Sunday, December 17, 2006

Review of Orphans by Tom Waits

I should preface this post by saying I'm not a Tom Waits junkie. I only discovered his music this summer with one listen of Mule Variations, but was immediately hooked, and have since picked up Rain Dogs, Frank's Wild Years, Heartattack and Vine, and Live in Sydney 79. They are all incredible and I was psyched to see the release of such an intensive album just as I got into him. As a result of my newbie-ness to the Waits catelogue, however, this won't be the most fact-packed review. And what few facts there are could well be wrong. Though some of the songs had been released before, on soundtracks and such, I had never heard any of them, and don't even know which the old ones are. So I am approaching this album as a whole, treating all songs the same, ignoring whether they're old or new. To me, they're all new.

As for a little background, the album is called Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers, and Bastards, referring to the title of the three CD's. The songs are a mixed bag, some outtakes, some previously released on soundtracks and
such, and some written just for the occassion. The cover says that 30 of the tracks are new, though I don't know whether that means recorded recently, or just released officially for the first time. The tracks, however, have been organized with great care into three discs. Brawlers features roadhouse stomps and dirty blues, Bawlers features slow tear-jerkers, and Bastard features more experimental stuff, included quite a bit of spoken word pieces. While dividing them up like this is an innovative way to approach it, I find it creates a certain lack of variety from one song to the next, and the discs are best shuffled together on an iPod or something. That being said, I love the idea behind it, and luckily the music lives up to its intricate planning.


1. The first track, Lie To Me, is what I guess would be considered the single, given that there's a quasi-music video floating around online, and this was the track he chose to perform on Letterman. If it is the single, it's a good choice, being classic Waits. It's got a stomping beat, a chorus that just repeats one line over and over without ever sounding repetetive, and the instruments muddied enough to let Tom's bark take center stage. The highlight of the song, however, is the stop-start arrangement that comes at the end of each verse. With a drum flourish, the instruments all cut out, letting Tom finish the line, before resting a beat, then blasting back in. This is what really differentiates the song from many of Tom's other bluesy rockers, and he underscored it with an arms-spread move in the Letterman performance.

2. The intro to LowDown comes in sounding like vintage ZZ Top, and rocks with the same bluesy swagger and a driving bass thump. Tom's voice is distorted and gravelly as hell, just clear enough to let you discern the lyrics. And the lyrics are dynamite,
such lines as "she's a rebel, she's a yell" showing what a killer songwriter he is. I'd hate to be the girl described as "a cheap motel with a burned out sign".

3. I've heard people list 2:19 as their favorite track on Brawlers and, while I wouldn't go that far, you can see why. It comes in with a harmonica wailing, which floats in and out throughout the song. The lyrics to the verses are great, even if the tune (or lack thereof) isn't hugely memorable, but was does stand out are the low "hey hey"s of the chorus, not shouted by growled. It sounds like a song about two lovers being parted, but the last verse changes everything. Only one of them is sad about it.

4. One of my favorite aspects of Tom's songwriting is his ability to come up with character names. And if you don't know what I mean, listen to these: Peoria Johnson, Little Son Jackson, the 44 Kid. They're all in Fish in the Jailhouse, and tell you everything you could want to know about them in their names alone. Other than that, the best part of this song is the instrumentation, starting as just banging and getting more and more industrial-sounding, complete with siren. If the jailhouse made music, this is what it would sound like.

5. Anti, Tom's record company, released a few songs to promote this release, and Bottom of the World was the first one. And it's a great choice, toeing the line between this and the Bawlers disc. It has a tune you can't forget, the verses as memorable as the chorus. Tom's voice doesn't sound better anywhere, as he twists each phrase to make you cringe. The chorus is very simple, which would be an obstacle to most musicians, but Tom nails it. The verses, on the other hand, aren't simple at all. Every line is a classic, but I especially like "That fresh egg yeller is too damn rare / But the white part is perfect for slickin down your hair" and "The moon's the color of a coffee stain". Not only that, but this song has got great characters up the wazoo. How would you like to meet Satchel Puddin', Lord God Mose, Blackjack Ruby, Nimrod Cain, Jesse Frank, Birdy Joe Hoaks, or Scarface Ron? How about eating Telapia fish cakes, fried black swan, razorweed onion, or peacock squirell? Yum.

6. Waits songs aren't generally straightforw
ard or narrative, but Lucinda is about as close as it gets. It's the story of William the Pleaser following Lucinda and finding her outside the Whitehorse. He gets there a little too late though, and suddenly when the opening lines "I'll never see heaven or home" are repeated at the end they have a totally different meaning.

7. The first cover so far is one of Leadbelly's Ain't Going Down to the Well, but it's nothing like the original. Tom repeats "mama to the well" over and over,
then changes tones comepletely when he sings "I'm a true believer", all instrumentation stopping except for a banjo and some ambient noise. Tom has said, "I was born the day after Leadbelly died. I’d like to think we passed in the hall. When I hear his voice, I feel I know him. Maybe I was a rock on a road he walked on or a dish in his cupboard, because when I heard him first I recognized him." It makes sense. Here's a video of him singing it, playing just a banjo and tambourine, and it's even cooler than the album version: Ain't Going Down to the Well.

8. Another cover up next, with Lord I've Been Changed. It's more distinctive that Ain't Going Down, with Tom using his voice to full effect (but then again, when doesn't he?). Once again, however, there's a video online that may be even better: Lord I've Been Changed.

9. Puttin' On the Dog, to be perfectly honest, isn't that memorable. Just standard blues-influenced Waits with not particularly great lyrics. The line "You gotta wake right up in your dreams" reflects, of course, Tom's song Please Wake Me Up off of Frank's Wild Years.

10. Road to Peace is quite jarring the first time you hear it, but incredible as a result. The tale of a Palestinian suicide bomber is direct, painful, and captures precisely of the Middle East conflict without taking sides. What grabs your attention is that the last line doesn't rhyme right when you expect it to, ending instead with the phrase "road to peace" (most of the time). I don't know if Tom Waits has ever written a song this direct and topical, but it sure outside his normal spectrum of outlandish characters in unbelievable situations. About the suicide bomber Tom sings, "He was an excellent student, he studied so hard it was as if he had a future." The delivery, moreover, brings out all the horror and confusion of the lyrics. Another one that was released early, hearing it more often hasn't lessened its power.

11. From the moment All the Time begins, you know it's gonna be good. Instead of a standard instrumental backing, it features rhythmic barking by Waits which he then sings over. A bass is the only recognizable instrument until the thudding drums crash in later. No other musician could pull this off, but as more and more instruments layer on top of the barking and yelling, you can see why Waits is as famous as he is.

12. Tom's cover of The Return of Jackie and Judy shows its origins, the crunchy guitar adding some Dee Dee and Joey to the pounding Waits song. One of the least musically adventurous songs on this album, but that's exactly why it works so well. It's nice to hear something a little more familiar and easy to latch onto. There are few things as cliche in rock as yelling "oh yeah" a bunch of times, but Tom makes the phrase his own. It ends with a sonic drum meltdown.

13. A great beat helps Walk Away bop along pleasantly. Nothing re
volutionary, but a very well-crafted and unusual tune that is pushed along by an unexpected rhyhmic change in the chorus. The lyrics are classic Waits, about people killing each other and carving theirs names into trees. Check out a live version from '98 here.

14. Sea of Love, a cover of a #1 single by
John Phillip Baptiste, is one of the most melodic songs on the Brawlers disc, and the chorus is absolutely gorgeous. The way Tom sings it at least, there's only one verse and one chorus, repeated over and over again. But it doesn't matter; the tune and instrumentation is the star here, not the words. The song has also been covered by Cat Power and Iggy Pop.

