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 Maggie’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 this 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 version. 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