It had all the markings of the “ show of the decade”; hell, it was the show of the decade. Great setlist, not one wrong note struck, the surprise return of a fan-favorite guitarist, I had a great view, it was a great wait, I even met and chatted w/ Stu for a while the night before. You couldn’t make this up. It was an INSANE show, better then most could ever hope for, so why did I leave sans huge grin, instead feeling slighted?
The wait was easily the most enjoyable wait I’ve ever had. As most have already commented, the bulk of the early entry folks don’t show up til around 2pm, so most of the day was spend hanging out w/ friends (and the occasional TX Willie fan haha). It would have been a scorcher of a day had it not been for the shaded arbor we had the fortune of sitting under, and a pleasant breeze kept the humidity down. Several news stations dropped by to shoot stories, and, after 2, some of the more colorful characters rolled in. It would be an interesting, if enthusiastic, crowd to say the least.
Of course nothing this perfect can go off w/o at least one hitch, and it came right as doors were opening. There were two turnstiles to be opened. I was at the front of one, and when they waved us in, WHAM! Mine locked up! “Mine wont go!” I shouted to the old man “attendant”, “I’m stuck!” He just sort of stared at me w/ a ‘tough shit’ look on his face and didn’t so much as pretend to see what the matter was w/ his gate, so I had to take matters into my own hands; I dropped to my knees and crawled underneath the damn thing! When I scrambled up, I saw at least four pairs of legs pass me through the functioning door. I made a beeline for the stairs, and regained my position on the way down, almost taking myself out in the process; those stairs were slick! Got to the spot I wanted and was able to laugh about the whole thing (laugher soon stifled while sitting in the still air and direct afternoon sunlight )
I stayed seated for the Wiyos, and it lead to a MUCH more enjoyable experience. Their music really is great, as I said before, but I am not a fan of the theatrical part of their show at all. They’re excellent if you don’t look at them. Willie was much the same, except today he had Austinite and Tony Garnier’s former bandmate Ray Benson sitting in w/ him. While I’m not a huge country music, I do really like Benson’s playing, but unfortunately he was (more then likely) just there to hang out w/ his friend, as he only took one lead the whole night. ;?
The Mel-ster was raised up the slightest notch tonight, not because of his performance (see my original comments on that). He had a tray of snow cones brought up, from which he took one for himself, and told security to pass them out to the parched front row. Of course, the damn rent-a-cop started in the center and took tray AWAY from us, but one did manage to work its way back. He really didn’t have to do that, he could have given them to his band or something, so even if his image of being all about the workingman is a sham, he is about helping themeltingman.
In the usual pre-show banter, I was asked what I thought he would open w/. I guessed Beyond Here for an ideal, but for the logical, I went w/ RDW, which, surprise surprise, is what we got. I have never been a fan of that one, and this one was, well RDW. I could see Tony and Stu pretty well (actually, I could see just about everyone really well if I wanted to) except Denny’s neck. He was standing a little further back because of Dylan being center stage, and since it was RDW, I wasn’t really that concerned w/ watching his fingers.
I did, however, have to alleviate this problem when the next song was revealed as Wheel’s On Fire. While a rarity, I’ve never been too impressed w/ it since seeing it at my first show, but was very pleased w/ this one tonight. Sound was again great for vocals, Stu and Tony; Denny was still quite low, and Donnie may as well have been in Dallas for all I could hear of him. My sight problem was easily fixed by standing on one of the 3 trillion empty water bottles strewn about, and when Dylan dropped the guitar in favor of harp at then end, I was optimistic that Denny may move a bit forward anyway.
Levee is a perfect example of why Stu should not play lead while Denny is in the band. Not that there was anythingbad about his lead, but it was, for lack of a better term, generic. The song itself was an enjoyable rocker, and really got the crowd moving, but I longed for the days of early 08, when Denny was allowed to do what he does best (or, at least, moreso then now). Never was this longing stronger then when Levee was followed by Spirit. This used to be Denny’s song, in that he was allowed to do really amazing things w/ it each and every night, and on more then one occasion, take it to a whole other plane entirely. His solo (one of about 2 he would take the whole night ) was a Denny solo (w/ great tone), but it was far too short for him to really have the freedom to do anything w/. Spirit used to be beautiful; smooth and flowing, now it’s just rushed.