15. Easily the best-titled song on the album, I had high hopes for B
uzz Fledderjohn. Lyrically, it definitely delivered, painting a picture of a guy not unlike the guy from What's He Building? The irony is that the story, here, seems to be told by a kid, as he "ain't allowed in Buzz Fledderjohn's yard", which makes it even creepier.

16. Longtime colaborater Chuck E. Weiss co-wrote this song with Waits (subbing in for his usual wif
e co-writing credit). It is a nice tune, featuring a duet between Tom and...someone else. Chuck's not listed as a vocal contrubuter on the album, so it may just be two tracks of Tom, but it makes a very cool effect, and a perfect transition into Bawlers.

1. Bend Down the Branches, this little 66-second intro to the slow, sad disc, is a gorgeous piece that could have easily worked as a full-fledged song. Tom Waits’ roadhouse stomps and experimental squalls are great, but there is something to be said for tunes, and this guy can write ‘em in spades. Just as you’re getting into this song it leads right to…

2. You Can Never Hold Back Spring was the third song I heard before the album was released, and the tune hasn’t left my head since. It’s so simple, but s
omehow it haunts you from the first time you hear. Somehow Tom’s voice and the sparse piano/horn instrumentals come together in a word that can only be described as two minutes and twenty-six seconds of perfection. Check out this guy’s classical guitar version at youtube.

3. Less syrupy and sweet than the previous two, Long Way Home was more of an instrumental bounce to it. It’s a songs that, sung faster and with heavier instrumentation, could be a Brawlers rocker. But it comes across much better in this slow version, lines like “Money’s just something you throw off the back of a train” somehow making sense. More than the song-writing though is Tom’s inspired singing
(and humming) which takes the song to a whole other level.

4. The intro to Widow’s Grove mak
es it sound like a song you’ve known you’re whole life, and maybe it is a familiar tune, but I can place it. And the slow waltz of a melody is equally gorgeous, as cellos mix with flamenco guitar and brushed drums. Tom Waits has the ability to write music that will move one to tears better than any songwriter alive today, and couples it perfectly with lines about how “near the breath of a swallow the petals dropped as you fell / and you grabbed, and shyly held me by the stone cold well.” The end, however, has a twist directly from classic film noir.

5. Is Little Dr
op of Poison an outtake from an Adams Family movie? And who knew Waits was so good at writing dance music, following a stately waltz with a sensual tango. The high female wailing in the background give it a ghostly feel. The sound and lyrics give you a very clear picture of the narrator, and old man left alone by a cruel woman he pines for any way, realizing that all his past dealings are about to catch up with him.

Shiny Things is a duet between Tom and…a banjo, both singing the exact same tune. Though this song is less memorable than the previous ones, it is already clear that, while the jumping and swinging on Brawlers was great, Waits is at his absolute best with the slow piano-bar ballads.

7. There’s not too much I ca
n think of to say about World Keeps Turning. It’s nice to listen to, and creates its own mood like everything else on this disc, but is not particularly unique.

8. Tell It to Me is the classic story of rumors leading a former lover to be far more jealous as he lets on. However, it was never so heartbreakingly summed up as, “I know you have a daughter and I hear she has my eyes. They say she calls him father and I hear he’s proud of her.” Ouch. The pedal steel has a solo just in time to make the story of Louise’s “faithless beauty” all the more poignant, winding in and out of Tom’s own humming.

9. The piano intro to Never Let Go makes it sound like Bottom of the Well part two, but the lyrics are in another world. Instead of saying any more, I’m just going to quote the whole first verse:

Well ring the bell backwards and bury the axe
Fall d
own on your knees in the dirt
I’m tied to the mast between water and wind
Believe me, you’ll never get hurt
Now the r
ing’s in the pawn shop
The rain’s in the hole
Down at the five points I stand
I’ll lose everything, but I won’t let go of your hand

The other lines are all just as good. Best lyrics so far, reminiscent of Springsteen’s If I Should Fall Behind.

10. Fannin Street seems to be inspired by an old Leadbelly song of the same name. It is by far the least memorable song on Bawlers thus far. Not particularly interesting lyrics, not a very memorable tune. The only thing that saves it is, naturally, Tom’s voice.

11. Teddy Edwards was a West coast jazz saxophonist in the middle of the century. He wrote Little Man, and Tom keeps it to jazz-swing form, starting with just Tom on piano, then adding in some sax fills and light drumming. He conjures up the sound of a New York jazz club at three am, only a few night-owls hanging around, half asleep, as the performer gets ready to pack up.

12. The evidence that this hodge-podge set is meticulously organized can be seen in the transition to It’s Over, another jazzy number by Waits himself, which just sounds as the second part of Little Man. It’s still piano-based, but there are a few more instruments in the background there, including some broom-
like swishing noise. Where the former track was good in setting a mood, the lyrics or melody were not hugely memorable, and Tom picks up the slack here, cramming about a dozen tunes into one song in classic jazz fashion.

13. With If I Have to Go, Tom brings it all down to just the piano tinkling behind a gorgeous ballad. The lyrics are simple and basic, a story sung a million times that never gets less painful. “If I have to go, will you remember me, or find someone else while I’m away?”

14. It’s dangerous to try to say which is the best track in such an incredible set, but Tom’s cover of the folk staple Goodnight Irene is sure up there. The instrumentation is perfect, filling in the background with a sonic wall that is still quiet and unintrusive. Tom’s voice is as loud and powerful as it gets on this disc, and the chorus seems to have a chorus of raspy singers joining him (and hearing him bark “everybody!” before the last chorus is memorable). While a far cry from the Weaver’s version of the song, the two seem to be coming from the same place.

15. The Fall of Troy is about, not a wooden horse or people whose names end in “us”, but the death of an 18-year old boy named Troy and the toll it takes on his family. It’s heart-breaking and, in a song with very literal lyrics, the line “the well is full of pennies” gives it the perfect end. This song didn’t strike me as too much initially, but it gets better with every listen.

16. Tom takes a very familiar melody (though I can’t quite place it) as the basis for the gospel number Take Care of All of My Children and sings it wi
th gusto. The lyrics sound almost like something you might hear in a Baptist church, with a few exceptions (I’m not sure they’d be singing about “ending up in a frying pan”). The rolling drums, crashing cymbals, and blaring horns send the song straight up to heaven along with its singer.

17. Down By the Train was originally written for Johnny Cash, who released it on his first American album in the early 90’s. Where Cash’s version, backed only by an intermittently-strummed acoustic guitar, tended to drag, Waits’ version is much fuller and, as a result, more commanding. Ringing piano chords lend an echoey background to Tom’s vocals that helps the song’s length (5:39) not pull it down. The religious theme carries over from the previous song, but trades spirituality for topicality, with
such lines as “I saw Judas Iscariot carrying John Wilkes Booth.”

18. Whereas Brawler’s Ramones cover sounded reasonably similar to the original, the brash New York foursome would be last group you’d expect to have written Danny Says based on Tom’s version. Featuring slow slide guitar and even perhaps a Theremin, it totally changes the poppy melody of the original to a somber dirge.

19. The lyrics to Jayne’s Blue
Wish serve only as the intro to the far-more-memorable horn solo backed by a solo guitar. An incidental song more than anything, but nice nevertheless.

20. Frank Sinatra’s Young at Heart has been covered by artist’s from Tony Bennett to The Cure, but Waits’ countrified version sticks to the pace and melody of the original, replacing violins with steel guitar and rounding out the second disc perfectly, taking the tempo up a bit to lead into Bastards.

