Bob Dylan 970501 in Evansville, Indiana
Subject: May 1, 97, Evansville (long) From: (BREAZEAL@UKCC.UKY.EDU) Date: 2 May 1997 17:00:01 -0400 Evansville, Indiana, Thursday evening, May 1, 1997 PREFACE and CAVEAT I don't get out much, so when I do I try to make the most of it. The following description of last night's show is long and detailed and very subjective. It is full of reports on my personal responses and opinions. If this is not your cup of tea, then I apologize for the waste of band width. Not trying to start any arguments, just share some impressions. THE PRELIMINARIES It's a three and one half hour drive from Lexington, Kentucky to Evansville, Indiana, but one I would make every week to hear a show like the one we heard last night. V, my traveling companion, and I, arrived at the Vanderburg Auditorium in plenty of time for the show, which was announced to begin at 7:30. The Vanderburgh Auditorium looks like nothing so much as an old- fashioned cheese box, or perhaps a concrete-leopard-skin-pill-box hat- box. This oddity was somehow deposited smack in the middle of a plain and pleasant midwestern river town. The semi-circular theater seats perhaps 2,000 and appeared sold out. The audience was, as ever, mixed, with kids, families, freaks, and a few serious seniors. The 70ish woman with silver hair, mentioned in a description of an earlier show, was once again present -- or perhaps it was her sister? ("Dylan groupie?" asked a never-very-reverent V.) There was also an unusually large contingent of groups of stouth and responsible looking guys in their late thirties/early forties (Promise Keepers' Night Out?). Though I proudly wore a flower in my lapel, I saw no others that I might greet and no-one tried out the secret r.m.d./EDLIS handshake on me either. The mood of the audience was polite and good-natured, a mood enhanced, no doubt, by the absence of any food or drink services and a strictly enforced ban on any sort of drinking, eating, or smoking in the auditorium. Nor did it a see or smell any evidence of violations. The security at the door, on the other hand, was non-existent. I saw a guy with a metal-detector lounging against a wall, but anyone could have easily carried any kind of recording equipment imaginable into the show. I sure hope that someone did. (see below) The acoustics were magnificent and the sound was great, even if our seats (in Row DD, center) were a long way from the stage. Binoculars made possible some of the following details about dress: Bob was dressed like Lester Flatt: that is, he wore a beige, custom-tailored old-fashioned country stage suite, with piping up the legs and very high-buttoned. ("What kind of COAT is that he's wearing?" asked V. when she first looked through the binoculars.) His ribbon tie harmonized nicely with his gleaming white Stetson, shaped into the high "bat wings" favored by Flatt and other late-50's c&w performers (such as Little Jimmy Dickens), rather than the flatter and more classic form associated with Bill Monroe, whom Dylan otherwise resembled very closely. He looked more haggard and time-worn than I have ever seen him. (Last show: 8/94) Though I may have seem him break out into smile once, he mainly alternated between baleful scowls, cocky sneers, and (mostly) a look of stoic determination. (And yes, there seemed to be a suggestion of a paunch: though don't expect me to comment any further on what is, for a gentleman of my years, a somewhat sensitive subject.) The band sounded like a GROUP, tighter-sounding than many of the tapes I have heard of the previous foursome. I couldn't really determine who was carrying the weight, beyond, that is, Mr. Dylan, who was without any question the Leader of the Band, as well as Vocalist and Lead Guitarist. Everything that has been written on r.m.d. lately about Dylan's penchant for playing the lead and concerning the quality of his playing is true. Though there were some occasions last night in which he fell into the trap of the dreaded three-minute three-note guitar solo (see below), they were mercifully few. For the most part, he has become a competent and extremely original lead guitarist. At one point in the evening, V. leaned over and whispered (well, yelled is more accurate) in my ear: "he's trying to play the guitar in the same way he plays the harmonica." This point has been made before on r.m.d., but it was nice to see it confirmed by a more or less disinterested bystander. There was, by the way, no harp at all from Dylan last night, despite the leather-lunged matron behind us, who kept calling "Play Your Harmonica!" THE SHOW At 8 p.m. the show began with a fantastic, high-energy version of ABSOLUTELY SWEET MARIE. One of the best openers I have every heard, and one of the best performances of this song as well. It almost jingled. When the second song, a loose and easy, country take on IF NOT FOR YOU, got off the ground I thought that we were in for a particularly mellow evening. This turned out to be only partly true (see below). Anyway, the first two songs made it clear that the level of musicianship we would be treated to for the next two hours would be of a very high order. Everything -- instruments, vocals, mix -- fit together flawlessly. I was beginning to anticipate something truly extraordinary. No, it wasn't to be found in the number three hole. I have to confess that if I go to my grave never again having heard another Dylan performance of ALL ALONG THE WATCHTOWER I will not have any regrets on that score. Still, this performance was raised upon the crowd by the increasingly