This was it. The end. No more Dylan for at least 3 more months, more for those who cant go to the projected Euro tour. While that is not necessarily a long time, I was worried that feeling may have put a damper on the whole evening for me. I was dead wrong though, and couldn’t have been happier.
Much like the first 08 shows in Dallas, the last also produced sub-artic temperatures, cutting through fabric and flesh w/ the help of the wind. At least this time we had gloves . The ER extravaganza, which was originally slated to meet in front of the venue, was relocated to the restaurant across the street on account of the weather. A large table was secured, but since only one or two groups had arrived, I opted to listen to soundcheck at the back door of the theatre, a building that, even from the outside, commanded attention. I didn’t know it at the time, but the band hadn’t arrived yet, so I braved the cold to listen to techs and roadies set up haha The busses pulled up later, but by the time I made it back to the door, all that was left to hear was the end of a 12 bar blues jam. By then it was dark, most of the ER folks were in the area, so I took my spot in the warmth of the restaurant.
Because of the size of our group, I could not hear and cannot speak for the other end of the table, but from where I was, it really was a live action Dylan board. One of the best parts of a GA show, for me at least, is the chance to catch up w/ those who we only know through shows, to hear about the shows you didn’t make it to, to just generally be able to talk about Dylan w/ others who are as into it as you and get you in the mindset for the approaching show. The lack of that is one of the great detractors of seated shows, but this setup was even better; we were warm!
The conversations could have lasted long into the night, but as 7 came and went, we still hadn’t gotten a check, and one latecomer still hadn’t even received her sandwich. While there was no “dine and ditch”, the service was not worth what we tipped, and the only reason I would go back would be to get a drink (they can’t card when they don’t speak English ).
From where we were in the restaurant, there appeared to be a long line at will call, but those of us w/ the minted, gold (read: overpriced) tickets were whisked right in. There was, of course, no Super-Max style security, no checkpoint, no being escorted to my seat, no anti-scalping methods other then will-call. I dropped my jacket off at my 3rd row seat, and that was the last time I was even near it. I wandered about, checking the view from various areas as I always do. Milkcow, who has her own story, got in just at the nick of time. I walked over to her, and talked for no more then about 10 minutes when the lights went down. Since no one was in the seat beside her yet, I figured I might as well stay. . .
The lights came up, and the opening chords were not those of RDW, Cats, Maggies, or any other song I’d heard in recent years. I’m not ashamed to admit, I had NO idea what it was until Dylan began to sing. I don’t know when that one was played last, but it had to have been awhile. It had a great rhythm to it, really got the audience up and on their feet. The band was, as they have been almost all year, on top of their game, and the sound was tight. I believe Dylan did pick up the guitar for this song, but I really wasn’t watching, I’ll have to listen to the tape. The sound was good as well, despite being directly in front of a PA stack. The only hitch in the song was that Dylan’s vocals were pretty harsh. It sounded as though he’d just done 4 or 5 shows in a row, and/or REALLY needed to clear his throat.
I could see Denny and his guitar pretty well, but I had a feeling whoever owned the seat I was standing at would want it back, and since Freeman frequently shifts to face Dylan, I knew my position wouldn’t be very good for very long, so when the lights dropped, I ran a few seats over to where another ER member had a seat. Not only is she an incredibly nice person, but she was shorter then me, so I asked if she wouldn’t mind me standing behind her; a request she graciously granted.
Not only was the sound and view a million times better, but when the second song was Times, I knew we were headed in a great direction. This was a song that I’d been wishing for since standing in line at my first show, one of the few that I have a real personal attachment to. I wasn’t particularly thrilled w/ the arrangement, but didn’t specifically object to it either, and the sound in my new spot was so excellent I ended up really enjoying it. Dylan must have gotten a drink or hawked one into the spit can, because his voice was much smoother for this one.
At my last show, Kalamazoo, I was blown away by the unity of the band. But in the couple of weeks between then and now, while listening to tapes of earlier shows, I couldn’t help but (albeit under a lot of guilt) feel a bit sorry that Denny was not in his same out front role that he enjoyed in, say, Dallas. It was obvious during Levee that this was not going to be a Kalamazoo night. Every other guy was still in top form, but they were not the one entity, Denny was again a bit ahead. I, personally, was thrilled. Levee has become a bit of a standard this year, and while you always get a range of good and bad performances w/ those standards, there was something extra behind this one. Maybe they were all just happy w/ the prospect of being rid of each other for a while, but there was an energy that I hadn’t heard in that one since early summer.
For the second time in 4 songs, I was completely in a fog as the next song began to unfold. I couldn’t even wager a guess; all I knew was that I liked it… A LOT! It was a very country-ish arrangement, thumping bass, great fiddle, great guitars…well, great everything, really. Part of me would have been fine if they’d have just continued on w/ no lyrics. Dylan was even on guitar, and still I found nothing wrong w/ the music As he stepped up to the mic and began to sing, I, and apparently everyone else, took the first few lines and sang ahead in our heads. The crowd recognized it at virtually the same time and erupted into cheers. I doubt very many knew when it was played last (not that long ago, it turned out), but I’d bet everyone counted themselves lucky to be there seeing it. It was easily a highlight for me, but after only 4 songs, I didn’t want to jump to any conclusions. I can only hope that this one gets played more in future shows. I was very impressed w/ absolutely everything about it. Dylan flubbed a few lines, but that is but a minuscule detail standing in front of a perfect song; it was over too quickly.
