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 opening 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.
I 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 continuing 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 live...it 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