It would have been hard for my day up until the show to get much worse. I hopped a bus from Dartmouth to the Manchester airport at 12:30pm, getting ready for a 5:22 flight. The plan was already tight: I was going to get into the O'Hare at 6:50, Steve (Disco Stu) was going to pick me up and we'd head to the show, hopefully in time for the start of the Kings of Leon set, but perhaps not. However, anyone who's ever relied on an airline to make a tight connection knows very well how that tends to go. Yup, the plane was delayed. An hour and a half.
Cue me freaking out. Near-mental breakdown in the airport. This trip was costing me (or, really my family; it was a birthday present) several hundred dollars, and I might not even make the show. The delay was taken down to an hour, and my blood pressure lowered a little. I called Steve and bailed from my ride, and spent the whole flight praying. I got off the plane and sprinted through the airport, shoving children and little old ladies out of my way in my mad dash towards the taxis. I reached the taxis, and saw a line for them. A several-hundred person line for them. I got in it, starting to panic again, and realized the simple fact that if I waited in the line I'd probably miss the whole show. Trying to grab a taxi before it made it to the line didn't work; the guy in charge spotted me and was not pleased. So I went to the front of the line, put on my best little-orphan-Annie face and asked the guy if I could cut him. Success! His kindness probably made the difference between me seeing Bob and not.
The taxi driver had no clue how to get to the Sears Centre, even when I gave him the address, so I had to make a quick call home to have my mom mapquest it. We made it there right at 8:30, when Bob was supposed to go on, but the ride was so obscenely expensive that I had to pay with a credit card...which he screwed up when he scanned it, only charging me $40 instead of the $70. He said he would need to call in and cancel it and try again, so I just threw $30 cash at him, signed for the 40, and sprinted away.
As I dashed into the Sears Centre, I heard something that made me very happy...nothing. No music. It was 8:40, and I was overjoyed. I ran to my chair, took my backpack off, and the moment I sat down: "Ladies and gentlemen, will you please welcome..." The timing couldn't have been better. Thanks random guy in the taxi line!
I was expecting "Absolutely Sweet Marie" or "Cat's in the Well" as an opener, either of which would have been fine, but the moment it started I knew it wasn't. For a second I wondered if it was Maggie's Farm, but no, clearly not that either. Then the riff for Rainy Day Women #12 & 35 began, and I figured it out. But it seemed a little different..."Well, I see you got your brand-new leopard-skin pill-box hat." Excellent, I wasn't expecting to get this one. Now, it's not one of my favorite songs by a long shot, but he did a decent job of it. Clearly a warm-up song for his voice; it was almost all wolfman. Wasn't expecting a harmonica solo either, but it was a nice one.
Next up was "The Times, They Are A-Changin'". Without Maggie's preceeding it, I wasn't expecting it, but it was nicely done (and only my second time seeing it live). Still a warm-up for the old vocal chords, but Denny had some beautiful solos in there. Though his soloing is getting quite good though, he's simply doing it too much. During many songs he had four or five solos, while Don and Stu, both competent players in their own right, had none. The man, though he's getting good, is being way over-used.
As far as war-horses go, "Stuck Inside of Mobile" is usually one of my favorites, but as he started it seemed limp. The band was decent, but not particularly inspired, and Bob was just mailing it in with full wolfman. About halfway through the song though, bam, the warming-up ended and he kicked into high gear, really having some fun with the lines. I had been worried about his voice, as it seemed worse than I'd remembered it, but the Bob I knew and loved finally showed up.
I figured, well, it's about time for the Tweedle Bros, and was really glad to hear High Water instead. Of all the Love & Theft songs, it has aged the best and is just a powerhouse every time. Earlier this year I was worried he'd retired it, so it's nice to see it back in the rotation. Denny had some solos but, as the first sign of a continuing problem throughout the night, they were hard to hear. They sounded great on the quieter songs, but on the rockers you could only sometimes make them out. For better or worse.
As Stu started playing the intro to the next song, I really hoped it was Boots of Spanish Leather and not Girl of the North Country. And it was! I'd only seen this one once before, in West Lafeyette '04, and it still ranks as one of the best performance I've seen. Tonight's wasn't far behind though. It seemed kind of short though. I'm not sure he did all the verses.
Finally, the first Modern Times song. As expected, Rollin' and Tumblin'. And it sure tumbled, in a Jack and Jill down the hill sort of way. It just didn't see to have much going for it. Bob would belt out one line after the other and, once again, though Denny looked like he was doing cool solos, they were hard to hear. However, he was quite animated, doing several high kicks (ok, they were more like old-man, bent-knee, not-so-high versions of high kicks, but give him a break). Not horrible, but somewhat underwhelming for my first MT tune.
