It was 3 days short of 3 years to the date I saw Bob Dylan for the first time, and for the first time since that day, he was back in Denver. And, in many ways, it was again a “first show”. Wanting to attack this band w/ an absolute clean slate, free of any biases or expectations, I did not listen to any tapes, watched only the minimal Youtube clips, and, aside from simply relaying texts, I abstained from monitoring the setlists. Whether this affected me in a negative way, I cannot say, but in the days leading up to the show, I have never been more indifferent to an impending Dylan show. I fell asleep the night before w/o even the slightest tinge of excitement in my belly.
This apathy was only increased upon waking to a pouring and frigid sky (one that would no doubt turn to snow before the days end). I went about my day in a completely normal fashion and eventually arrived at the venue amidst low hanging, slushy clouds.
The first of two things happened to lift my spirits- a) the venue agreed to let us wait INSIDE all day, and b) the “line” was made up of only people I knew and enjoyed waiting w/….. no headcases, nutjobs, or general wackos to make the wait uncomfortable and stressful. We heard but couldn’t see soundcheck, which went something like- Maggie’s, Wicked Messenger, Hollis, Baby Blue, If Not For You, Things Have Changed, Deal, and ending w/ Beyond Here, of which we were treated to ONLY Donnie’s trumpet. Not bad. The venue’s staff seemed relatively competent, ignoring, of course, every venues penchant for redundant, logic-less strategies for doors. While I was feeling really good about it at the beginning, there’s nothing like a long bunch of VIPs to really stress you out. Granted, most of them had seats and we all made the rails, but that is just unneeded stress that I’m glad not to have to put up w/ for a long time.
Those of you following my plight this summer wont find it hard to believe that I was the one who had the burly bald security in my face for “running when I was told not to”. “Next time,” he threatens, “there will be BIG problems”. Oh, please. He wanders off and I am able to survey my real estate. The stage is incredibly low for an arena, mid-bicep for me, and the rails cant be more then 6 feet from the stage. I was maybe 1 or 2 people to the left of (what I assumed would be) ideal Tony-viewing area, but I was directly in front of Stu, and the size of the stage made it so that I could see all musicians clearly.
The all-too familiar intro music soon silenced conversations and summoned the shadows onstage. Unlike this summer at Round Rock, the lanky hatless figure who appeared between Stu and Tony was expected, and I hoped this would work to my advantage. As I said in my review of that show, it was the tease of Freeman being onstage which added to my feeling of utter disappointment. Since he was not expected to make an appearance tonight, I hoped I would be able to appreciate this new band for what it now was.
Stuck Inside, a very strange opener, kicked things off. In my only show of the tour, I was kind of hoping for Change, but was given this instead. It wasn’t bad, and I have nothing particularly negative to say about it, but I also found nothing noteworthy about it. It was a Bob Dylan song, nothing more, nothing less. I will say that, while I prefer a bit more Stu (especially on acoustic), the mix was really excellent, and anyone could be heard w/ a bit of focus.
It Aint Me was next, Stu again on acoustic, and it was an utterly standard version. That sounds negative, and I don’t mean it to, but it could easily be replicated in any town on any night. Dylan strapped on the guitar for this one, and while it was that weird, Koella-esque stuff that sprang forth, it wasn’t terrible. Stu’s role seemed quite diminished from this summer, which is a detriment to the tune.
Beyond Here continued this pattern. No high point, no low point, just a song, w/ a chorus, and a verse, and a guitar solo. Donnie’s trumpet could be heard, if you REALLY listened hard enough, but it sounded like he was playing it from miles away (though, he looked winded and red-faced by the time it was over, no doubt owning to the high altitude), and overall the song didn’t reach NEAR the level it did when I saw it in ABQ.
This marked the first time I had seen Most Likely in a very long time, and honestly, I could go another long time w/o seeing it again if this is how its going to be presented. It was just like all the other songs up until this point, it didn’t do anything special, it just sort of was….. I don’t mean to imply that they were bad songs, or boring, but, rather, they were standard.
The first song that actually moved me one way or the other finally came in the form of Cold Irons. This was one I always wanted to see (mainly from the previous band) but never got, and when it first started, I didn’t recognize the new arrangement. It was slow and dark, a bit spooky, but I really liked it. The song has enormous potential, and I cant wait to see what they ultimately end up doing w/ it, but tonight that potential was not reached. Not that it was bad, but it could have been a whole lot better, in my opinion (I just cant exactly pinpoint where it needs work). Perhaps it should have been longer; it seemed to just stop. Dylan did play a very nice center stage harp, prancing and contorting in the corner of my eye, and he really seemed to be enjoying himself.
Workingmans was ALWAYS a favorite of mine, and this more then any other song tonight made me long for shows gone past. The general consensus of those around me was that it was great, but I couldn’t see why. The whole thing seemed really subdued and content to just arrive somewhere, rather then to push it to the next level. The absence of guitar was replaced w/ harmonica, and while there was nothing technically wrong w/ it, to me, personally, it doesn’t excite me the way a beautiful guitar part used to. Even Stu, the lifeblood of that song, seemed to be merely going through the motions.