1. The first song, What Keeps Mankind Alive, belongs on Bastards probably more because of its source material than the performance itself. From Bertolt Brecht’s The Threepenny Opera (also the source, of course, for Mack the Knife), it is a look at the sordid nature of mankind that Waits gives a waltz/tango feel with a thumping bass beat.

2. Now we’re into the weird stuff. Children’s Story is the first spoken-word piece on Orphans, taken from a play by Büchner. Tom speaks it with resign, his voice distorted and backed with a floating horn as he speaks about a post-Apocalyptic loneliness and the Earth as an “overturned piss-pot”. The best part is the end, though, where he tells the child to whom this horrid tale is presumably being told, “There’s your story, now go to sleep” before hacking out a laugh. There's also a very nice video inspired by the reading here.

3. Ever since I first read about Tom covering Heigh Ho (the dwarves’ song from Snow White), it was the thing I was most anticipating on Orphans. His version, not surprisingly, is about as different from the original as it could be, but not in a good way. It has the sound of a mine, but loses the fun or the original, only replacing it repetitiveness. Listening to the lyrics, you can’t even recognize what dong it is until halfway through. Pretty monotonous, though the harp solo at the end redeems it a bit.

4. What other musician could make a recitation of random insects facts seem so cool? In Army Ants, this plucked bassline bounces up and dow
n as Tom recites things about insects straight out of an encyclopedia, overly enunciating in a way that replicates every bad middle school science movie you ever saw. Everything I love about Tom’s voice is at its best here (listen to how he pronounces “menial tasks). Absolutely genius, and the facts are quite cool themselves. I’ve never put liquor on a scorpion, but I kind of want to try now.

5. Books of Mos
es ia a solo song by Jefferson Airplane’s mentally unstable drummer Alexander “Skip” Spence. Under Waits direction, it gains a strong foot-tapping beat with xylophone fills in the background. The meter and tune are pretty traditional but, as is generally the case with Waits, sound far from usual.

6. I can’t figure out much to say about Bone Chain. It’s pretty non-descript, and I have no idea why its sixty-three seconds were included on the album.

7. Two Sisters is about as pared-down as Orphans gets, with only a fiddle behind Waits as he sings this traditional ballad. The simple melody is arresting in Tom’s presentation of it, telling the story about sibling rivalry taken to its deadly extreme. Closes with a lovely fidd
le solo that you wish were longer.

8. A spoken piece as only Tom can do em, First Kiss describes a woman who “hated the mention of rain” and would sing about Elkheart, Indiana. She “had at least a hundred old baseballs she’d taken from kids” and “could fix anything with string”. Every line is brilliant, and you wish he’d keep describing her forever. The most surprising thing, though, is that at the end he sings that he’s “talking bout my little Kathleen,” which is the name of his wife. Interesting…

9. Wow, Dog Door is certainly the most surprising track so far. Tom Waits does industrial techno. A collaboration with the group Sparklehorse, it is incredibly cool to listen to. I can’t tell if the noises are being made with real instruments or computerized, and it’s next to impossible to make out some of the lyrics, but it doesn’t matter a bit. The biggest bastard of them all.

10. Redrum is an instrumental using God knows what strange instruments, flowing nicely from Dog Door, but giving the listener a chance to catch his breath. As brief interludes go, it’s a good one.

11. Another spoken-word piece, Nirvana was written by Los Angeles poet Charles Bukowski, and is a nice story about a brief moment of peace in a café by the side of the road. Waits tells is perfectly, taking the protagonist into himself by speaking in a weary and bored manner as he describes both the bus outside and the café itself. He says the man thinks the café is beautiful, but Waits’ voice keeps the monotone, insinuating that this beauty just isn’t quite enough to break through to the hum-drum of the m
an’s everyday life. And then it’s gone.

12. Waits takes Ja
ck Kerouac’s Home I’ll Never Be and turns into a beautiful, sad story of a father and sun. It’s a little unclear why it’s on Bastards though, as the singing and piano make it clearly of Bawlers caliber.

13. Poor Little Lamb is a nice little number, featuring Tom in full cabaret mode backed by accordion. I’m not sure what it’s about, but a good tune.

14. Church bells are the obvious way to intro Alter Boy (and no, it’s not about what you’re thinking). In the story of an old alter boy, Waits takes a page out of Dylan’s Tangled Up in Blue book, and switched between first and third person pronouns interchangeably.

15. I can’t imagine what made Tom think to write The Pontiac, which just sounds like a lengthy monologue from a movie, a father telling his son ab
out all the car’s he’s owned, car’s driving by in the background. You wait for it to reach some conclusion at the end, some sort of meaning for the story’s existence, but it never does, and that’s the beauty of it.

16. From the moment Tom’s raspy, distorted beat-boxing starts up, you know Spidey’s Wild Ride is o
n Bastards for a reason. And that, punctuated periodically by shrill screams, serves as the background for a quasi-sung, quasi-recited piece about Bull Trometer, Big John Jizom from downtown Chizom, and Bird Lundy (like I said, I love the names). I’m not exactly sure what this song is about, but it reminds me of that Stephen King story about the woman who keeps finding back-roads short-cuts to her destination, over time cutting the travel time down from 45 minutes to 30, then 20, then 15, then 10, going along roads that aren’t on any map until one day she just disappears.

17. More beat-boxing is the basis for King Kong, a song by Daniel Johnson, a bipolar and psychotic songwriter in and out of institutions. Some Kong-esq screams come in soon, followed by instruments added one by one. The story is pretty much a straight-forward telling of the Kong story (including the great line “He climbed up the Empire State Building / It was like a
phallic symbol”), but the repeated line “He was the King” gives it weird Elvis parallels.

18. Calling this song On the Road is misleading, because it’s exactly the same song as Home I’ll Never Be. The same lyrics that is; the style is totally different, changing it from a slow piano ballad to a banging steel-guitared yell. I guess that’s why the earlier one was on this disc; they both work equally well.

19. For whatever reason, the final two tracks aren’t listed on the album cover, but are rather bonus tracks. This first one, Dog Treat, is a between-song monologue from a live concert showing Tom’s wacky sense of humor in the ordinary, saying, among other things, that he can get you a whale’s pancreas if you want one.

20. Missing My Son closes the album out with another monologue,
not live though, of an anecdote about an experience in the supermarket. What you don’t realize until right at the end is that it’s one big joke, but it’s a hilarious listen all the way until there, and ends with a great Waits laugh. A perfect closer to an amazing album.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Dylan's Finest Performances of 2006

Over at the Dylanpool stefan has started one of his incredible threads chronicling Dylan's finest performances of the year. With 3-4 songs presented a day though, it becomes easy to fall behind if you miss a day or two. Moreover, links expire and you have to search way back to find what came when. And heaven help you if the song you're looking for was one of stefan's personal picks, cause finding the thread title won't help you locate the song.

So I'm going to keep a running list of the mp3's, ordered chronologically, for easy reference. I'll try to keep all the links up-to-date, so let me know if one stops working. A * next to the name means it is one poolers chose; the others are stefan's. Enjoy.

