Friday, November 7, 2008

Six Strings Down and a Drowning Guitar (Milwaukee, 11/6)

First appeared here-

Sickness. Its to be expected, especially when you come back from many long days and nights of traveling through uncharted territory, drinking energy drinks and touching gas pumps. Its almost a welcome forfeit when you get back to your own bed. But I’ve never attempted to do the same while already under the weather. And let me tell you, it sucks most of the fun out of seeing new country. But no matter how burnt out, spent up, head pounding-cant breathe-coughing up a lung-over it you think you are, along comes the night before the show, and the excitement you think you didn’t have wont let you fall asleep.

I had read the weather reports, I’d followed the storm, I knew it was going to be miserable, but when I got up that morning, I was greeted by the sun. When it hit me; I was in Wisconsin. East Troy. Alpine Valley. I knew I had to go. As soon as I pulled up directions, the wind kicked up, and in came the clouds and the fog. It was instantly cold and miserable, and, a little ways down the road it began to rain (oh, how easy it would be to allude to the sky crying haha). The actual stage is now apparently owned by those bastards at Live Nation, so the gates are closed and locked, but the “ski resort” was wide open. And I use ski resort in the loosest of terms. Its hardly even a hill, more of a mound, and I’d have laughed at its puny size had it not silenced one of the best guitarists around. There are no signs, no plaques (its not exactly great publicity ‘Welome to Alpine Valley, we killed Stevie Vaughan’, but still…), if you’re not a music fan you probably have no idea what happened there. Being there made me angry. There were a million things that went wrong that night, I wont bore you w/ the details, but it was really the ultimate act of selfishness, a man who had no business in the sky just had to fly the “celebrities”. As I said before, it is not a gigantic mountain, I wouldn’t think that is a safe flying height no matter what you think is or isn’t around. Whereas the grave in February was a somber experience, this one just made me mad.

Back in Milwaukee, the rains were really having their way, not a torrential downpour by any stretch, but enough to get you very wet if you attempted to wander around the city. I spent the rest of my wait in a coffee shop next door, which seemed to be blasting out the collected works of Bob Dylan. Normally I wouldn’t mind, but it was very gimmicky. What, do you think Dylan will be drawn in if you play his tunes, like a rat to the Pied Piper?

In any event, when doors finally opened, I was able to look around the theatre; none too shabby a place. I think the balcony was bigger then the main floor, and wouldn’t have liked to be stuck in the far reaches of it, but most of the place seemed to have a relatively great view. Security was tight as hell though. I was yelled at many times that I would have to turn my cell phone off, even though the upright was still out in front. Each time though, I was asked if I had a pass. :?

When finally the lights went down (half and hour late, as usual), we were hit w/ the unexpectedness of Thunder as an opened. I must admit, I didn’t recognize it for a few bars; the Freeman intro that makes Thunder Thunder was missing. Or perhaps I literally did not hear it. For all that I kept hearing about the sound in the Riverside, I was very disappointed, I could barely, if at all, hear Denny all night! I was right in front of the PA, which is never the place to go for perfect sound, but the mix coming through the PA was very funky. I originally had an aisle seat, but traded when a much shorter woman’s view of Dylan was blocked. I had a good window on the boss and she had a better view of the band anyway ;)

Love Minus Zero was next, and even w/ the “interesting sound” I was excited. I’d been listening to Warsaw pretty much non- stop this summer, and love Denny’s solo. I waited and I hoped and I prayed, please let Denny solo, please…… not tonight! Dylan took it on harp. It wasn’t terrible, it was quite good, but it wasn’t why I go. Yeah, I know, its why everyone else goes, I’m not the normal audience member, I’m sorry, I probably would have loved this show a lot more had I been normal; Dylan was probably higher in the mix then I’ve ever heard before. Vocals crisp and clear just like on a studio recording, harmonica the same, and organ….oh G-d, what is that?!?! It sounds like a guitar drowning, its clear, its high in the mix, it’s the organ?! As has been noted, he is playing a different keyboard, on a different setting, and in all honesty, it really wouldn’t have been that bad had it been lower. As loud as it was, it just sounded really weird and kinda irritating, moreso when played over a barely audible Freeman.

Lonesome Day, another first for me, suffered again just due to the mix. I’d love to hear it properly mixed, because everyone seemed to really be cranking w/ it. Hard Rain again saw Dylan solo on harp, and again it was very nice. Almost every song thereafter saw a Dylan solo, either on harp or on organ. Denny barely took any all night (and when he did, I couldn’t hear them :? ). Stu was rhythm guitar extraordinaire, finger picking like a madman all night and actually loud enough to be heard. The only one I distinctly remember him playing lead on was Tweedle. I love that song, I have yet to hear a bad version of it, and Stu did a fine job w/ it, but his strength is definitely on acoustic rhythm. Make him loud enough to hear, and let him do his thing. I was consistently impressed w/ him. He seems to be enjoying his position among the other members (and second billing during band intros) as well, probably glad to be out of solitary.

The bass was an interesting component in Milwaukee, at times hard to hear, then boiling up to slam you back, rattling your chest and taking hold of your heartbeat. Sometimes that was great, but not so in the bowed Girl From North Country. Tony was further upstage then I’d ever seen, on level w/, if not behind George, and w/ the exception of upright, played almost solely to him as well.

The absolute highlight of the night for me was High Water, always a good song, but made a million times better by the band. Donnie, Stu and Denny were all so tuned in to this incredible riff that seemed to float around stage, and Tony was throwing some slap in there to complement it. It was, bar none, the best High Water I’ve ever heard! Unfortunately the slapping stopped after the second verse or so, but the song stayed strong.

Love Sick was another highlight, actually complemented by Dylan’s high vocals. Summer Days was the band’s number, and they ran w/ it, doing a better instrumental verse then I have to assume has been happening lately.

The whole show was really very impressive, I don’t mean to give the impression that it wasn’t. Every single guy up there was really on top of his game, it was an excellent setlist, Dylan was really hopping around every time I glanced over that way, came out for many center stage “croonings” (though I cant tell you which haha), for the most part, the overwhelmingly local crowd remained standing (and those who didn’t made no attempt to force others to do the same), it was just a good time had all around, Security almost didn’t let us stage rush, and later that night, when me and Pooler standin_on_the _gallows were curious as to what was clearly marked off the setlist minutes before they went on, security wouldn’t even let me near the stage, “not w/o a pass”. (What is w/ this pass, was there one left in my name somewhere?! Haha)

Outside after the show, I did see the soundman, and considered asking him about the strange mix, but ultimately let it go. Don’t get me wrong, I loved that Dylan’s vocals were so high, after all, I listen to him at the shows and I think that his voice is his best instrument on these songs, but that drowning guitar doesn’t ever need to be that high again. Dylan may have even mentioned it, saying something along the lines of “on silent(?) string guitar, Denny Freeman……”, but I couldn’t make out exactly what he said. You all know me here, you know what sort of a bias this was written under. I think had any of you “normal” people gone, you’d have gotten more of a thrill out of the sound at my location then I did. If you went to see and hear Bob Dylan, it was probably a 10. If you went to see and hear the band, more like an 8.

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