High Water was better, but ultimately forgettable. It’s a bit of a different tempo, slower now, and not as grooving. Tony was on upright for the first time of the night, throwing in a bit of (inaudible) slap, and for the first time I could see the front half of his body. He spend the whole night cuddled between his bass cab and the drum risers, his face practically in the speaker cone, which was very frustrating because I was really looking forward to seeing him play tonight. Apparently this is an unusual thing for him to do, but I had it happen more then a few times, and a friend suggested that maybe I am making him nervous, that he is not used to such unwavering attention. So instead, I spend much of the night watching Stu. He’s not someone I ever watched like a hawk, but I have spent a fair amount of time observing him, and I don’t know if its just tonight, or what, but his parts have REALLY been whittled away to almost nothing. He plays only the basic requirements of the song (not by choice, I’m sure), and I think played all of 2-3 solos all night. Not that a solo is everything, and I have said many times that his strength is rhythmic fingerpicking, but when he’s doing neither of the two, the songs themselves suffer. I thought overall the ballparks this summer were a step down from 08, but many times tonight I found myself wishing certain songs would have been “as good as the ballparks”.
A Denny-less Spirit was not something I was ever looking forward to, but was pleasantly surprised when Charlie stepped it up a notch and delivered on a song I assumed (given the rest of the night) would fall flat on its face. It didn’t, and I feel extremely more confident in the songs ability to continue to be a setlist staple.
Honest was as close to the album version as I’d ever seen it, and I don’t know that that’s necessarily a good thing. It suffered greatly because of Stu’s (forced?) lack of involvement, and, while it was one of the few times he actually took a solo, it was almost as if he’d forgotten what he’d been playing since last summer. Looking back, it was actually kind of interesting; the notes he left out, and if you were unfamiliar w/ how he’s been playing it the last 15 months, I don’t think you’d know the difference. It was a strange feeling thought, longing for a Stu lead on Honest haha
Easily the highlight of the night came as a double-edged sword. Man In The Long Black Coat was the single most wanted song from me since it reappeared last fall. I couldn’t get over the haunting beauty I heard on the tapes, and took almost personal offense when it was retooled as Man In The Floppy Red Shoes for the Euro tour at the beginning of the year. After such a travesty, I didn’t want to hear it! But tonight it was back to its sinister beauty. The fact that this wasn’t the band I’d yearned to hear play this sat heavy in the back of my mind, but it was what it was and so I was able to get past that quickly. Charlie fired off one of his better solos of the night, and Stu really seemed tuned in to the mists of the bayous. W/o a doubt the high point of the night, and one that ended entirely too quickly.
Deal was another one I was curious/worried about how Charlie would handle. Its one that I really only ever liked for Denny’s leads, and usually skip on tapes once I’ve heard what he would do w/ it. That being said, Charlie absolutely nailed this one w/ his (new?) white Gretch. It wasn’t what Denny would have done, but it was no less incredible for it. Charlie grew up looking up to and listening to Denny play, but until tonight, I have never heard that influence in his playing. Here there was no doubt!
The same could almost be said for Thunder. Sounded completely different, but I REALLY liked the choices Charlie made, and also respect the decision to not just play a copycat version. In an ultimate guitar fantasy, I would love to see the song performed w/ both men onstage (and playing, Round Rock doesn’t count); especially tonight, Charlie was settin’ em up right and left, but he needed someone to knock em down….. I’m drooling at the possibility right now haha
Thin Man was absolutely Stu’s song this summer, and I’m glad to see that hasn’t changed a bit. It is his biting attack that takes hold of the audience and gives the song its power. I’m really glad they play it every night, if I were to be doing more shows this tour, I don’t think its possible to get tired of this one.
LARS is one that I've never had any feelings for one way or the other, and that really didnt change tonight, but for one line. Dylan's voice, which has been touch and go for some time now, was quite strong all night. Rough as all hell, but strong, and incredibly clear given the circumstances, I understood all that he said (aided by the fact that he seemed to have no trouble remembering all the lyrics). During LARS, this growl developed a particular bite as he snarled, "As you stare into the vacuum of your mother's eyes..." Wow! A fleeting moment, but proof positive he is still capable of summoning "it" when need be. Jolene, a song that, for some reason, I cant stop playing myself, wasn’t as good as on its debut tour. As some have noted, the main riff is missing. Which, I suppose, it fine, if the rest of it weren’t being played w/ a drab uninterest. The power I spoke of in regards to Thin Man used to be present in Jolene, again thanks to Stu, but his tele is now just sort of jumbled in w/ everything else and holds no sway over the song. I was also a bit disappointed in the choices Charlie made, as none of them really did anything for me. Again, not bad, but simply generic.
Watchtower rocked, w/ almost ballpark intensity complements of Stu’s low down grit. Charlie’s closing 2 solos were extremely ethereal, which probably comes off as more of a complement then I intended; there was nothing about them you could latch onto. They were far too flitty; no substance behind them.
And just like that, it was over. Closure? Maybe.
And so, for the first time since my first show, I get in my car and head not for a hotel, a couch or the next show, but back to my own house. I am happy I went, and enjoyed the show. I will go again if/when they come to my town. But I am just as happy to not be headed to Kansas. I am content knowing I wont see them again until 2010 (at the earliest), which is something I never thought I would ever say.
I know these thoughts may not be popular. I know that many will write them off, say I am being biased because I like Denny, or that I somehow hate Charlie, or whatever. However, I worry that, as a fan himself, Charlie becomes a surrogate for all those in the audience who want to be “friends” w/ Dylan, and as such, may overlook the actual quality of what the shows could slip into in favor of a playful display between Dylan and Sexton.
Love them or hate them for it, one thing you could never accuse the 05-09 band of being is “genaric”.