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Bob Dylan 2000.07.25 in Scranton

Subject: montage mountain
From: Peter Stone Brown 
Date: Wed, 26 Jul 2000 07:05:22 GMT

I had no idea when I woke up Tuesday morning that I was going to
Scranton, but very quickly an email appeared with an offer from
my friend Orlando that was hard to refuse, and so I found myself
on my way to Scranton in mid-afternoon by way of Central Jersey
resulting in a neat little 400 miles trek.

Montage Mountain is a fairly pleasant, not-too-large venue tucked
away in the woods near the top of Pennsylvania.

Bob Dylan and his band took the stage to a theater that was about
three quarters empty at exactly seven minutes after seven and
proceeded to rock "Duncan and Brady."  It may have been acoustic
instruments but they were rocking, Dylan singing strongly and
clearly and there was no doubt that he was *on.*  It was rather

"Song to Woody" followed in a performance that left you feeling
he really *was* singing the song to Woody, and not just singing
the song.  The paced picked up with a driving "Desolating Row"
with Dylan getting into it, singing DesoLAYSHUN Row, with Bob
playing a fairly crazy guitar solo.  Then Larry went behind the
pedal steel, for a pleasant "Love Minus Zero."  And then into the
inevitable "Tangled" which found Bob all tangled up in the
verses, singing the fifth verse third and the third verse fourth,
and leaving out the fourth verse entirely.

Then after what seemed like a set-list change, Larry picked up
the mandolin and into "Searching For A Soldier's Grave," with
high lonesome spooky bluegrass harmony throughout.  I can't
remember Dylan ever doing a song before where his backing singers
sang all the verses and choruses with him-Dylan another voice in
a trio.  It was both beautiful and great.

And then into the electric portion with a kicking "Country Pie,"
which asides from being a lot of fun served to showcase Dylan's
two excellent guitarists as they threw licks to each other, Bob
for once, sticking solely to rhythm guitar.

A mellow "Positively Fourth Street" followed, with "Maggie's
Farm" having a kind of Johnny Cash "Big River" groove to it. 
However Bob really spaced on the words mixing up Ma and Pa and
whose bedroom window was made out of bricks.  Charlie Sexton who
is more out front than when I last saw the band in November
played sizzling guitar with a couple of nods to Michael

Then it was back to Nashville Skyline for "Tell Me That It Isn't
True," but Bob sang the second verse again on the bridge part. 
Instead of singing "To know that some other man is holding you
tight," he sang, "I know that you've been seen with some other
man/It hurts me all over (and then realizing) he came up with "I
don't understand," and then when they returned to the bridge
after an instrumental break, he sang the second verse again, but
this time the final line was, "It hurts me all over, it's telling
me a lot."

But that was quickly forgotten in the sudden jump to Jimi
Hendrixland for a searing "Drifter's Escape."  This was nothing
less than stunning with the stage lights which basically were off
sudden blazing blue highlighting the guitar riff after each line,
and when the bolt of lightning hit the courthouse, there was
lightning from Charlie's guitar, followed by Dylan pulling out
the harp for a solo unlike any other he has ever played.  It was
crazy like the '66 solos, but it was a controlled craziness.  He
knew exactly what he was doing, and not only that, he knew what
he wanted to do, and he did it, playing around with the melody of
the song, yet digging deep into the rhythm.  It reminded me of an
early Stevie Wonder harp solo.  After that, Bob got into a
discussion with one of his roadie's and did "Leopard Skin"
without introducing the band.

And then came what has been referred to as "the formation," with
everyone just standing there holding their instruments staring at
the audience.  It was weird, and as has been reported at other
shows, Larry was the first to break formation.

Returning they went right into "Things Have Changed," with Bob
singing almost immediately.  This was another high point of the
night, and Dylan seemed more into this song than just about any
of the other electric songs, except "Drifter's Escape."

Bob finally introduced the band (with no jokes) and went into
"Like A Rolling Stone," and then, a waltzing, "My Back Pages,"
with Larry on fiddle, which appeared to be another deviation from
the setlist, and then the usual "Highway 61," and "Blowin' In The

For this night, the acoustic set was definitely more energized
than most of what followed.  The show seemed to lose steam
somewhere in the middle and though there were absolute high
points, never quite regained the energy it started with.

In this ever-evolving band, on this tour, it seems that Charlie
Sexton is moving much more to the front as lead guitarist.