original and inventive guitar soloes. And the vocals continued to intrigue as well. As someone remarked concerning an earlier show on this leg: Dylan seems particularly concerned to "tell the story" this time out. I was struck by his very careful -- albeit always idiosyncratic -- enunciation of his lyrics. I doubt if even those unfamiliar with the songs would have had any trouble understanding all the words. TEARS OF RAGE was fourth, and was, for me at least, one of the highest points of the entire show. The vocal performance was sublime and found new levels of meaning in a song that already has plenty of them. I was in awe. Then, when the first instrumental break began, I thought that the spell had been broken, for here, right in the middle of the most poignant song of the evening, Bob decided to do his guitar hero/Check Berry number. I swear, he broke into a duck walk -- or rather, waddle - - for a step or two. It seemed so ridiculously inappropriate that I could only laugh. What can he be thinking? I wondered. Then the plot only thickened, for when the next, even longer, instrumental break came around, Dylan and the band launched into a very long and increasing abstract jam that sounded like nothing I have ever from him before. It was as if he wanted to perform an instrumental deconstruction of the song he had just performed so passionately, but he did so in a way that only intensified the passion of the song. I wish I could find a better way to describe the kind of music they were making: strange, but very evocative and illuminating. (I can't wait to find out how long this version of Tears of Rage actually was. It seemed to me at the time as if it must have lasted more than ten minutes.) By this point in the show, I would have gone home happy no matter what came later, but some of the best moments were still ahead, beginning with the very next song, YOU AIN'T GOIN' NOWHERE. What a joyful version, and what a great break from the intensity of the previous song. This was a much-needed "feel-good" moment, and it felt very good indeed. The harmonies on the chorus, the acapella coda, the interplay between the band members: I don't mean it as an insult when I say that on this song the group sounded like the Eagles at their early country-rock best, though without sacrificing that all-important edge that is always present with such a strange and unpredictable master of ceremonies. That unpredictability surfaced in the last chorus, which sounded like a was song from the grave. Suddenly a song about desire turned into a song about dread. Truly remarkable. Since there was no bar, I had the pleasure of hearing the entire performance of SILVIO. What can I say: Bob Dylan and His Wall'o'Guitars certainly did justice to this (rather minor) tune. Again, what lifted it from the ordinary was the extended instrumental jam. As I listened to it I realized what it reminded me of: small-combo jazz. It was not hard for me to imagine the parts played by the guitars and the peddle steel being played by clarinets, saxophones, and trumpets. Again, I was powerfully reminded of the unusual character of what I was hearing and enjoying so much: psycho-country-punk-folk-rock-jazz? At any rate, a different kind of "fusion." The acoustic set began with one of the most beautiful performances of the night, FRIEND OF THE DEVIL. Latching firmly onto that opening and endlessly repeated descending bass lick, the band took this one directly to the bank. The fiddle/acoustic guitar duet was as heartbreakingly lovely as anything you are ever to hear from Bob Dylan and Co. (This was also one of the few moments of the entire evening that the new guitarist, Larry Cambell, got to show his chops, which appear to be considerable. The rest of the time he was doing precisely what was described in so many reports of earlier shows on this tour: starring anxiously at Bob's left hand and staying very much in the background.) Dylan's singing, which started out so strong, just became more and more amazing as the show progressed. First of all, his voice really is shot. I would love to hear his normal speaking voice these days, and I would be surprised if it were much more than a pitiful croak. But what he manages to do with this imperfect instrument is astonishing. On this song he was crooning the lyrics. As V. remarked, his voice is no longer strong enough simply to shout the lyrics (see 1974 and 1989, for example), so he actually has to SING more than usual. Moreover, I have never heard him sing better. It wasn't always this pretty, but it was always effective. This was another tune that seemed to go on forever, with something of the timeless, hypnotic effect of "Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands." But it wasn't long enough. What could follow this triumphant "Friend of the Devil"? My own personal favorite Dylan song, is the answer, and one that had been played at only one prior show on this leg (Bangor, April 9), the song I most wanted to hear but didn't dare wish for: ONE TOO MANY MORNINGS. To say that I know this song well would be considerable understatement. Indeed, I have heard a large percentage of the many performances of it (last night's was no. 160). Last night's version, however, was one for the books. The long instrumental introduction and the vocals were exquisite. If the song had ended at this point it might have been the best performance ever of this great song. Unfortunately, however, it was in the course of the long instrumental coda to this one that the previously mentioned three-note solo turned up, and turned