Bob Dylan 970417 in Providence, Rhode Island
Date: Sat, 19 Apr 1997 15:06:35 -0400 (EDT) From: Christopher Hosea (firstname.lastname@example.org) To: email@example.com cc: firstname.lastname@example.org Subject: Dylan at Brown (April 17, 1997) As we marched down Thayer St. on our way to the bash, approached now and then by stragglers holding up a forefinger or asking outright for a scalp, we were soaked by a light, steady drizzle. Under yellow streetlight that glowed fuzzy in the fog, talkative groups were moving toward Brown's athletic complex. The venue, as far as I could tell, was a hockey rink. When we arrived it was past eight, and a few hundred people were milling outside the entrances in a peaceable and disorderly clump. The lines, such as they were, weren't hourglassing very fast, so I reckoned that security was tight. I was surprised when, a long fifteen minutes later, I was admitted with only the most cursory of frisks. It would have been child's play to smuggle in a flask of rum, a water pistol or--more to the point--a portable DAT recorder. To judge from the frequency of flash explosions during the concert (and the strong whiff of buds in the air) plenty of people made the most of the relaxed security. I can't wait to hear the bootlegs. I'd seen the April 12 show at Bentley College, which was (with some notable exceptions, particularly "My Back Pages") a loosely structured jam mixing inspired solos with long experimental deserts, with some songs milked pretty much dry sixteen bars before the drum crash, with Bob's vocals sometimes lost in a muddy mix. At Bentley, I'd felt like I was eavesdropping on an earnest, hard-driving rehearsal. I was excited by Dylan's energy on lead guitar and inspired by his vocal performance on a few songs--the transition to the bridge in "Shooting Star" ("...As the last fire truck from hell/Goes rolling by all good people are praying") seemed to be carved out of a pebbly, loamy, lustrous block of sculptural sound. But on the whole I left Bentley with feelings composed of equal parts delight and misgiving. It was as though I had glimpsed an unfinished masterwork, and could only guess at the form it would take when more defined. How happy I am that I got a ticket to the Brown show! Dylan's performance in the Meehan Ice Rink (or whatever it's really called) made Bentley seem like the rehearsal it'd impressed me as. There was a confidence and a passion in his voice that astounded me. The band seemed to snap to attention. The concerned, almost protective grin that the guitarist had worn during the Bentley show was gone, replaced by a serious grimace of effort. Dylan seemed to croon the second song directly to all of us in the crowd--his voice was right out in front and center of the mix, hitting the notes, drawling out the vowels, biting lines or playfully changing the tempo of syllabic delivery--as he promised us "Tooooonight I'll be staaaying here with yooooooo!" And he WAS there, in the home goal of Brown's hockey rink, fully engaged with the night, the crowd and the song. With those words he effectively shattered the invisible wall of studio glass that, during the Bentley show, had sometimes seemed to glint between the lip of the stage and the audience. In Providence Dylan seemed to offer himself to the generosity and understanding of his listeners--and, with jubilant applause, the crowd accepted his pledge. Dylan and the band explored many zones of mood during the show--among them the warm lewd debauchery of "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight", the heart-chilling apprehension of mortality in "Silvio" ("I've got to go/Find out something only dead men know"), the wistful translation of youthful resolution into a regenerative wisdom lesson ("Baby Blue"), and the belligerent prophecy wolfing under the amused resignedness of "Everything is Broken." For me, though, the high point of the show was the acoustic "Tangled Up In Blue." Probably the most compelling musical storytelling I have ever witnessed in person. Singing us this story for the thousandth time, Dylan was like the favorite uncle who can make a fairy tale or a story of the Arabian Nights seem fuller, richer and more alive with each telling. Dylan deliberately and precisely put the pictures of the song before us. Each one seemed to hang in the air before being dispelled by the next. What's totally beyond me is the way he managed to create these lyrical psuedohallucinations while at the same time infusing his lines (particularly in the choruses) with a poignance that bled through all the irony. (By the way, one lyrical variant I noticed was that he sang "truckdriver's wives" in place of "carpenter's wives"--the censorship of an obliquely heretical image from his pre-Christian phase?) I don't want to praise Dylan's singing at the expense of his guitar playing. I'll echo the other reviewers of recent concerts and say how amazed I was by his bold, loud, and active role as a soloist. The rest of the band peformed superbly as well. The pedal steel intertwined magically with Bob's loopy, trance-inducing three note wail on "Never Gonna Be the Same Again". And despite the feedback, the bassist's booming bow-work on the occassional song added a dark, unexpected stripe of sound to the rolling thunder. Best of all were the long washes of improvisation which seemed to often be coated by the light people with green gel--these sustained a exploratory confidence and vigor that were largely absent at the Bentley show. During "I Shall Be Released" or "Girl from the North Country" (I forget which) some local yokel college kid jumped on stage, right in the middle of Bob's final solo. Putting one arm around Dylan and with the other indicating the whole venue with a stiff friends-romans-countrymen wave, he shouted his appreciation in Dylan's ear. Dylan gave everyone a toothy smile full of meaning.