But on the other hand, what other artist moves from bluegrass to
blues to hard rock and back again, but if you stop for a second
and think about the words and thoughts coming out, even with a
slight loss of steam, it remains a remarkable experience.

But at the same time the loss of steam may have been due to the
low roar of conversation that was ever-present throughout the
night.  Maybe if what seemed like the majority of the audience
had bothered to pay attention and get into it, instead of talking
about whatever they were talking about, that steam might not have
been lost.

"Where the angels' voices whisper to the souls of previous times."  --Bob
Peter Stone Brown

Subject: From the Mountains to the Wet, Wet Sea: Dylan at Scranton and Jones Beach (Part 1) [LONG] From: SDW Date: Fri, 28 Jul 2000 02:18:42 -0500 From the mountains, to the prairies, to the oceans white with foam. Include a river to be followed, and there you have the extent of my Dylan shows this summer. The river may be only the Delaware off the stricken town of Camden, the mountains the dinky Poconos, the sea not wine-dark or even blue, and the prairies a bare field in northwest New Jersey, but hey, whaddya want?--for now that's as close as I can come to getting out on the road. Guthrie hated that God Bless America schmaltz anyway, didn't he? Dylan's probably not too fond of it either. The Delaware Water Gap: for those of you who think there simply cannot be a gorgeous landscape in New Jersey, drive out this way sometime. I myself had not done so for a long while and felt newly impressed by what I saw. The Gap has been a starting-point for cross-country treks in my past, so I could recall how one experiences a sort of Kerouac-ian exaltation in winding through the pass and out to the other side; for a born-and-bred Easterner, the whole continent seems to open up beyond, stretching into untold distance, beckoning. Of course tonight we were only going to Scranton, Pennsylvania, but it felt pretty damned good nonetheless. It didn't hurt either that we appeared to be driving out of the cloud cover that had been looming all day overhead; there were bands of blue and sunlight in the east, and it seemed at least possible that we might be released from the threat of rain. Off Route 80 not far across the Pennsylvania line is the strangest rest stop I believe I've ever laid my eyes upon. Well, more of a truck stop I guess with a rest stop veneer, but they seemed to have everything under the sun for sale there, including a variety of knives and hunting equipment ... as I've always said, if you're looking for weirdness, New Jersey will do you fine, but if it's the *really* warped you want, the completely kooky, the mind-bendingly bizarre, you gotta head for Pennsylvania. Ain't no short cuts. While, er, utilizing this rest stop, I found a tiny "Personal Bible," about the size of a Cracker Jack prize, sandwiched in between the toilet paper and the stall; it had been placed there by the Little Bible Ministry of Pottstown, PA and was full of what appeared to be a host of Dylan lyrics, mostly from songs he no longer plays live. I took it as a sign anyway and tucked it into my wallet. Good reading, that Bible. Very inspirational. "Verses of Comfort, Assurance, Salvation." I'd never been to Scranton, strange because part of my family comes from here; my grandfather, an Italian immigrant, was for many years a coal miner (with the black lung to prove it) and labor unionist in this area, before moving his family to New Jersey. No, we did not get to hear "Dark as a Dungeon" in his honor, though it would have been a fitting choice. I still have no idea what or where "Steamtown" is and whether it is steamy or not; suppose I'll have to look it up. See above comments on Pennsylvania. Through the Poconos the sky had been exceedingly changeable, with low-riding spattery clouds penetrated by sunbursts worthy of the Great Comforter himself. We had left in just enough time to beat maximum exit crush off 81, were bottled up for about half an hour and considered ourselves lucky as the car climbed Montage Mountain, seeming to circle in and around a single long black cloud and then, by the summit, to leave it behind altogether. (Note to the uninitiated: all this jabbering about the weather is what is known in literary circles and cafe society as "foreshadowing".) With traffic backups increasingly predictable, it has become a profound luxury to reach a venue in time for a drink or two; this is especially true when one can step out into cool, transparent mountain air, roll down the windows and pump up House of Blues '96 on the car stereo. For my first Dylan concert in a long time, I often tend to feel a little anxious, butterfly-y; don't ask me why. Few other performers seem to have this effect on me of, what shall I call it, momentousness? Radical uncertainty? Ah but here we were. We had made it. Damned that vodka tonic tasted fine. Everything was going to be all right. And it was, dear reader, it was. Montage Mountain is blessed with a lovely setting, nestled in among the ski runs' summer greenery; granted, the