By Chris Moore:
Okay, so I had what was potentially (literally) the worst seat in the house, a position so high as to be unreachable by today’s best air conditioning systems. And I may have walked in late, after having sat in stop-and-stop traffic for half an hour, just as the familiar voice-over finished — “Ladies and gentlemen… Columbia recording artist… Bob Dylan.” It doesn’t sound like the ideal way to begin a live concert experience…
But this was the MGM Grand in Mashantucket, CT. Even a bad seat — the worst seat, in my case — is a good seat with a great view of the stage and excellent acoustics. I could hear every word Dylan said… when it was possible, of course!
Seriously, though, aside from the first song (when I couldn’t figure out what he and his band were playing until the very last line when he annunciated and almost shouted “your Leopard-skin Pill-box Haaaat!”), the set list of songs was amazing and the performances were exciting and entertaining.
After starting with a track from 1966’s Blonde on Blonde, Dylan went on to reach as far back as his acoustic folk records and as recently as his 2006 album Modern Times. And he presented a healthy variety of songs from every phase in between. Some highlights were — “Things Have Changed” from the Wonder Boys soundtrack, a rocking version of the Time Out of Mind track “Can’t Wait,” and a passionate version of “Just Like a Woman.” The latter was perhaps the most impressive, if only for the fact that he still gives this mild hit (still played on oldies stations) his complete attention, even after performing it live for over four decades.
There were some absolute gems in song choice. The one that nearly knocked me off my seat (which would have been dangerous, considering how high up I was!) was “I Believe in You.” This is my favorite — and obscure — track off of his 1979 “Christian album” Slow Train Coming. The album, of course, netted Dylan his first Grammy award, and this performance is most likely a tribute to his producer for the album, Jerry Wexler, who recently passed away.
And then there was “Nettie Moore,” a deep track from his most recent album — this is where I felt my friend Jim’s absence most profoundly, as it was one of his favorite tracks when he first heard Modern Times. Now I may be biased (sharing the same last name and all), but this is a great track that was more upbeat than the studio recording. It drew quite the applause from the first few chords, and this is not to be understated; so unique are his concert arrangements that it often takes the audience until well into the second verse if not the chorus to figure out which song is being performed. Indeed, it was hard to shake the feeling that there is some connection between his line in “Nettie Moore” — “I’m beginning to believe what the scriptures tell” — and the themes of “I Believe in You.”
But, I’ll leave that for others to theorize on.
Overall, what makes Dylan’s show such an exciting one is not his faithful reproduction of classic hits and fan favorites. Rather, this Dylan set list combined with the musicianship of his formidable band make for great entertainment. They may not be a showy band, but he and his current band impress subtly at every turn — Dylan’s organ sound was clear and classic, the violin solo in “Things Have Changed” was cooler than I should admit to thinking, the riff I heard for the first time in “Can’t Wait” was infectious, the guitar solo in “High Water” was great and the one in “Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum” was scorching, and the drumming continues to be one of my favorite aspects of this band — George Recile redefines the terms “driving beat” (on “Honest with Me”) and “machine gun drumming” (on “All Along the Watchtower”).
Thankfully, I wasn’t alone in my excitement. There wasn’t a still body in the place as Bob Dylan and his band returned to the stage for an encore — after several long minutes that almost made me question whether he was returning — and thundered into “Like a Rolling Stone.”
Compared even to last year’s show, I have to say that I was perhaps more excited last year, probably due to Dylan starting off the show on electric guitar as the lights came up — oh, the applause that brought on! — and his set list last year including some of my favorite tracks. Still, after the encore, I couldn’t feel my arms from clapping so hard for so long (and, of course, from not visiting a gym anytime in my adult life) and my throat was sore for having cheered so loudly throughout the night, wishing desperately that the show wouldn’t end, making me wait another entire year before he comes around again.
If these aren’t signs of a great show, then I don’t know what are!