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