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PostPosted: Sun March 13th, 2005, 23:47 GMT 
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Joined: Sun March 13th, 2005, 23:45 GMT
Posts: 161
Location: London, UK
Chiles Center at the U. of Portland, 11th and 12th of March.
This relatively small college gym converted very well into a nicely sized venue for these sold-out shows.
I caught both nights, first night off to the left of the stage and back a bit with some friends and the second night fifth row center flying solo. The sound was excellent at both spots, props to the sound folks.

Missed Amos Lee the first night but caught a few songs on Saturday. Powerful voice, really enjoyed opening his lungs. Pretty laid back band seemed to suit his style just fine. No frills, really. Appears to be a likeable guy. Didn't get a good feel for his songwriting in this brief encounter.

Merle's set is really a delight and I agree with Peter Stone Brown in that he is a much more interesting concert companion than Willie for Bob. Some of The Strangers are very Nashville, complete with suits and bluegrass haircuts, pedal steel, mandolin, lots of fiddle and a drummer who looked like he could have been in his seventies. There's also a sax player, a seated electric guitar player and a woman near the back who I guess was singing backup, although I never heard her come through. Merle said that he and The Strangers were "Beer Joint Band" and not used to playing for "big crowds." Hard to tell if he was joking about that. He was having a ball up there, though!
Merle reminded everybody that he started out as a fiddle player by breaking the instrument out on both nights and playing some solos. That was great to see. Mostly though, he played his Telecaster and sang his great songs in a clear voice that could be heard really well when he actually sang straight into the mic. He took a lot of rehearsed solos and the setlist didn't vary much (if at all) over the two nights. Niether did the jokes, but that's just fine with me. I thought that his on-stage persona and dress was more "mysterious beat poet" than Old Okie.
"Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down" was a personal favorite on both nights, with a nice harmony laid down by his fiddle player. "White Line Fever" and "Unforgettable" were recognizable and fun for the crowd. "That's the News," a newer (I think) song about the sacrifice of soldiers, was the highlight of the set for me.
When he played "Okie from Muskogee" he caveated it during both shows by saying that he wrote it when he "didn't know nothin' about nothin'". He also said that the reason he wrote it was "because he was the only one who knew the words." This joke actually got better on the second night when he fleshed a story out of it, rather than just a punchline. He left to warm standing ovations and even removed his dark glasses during a bow on Saturday.
On the first night he said that he was thrilled to work with an "idol" like Bob Dylan. This prompted many groans in my section, "Come on Merle! You're right there with 'em." Oh the modesty... Lovely sets, really.

And then there was BOB and this new band. With Larry gone, some arrangements have changed, some for the better, some still being worked out. Elena on fiddle is fun to watch and she takes a lot of breaks and really loves playing with Bob. She just stares and smiles at him the entire show and seems to share a connection of sorts with him. Kimball is pretty bombastic on electric guitar at times. Tony and George are having a great time (as usual) and are really tight together. You have the setlists, so I'll just touch on a few songs and impressions.
On the first night, it was the newer numbers "Highwater" and "Things Have Changed" that really stood out as the strongest for me. Bob took three numbers or so to warm his voice up, so "Times They Are a Changing" and "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" were pretty rough. "Highwater" really kicked ass with Denny on the banjo and some serious atmosphere created by the bass and drums. "Dove Along the Cove" is now a fun blues rocker with a cool little break-down of sorts through the end of each verse. Bob's vocal was most clear on the surprising "If Dog's Run Free" that was nice and light and featured some cool jazz-style solos from the hollow-body guitar guy.
I can take or leave "Honest With Me," "Summer Days," and "Tweedle Dee" at this point, but I guess Bob wants to play them every night. Their arrangements haven't changed much, although Kimball just can't get that Larry Campbell guitar line right in "TD&TD" just yet, we'll see if he ever can.
No Rolling Stone at either show was a bit of shock! Fine with me, although AATW ending both nights was still status quo.

The second night was a more textured show that saw "Ballad of Hollis Brown" get its best live reading that I have ever heard. The gravity and tragedy of the ballad was expressed by the band in a subtle, growing dynamic way that really brought out the desperation of Hollis' situation. Man, very powerful stuff and Bob didn't miss a single word. I was very impressed and this song is not amongst my favorites. Great performance.
"Boots of Spanish Leather" was nice to hear, although the band doesn't have a great concept for this one quite yet. "It Ain't Me Babe" was a brand-new arrangement that had Bob singing quite loverly. "Postively Fourth Street" was the third of these "no-chorus" (with BHB and BOSL) songs that worked out well.

I realize now that I enjoyed the more deliberate numbers with this current band more than the straight ahead rockers like "Highway 61" and even "AATW". Not to say that those tunes weren't powerful, but it would appear that the current lineup is better suited for rollicking folk than punchy rock like some previous NET bands. But, Tony and George are laying down some serious stuff back there to really give every song weight when it needs it and funk when it's appropriate. I have the feeling that with Larry gone, the bass and drum guys (along with Bob) might be in charge of the arrangements more than ever.

Bob's piano was more audible to me on the second night when I was in row five. I think I was hearing it through the on-stage monitor, when I was further away I really couldn't hear it all. He played some very strange notes on "It Ain't Me Babe" that nearly ruined the song for me, luckily the band had that one together.
"A-11," which apparently is a song about an ex-lover's favorite Jukebox pick, worked out well both nights. I was completely unfamiliar with this one along with everyone else I think.

Two great nights that showed a band getting it's arrangements and feel together but conveying the emotional weight of some songs better than any group I have heard before. Bob is really pouring his guts into the songs with a lot of vocal volume, if not diction. It's always about the phrasing anyway, right?
Excellent sound both nights. Take care everybody!
Sean Bevington

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PostPosted: Mon March 14th, 2005, 15:33 GMT 

Joined: Tue March 8th, 2005, 18:09 GMT
Posts: 11
Location: Waltham, MA
Sean, thank you SO MUCH for this review!! My bro is huge Merle fan, so I sent it to him. I am dying cuz Bob did "Positively 4th Street!" I get the impression he doesn't do that one often. It's that song that made me a fan.

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