The nominations thread:,705207
The finalists thread:,707976
The voting thread:,722958
The winners:,730919

And the mp3's (last edited 12/26):

Reno 4/1
Tears of Rage
Stockton 4/3
She Belongs to Me *
High Water (for Charlie Patton) *
Bakersfield 4/5
Shooting Star
Las Vegas 4/7
It Ain't Me, Babe
Love Sick
Sun City West 4/8
Mr. Tambourine Man *
This Wheel's on Fire *
The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carrol *
God Knows
Rainy Day Women #12 & 35
Albuquerque 4/11
Things Have Changed
Cold Irons Bound
El Paso 4/12
Queen Jane Approximately
Grand Prarie 4/15
Queen Jane Approximately
Don't Think Twice, It's Alright
Springfield 4/22
Ballad of a Thin Man *
Memphis 4/25
Most Likely You Go Your Way (and I'll Go Mine)
New Orleans 4/28
Don't Think Twice, It's Alright
Birmingham 4/30
Visions of Johanna
Atlanta 5/5
Positively 4th Street
Cork 6/25
Just Like a Woman *
Cardiff 6/27
Love Sick
Summer Days
Gelsenkirchen 7/2
Senor (Tales of Yankee Power) *
Vallodalid 7/8
Down Along the Cove
Roskilde 7/10
This Wheel's on Fire
Paestum 7/12
Desolation Row *
Comstock Park 8/12
Shelter from the Storm
Columbus 8/13
New Morning
Shelter from the Storm *
Winston-Salem 8/18
Honest With Me
A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall *
Reading 8/23
You Ain't Going Nowhere

Pawtucket 8/24
Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues
Pittsfield 8/24
Million Miles
New Britain 8/29
Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You
Rochester 8/30
Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat
Wappingers Falls 9/1
The Man in Me
Not Dark Yet *
Cooperstown 9/2
My Back Pages
Fargo 9/9
Lay Lady Lay
Seattle 10/13
Highway 61 Revisited
A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall
Portland 10/14
Tombstone Blues
Workingman's Blues #2
San Francisco 10/16
Lenny Bruce *
I'll Be Your Baby Tonight
San Francisco 10/17
Simple Twist of Fate
Most Likely You Go Your Way (and I'll Go Mine)
Los Angeles 10/20
When the Deal Goes Down
Tangled Up in Blue
It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)
Long Beach 10/21
Nettie Moore
San Diego 10/22
Sugar Baby
Lincoln 10/25
Ballad of a Thin Man
Chicago 10/27
Boots of Spanish Leather
Chicago 10/28
Ballad of Hollis Brown *
Joey *
St. Paul 10/29
Masters of War
Madison 10/31
John Brown
Watching the River Flow
Workingman's Blue #2 *
Blind Willie McTell *
Auburn Hills 11/2
Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again
Visions of Johanna
Til' I Fell in Love With You
London 11/3
Not Dark Yet
Montreal 11/8

Senor (Tales of Yankee Power)

Girl of the North Country
Portland 11/9
Desolation Row
Boston 11/11
Maggie's Farm
Boston 11/12
Absolutely Sweet Marie
Honest With Me
Til' I Fell in Love With You *
Cold Irons Bound *
Amherst 11/15
Cold Irons Bound
The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carrol
I Don't Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met) *
Lenny Bruce
East Rutherford 11/16
Senor (Tales of Yankee Power)
Things Have Changed *
Simple Twist of Fate *
Fairfax 11/17
Spirit on the Water *
Nettie Moore *
Philadelphia 11/18
The Levee's Gonna Break
High Water (for Charlie Patton)
To Ramona
New York City 11/20
Senor (Tales of Yankee Power)
Spirit on the Water
Ain't Talkin' *
Thunder on the Mountain *
Like a Rolling Stone *

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Tenacious D live at Rock'n'Roe '06

With their new movie "The Pick of Destiny" just out, it seemed like a good time to post a great recent D concert. While they hadn't been touring at the time (this is their only concert in a 14-month period), they came together to play, of all things, a benefit concert for Planned Parenthood. "Rock 'n' Roe" (as in Roe vs. Wade) had been going for a few years, but had just had local California musicians, so they clearly tried to amp it up a notch. And the D, made up of Jack Black and Kyle Gass (yes, "that other guy" has a name) delivered, playing a concert heavy on debuts of songs that wouldn't be officially released for almost a year, including "Kickapoo", "Dude, I Totally Miss You", "Master Exploder", and "The Government Totally Sucks". While the versions released on the soundtrack album have full instrumentation, this is just the D playing as they do best: two guys rocking the hell out of acoustic guitars. It also features some of their great covers, including Flash leading into Wonderboy and a Tommy Medley. Enjoy.

Tenacious D
Fonda Theatre - Los Angeles, CA
"Rock 'n' Roe" Benefit

01. Flash
02. Wonderboy
03. Kickapoo
04. Dio
05. The Road
06. Tribute
07. Dude I Totally Miss You

08. Saxaboom
09. I'm Toasted
10. Master Exploder
11. Special Things
12. Lee
13. Explosivo
14. The Government Totally Sucks
15. Fuck Her Gently
16. Sex Supreme
17. Tommy Medley


Monday, November 13, 2006

Dylan in Boston 11/12/06

Well, last Bob Day for a while. And it was a great one. Had a nice pre-show get-together with Marcel, Cece, handlevandal, The Fortune Teller, dancin' neath the diamond skies, dangling rope, and one or two others. It took me a while to haggle my way into the bar to hang out with them, but it was worth the stress. After a couple hours hanging out and talking Bob, we headed over to the show. I had, in addition to my backpack, a huge trash bag full of clothes from the Garment District's "a pound for a dollar" room. Thrift-store shopping at its finest, but I did get some funny looks from some people at the venue. They let me chuck it all under a stairwell though, so it wasn't a problem. It also allowed me to bring in a camera, in addition to my binoculars, but it turned out not to matter.

I was sad it would be my last time seeing The Raconteurs live, but maybe I'll catch them again down the road (although hopefully the White Stripes will get back together and make it a moot point). They mixed up their set list a bit this time, which was nice. They didn't actually add any songs, but they mixed up the order, kicking it off with Hands (good to get out of the way) before Intimate Secretary. It Ain't Easy vanished from the set, as did I think another song, but weren't replaced by anything. I'm not sure where the freed-up time went. Bang, Bang was incredible again, but for me the stand-out track from this set was Broken Boy Soldiers, which Jack rocked out. A cool feature of a few songs, this especially, is a mic he has set up in the back by the drum kit which is heavily distorted, making his words even louder and weirder sounding. Everything came out yelling like a banshee yell through that and it was fun to see him the few times he used it. Will probably just sound bizarre on the recording, but was great to see live. Blue Veins was better than the previous two I'd seen, and they wrapped it all up with Steady As She Goes.

I bought a poster during the br
eak then got back into my seat with a little time to spare. The guy in the seat next to me, a senior at BU, was very excited about Bob when I talked to him before the Racs set, and pretty well informed...but then he left after the first Racs song and never came back. Very weird. I was hoping to convert him; he already had asked me to send him Cynthia Gooding and knew about the pool, but I never saw him again. Oh well.

I was hoping, for the third night in a row, for Absolutely Sweet Marie to open the show, and finally Bob granted my wish. Even though it was only done decently, it's still clearly a great way to open the show. The riff could be a little louder, but it was still fun to hear.

Things really got started with Senor (Tales of Yankee Power) though. I had been hoping for this song, and thought it was likely because it was Sunday, but was overjoyed to hear it nevertheless. And what a great version. Delicately done and sublime. An early highlight, and my first new song.

I recognized the opening riff immediately to the next song, but couldn't quite place it until he started singing. I just wasn't expecting Honest With Me at all, much less in the third slot, but it was great to hear (and, amazingly enough, to only Love and Theft song of the night). The signature fill between lines was gone, but a version of it showed up in between solo lines (only with the chord played three times, instead of two). It was very well done too, best version I've seen, and the show was certainly off to a great start both setlist and performance-wise.

I was a little disappointed to get Positively 4th Street, the first song that I'd already gotten this tour, but my frustration quickly abated as I heard the delivery. Much like Chicago's version, the bitterness was quickly stated, but furious nevertheless. This song is as good as it's been for years, and didn't have a hint of upsinging.

