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Bob Dylan 970417 in Providence, Rhode Island

Date: Sat, 19 Apr 1997 15:06:35 -0400 (EDT)
From: Christopher Hosea (
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
	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.