The lights went down, and the glint of the Dussenburg’s pickguard can be seen, being carried onstage by a tall thin figure. “Oh no,’ I though, ‘is he going to play more guitar?’ But as he got further towards the center, I could see it was not the guitar tech, but none other then Charlie Sexton! Hot damn! I’ve seen Charlie several times, but never w/ Dylan. (I though the Arcs were still on the road, but clearly, not.) The lights go up, the boys kick into Honest W/ Me, and the crowd erupts. (Charlie is from Austin and still very much adored by the inhabitants.) Tony had the biggest grin on his face, as though he was seeing his best friend after years apart and, from what I’m told, Dylan was just as happy. It was clear this had not been rehearsed, and I don’t mean it was sloppy, but, it had not been rehearsed. Charlie caught on quickly though, and began feeding off Stu when he played his usual part. I will be honest, while he is a top-notch guitarist, I don’t particularly care for Charlie’s style. Having said that, I was incredibly impressed. Just like in the “old days”, Charlie fit that song. Somehow, when he’s onstage w/ Dylan, his style doesn’t come through as obnoxious.
Forgetful Heart was next, and man, I had REALLY wanted to see that one since first hearing it on the album. It was absolutely beautiful. Charlie stayed on, and Dylan came center stage w/ the harp. They were all in a line across the stage, like mourners at a funeral, sparse, Aint Talkin’ styled lighting perfectly complemented the lyrics……..it was ineffable. It was easily the highlight of the night, and probably, technically, the best single song experience you could have at a BD show. Clearly, everyone was stellar, but the one who took the cake was Stu, on acoustic. I hate to sound like a broken record, but that guy is rhythm extraordinaire, and I really cant think of anyone who should be playing that role in that song but Stu.
And yet, I could not shake the feeling of, not disappointment, but rather dissatisfaction.
And it was then that I realized that I was finally upon the crossroads that I was afraid of running into at the beginning of the tour. And I’ve come too far to turn back.
Tweedles brought the house down, even w/ the unrehearsed “duets” between Stu and Charlie. If you didn’t go to a hundred shows though, and didn’t know all the usuals’ parts, you probably wouldn’t even know it was a spur of the moment thing thought, Charlie made it sound that good. Yet still, there was an uneasiness growing inside of me.
IFACCO was the only other song I really had to see live from the new record, and I could not believe my luck that I was getting both in the same night! Technically, this song was great, absolutely perfect. But I could not get into it to save my life. These were the songs I wanted to see specifically because I couldn’t imagine an end to the possibility of places Denny could take them. All I wanted was the chance to see Denny slay them. Instead, I was seeing Charlie slay them (hey, anybody’s better then listening to Mike Campbell’s album version).
I know, I know, this was a once in a lifetime opportunity! All of ER would KILL for a chance to be in my shoes at this exact second! There are plenty of times I can see Denny playing these later! I know, and I tried to tell myself that over and over again, but I am heartbroken to report I wasn’t near as happy as I should have been. I think it had a lot to do w/ the fact that Denny, since Charlie got onstage, hadn’t been doing ANYTHING. He was there, he was strumming, but nothing you couldn’t easily figure out by watching one verse. He just stood there like a wet noodle, looking at though he wanted to be anywhere but on that stage tonight. I think it was the tease aspect I couldn’t get over. Now, by that I don’t mean he should have gone and sat in the dressing rooms, but its become blatantly clear that I come to these to see Denny above all else. Its not a “lets go see Bob” its honestly a chance to see Denny in my mind, so there’s the expectation I’m actually going to see him play. If I’d have gone not even thinking I’d see Denny, I think I would have been able to appreciate it fully. It would be as if you “normal” people went to a show where Dylan just stood on stage and didn’t sing.
When Charlie was still on for H61, it was clear this was no ordinary guest spot. He was gonna be here awhile.. Again, no complaints from me, the next three songs were impeccable, and probably wont ever happen again. During Aint Talkin, I was again impressed by the lighting effects. On previous versions, I’d been far to busy watching Denny’s guitar, but since his soul was MIA tonight, I was able to notice the slightly defused shadows cast by everyone on the bare backdrop. It was great, ghostly, like a gathering of lost souls searching for something they can never find. The imagery was so pristine on top of the song that I highly encourage you to tear your eyes away from whoever you may stare at during shows and just listen to the music and watch the shadows.
Thunder saw Denny’s second solo of the night, which finally gave me something to look at. I liked his intro, it was a little different then what I’ve seen in the past. He still didn’t appear to be having any fun up there.
Standard encores, as standard as anything can be w/ Charlie sitting in after 6 years. It really was note perfect, I mean, I have no “normal” reason for being anything but ecstatic. It was probably one of the best shows I have ever seen, looking at the whole picture, and I’m very sad that I can’t seem to appreciate just how special of a show I just saw.
Dylan is, has, and always will be about the lyrics. I’m not suggesting or stating otherwise. But the live shows to me, are about the music., the music which has taken a curious dent since 08.
This left me w/ a lot of contemplating to do, so I hoped in the car, cranked up Twang Bang, and headed for (even soggier) points south.