Wow, Masters of War, I didn't see that coming either. While not ground-breaking, the set had been quite surprising so far. It was a solid version, though it didn't particularly stand out for me.

Alright, another first time for me, and one I definitely didn't see coming, Til I Fell In Love With You
. And another highlight, not quite as good as last fall's versions, but still one of the best Time Out of Mind songs live these days. Totally reinvented from the mediocre album version and another huge highlight.

Easily the second best live song off of Modern Times so far (what's first? scroll down), When the Deal Goes Down was done to perfection. This song didn't get the attention it deserved when the album was released, but at least Bob seems to understand what a great song this is. It's not often you hear Bob play a waltz, and a woman in front of me took advantage of that, waltzing around by herself all over the floor. Kind of weird, but it was nice to see her so into it. With her and the romantic couple in Chicago, this song seems to fire up the emotions.

But Cold Irons Bound was nice to hear again, and made three very recent songs in a row, a rare occurance. It was done well, but nothing too outstanding. Quite a number of people (myself included of course) cheered on the "winds in Chicago" line, so I clearly wasn't the only one from out of town. I feel like the riff wasn't quite as prominant as it was this summer.

Every Grain of Sand solidifed this as the best setlist in a while, some real gems being tossed in. I'm not as big of a fan of this song, but he really nailed it tonight. Absolutely gorgeous. I've managed to see this song three times live in thirteen shows, which is pretty good.

Rollin' and Tumblin' still sucks live. Denny's "solos" weren't such at all, just him playing the guitar chords up and down the neck. Awful. Hopefully hearing this so late in the set meant we weren't going to get Highway 61.

I was hoping we'd avoided Tangled Up In Blue, but it seems to have become a regular. It's funny how one of the songs I really wanted to see live before this tour started has already become dreary. Just shows you the power of setlists. This version was somewhat different though, as Stu had changed his riff. It was lower on the next, and the second chord was higher than the first. An interesting change, and made it nice to hear. This was one of the best versions I've seen though, with no flubbed lines.

I'd been waiting five shows for Nettie Moore, and this was my last chance this tour. And not only did I get it, but boy did Bob deliver! The easy highlight of the show, and a highlight of my concert-going experience overall. I'd heard how great this one was live, but had avoided listening to any recordings so I could hear it live for the f
irst time in person. It was everything it was cracked up to be and more, even better than the already-great album version. During the verses there was a little more instrumentation than on the album, but not much, and it was sung very faithfully. The main difference was he did something totally different with the "Oh I miss you Nettie Moore" line than on the album. I don't think it was quite as good, but it was fun to hear anyway.

I guess with the elaborate light show, every concert has to have Highway 61 Revisited these days, but seeing it end the set instead of Summer Days was a welcome relief. Every little surprise is a good one, and having only one of two songs each concert is great as far as I'm concerned. I'm not sure which one the band does better, so perhaps alternating them would work fine. They both could use a periodic break.

Thunder on the Mountain is always good as the first encore song, but I feel like it could use a bit more oomph. The instrumentation is a little muddy.

As I've said in my previous reviews, taking away the lights from Like a Rolling Stone kills it dead in the water. This did feature my funniest audience moment of the night though, where a guy who'd been higher in the stand came down next to me at ground level and started spastically dancing. The best part was, since he was trashed, he would yell every line after Bob would so out of tune it would seem he was trying. He was also about as off-rhythm as one could be. Normally this would be annoying, but he was just so horrendously bad and obnoxious that it was just funny to hear him and watch everyone's reactions. Definitely livened up another warhorse.

I was sick of him by All Along the Watchtower, though, so I headed up to where he had been. It was the best version I've heard this tour, not hard-rocking enough, but getting closer. The riff is more defined than the mess it had been, and it definitely was closer to the energy it used to have.

After the show I scurred out, got a ride to South Station with The Fortune Teller (thanks again!) and caught the late-night bus back to Hanover. Til next tour.

The Raconteurs set

Intro - Cold Irons Bound
Every Grain of Sand - All Along the Watchtower

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Dylan in Boston 11/11/06

After a nice day off hanging out with friends from the Oklahoma play this summer, I headed down to Boston. I had been hoping someone would organize a pooler get-together, but no one did, so I threw one together at the last minute. I just picked a place at random that Mapquest said was close to the venue, and it turned out it had changed its name. People figured out though, and a few people showed up: Joe and a non-pooler friend, Kathleen, Saul, and Paul, whose ticket I had. One hot pastrami sandwich later, we headed to the venue. The seats Paul and I had turned out to be perfect. At an angle to the stage to see Bob’s face, but not at such an extreme angle that you got a crappy view of everyone else. I’ve got the same seats for tonight, only farther forward, so I’m psyched.

The Raconteurs came on right at 7:30 to a mostly empty arena, and kicked into another killer set. The only problem: it was the exact killer set I saw in Portland. Not one song changed. With a frontman whose previous band was notorious for never even having a planned set-list, this repetition was somewhat discouraging. There were a few differences though; such as a very different, slowed-down ending to Steady, As She Goes which really differentiated it from the album version. It also made the song much longer and was nice to see. Bang, Bang was probably the highlight tonight, the version even better than in Portland. Closing with Yellow Sun and Hands is incredibly anti-climactic though; they have so many better songs, I have no idea why that’s the impression they want to leave.

During the break I got a call from a good friend who lives in Boston saying she was actually at the show. Apparently about an hour beforehand a friend had said she had a few extra tickets, so she said, why not? Who don’t I ever snag free tickets to these shows? So I spent most of the break trying to push my way to the opposite side of the venue and back to see her.

Got back to my seat a couple minutes before Bob came on. I saw Donnie on the pedal steel and thought, uh oh. And yeah, it was Maggie’s Farm. But, it was the best version of the song I’ve ever seen. He was on tonight right from the beginning, playing the song as if he never would again (though let’s not get our hopes up). Absolutely nailed it from beginning to end, singing each line a different way, throwing in some staccato periodically, or pausing and then firing back in with the lyric. If he was this inspired you think he would have chosen a different song to open with, but at least he blasted the hell out of this one.

The momentum only grew with She Belongs to Me, by far the highlight of the night (how often can you say that about the second song?). He put his heart and soul into every line, not relying on the downsinging that made the earlier versions fun, but was starting to wear thin. His voice sounded in top form, and his delivery was flawless. Can’t wait for the recording of this one. He closed it out with an excellent harp solo that went on for a long time, well over a minute. Bob was in top form for sure.

But if he was in such top form, why was he playing such a standard set list, I wondered as Lonesome Day Blues began. It’s always a good song to hear, one of the best off of Love and Theft, but as I’d just gotten it in Chicago (after Ma
ggie’s and She Belongs of course) a couple weeks ago, I wasn’t too excited. It was a very nicely done version, but not up the level of the amazing Chicago rendition.

I was thrilled to hear the opening chords to the next one. Kind of strange that it took me twelve shows to get Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright, but there you go. It is one of my favorite Dylan songs, and I enjoyed every minute of. A bit of periodic upsinging for sure (especially in the middle), but I enjoyed it regardless. A bit of a lyric flub with “It ain’t no use in calling out my name babe/The light I never knowed”, but what are you going to do. The last verse, incidentally, was stellar, and was capped off with some nice harp.

I saw Donnie picking up his violin and thought, son of a… And yes, it was It’s Alright Ma, again. No Bob, it’s not alright, stop playing this damn song so often. Or at least play it every night so we’re not disappointed when it shows up, taking up a slot another song could have used.