The moment the first chord to this one was played, I flipped out. Love Sick was on my very short list of songs I wanted to hear live...that I might actually have a chance to hear live (ie. not Lily, Rosemary). And not only was it a personal debut, but it was a GREAT version. Bob made the lines creepy, haunting...but kind of fun too in their anger. I was singing along the whole time (quietly, don't worry) and he nailed each line just like I wanted, staying close enough to the original to be powerful, but adding his own flair periodically. A killer performance.
As I was still recovering from Love Sick, the band kicked into Highway 61 Revisited. One thing I don't expect at a Dylan concert is a lights show, but this had one and it really made the song. These white, patterned, ghost-like lights covered the background during the verses, and then started flashing on and off one by one during the instrumental breaks. It was insanely cool, and actually made me glad I wasn't closer (I was maybe thirty rows back on the floor). The big picture here was key. Oh yeah, and the band played well too.
I heard Donnie noodle with the opening riff of When the Deal Goes Down a bit as the lights were down, and just thought "I hope...hope..." And that's exactly what it was. A gorgeous version, very close to the original. The band stayed comfortably in the background while Bob crooned the lines for all he was worth, and nailed every one. Best Modern Times song of the night. [Side note: Halfway through the first verse, a couple, maybe early 40's, in front of me started holding hands and cuddling, and it was adorable.]
"After that," I thought, "Bob can just go ahead and play Tweedles." Be careful what you wish for. It was a decent version, although my legs were hurting from standing so I took part of the song to catch a much-needed sitting break.
I thought, since When the Deal had come pretty late in the set, we might only get three new songs tonight, but luckily that was not the case and the guitar starts into the intro to Workingman's Blues #2 (no piano intro, surpise surprise). A nice version for sure, but nothing ground-breaking. Nowhere near the quality of When the Deal Goes Down, but I enjoyed it more than a lot of other people I talked to. I found it pretty moving hearing him sing those words live.
The familiar intro to Tangled Up in Blue was a nice surprise, as another song I hadn't seen live yet. And we heard a lot of that intro, Stu just playing it over and over, Bob not coming in for quite a while. Tony and George started cracking up about it as Stu just kept going and going. Bob finally did come in and delivered a nice version. He garbled some of the lyrics (he had a tendency tonight to skip the first line of verses) but got better as it went on. As noted elsewhere, the trick he did where he sang one line in one octave, and then the next in a deep growl an octave lower was nice. Now I've seen three Blood on the Tracks songs in two years, which I think is pretty good. If I get Simple Twist of Fate sometime I'll hit four.
I'm always bummed when I see Summer Days on a set list (which is, of course, basically every night), but always enjoy it live. And tonight even more so than most. I think it's gotten better as of late and tonight it rocked and rolled just like it should. Everyone was dancing around in the aisles and it made for a great scene. Stu, however, wasn't much part of that scene as after the first few verses as for whatever reason he stopped playing, except the riff between every few verses. He just stood there awkwardly with one hand in his pocket, occasionally taking a drink of water or wiping off his sweat-free face.
I find it kind of funny that what sounds like just noodling on the intro to Thunder on the Mountain is actually the orchestrated introductory guitar part, which Denny (I think) played note-for-note. That led the way to a very faithful version, but one that was great nonetheless. Bob got into every line, barking them out one by one just as they should be barked. I'm not sure I'd agree with those who say it's better than the album version, but that might only be because I like the album version more than most. Either way, it was great...
...and led right into Like a Rolling Stone. I generally think LARS is mailed in, not done with any inspiration, but it was very fun tonight. Some nice soloing from Denny, and the crowd went nuts (as they always do) when the lights came on them during the chorus. Being on the floor for this song is always fun just to see everyone going crazy. I've seen a lot of renditions of this song, and this was one of the best.
Whereas All Along the Watchtower was one of the worst. It didn't jump, it didn't swing, it just sat there. I don't know if there was something wrong with Denny's guitar or the mix, but after George did his big drum into...nothing. Just quiet playing, the familiar riff hard to find in the mud. It never really took off and I feel like Bob may have rearranged it slightly, and not in a good way. Moreover, I think Donnie was supposed to be taking a solo during the second solo break, but you couldn't hear him at. You just heard more muddy, texture-less background noise. For what's usually one of my favorite songs of any concert, I found it very disappointing.
Cut out of there and got a ride back with Steve (thanks again man!). Until tomorrow...
MP3's of the show:
Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat - Highway 61 Revisited
When the Deal Goes Down - All Along the Watchtower