Things was solid, as it always is, but the next treat for me came w/ Desolation Row. I was (surprisingly) impressed w/ the music when I first saw it this year in Park City, and while the band did not disappoint in any way tonight, it was the vocals which took me away this time. They were not the start-stop staccato that he usually employs for this one, he was actually singing. After awhile, I let myself get lost in it, the vocals, the music, everything was so smooth and seamless. . . and. then. the. start. stop. styling. It. started. all. over. a. gain. Jolted out of a trance-like state, it took me a second to realize that they were still on Desolation Row. That’s not a complaint about the length, but the shift was so drastic, it was almost as if a new song had been started. Almost. I personally am not a fan of staccato Desolation Row, and he never went back to smoother styles, but there was enough going on on stage to distract from that. I was greatly impressed by Stu’s rhythm playing; it couldn’t have been better if he’d tried.
This was the first time I’d seen Beyond The Horizon this close to Denny, and it was incredible. Its one I always skip on album, but love listening to on tape, and man, can that guy ever play IF he leaves the organization before the NET stops, I’d hope they retire this song; I really cant imagine any other guitarist being able to so anything w/ it, and I almost shudder to hear anyone try. I cant tell you what happened anywhere but directly in front of me, and my only memory of this song was the guitar. I haven’t listened to the tape, I don’t know if it sounds the same on that, but take it from one who knows, it was beautiful.
Til I Fell In Love was the only one of the whole show that was stuck in my head on the plane ride back, and for good reason; the thing cooked! It has really come into its own this year, and I was pleased to see they were using it to close out the 08 season. Another highlight for me. That’s the difference between seeing a setlist and being there; the best song does not have to be the rarity that earns a million points at the pool.
Another TOOM song came next, and just like its predecessor, did not disappoint. A center stage Dylan played an excellent harp. Feel My Love is not generally a song I have strong feelings about one way or the other, but the energy boost given to Levee also applied here. Perhaps not the definitive version of the song, but one of the better ones I’ve born witness to. In all honesty, I could have sworn it was You Belong To Me in the intro. I knew I was wrong, but, I couldnt, for the life of me, figure it out.
A mind-boggling thing happened w/ the audience during Honest, a thing I have never seen happen before; they SAT DOWN! Now, I don’t mean everyone, but first, second, third row folks began to take their seats, even as the guys on stage started tearing the place down. What is going on?! Don’t tell me you’re tired! Stu took his only lead work of the night on this song, throwing out one of his best solos. It was not his average “Stu solo”, but something different. I like Stu fine, he’s a great player, but his recent solos are, well, I don’t know how to describe it, but they’ve got no personality in them; they’re what you’d expect the guitar solo to sound like at that point. This one was not like that at all; Stu the guitarist came through, rather then just Stu the trained Dylan employee. Way to go, Stu! I tried voicing my appreciation when the lights went down, but my sickness and extreme thirst caused my voice to jump up about three octaves before becoming inaudible even to dogs haha
Spirit is another in the category w/ Horizon. Hearing them try to play it w/o Denny in Kingston only solidifies it ashis number. He was on his white, decorated Strat all night tonight, whereas he usually has switched to the Gibson by the time we hear Spirit. Nice switch-up.
Perhaps the boss was as baffled by the snoozing crowd for Honest as some of us were, because we rushed uninhibited as H61 began. Just a Levee, seemingly a lifetime before it, this version really cranked. It is undoubtedly a standard, one that is almost always exactly the same as the night, week, month, tour before, but was pushed just a bit farther tonight.
Those who made it against the stage stared w/ respectful reverence for the entire Ain’t Talkin, and aside from Kalamazoo, which, because of the band thing I put in a different category all together, this was probably the best Ain’t Talkin I’ve attended.
Thunder blazed! That was incredible, that’s all I can say about it! Probably my favorite version of this I heard. Two notes though; 1) the woman who groundhogged her way to my left during this song threw what looked to be her keys on stage. Keys! They landed harmlessly in front of Tony, but I for one, would not appreciate having sharp metal objects thrown at me out of the dark. (Also, how does one get home?!?) And 2) at the restaurant beforehand, we were all laughing at the most obscure things we could yell out a request for. I joked everyone that the table holler for Stealin Berries. Its one of Freeman’s songs, one I’ve been messing around w/ for the last week or so and am about halfway through and stuck on. Maybe I’m going crazy, maybe I’m losing my mind, maybe I subconsciously heard it because it’s been on constant rotation for hours at my house, but I swear to G-d Denny played one of those riffs in Thunder this time! He was facing Dylan and his guitar was completely perpendicular to me, I could only see his strumming hand, and it was just a quick little thing, but what a killer coincidence! Again, I might just be losing it, but.........
LARS and Watchtower were really excellent, probably definitive attendance versions for me as well. I actually REALLY liked LARS this time, as opposed to just “meh”. The lights went down after Watchtower, but no one moved, and so you don’t know what to expect. It is were any other night, I’d have used the term “unfortunately” when they started into Blowin, as I really hate ending the night (or in this case, the tour year) on that one, but this was a year ender if I’ve ever heard one! Dylan once again picked up the guitar, and once again, it was not bad, not bad at all! Everyone sounded great.
As the boys lined up for the final time in 08, I cant imagine that any reasonably sane person in the theatre could have been disappointed. The setlist was not outlandishly absurd, Larry Campbell and Robbie Robertson did not come out from behind the curtain, we were not treated to a demo of an unfinished album, and Donnie still does not wear a hat, but did anyone honestly expect anything different?
As for myself, this tour year has been unbelievable. I saw more the double the shows in 2008 then I had seen before, total. I flew to shows. I drove. I got rails, and I got row “Z”. I’ve met a million cool people, and I’ve seen a million different towns.
I got to meet my idol, Tony Garnier!