I was somewhat surprised to hear the intro to Workingman’s Blues #2, as I think of it as usually being the penultimate song of the main set. I hoped this meant I’d get my first Nettie Moore later. This version was far better than average, not award-winning, but at least he was trying to incorporate a tune. I’ve enjoyed this song live all three times I’ve seen it and tonight was no exception.

As the intro to Tangled Up In Blue began, I started to get a little disappointed by the lack of variation between this and the other three shows I’ve seen this tour. The audience flipped out over this one though, and it was decently delivered. A few lyric flubs, such as him saying the thing
about the Tropicana, but never rhyming it with Atlanta. If I recall correctly, Denny did some nice solo work on this one.

Blind Willie McTell was the first song I hadn’t seen this tour yet (other than Don’t Think Twice of course) and it was performed quite well, as always. Spooky as hell of course. I don’t know how Bob can make a line like “Nobody can sing the blues like Blind Willie McTell” seem so threatening, but he manages. Featured an interesting calypso-esq solo from Denny, unusual chords being played fast up the neck. Not as good as his amazing solo in Columbus on t
his song (best I’ve seen him do), but nice nevertheless.

From the beginning I thought this was going to be an inspired show, and perhaps it was performance-wise, but setlist-wise it wasn’t looking so hot. A lot of people say they’d rather see good versions of standard songs then mediocre versions of unusual songs. Well give me the unusual songs any day. Instead, we got Most Likely, which was played at the Portland show Thursday (though, for the record, it was the highlight of that show). Not quite as good tonight, but a solid performance. Didn’t close with a harp solo as it did in Portland.

I saw Donnie grab the banjo again and, with Stu on upright bass, knew it was The Ballad of Hollis Brown. Once again, this would be a song I was much more excited to see if I hadn’t caught it in Chicago. Plus the Chicago one was a little better. Oh well, it’s still nice to see this one back in regular rotation. It was probably better than I’m giving it credit for, but as an avid setlist-watcher, I was becoming aware that the number of surprise slots left was getting low.

Highway 61 Revisited came next, and was perhaps another highlight. Bob and the band absolutely nailed this one. That’s not to say they changed much of tried anything different; they just did it the way they usually do it…really well. And, unlike in Portland, the light show going on behind them was timed perfectly, and really helps get the energy of the song going. I certainly don’t want Bob’s shows to become a tightly choreographed Rolling Stones-style show, but he could use a few more of these visual things going on. A blistering version.

I was praying for Nettie Moore, the one Modern Times song in rotation I haven’t yet seen, but no luck; Spirit in the Water again. I really enjoyed it once again though, and love the fact that the performance is already so drastically different than the album v
ersion. And it’s pretty impressive that such a new song gets such a strong audience response, ala the naked president in It’s Alright Ma. Why everyone cheers after “I think I’m past my prime” is a little unclear though; hopefully it’s a way of saying, no you’re not Bob. Then everyone cheers even louder after “We can have a whoppin’ good time”. Whether that has to do with the sentiment, the fact that it’s the last line in the song, of the fact that Bob said “whopping”, I’m not sure. At any rate, it nice to see the audience responding so strongly to a new one.

Summer Days, of course, rounded out the main set, and closed things off with a bang. This band has gotten quite proficient at this song, though I think Donnie would contribute something if we could ever hear him. Bob was swinging though, and definitely seemed to be enjoying himself up there.

Another perfectly timed intro/banner unfurling led into another nice Thunder on the Mountain. This song is good live, but I feel like with only a little more energy or inspiration it could be great. It always seems to be close, but never quite makes it there. Perhaps a slightly more dynamic arrangement would do the trick, cause Bob is certainly doing all he can with the vocals.

A longer pause than usual before George did his drum bash to lead into Like a Rolling Stone. The chord pattern of the intro seemed a little muddy, a little less distinct, which I thought sounded good. It took the audience until the first lines to figure out what it was though. The fact that Bob is doing this song better than normal this tour, however, doesn’t mean it couldn’t use a break. I was most disappointed, however, to see that the lack of the lighting going on the crowd during the chorus in Portland wasn’t a fluke, as it was MIA here too. That alone is enough to kill it, as the audience doesn’t get permission to sing along to the one bit of the show they all know.

The band intros featured some classic Bobtalk. After introducing everyone, the band was about to kick into Watchtower, but Bob kept talking. He said, “I want to play guitar, but then who would play this thing here? One of these days.” A sign of things to come? Probably not, but it was cool to hear nevertheless. Watchtower was good, with a mistake at the end that got Bob and George grinning at each other. Instead of repeating “know what any…any of it…is worth” like he usually does, he mistimed it, saying “know what any of it is…is…is worth.” A pretty funny moment that closed out a good, if not great, show. Here’s to tomorrow!

Intro - Ballad of Hollis Brown
Highway 61 Revisited - All Along the Watchtower

Friday, November 10, 2006

Dylan in Portland 11/9/06

Back on the road for three more Bob shows. Yee-haw! And for this Portland show I also had a Dartmouth friend tagging along for her first show. We drove up and found a spot on the floor for one of the few General Admission shows this tour. I'm never as big of a fan of GA as some people; unless you're on the rail, it means part of your attention is inevitably taken up by the people around you instead of the show, and tonight was no exception. I had one guy behind me who created a five-foot radius about him by playing violent air guitar most of the show. A guy with really long hair to my left was head-banging, even during the slow songs, whipping everyone around him with his hair. Not to mention the stoned guy trying the whole show to make it though a solid wall of people to his "woman". He never made any progress and, if she existed, she sure didn't seem to have any interest in him finding her either.

As a whole, the crowd was very different than any I've seen at a Dylan show. More young people than anything, mostly high schoolers. Whether this was the appeal of The Raconteurs openin
g or the fact that a show like this is a rare event in Maine, the local kids were out in droves. It made for a very enthusiastic, if not particularly knowledgable, crowd. The enthusiasm then led to the most interactive I've ever seen Bob...but first The Raconteurs.

As a huge White Stripes fan (having seen them live in August '05), I was very excited by Jack White's side project...and somewhat disappointed when the CD came out. It grew on me a little over time, but it seemed not much different than a lot of generic pop mixed with indie rock bands. At any rate, I was very glad to have them open for Bob at some of my shows,
for the simple reason that I probably
wouldn't have paid to see them otherwise. And I would have missed a very good show. I get the sense that anything with Jack White onstage would be great, and they were no exception, making the best of the songs that didn't seem to have too much potential on record. Kicked things off with a nice Intimate Secretary, then into a great version of Level. Steady As She Goes followed, earlier in the set than I would have expected, but with the guitar parts slightly rearranged to great effect, before a not-too-memorable It Ain't Easy. I don't remember the exact order of songs after that, but some highlights were a very nice cover of Bang Bang, switching back and forth between loud and fast and low and soft, and Yellow Sun. The "wow" moment of the set, however, was Store-Bought Bones. The first few minutes were a really slowed-down, riff-free, call-and-response version of the song. It was very cool to hear, but I did think, "The album version is more fun." And then on "You can't buy what you can't find what you can't" they just repeated it over and over again, gradually getting faster and faster until their suddenly at the break-neck pace of the original. Unbelievable to see. The set closed with Blue Veins (disappointing, as it just seemed a vehicle for excessive soloing) -> Hands.

The break between the two sets was long, much longer than it had been for
Kings of Leon. Maybe the Racs had more stuff to take off or maybe Bob was just feeling lazy, but whatever the reason it just dragged on until past nine. The whole time was spent, of course, jockeying with everyone else for better positions on the floor. GA shows are so stressful. Eventually, however, Bob came on, as he generally does.


saw Donnie pick up the violin and thought I got my main wish, Absolutely Sweet Marie as an opener. Well, not exactly, it was Cat's in the Well, but I was still overjoyed for anything but Maggie's. That meant no She Belongs to Me, Lonesome Day Blues, etc. It was a great version. Bob's voice was still in gruff warm-up mode, but he wasn't letting that stop him.

