Monday, November 10, 2008

Top Form (Kalamazoo, 11/8)

First appeared here-

GA. GENERAL Admission. At least, that’s what I thought it stood for. Dylan management and I apparently disagree (their G may lean towards “greed”… ). W/o going into a long rant about it (that is another topic for another time), I made the decision a week before to NOT buy into this horrible policy, even if it was a bit self-detrimental, much like my stance on TTS. Turns out quite a few folks felt that way, the “commoner” line was formed out of the exact same people it always has been; those who do (and will continue to) waste the better part of a day braving the heat, the cold, the wind and the rain.

And aside from heat, there was plenty of the aforementioned weather conditions. Even so, the time flew by in one of the more enjoyable waits I’ve had. Between meeting internet personas face to face, catching up w/ friends who don’t post, and just generally trying to keep a handle on the ever-changing door plan (exasperated by that new early-entry BS), I couldn’t shake the excellent feeling I had. This was the first show I’ve ever hemmed and hawed over before buying a ticket, and w/ the sound in Milwaukee, I had every reason to expect something miserable to suddenly appear and rain (or, as it were, snow) on our parade, but the venue seemed to at least have a plan, and when, 2 hours before doors, the line was still less then 20 long, I knew things were going to somehow work in our favor.

Finally, when your knees no longer bend and you’ve forgotten what its like to have sensation in your feet, the doors are opened! I was the first one through my door, and the first one to fling back the curtain into the arena. There is a small collection of the “elite” plastered to the rails, but it looks to me (coming from house right) that I can still get my prime place. I charge over to where the elitists end, and look up; too far! Split second decision time…… I stay here I’m going to be staring at Denny’s ass all night. But if I try to go back, I could be too far again, staring at Dylan’s ass all night …. subconsciously I must have decided to make the gamble, because before I know it I’m shooting back the way I came, again coming to a stop at the end of the “royalty”. My gamble was a good one; I have a clear view of the guitars and bass. Looking strait ahead, I’m in line w/ they keyboard, and have an impeccable view of the center stage mic, if I were interested in that ;) .This was the closest to Dylan I’ve ever been. Looking left and right, it appears everyone who should have been was at least somewhere on the rail. So far, so good. Take that, administrative jerks!

When they finally come striding out and hit the opening chords of Maggie’s, I was in for another treat; the sound was perfect! At first I was just excited that I could hear Denny loud and clear, something I attributed to being right where the amp was pointed, but as the song cranked on, I could hear everyone, perfectly! In talking w/ some others later, they noted that the vocals were a bit low for the first two songs, and yeah, OK, but they got it fixed, and I was perfectly happy either way (His organ was screeching loud for a bit, but was quickly corrected).

Maggie’s was a first for me, and I didn’t recognize it right off the bat, but I don’t think the band did either; it sounded remarkably like an intro-less Thunder for the first few bars. You’d have thought they planned it that way though; no one stuttered as they pulled it back around. Just a sign of things to come. One thing I noticed was that it was definitely a band effort, there was no one instrument that was more important to the song or one person to whom the song “belonged”. Everything came together so smoothly, and that was just the opener!

I was a bit surprised to head RDW come next, I never really thrill in hearing, but this was easily the best version I’ve ever heard of this song, thanks in no small part to Denny’s playing. It was the only time during the night that anyone stood out on his own; the band slayed this one too, w/ a passion that just normally isn’t there for this one, Denny was just that much better.

I couldn’t believe it when the level of dedication didn’t drop for the next number, Baby Blue. I watched Tony, but then became aware of what George was doing, and couldn’t help but watch him for awhile. And then suddenly I couldn’t peel my eyes away from Stu’s guitar… no one necessarily commanded the attention, but everyone was fascinating to watch. Everyone commanded the attention.

Just as an aside, Donnie is a guy I never really watch, mainly because I don’t play any of his instruments, but I did tonight, and he’s very “puppyish”. I don’t mean that in a bad way, and I certainly don’t mean to offend him, but there’s a charming innocence in his concentration. I don’t think that he has to concentrate any harder then anyone else, he’s an extremely competent musician, or that no one else is having any fun, but he seems to be the only guy who isn’t trying to project an “image”; he’s having a blast and doesn’t care who knows it!

Tweedle has sort of become Stu’s song, but like everything else tonight, he was not any more or less important then anyone else. I feel like a broken record, but they really were synced tonight, they played (and quite possibly breathed) as one single entity, I’ve never seen anything like it.

Someone asked me after Milwaukee if Stu’s new stage position facilitated the guitarists feeding off each other, and it was clear tonight that it definitely does, one only had to look at Levee for the perfect example. Denny on Strat, Stu on Tele, and the fullest sound I’ve ever heard w/ this song! And still, there were no mistakes, no flubs, no departure from the level they set w/ the first song.

The only word I could think of while watching Hollis was “stunning”. My only letdown of the entire night was that the slide after the “seven shots rang out” line was a bit anti-climactic, which, in hindsight, may have worked to its advantage. I didn’t want to admit it, even to myself, for fear of jinxing them, but at the point, this really was the best Dylan show I’d ever seen.

From where I was, it seemed like a great crowd as well. While they weren’t the most active, they seemed to have a sense of what a great show they were taking in. Everyone of course went nuts when Dylan came center stage, or sauntered over and picked up the Gibson hollowbody for H61, but they seemed fairly versed in recent NET happenings and didn’t seem like they were there for the “wrong reasons”. As far as the guitar, he plays if exactly as he plays the organ, which, take that any way you want, but I personally would prefer that he leave that to the guys who he pays to do that.

I hate to repeat myself a million times, and there are only so many different ways to say “near perfect”, but it really was. The only low point of the whole night was that there was NO low point; there was nothing to judge the highs against. The setlist wasn’t the best, (I’d have liked to see some Love and Theft mixed in) but the performance was beyond belief. Best Dylan show I have ever seen.

Despite the sign in the lobby, this is not “Bob Dylan and Friends”, this is him and his band, and man for man, I think this band has finally arrived in the place he wants/needs them to be in. While I may go to see certain members stand out, no one else does, and he, and they, don’t need to be known as Bob Dylan, a killer guitarist (or drummer, or anything), and a random assortment of other guys. When listening to tapes of other line-ups, many times there was a “unity” factor, and while no one ever mentions it, I think that was more of a factor then anything in the “Larry/Charlie” days. I’ll be the first to admit that, from the beginning, not every member of this band was given an equal role (and, depending on the tour, who that was has been different), but if this show was any indication, those days are over.

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