venue itself has all the allure of a construction site, which to some extent it still is. No matter, at least it was something different, not too slickly corporate (got to love the giant inflatable Coors Light bottle presiding over ceremonies) or huge. The sound proved to be somewhat less than magnificent, but hey, it's summer, it's Scranton, it ain't the Albert Hall. We had decent mid-range seats in the lower level and reached them shortly before: "Duncan and Brady": I recall excitedly listening to the first performance of this song, from New Hampshire, only last fall; it's a sign of Dylan's subtly mutating setlists that it is now a standard opener. Venue about a third full at best by this point, probably closer to a fourth, with just a loose knot of people up near the rail ... so odd to see us standing around in the daylight like this. Boy did we look goofy. Dylan and band looked, well not goofy, but human. Little guy, little band: Dylan, seeming like he'd just schlepped in off of his cot, had neglected to tuck in the back of his red-and-white checked shirt. Nevertheless, after a month of doubt and purse-lipped suspicion, all in a flash it became clear to me that Dylan's opening this tour is an absolutely brilliant plan. Not only is it a great opportunity, after years of double bills and/or opening acts, for a Dylan fan to experience precisely that which he or she has come for: a *Dylan* show, undiluted, un-delayed--not only that, but also (whatever other considerations may have driven Dylan's choice), I'm convinced he must enjoy the sheer ambush value of jumping out unbidden amidst the pre-show hubbub, inspiring joy in the hearts of those already assembled and panic in those not yet seated, then proceeding to whip up and win over the whole disheveled lot of us, with a packed house by concert's end eating right out of his snaky white hand. It's Mythmaking 101, this shape-shifting transformation, and not only does it shake the audience out of its usual concert-going complacency, but seems to be doing the same thing for Dylan and band as well. "Duncan and Brady" made for an ideal opener, the fun of it all out of proportion to the grim story it told, a perfect match for Dylan if one thinks of the tension between wild humor and out-and-out desperation that animates so many of his greatest songs. "Desolation Row" is a song which, for some reason, although it feels sometimes like I have it on every other bootleg, I haven't caught often in concert. What a version. Truest to the spirit of the song that I've heard from the past several years, Dylan injecting a jagged, funhouse humor into the chorus very distant from the somber, even spectral readings of the mid-nineties, but in its own way just as disconcerting. The Nero's Neptune verse caught me off guard, too. A stunner. "Love Minus Zero," on the other hand, I can't seem to listen to without comparing it to those rapturously beautiful '94-'95 renditions, one of Dylan's many close calls with perfection back in the good old nineteen nineties. "Searching for a Soldier's Grave" sounded wonderful, but I won't pretend I was able to focus on it more than I was by rehashing second-hand responses. It was my first time ever hearing the song and it just flew on by. I need another listen, but I did hear enough to know that I *want* another listen. The next highlight in this extremely solid, well-paced show came for me with a slightly bumbled "Tell Me That It Isn't True," appleberry-sweet without ever becoming cloying. One of the bumble-rescues was not, I believe, "it's telling me a lot" but rather "it's tearing me apart" which rhymed about as well, which is to say, not at all. A good save though. That guy up there, I tell ya, he's always thinkin'. Hey Mr. Dylan, so long as we're on the Nashville kick how about throwing in "I Threw It All Away." I think you played that once in '98, first in decades, am I right? Then never again? What a surprise ... hmm ... think we'd better talk this over. By this point, you surely have heard that "Drifter's Escape" is phenomenal. So let me say it again. "Drifter's Escape" is phenomenal. Light years away from the show-opening version of years past, which I recall as being somewhat turgid. I'll admit to being a little worried about the state of Dylan's voice after this leg of excruciatingly hot, steamy, patchouli-scented touring. I needn't have been. Vocals all night, despite the acoustically-challenged venue, were almost preternaturally clear and strong. That, coupled with insanely good harmonica, made this perhaps the best song of the night for me--I mean, this song went over the top and just kept going; Dylan must have gotten caught up in it too (good spirits tonight, equable, lots of thank yous) since he forgot to announce his band afterwards and had to do it in the encore! Sexton's lightning bolt scared the s*** out of me and delighted me all at once, an appropriate response, I guess, to this blasted yet hilarious fable. My response to the "formation," in contrast, was hilarity plain and simple. Did I say something about myth-making before? Ah but I'm easy. They