Elana came on with her Two + 1 and played another fun set, incorporating some songs we hadn't seen yesterday, including a slower one sung by guitar player Mark Hill. They solidly cemented their place as my favorite opener of the tour. Why Bob didn't let her play anything like she does now is beyond. That's not to say I didn't enjoy her in his band in '05, but she should have played a much bigger role. Junior Brown came on right after and ripped through another solid set, with fewer changes from the previous day, although "My Wife Thinks Your Dead" was surprisingly MIA. I hope someone records at least some of these openers' sets.
The real one to record though, would be today's Jimmie Vaughn set. He was doing fine, hampered as usual by Lou Ann Barton, when he stopped about halfway through to say he had a surprise. "We got a special guest here tonight folks. An old friend is in town and is gonna come out and play with us a big. A little surprise for ya. Please welcome...Eric Clapton." My reaction at this point had gone from "Oh, that's cool, he didn't do this last night" to "Oh...I thought he was serious. That was a stupid joke." I gather the audience was having similar thoughts, because there were four or five seconds where nothing happened save a few intermittent cheers. Then, suddenly, Clapton himself walks out, and the audience exploded. I've never seen an audience reaction like that, but then again I've never had a surprise like that at a concert. The closest I've come was seeing the White Stripes play Get Behind Me, Satan in its entirety at the Chicago show. And that is not very close at all.
As I sprinted onto the field to get closer they kicked off a blues song I couldn't identify, on which Eric sang lead and, more importantly, prove dthat his reputation exists for a reason, improvising licks and solos that would take many players weeks to learn. The song began with "So long" as I recall, but I could be mistaken. The words were just vehicles to take him to the next solo. Great stuff. Next up was Jimmie's "Bapa Boom", my favorite song of the set anyway, made much better by Eric's presence as he and Jimmie traded solos back and forth. The highlight of the set, however, was without question, the third song. An instrumental, there weren't any pesky vocals to get in the way of the soloing. Guitar work like I've never seen, by both Eric and Jimmie, who seemed wowed enough to pull himself up to match, even playing a behind-the-head section. Great stuff, for which I would die for a recording. The song ended and the band walked off as the audience went crazy. A true highlight of my concert experience. As my dad put it, the band was already excellent, playing straight ahead blues extremely well. Clapton, however, just used that as his base off which to build, taking the songs to new levels. As he walked off, speculation immediately turned to whether he would play with Bob. Don't get your hopes up...
Soon the man himself came on. Same stage setup as Comstock, but a completely different look, the band dressed in maroon suits, adding quite a bit of color to the stage. Bob had on the cowboy hat again, but with grey pats with a black stripe down the side. First time I'd seen him not in all black, for what little that's worth. From the get-go Tony looked much better, rocking along the songs and seeming much more in control of things than he had. Aside from looking good though, they played some music:
Maggie's Farm - Surprise surprise. Not much to say I didn't say yesterday. A solid opener, but not much more. Bring back Drifter's!
I'll Be Your Baby, Tonight - I never thought I'd be so happy to hear this, but I was thrilled (and shocked). I'd assumed at least the first few songs would be the same, and was all set for The Times. However, he was already mixing up the set list, and it was a very promising start. Not only that, but the version he did was very nice. The first "Big fat moon/ shine like a spoon" was done in a magnificent sort of sing-song voice, like he was singing a Mother Goose rhyme, going down, back up a bit, then even farther down in stacatto bursts. Very well done, far better than the previous version I'd seen in '05, and it was nice to be able to hear Donnie loud and clear.
Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again - I love this song in any form, and was delighted to hear it live. It's not a rarity by any means, and I've seen it a few times before, but in my opinion it's always great. A rocker, but a somewhat laid-back one, letting you focus on the words even as it jumps and swings.
Blind Willie McTell - One of the songs I was most hoping to hear live, I was overjoyed, and ran back to the field to get a good view. I know I'm far from alone in loving this song, but it is truly incredible. And did this version ever do it justice. Great, heartfelt delivery from Bob, every word exactly where he wanted it. Not only that, but Denny's solos were out of this world, by far the best of the weekend. I kept trying to predict where he would go next and never got it right, as it was someplace far more interesting and beautiful. The solos told the song's story all by themselves.
New Morning - The organ intro told me I was in for my second first-time performance in a row. Why Dylan doesn't do more with his instrument is beyond me. While not a virtuoso, he is perfectly capable and just chooses to mainly doodle. In this song, though, he both the intro and a solo. The 'solo' was especially interesting, as him and Denny were playing the same thing, echoing and complementing each other. Listening to the recording, it doesn't seem like too remarkable, but it was a blast in concert, the most fun I had all weekend. Every version I've hear brings a grin to my face, and this one is no exception. Anyone who thinks Bob is too serious and brooding need only listen to this album.
