddenly
Dylan, the perpetual scowler, was trying to be an entertainer.

He didn't need to try.  The music Dylan made during this residency was
plenty entertaining, but it was more than that - a rare expression of
spirit that no one lucky enough to be in the room will soon forget.

Dates 1995