I recognized the opening bars of the next song very distinctly, but couldn't quite place it. It was only when I heard the word Juarez that I realized I was getting my first personal debut of the night, Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues. It was a very nice version but, as would be a c
ontinuing pattern throughout the night, it was hard for me to focus. The crowd was so tightly packed that I was getting bumped and hit over and over as people around me were talking, blowing smoke in my face, etc. Nothing much worse than a normal GA show, except the crowd was younger and, probably as a result, much closer together. I was very excited to already get a personal debut though; the inevitable first show where I don't get one has been avoided yet again. And Denny's first solo was great.

I expected High Water for some reason next, but nope, Stuck Inside of Mobile. I haven't heard the great Auburn Hills version everyone is raving about, but I don't think this was it. It's one of those songs that I really like, and is never really done badly just isn't done well enough to warrant being included in the set as often as it is. A decent enough version tonight.

Ok, here's High Water. This song is always done well live, and tonight was no exception, but having just gotten it in Chicago a couple weeks ago, I wasn't that into it. The Chicago one was better too, I think.

I wasn't expecting Tangled Up in Blue so early in the show, but there it was. I'd heard this in Chicago for the first time and I was very glad to hear it again. The audience reaction when the heard the opening bars was ridiculous; gotta give them credit for all knowing Dylan one song not from the 60's. It seemed to inspire Bob to deliver a very nice performance, not straying too far from the original, but well done nevertheless.

It was about time for a Modern Times song, and I was glad to hear When the Deal Goes Down. Its Chicago performance is the best MT performance I've seen yet, but this one wasn't far behind. Still quite faithful the original, but nice nonetheless, and featured one of Denny's best solos of the evening.

It's Alright Ma simply needs to be given a break. It's never poorly done...but it's never particularly well-done either. In this arrangement he words come too fast that Bob just barks them out the same way every time. It's always the same and, amazing a song as it is, has gotten tiring.

I was, however, happy to hear Watching the River Flow, as I hadn't seen it live since Chicago '05. The crowd around me was being particularly boistrous during this one, however, so I don't remember many details.

I'm not sure why, but for some reason Most Likely You Go Your Way and I'll Go Mine was a major highlight. I'd been distracted when I saw it in Chicago, and here he seemed to nail it. The crowd was loving it and I think Bob must have been just feeding off that energy. It wasn't nuanced, it wasn't subtle, but it was one of the most fun Bob performances I've seen in a while. And he capped it off with by far the best harp solo I've ever seen him do, and better than the recent ones I've heard on tape too. At one part he started playing these three notes over and over again at lightning speed, never missing a beat (if everyone is familiar with Dire Straits, you know that part in Knopfler's Sultans of Swing solo where he starts playing that three-note pattern absurdly fast? Yeah, it was like that.) I couldn't believe I was seeing Bob wail on that harmonica like that. Great stuff.

Another song I hadn't gotten in a year and a half, Desolation Row, is always nice to hear. And it was generally well done, every character (and hair) in place. I don't remember it in too much detail (stupid GA shows...)
, but I know Dr. Filth was in there (though Nero and his Neptune were MIA). Also, for some reason after one verse Stu moved right next to George and stood playing there the whole time. The speculation, of course, was that he was creating a space for Jack White to come on, but he never showed. After the song Stu went back to his normal spot. and nothing more was made of it. Weird.

Highway 61 Revisited reminded me that I only had one surprise song left, and I didn't think it was done as well as it had been in Chicago. For one, the flashing light thing didn't happen until the second instrumental break, seriously undermining its coolness effect. However, Bob had a nice organ solo to finish it off.

I've heard people complaining about the disappearance of Spirit on the Water's signature riff, but it's still there. It's just been transformed into something more subtle, closer to a bass line. And I think it sounds great that way; hearing that same dominant riff over and over again might have gotten repetetive (as the current Tangled riff sometimes does), so it was nice to make it a less important part of the tune. Which, incidentally, was another highlight of the night (and my second personal debut). Yeah, yeah, it's time for another MT debut, but at least he's nailing the ones he's doing. Well, most of them at least (incidentally, the show didn't have Rollin' and Tumblin', which is already becoming a blessing).

And into Summer Days. Another good, if not hugely remarkable version, in a night charicterized by songs delivered as such.

Into the encore break, now might be a good time to talk about a very strange phenomenon that kept happening throughout the show. Basically, it seemed like something was going to happen. Stu was grinning (believe it or not) and motioning to Tony and George repeatedly. Donnie and Bob kept nodding and talking to each other during the breaks (even more than normal). There was definitely some tension in the air, but nothing ever happened. Who knows what that was all about.

Anyway, Thunder on the Mountain was about the same as the two Chicago shows. They timed it great though, having the banner drop down behind Bob right as George came in with the drum crash. A very cool effect.

Like a Rolling Stone was killed by one fact: the lighting didn't come on the crowd during the chorus. That is what makes this song fun, even for us frequent concert-goers. The energy it fills the crowd with is unparalleled, about as close to interaction with the crowd Bob has. When it was gone, the song lost all appeal for me. And the crowd lost energy. Oh well.

All Along the Watchtower, as seems to be standard this tour, was slightly subpar, but not too bad. Still a nice way to end the show though.

A one-day break to hang out with some Maine friends, then onto Boston on Saturday.

Intro - Most Likely
Highway 61 Revisited - All Along the Watchtower

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Dylan in Chicago 10/28/06

Getting to the show today was certainly less hectic. Had a mini get-together with Steve and Dan (standin' on the gallows), with whom I had road tripped to Comstock Park and Columbus, at at Jimmy John's near the venue. The place was recommended as a great place to eat before a Sears Centre show by the Chicago Tribune, so I organized it there. Little did I know it was just a sub chain. Why they recommended it was beyond me, but we had a nice dinner and Bob-filled conversation nevertheless.

Headed over to the venue afterwards, where I picked up a poster. They look great this tour (as seen on the left). Steve had some pretty crappy seats for tonight's show, so I filled him in on the little quirk of the section I was sitting in, about thirty rows back on the floor. Due to a venue screw-up
it was general admission, and no one was checking tickets. He decided to take me up on the offer and we grabbed some great seats over to the left, in just the right place to see Bob.

But first, of course, were the Kings of Leon. I'd been sorry to miss them yesterday and was excited for their show. They were pretty fun to watch, but got old after a little while. Why they were opening for Bob is a mystery; with short frill-free garage/thrash rock songs, they seemed to be the exact opposite of him. Go figure. When they came onstage I thought they were roadies. Dressed in white shirts, they were long-haired and dirty enough to qualify. Well, except the bassist, whose unbuttuned tight black shirt made him look emo and out of place. I knew a few songs, The Bucket and Slow Night, So Long, both of which were played very faithfully to their album counterparts. The lighting was going nuts their whole set, which made for an extra layer of entertainment. I was ready for them to be done after a while though.

Bob came on, and opened with...Maggie's Farm. A decent enough version of a song that is usually just that, decent enough. Obviously disappointing as an opener, and one of the worst he's used in the last year. Absolutely Sweet Marie, Things Have Changed, Most Likely, Cat's in the Well...all these songs have fun, memorable riffs that get the audience dancing. In its current incarnation, Maggie's Farm simply doesn't. It's got texture and a carefully-orchestrated backdrop for which Bob to sing over, but nothing much else instrumentally. Anyway, that's all more a criticism of the song in general, as opposed to tonight's version, which was fine.

