Tonight was different than last night in just about every way. The venue was terrible, a mini-barn of a hockey arena, the setlist was stagnant…and the performance was fabulous. The difference was most noticeable on the songs repeated from the night before, bland blues songs like “The Levee’s Going to Break” and “Rollin’ and Tumblin’” getting new life from Bob’s delivery, as he concentrated on each line and avoided the growl that plagued Friday. DOWNLOAD BELOW.
The Long Version:
The Androscoggin Bank Colisee encompasses all of the charms of Lewiston: dirty, grey, industrial, run-down. The home of Bates College, the pretty campus is about all the city has to offer, except when Bob comes to town. A stage was set-up at one end, with just a black curtain (no eye logo for a while), Dylan's Oscar and Mardi Gras beads in place, and the crowd filled less that half of the floor (likely that was because of capacity restrictions as much as anything).
Once again, the boys were prompt, coming out ten minutes after the show start time. This time, though, they waited for the intro music and speech, giving the crowd some anticipatory time to get excited. If the crowd were full of me’s though, you would have heard a collective “yech” when “Watching the River Flow” began. A real stinker, as I mentioned in yesterday’s review. However, as would turn into the trend of the night, my initial groans were soon silenced by the performance. From the first note, Bob was in fine voice. Gone the gruffness plaguing the Worcester show, replaced by forceful singing that didn’t miss a word. He closed the first song with the best harmonica solo of both nights.
Having “Lay Lady Lay” up next made for about the most awful one-two punch I could imagine, but my hatred for this song was once again almost overwhelmed by the beauty of the singing. The band didn’t do a lot, leaving this song to sound like the same country-emo as always, but Dylan put his heart into every poorly-written line. For a song that a notorious energy-drainer, tonight showed the potential for something more.
This post is going to get repetitive fast, as “The Levee’s Gonna Break” is yet another song I don’t like, performed spectacularly. It seems a setlist does not the show make. The band was equally impressive on this though, multi-instrumentalist Donnie Herron catching hold of a new mandolin riff and substituting it for the regular end-of-the-line plonk, grinning each time at Bob like a child who just took his first dump on the toilet. Dylan eventually returned the smile, and the playful and engaged mood he seemed in continued throughout the song, putting the anything-goes delivery that’s needed on such bland blues songs.
Up next was the first nice setlist surprise, a serene and supple “Shelter of the Storm,” quiet organ and plucked guitar providing the lush backdrop for some focused vocals. It was no Comstock ’06, but listen to the way he sings “fighting to be born” to see why this concert was starting to look special. It’s just one of those songs that takes on a whole new meaning hearing him sing it thirty-years later, like an old man looking on at the most beautiful but fleeting memory he has left.
Keeping the “Levee” trend alive, “Rollin’ and Tumblin’” was just as, if not more, enthusiastic. Dylan sang the first line of each verse straight, then mixing up the second one in classic 12-bar tradition. And for one of few times, guitarist Denny Freeman did an interesting solo on a fast song.
For only the second time of the year, Bob took us back to 1963 with “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll,” one of his “finger-pointing” songs that hasn’t diminished with time. In comparison to what had come before, this one seemed to drag a bit. In tonight’s context, that means it was still performed well, just not any more memorable than that. When Dylan’s vocals are pedestrian, you hope the band will step forward to keep it interesting, but these guys rarely do.
The new “Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum” blitzkrieg came out again tonight, throwing a few punches then ending before most knew what hit ‘em. Denny’s badass punk solo break makes this the best this song has sounded in years and if you don’t like it, well, you don’t have long to wait.
With “Mississippi” up next, it looked like Bob was headed to just play Love & Theft straight through. Alas he didn’t, but this choice selection of what most consider the best song of the album was performed carefully, as always. The band seemed a little more forceful that usual on this one like someone turned the instrument volume knob a little too high. If it didn’t quite fit the lyrics, it was at least an interesting change of pace.
“There is no way to make ‘Highway 61 Revisited’ sound different than it does every other night” many might think. Wrong. True, every other time I have seen it performed (which is many), it is basically the same, but tonight was different for one reason: the drumming. George “Chuckles” Recile pounded shit out of that kit like I’ve never seen him do before, cracking up to the bassist about how crazy he was going. It doesn’t come through in the recording, but this was a performance not to be believed. Recile like a man possessed and earned himself the loudest band member applause of the night,
“Workingman’s Blues” has replaced “Nettie Moore” as the Modern Times performance-to-beat, being stellar every night on both the old lyrics and new. It doesn’t change much from night to night, but it doesn’t need to.
Tony Garnier picking up the double bass indicated to me the show would soon be ending, but “Summer Days” was still far off in a succession of stand-up bass songs. First up was “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding),” a song that has added and dropped rearrangements in the past couple years, now sounding like the bastard child of them all. Herron’s banjo adds an earthy touch, but otherwise it seems somewhat directionless.
The fourth repeated Modern Times song from last night, “Spirit on the Water” showcased some more seductively pointed singing over that infectious jazz riff. The guitar work was Freeman at his finest, improving upon the nice album solo with extensions and new octave-spanning leads so good Bob just let him keep going and going.
A song that doesn’t do too much on paper, you need to hear “The Ballad of Hollis Brown” performed like this to get the full impact. For the first time ever, I saw Freemen pick up an acoustic guitar, laying down slide riffs over Herron’s banjo melody. It would have been good enough as an instrumental, but Dylan’s vocals were the most focused of the night – with no instruments able to solo, he had to be on from beginning to end. The non-stopping cascade of verses just built and built towards their inevitable deadly conclusion, a terrifying story that kept you praying Hollis wouldn’t do it, but knowing he would. The uncontested highlight of the night.
A musically average performance of “Summer Days” was a different story visually, a laugh-fest among the band about some shared joke we the audience were not privy too. Dylan rarely smiles this much in a show, which either means he’s doing great, or drunk. Glad it was the former.
Having gotten “Ballad of a Thin Man” last night, I was prepared for “Masters of War” next, but Bob wasn’t about to let himself get that predictable. Instead, he opted to close the main set with “Ain’t Talkin’” for the first time ever, and my first personal debut of the night. It’s hard to imagine him butchering a song this good, and I’m pleased to say that will have to stay in the imagination. Denny’s quirky riffs wound around Dylan’s word-perfect vocals to quiet an audience hanging on every word.
The usual first encore song, “Thunder on the Mountain” had the added benefit of the eye curtain drifting down behind the band during the first notes, raising a loud cheer from the crowd. A shockingly talkative Dylan said it was “about time I introduced the band onstage” and did just that before going straight into the last number.
After seventeen shows, this was in fact my first “Blowin’ in the Wind” and was more than welcome as a result. Hearing him sing it now as the self-avowed abandoner of protest is a little strange, but clearly he thinks it is once again relevant. Herron played violin, which unfortunately inaudible from where I was standing, but it sounds great in the recording. Other than that, it was nothing special, but a nice quiet ending to the best Dylan concert I’ve seen in several years.
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