Can You Tell Me Where We're Heading?
For those who don't care to read about the Bob Dylan concert at the Palace on Thursday, I've left a few pictures so your visit to this blog wasn't in vain.
November is a good month to be a Bob Dylan fan in Michigan. The week of November 2-9 has resulted in five concerts for me since 2000.
November 5, 2000-The Hill Auditorium, Ann Arbor-Bob plays another great concert from a year that saw many. This show was my second & it had alot of highlights including a rare version of Simple Twist of Fate, a great version of Standing in the Doorway, & a guest appearance from a former member of Bob's band, GE Smith.
November 6, 2001-Van Andel Arena, Grand Rapids-This concert, my third, still remains as the best concert I've ever seen, by anybody. This was the first time I ever got up close, about 10 rows back. This show had a great setlist, including one of my favorite songs Every Grain of Sand, one of the best versions of Cry Awhile I've ever heard & the debut of Po' Boy from Love & Theft.
November 7, 2002-Chrysler Arena, Ann Arbor-Bob Dylan shocked everybody by switching to keyboards on this tour, & he also performed a ton of covers from a few of his contemporaries. This show included covers of the Stones' Brown Sugar, Van Morrison's Carrying a Torch, Neil Young's Old Man, & a heartbreaking version of Warren Zevon's Mutineer, who was recently diagnosed with terminal cancer. Bob also commented on the state of contemporary country music by saying "Hank Williams could mop the floor with all of 'em". That was also the day I put an offer in on my first house.
November 9, 2004-Breslin Center, Lansing-A lacklustre performance save for a wonderful rendition of Desolation Row.
Over the last couple of years, Bob Dylan concerts have become for me something of a habit, like watching Lions games, hoping they will turn things around, but knowing deep down that they probably won't. That's not to say that there haven't been highlights, there are always moments at every concert that remind me why I go, but those moments have lately been exceptions to the mediocre rule.
So I headed off to Auburn Hills Thursday, more excited to see my friend Dan before he left for Iraq than I was about the concert. There was certainly more to look forward to than your average Dylan concert, as he has been playing songs from his new album, Modern Times.
The Palace seems to me like an awful place to see a concert, it is cavernous, with no sense of intimacy, & I felt more like part of some marketing strategy than a rock concert. That marketing strategy seemed to entail having the Foo Fighters as the opening act. They were "Acoustic", I don't know if that has anything to do with the fact that they were opening for Bob Dylan, but it seems to me that if you are going to strip your songs down to their "acoustic" core that there oughta be something there to begin with. Needless to say, I was unimpressed, but that's okay. I would have payed the same with or without them there.
Bob came on about a half hour later and from the opening chords of Cat's in the Well, I could tell things were going to be different. It was nice to hear anything but Maggie's Farm to open the show. Senor (Tales of Yankee Power) was next, and it was an extremely haunting version, Bob was in good voice & he ended it with a strong harmonica solo. Stuck Inside of Mobile (with the Memphis Blues Again) was more interesting to my ears than it usually is, the band seemed to be having a good time with it, & Bob's singing was better than usual. Lots of growl, his voice didn't sound thin & as if he were reaching for notes like he has been over the last couple of years. After this song, the lights went down, & before the band started in, I could hear the harmonica playing a melody that sounded like Spirit on the Water, one of the best songs off of Modern Times. I was right, the version was quite good, although the main riff which gives the song it's charm isn't there live, and therefore the song sounds quite muddy. The harp solo that closes the song is much better than the album version, & it's recieved with alot of applause from the audience. Highwater (for Charley Patton) is always played well, and this version was no exception. The banjo playing on this version sets it apart from many others I've heard.
Positively Fourth Street was quite sloppy, both from the band & Bob, but it was well recieved from the crowd. The new arrangement of Cold Irons Bound is incredibly dull, it used to be a consistent power house that always got the crowd excited. No more, but that's okay because Bob pulled out Visions of Johanna next, which competes with Desolation Row for Bob Dylan's greatest song. This was the first time I've seen Bob play it live, & it was very good, although the arrangement leaves much to be desired. This song demands a quiet arrangement meant to command attention with it's subtlety, instead it is too fast, & hokey electric guitar solos seem to rob the verses of their power. Still, it was performed well & a highlight of the concert. A smoky version of Till I Fell in Love With You kept up the momentum, another first for me. The crowd was excited to hear Tangled Up in Blue, although the same could be said for this arrangement as Visions of Johanna.
Highway 61 Revisited was next, another crowd favorite that always left me cold. Nettie Moore was next, & the crowd hung on every verse. This song is much better live than on record as Bob stretches out nicely & varies his vocals from verse to verse. The lyric "I'd walk through a blazing fire, baby, if I knew you were on the other side" gave me goosebumps. Absolutely incredible. I can't wait to hear this one again.
Summer Days sounds like every other version I've heard, it sounds good, but nothing earth shattering. I figured that Thunder on the Mountain would replace Summer Days as the song played at every show, but it seems as though it was just added to the list. The band seemed to rush through this one, & Bob's lyrics were quite hurried. Like a Rolling Stone kept my interest more than it ever has during a concert. It's amazing to see people in the crowd embrace this song the way they do. This is the quintessential song about individualism, about how at the end of the day, you've got no one to blame but yourself for your lot in life. It's been embraced as an anthem, though, "how does it feel to be on your own?" is both a put-down & a cry of pride. Usually my enjoyment of this song comes from watching the audience rather than the performance itself, although this one seemed better than usual. All Along the Watchtower could use a break, it sounds tired, you can almost tell that Bob & band are tired of playing it.
The band sounds better than it has the last couple of years, although it still has no edge. There's no distinction between turning up & turning down the sound, which has been a staple of Bob Dylan's music since the mid sixties. There's a sameness that permeates most of these songs, & almost ruins great songs like Visions of Johanna & Desolation Row. Although, as is always the case, if Bob Dylan is putting care & energy into his songs, it doesn't matter what band is playing behind him. This was certainly the case at the Palace, it was the best concert of Bob's I've seen since the great State Theatre run of March 2004. It's good to have you back, Bob.
Five Favorite Songs of the Day
Every Grain of Sand-Bob Dylan, Grand Rapids, 2001
Dead Man's Will-Iron & Wine & Calexico, In the Reins
Mutineer-Warren Zevon, David Letterman Show, 2002
If You Were Only Here Tonight-Los Lobos, The Town & the City
Two Bass Hit-Miles Davis, Milestones
Happy Saturday, friends, I hope yours has been as lazy as mine!
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