up, and turned up. I had to keep reminding myself how terrific the vocal performance had been and assuring myself that he had to grow tired of these same three notes eventually. And eventually he did. It didn't ruin the song, but I couldn't help wishing that Dylan and the band had been able to get into the same sort of exploratory groove on this one that I had found so fascinating on some of the earlier songs. TANGLED UP IN BLUE, which came next, was a crowd-pleaser and got some of the generally appreciative but hardly gaga audience out of their (very soft and comfortable) seats. The song seemed rushed and a bit brittle to me, however. It too featured another display of the "endless-noodle- lead," though I think this one had one less note than the previous one. This one was eventually rescued by Bucky's mandolin, which kept calling to Bob to "snap out of it." (On the previous song, "One Too Many Mornings," it had been Bucky's peddle steel -- or was it his dobro? -- that finally saved the day.) GOD KNOWS. God knows why Dylan played this song, which quickly put the audience (most of whom were, of course, unfamiliar with it) back into their seats. That's right, I do indeed "think this song is just a riff." The only genuinely false step of the night, I thought. The guitar solo, on the other hand, was a return to the exiting form of the earlier part of the show. BORN IN TIME received the full beauty treatment, from which it benefited. Dylan's voice, however, began to deteriorate even further, and his vocal strategies became even more inventive and interesting. (He began to remind me more and more of Louis Armstrong.) As I listened to this song I thought of how many references there had been in this and the earlier songs to the theme of mortality, a theme that continued, off an on, for the rest of the evening. I was watching through the binoculars when he sang the line, "you can have what's left of me," and he sang it, I thought, directly and pointedly at us, his audience. The "One Foot In The Grave" tour? Many in the audience mistook the opening hook of LEOPARD-SKIN PILLBOX HAT for that of "Rainy Day Women," and seemed surprised when they weren't yet urged to "get stoned." I was delighted, however, since the loose blues-rock version that followed introduced a brand-new and attractive tone into the evening's proceedings. This, along with the opening song, was not only the "bluesiest," but also the "rockiest" performance of the night. Good fun. After having made the audience wait for what seemed like a surprisingly long time, the band returned for the usual three song encore, beginning with another highlight of the evening: LIKE A ROLLING STONE. For some reason, this version sounded more intentionally "universal" than many others I have heard. Not a song about rebellion or youth or homelessness, but a middle-age man describing what is like to look death "in the vacuum of his eyes" and then "make a deal." The take on the chorus, "how does it feel...?" was both triumphant and elegiac. Another note: the familiar Robbie Robertson guitar part for this song was quoted a few times during the solos -- by Campell, I think. THE TIMES THEY ARE A-CHANGIN' was the acoustic encore, and included every verse, I believe. This was V.'s favorite song. Over and over again, during the long drive back to Lexington, she shook her head and recalled the long since changed times since the two of us first listened to and learned the words to this one together, one summer in the early 1960's. A bittersweet performance for those of us whose old roads have done aged -- and, from the tenor of his voice, for the singer as well. Thumpa, Thumpa, Thumpa. Well alright! A bouncy version of RAINY DAY WOMEN closed the show. I think Dylan got through two verses before the first young woman arrived on stage, and then another. Both kissed him discreetly on the cheek and then sashayed to the wings before the stage bouncers brought up another young woman in a (diaphanous) yellow gown, who stood right next to Bob and self-consciously performed the same graceful little step for the next five minutes. Eventually she was joined by another half dozen of so young women. And young they certainly were. At last: Bob Dylan, teenage idol! Where is "Circus" magazine when you finally need it? Anyway, the mood on the stage was unthreatening and high-spirited and the song eventually came to an orderly close, with Bob exchanging a few pleasantries with the youngsters. THE AFTERMATH It will take me a long time to digest this show. I hope that someone who was there will soon be in a position to share this experience with the rest of us. And so I conclude with the usual, abject grovel. All in all, it was quite a night and quite a show. I am not saying it was the best one ever or even the best one of the current leg, just that it was the best one I have ever seen. Thank you for your patience, DanB