It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding) - After the last two songs, Bob could play whatever he wants, so I didn't mind hearing this one again. Being further back, the mix was better and Donnie's violin was louder and really added something. Bob did a very nice "he or she or them or it" as I recall too.
Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum - Ech, I thought we'd managed to miss this one in slot three. Oh well, I'm really trying not to hate it. I'm really trying. When it comes when you expect it it's ok, but when it's taking a place you thought was going to be another song's, it's kind of a drag. However, it made up for it by this great new section about 2/3 of the way through, where the band totally cuts out during a line before crashing back in again. It doesn't come across on the recording too well, but it was very powerful live. An explosion of noice after an acapella lull.
Shelter From the Storm - Wow, didn't expect this one again. Dan and I thought, if nothing else, there was no way he''d repeat this or Sugar Baby tonight. Once again, predicting Bob's moves fails miserably. Another great version, perhaps slightly less so than the previous nights, but only slightly. He didn't sing the fifth line higher as often as he did at Comstock, which may have had something to do with it. Still a very nice job and I didn't mind at all hearing it again.
Masters of War - At this point, I was starting to get depressed. After four of the first five songs being different, suddenly we're getting all the same ones. Nevertheless, another killer version, terrifying in its earnestness. This is one you have to be there for, cause the lighting and the band set such a spooky mood it gets to you every time. More nice stuff from Denny too.
Highway 61 Revisited - This version seemed decidedly worse than last night's, more of a Maggie's-esq mush than the crazy rocker it should be. Part of that might be the realization that there was only one more possible surprise slot in a concert that seemed like it would be totally fresh, but this one didn't do much for me.
Sugar Baby - And, alas, that surprise slot turned out not to be a surprise at all, but another repeat. Nevertheless, as one of the most rarely-performed songs on Love & Theft, it's one of the better repeats. And he nailed it this time too, doing very nice things with his voice in several places I don't quite remember. The fact remains though that this performance was slightly marred for me by my disappointment.
Summer Days - Believe it or not, this one picked my mood right back up. The wait for surprises was over, and these days this one is rollicking, a song you can't help but dance to. Strong delivery by Bob, and a great sound created by the rest of the band. Whereas previous rocker Highway 61 succeeds by all instruments blending together and going for it, this one has a much more sparse sounds, each instrument distinctly separate from the others, so there's always a new level to listen to. I was frankly surprised how much I enjoyed this.
Like a Rolling Stone - Up until the encore break I had forgotten about Clapton, but was now wondering if he would reappear. It was not to be, however. The beginning of the song featured a little organ noodling before George's big bang, which made for a great effect which should be expanded, ie the Watchtower intro, or even the London Calling/LARS transition of 05. It really added something to the beginning of the song. Other than that though, nothing too remarkable.
All Along the Watchtower - During the band intros Bob was on, the most talkative I've ever seen him. Dan and I had noticed a huge graveyard behind the stadium as we looked for parking, and apparently Bob had too. After the intro for Donnie, he said "We're all playin' in back of a graveyard tonight. Only the second time I've ever played next to a graveyard and it's not easy." Perfectly and clearly delivered, it had me cracking up. Best Bobtalk I've ever seen. As if that wasn't enough, after Tony's intro, during the Watchtower opening he said "Hope we played the right set, but you just never know." Unclear exactly what he meant, but probably a little shout-out to all of us who have been complaining about the repetetive set lists. And Watchtower rocked as always, leaving us on a high note.
I made a stop at the merch table before leaving the venue and picked up, in addition to the tour poster (on which I will write "+ Eric Clapton" below Vaughan) an nice blue-grey t-shirt featuring a '66 Bob on a stamp. Hadn't seen it before. Grabbed another T after leaving the venue, the best Dylan shirt I've seen, a tie-dyed one with a large square on the front, featuring a '74 picture and a few recent ones saying "Baseball Tour '06" and Bob Dylan in big bold letters on the back, each letter made from a different album color. All the tour dates below it. A very nice (though slightly itchy) souvenir. After meeting back up with Dan, who'd been at the rail, we found a motel and, after listening to a few surprise Tell Ol' Bill outtakes, called it a night and then, after driving home the next morning, a weekend.
THE FULL SHOW (mp3's):
Part 1:Maggie's Farm - Sugar Baby
Part 2:Summer Days - Watchtower