I heard Donnie start the pedal steel intro to the next song, and I thought I remembered what it was. The intro went on for a little while, during which time I kept my fingers crossed. Success, it was She Belongs to Me, complete with some great downsinging. Having not seen any shows this spring, this was a first for me, and was quite well done. Not a masterpiece like versions earlier in the year, but still done with care. His voice clearly didn't need the time to warm up that it did yesterday, as from the first line on his voice was swelling and fading in top form. I got the feeling this might be a good show.

I was somewhat expecting Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum here, but instead we got another song off Love & Theft,
and a much bigger treat: Lonesome Day Blues. I'd seen it once before, in Chicago '05, and this one blew that one out of the water. A truly epic performance tonight, Bob belting and screeching each line out. The second line was done differently
(and better) from the first every time and the third line was always treated with just as much care. Every verse better than the last, with many individual highlights. In "He's not a gentleman at all - he's rotten to the core, he's a coward and he steals" Bob delayed each clause a little bit, making you think he wasn't going to get them all in, but just hitting 'em dead-on one by one. I remember him doing something nice for the second "I was trying to make out what it was," but I don't remember what exactly. Additionally, Bob was as animated as I've ever seen him, dancing around during the instrumental breaks, and doing a little funky-chicked number at one point. A highlight not only of the concert itself, but of all the shows I've seen.

I've gotten better at guessing songs from their openings. During my summer shows I got it wrong several times, but didn't get it wrong once at the Chicago shows. Positively 4th Street was a first for me, and one I'd wanted to see. However, having heard a lot of pretty bad versions over the last couple years, I was a little apprehensive. Not to worry, Bob wasn't taking any song for granted tonight. In a song where he used to upsing every line, that only showed up occasionally, and never sounded bad. The current version has been described as more remorseful than aggressive, but I disagree. The fact that it's quieter just makes it seem angrier to me, more passive-aggressive than outrightly hostile. Every line tonight sounded like he meant it and I'd hate to be anyone that song was directed to last night. The last verse sent shivers down my spine before he went into a nice harp break.

We saw Donnie get out the violin, and I was hoping for something special, but Steve knew immediately what it was going to be: It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding). There are some songs that I enjoy no matter how many times I see them (Highway 61, Watchtower, and even Summer Days), but this just isn't one of them. He did the song quite well, but I just can't get into it anymore. Oh well, the crowd loved the "naked president" line.

I was pleased to hear The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carrol and he did a nice version of it. I'd gotten it once before, at the Aragon in '04, and I think I prefer that rendition. This was a nice version, better than average probably, but I still was slightly underwhelmed. I feel like I should have liked it more than I did; maybe I was distracted or something.

Rollin' and Tumblin' was better than it was last night, without question. You could hear Denny somewhat better, but the main difference was in Bob's delivery. He was far more into the lyrics, doing different things to each line like he had done in Lonesome Day Blues. The obvious highlight was "I ain't nobody's house boy, LORD KNOWS I ain't nobody's well-trained maid." And he sure as hell wasn't.

Donnie picked up the banjo and I was expecting High Water or Blind Willie McTell, but was very pleasantly surprised to get The Ballad of Hollis Brown. I'd seen it once before, and it was well-done then, but nothing like this. He sang every line beautifully, as if he was telling the terrible story for the first time. The band meshed to perfectly complement his delivery, Donnie's playing rising and falling in volume just where it needed to. Another huge highlight. The only problem was these two girls behind me, tipsy I imagine, who were talking and laughing very loudly. I asked them to be a little quieter as nicely as I could, and they obliged...

...but were apparently pissed at me anyway, as after the song ended one of them shouted at me "Buddy, you need to calm down!" Now, I couldn't imagine being more calm than I was, and knew I had done nothing to deserve this outburst, but it got me down anyway. I don't like making people mad even if it is their fault, so I was upset about it during most of Most Likely (You Go Your Way and I'll Go Mine). Just couldn't focus on it. To their credit, though, the girls stayed quiet the rest of the show.

The opening chords to the next song pulled me back in. I knew what it was, but still couldn't believe it. I never thought I'd hear a song off Desire live, but as Bob nailed the hell out of Joey I knew I'd been mistaken. People lambast this song as glorifying a murderer, but I love it anyway. Just take it as fiction if need be. Bob sure seemed to believe what he was saying tonight, telling the story as it was written to be told. Every time he came to an especially-familiar line (which was often), I was surprised all over again. I just couldn't believe I was getting the opportunity to see this live. Definitely the biggest surprise I've gotten yet (I've only seen ten shows) and a very well-done one at that.

After that gem, Bob deserved a bit of a break, and got it with Highway 61 Revisited. As usual, the band carried it, and performed it quite well as always. The only notable part, other than the light show previously described, was a lengthy organ solo by Bob, with Denny layering some crisp fills over top.

I hadn't realized there were only two songs left in the main set. Had I, I probably would have been a little more disappointed to get Workingman's Blues #2 again, instead of Nettie Moore or Spirit on the Water, but it's still so fresh to me live that I loved it again. I'll need to listen to the two recordings to compare it to yesterday's, but they were close. He threw in another little addition, saying "They worry and they hurry and they fuss and they fret, they waste your nights and days - sure they do!" Bob was definitely in the zone tonight. Denny did some good things too. The thing with him, is that he's kind of like Freddy Koella, either on or off. The only difference is his highs are nowhere near as high...and his lows aren't as godawful. He could for sure use a few more transcedent moments though.

Another nice version of Summer Days closed the main set off. All eyes today (or at least) were on Stu most of the time, watching him and Bob to see if he would keep playing the whole song. And he did. I didn't see Bob pay any attention to him at all, though Stu seemed quite apprehensive, eyes riveted on the man behind the keys. Bob was too busy dancing again to notice.

A much shorter encore break tonight, lending creedence to my suspicion that something had been going on backstage yesterday. They came back out after sixty seconds or so and performed another great version of Thunder on the Mountain, even better than last night's I'd say. Everyone who told me beforehand that this one kills live was right; it's a real show-stopper. Hearing him say he was going to "get me an army, some tough sons of bitches. I'll recruit my army from the orphanages" put a grin on my face, as did him telling his unnamed opposite that he didn't give a damn about their dreams. I was absolutely in a trance during this one, hanging on his every word, and boy did he deliver.

With George's charicteristic bang, we went into Like a Rolling Stone. Once again, I'll have to listen to the recordings to compare it to last night's, but I enjoyed it once again. In addition to singing along on the chorus, I found myself listening for each of his characters to pop up: Miss Lonely, Napoleon in rags, the chrome horse and the diplomat. And they were all there, in position as always. Hearing it tonight made me remember what an incredible song this is (not that I'd exactly forgotten), so I guess that says something about the performance right there.

The band intros contained a snippet of Bob talk, about Denny I think, but I didn't hear what it was. Nothing too much at any rate. All Along the Watchtower was better tonight, with the riff louder and Denny's guitar clearly plugged in from the get-go, but I still didn't think it was one of its better airings. Something about this current arrangement seems to drain it of some of its oomph. The one song where you couldn't help but bop around has lost something.

All in all, an incredible show, much better than last night's (which I had enjoyed quite a bit too). One of the best Dylan shows I've seen for sure (and the one that pushed that number into the double digits!) When Bob is on, he's on. And he was definitely in the right mood tonight, doing each song as if he might never perform it again. I don't know what inspired it, but an awesome show from beginning to end. Can't wait til Portland and Boston!

MP3's of the show:
Maggie's Farm - The Ballad of Hollis Brown
Most Likely You Go Your Way - All Along the Watchtower