Subject: Evansville review From: MotoM8 (email@example.com) Date: 3 May 1997 07:53:40 GMT When you think of Bob Dylan the words poet, introspection and dark realism are most closely associated with him. "They're selling postcards of the hanging, they're painting the passports brown," opens up "Desolation Row." Whether painting surreal pictures, reporting on injustices through image and story-telling or generally accosting overblown hubrus with the venom of an Old Testament prophet, Bob Dylan always seems to make somebody squirm. One word you don't associate with him though is fun. Looking like one of Bob Wills' Texas Playboys with his sideburns low, his 10-gallon hat tight and a western suit complete with string tie, Bob Dylan delivered a show that blended country, rock and blues into an all-out party jam. From the opening song "Absolutely Sweet Marie" to the final encore he and his rollicking band rocked the house with straight ahead jams and prolonged guitar solos that left him smiling more than a few times. In the intimate setting of Vanderburgh Auditorium (capacity 2000) you almost had the feeling you were at some honky-tonk club, and were there a dance floor it would've been packed all night. It took a second song, "If Not For You" to get artist and audience more aquainted with each other, and with what was to come, but when you heard the opening chords of "All Along the Watchtower, a place filled with expectation burst. Dylan toyed with guitarist Larry Campbell and the audience during his extended guitar solos, struck rock-n-roll guitar-god poses and smiled many times when he found a rif to his liking. You'd have sworn he was about to start duck-walking at any moment. Is this the right show? After 35 years of touring, reaching into a psyche or two and pissing almost everybody off, maybe it was time for a little fun. His set consisted of semi-obscure songs like "Tears Of Rage" and Ain't goin' Nowhere" from "The Basement Tapes" and "God Knows" from "Under A Blood Red Sky." He covered the Grateful Dead's "A Friend Of the Devil" and did a particularly raucous version of "Silvio." Vocally he was pronounced and emotive, threw whips and barbs and flung comical facial expressions to a very receptive audience who reciprocated with numerous standing ovations. A "Bootleg Series" version of "Tangled Up In Blue" brought the people from the back to the front of the stage and now the show was a concert, an event. The set culminated with a set-the-house-afire rendition of "Leopard-skin Pill-box Hat" which got the crowd dancing in the aisles, rocking, bobbing and clapping. The crowd would not sit again until the lights were turned up. He came out for three encores the first of which was "Like A Rolling Stone." Predictable but fresh. How many times has he done that song? Yet he played it like it was new. The second encore was a beatiful version of "The Times They Are A Changin'" complete with acoustic bass and mandolin. The audience pulled him out for yet another encore--that everybody must get stoned song (Rainy Day Women...) You could say the audience went into a frenzy. After only a few verses a woman jumped up on stage and planted a kiss on Dylan as he continued with yet another guitar solo. She subsequently proceeded to kiss each member of the band. A young girl who had previously thrown her flower headband onstage jumped up and started dancing right next to him followed by a half a dozen more girls decked out in tie-dye and cotton dresses. Is this the right show? This was something you'd probably see at a night with Michael Bolton. But, a jammin' C and W Bob Dylan with harem of young hippie-chicks? Talk about imagery. The night finished with a bluesy, country-rock jam, everyone dancing and having some fun, just the way it had been for the previous two hours. And, had it been in some honky-tonk with cocktails flowing, the whole audience may have jumped up on stage and danced til closing time.
Subject: Evansville thoughts From: RagdNDirty (firstname.lastname@example.org) Date: 6 May 1997 03:39:40 GMT I agree with those that commented on Bob having fun, and it was great to see! His voice was on! The first song's vocals were lower in the mix, but afterwards he rang loud and strong. Let's face it, his vocals must carry the show, and Bob seems to have acknowledged this. He gave a great effort. I don't expect every night to be inspired, but he is definitely prime to give a great performance now. There were a few songs on the setlist I'm not familiar with yet. But a friend of mine who's a big Dylan fan said Tears Of Rage was sensational. I don't know this song yet, so it's hard for me to comment. It was obviously a lively effort throughout the show. This is the first Dylan concert I've been to where the audience actually sat UNTIL the acoustic set, and then started to stand (Dead Heads got the ball rolling). Usually it's the reverse. Weird. I would have thought this would be the last crowd to start fighting when that began, as subdued as they had been. I think it surprised Dylan, too. No harmonica. I'm not a big fan of hearing an extended musical break in every song that has basically the same guitar solo. I think it would be better to choose a few songs to highlight this way. I tend to be impatient and anxious to hear him singing again. But hey, if he's having fun, it will probably spark his vocals, so it's a trade-off I accept. Oh, one little thing that struck me was his delivery of the opening line of watch tower. I've noticed he's been singing it the same way for quite a while, but this night he kind of went back to the original way, "There must be some way OUT of here." Nothing significant. It just stood out to me. :) The new guitarist was obviously making an effort to blend his guitar-work with Dylan's, and did a nice job. After playing with Dylan longer, I'm sure he'll loosen up and the interplay will become more effortless. Dylan's electric was noticably lower in the mix than the new guy's, while his acoustic was much higher. Anyway, definitely don't miss the chance to see him while he's rolling like this. A Brixton-like performance might happen at any time with the effort he's giving. Just takes the right night, the right mood, and the right songs, I think. Rick