had me at "Duncan and Brady." And by "Things Have Changed," forget about it. Sinuous delivery, threatening yet confiding, not quite in the groove of the outstanding recorded version yet, as Paul Williams has noted, but definitely getting there. You know about the other encores, right? They're still good. "Highway 61"'s even better because Dylan puts more care into the singing of it. Not that singing is what that performance is really *about* but it does up the ante, I feel. "My Back Pages" was stately (too stately?) but unfortunately I couldn't pick up too well on Campbell's violin from my right-of-stage location. Incidentally, why is Campbell allowed to play violin only on this one song? And, um, why is the sky blue? That one's been bugging me too, lately. Well it stayed blue tonight, until it grew gently dark near the end of Dylan's set. During the encores we could see the red lights on the tour buses through the scrim at stage left. That had kind of a homey feel to it, I thought; in fact, the whole show, probably because of the setting, seemed imbued with a kind of dusty, small-town, relaxed, summertime-and-the livin'-is-easy peacefulness and charm, something harder and harder to come by in these days of ever larger and more traffic-logged amphitheaters, ticket inflation, cell phones, wanton drunkenness and fornication (this last message has been brought to you courtesy of the Little Bible Ministry of Pottstown, PA--hey, I owe them a *little* something for their Bible, don't I?), etc. A nice show to ease a fella in, then back out into the starlit mountain American night, the lights of Scranton (or was that the mysterious "Steamtown"?) looking absurdly romantic down in the valley below. Lest you think I've grown soft-headed, let me close out on a different tack. Scranton was my first Dylan show in 2000. Dylan in the '00s: ponderous reflections must ensue. What's he got to say to us, now? Show us? Do for us? First of all, I think he wants to show us and himself a good time, for as many nights as he can do that; and it struck me Tuesday night that this in itself is a gift so precious that it is almost impossible not to take it for granted, all of us being, myth or not, human. Beyond that, or during that, I imagine he'd also like to post a few modest reminders on the local bulletin board, church door or tree. That, for instance, things have changed, but that when the singer tells us that he "used to care" it is not the same thing, is it, as flat-out declaring that "I don't care anymore." More a bewildered questioning infused with pain, with menace and with regret. And a reminder too, that so perhaps did we. Care, that is. About what? Oh about a lot of things I'm sure. But primarily about where we live. Where? On Desolation Row, of course, which, however gentrified, strip-malled, McMansioned, Martha-Stewarted, Land-Rovered, gourmet coffeed, window-dressed it has become, is still--emphatically--what it is. That much hasn't changed, and I believe that Dylan would like us to remember it. Maybe we could enter it in our Palm Pilots, or call and leave ourselves a voice mail, that ours is still a condition of glaring spiritual emptiness, with little hope in sight. But this, this coming together, this being shown a good time, surely this is in itself a mode of caring, and as such a sign of hope. Surely Dylan is caring when he plays and sings this way. The work he and his collaborators have accomplished on stage in the nineties and now into the year 2000 ... so much, and for so long, with such dedication and doubtless at real human cost ... truly, who can grasp its significance whole? What tongue would be adequate to tell it? The good they've done, hey it's loud all right, but it's not a clanging gong, not by any means. The good they've done leaks out of these Podunk tent shows and fairgrounds and trails off onto starlit highways and lies down on tired beds with us. It's modest, even fragile. But that doesn't diminish it, make it any less miraculous. Not to me anyway; I take what I can get. "Follow, poet, follow right To the bottom of the night, With your unconstraining voice Still persuade us to rejoice; With the farming of a verse, Make a vineyard of the curse, Sing of human unsuccess In a rapture of distress; In the deserts of the heart Let the healing fountain start, In the prison of his days Teach the free man how to praise" --W. H. Auden, "In Memory of W.B. Yeats" Thanks again to all the fine reviewers this summer, and let me single out Peter Stone Brown and Lloyd Fonvielle for their beautifully written, incisive accounts of Scranton and Jones Beach. They've left me little to add (though I sure have taken my time doing it thus far). Next time I'll tell you a little more concisely about Jones Beach, which as a concert experience was on a whole other level than Scranton. I'll tell you once I dry off; it's late Thursday evening now, so let's say Saturday at the earliest. Best wishes, -- Stephen "And I'm still carrying the gift you gave, It's a part of me now, it's been cherished and saved"
2000: March - April - May - June - July - Next concert