The Way Cool Wife and I drove down to Pittsfield, Mass in the Berkshires to see the Bob Dylan show at Wahconah Park, home of the minor league Pittsfield Mets. The current leg of the Never-Ending Tour is being staged in minor league ball parks throughout the country including a stop at Doubleday Field in Cooperstown, NY on September 2nd.
First up was "fiddle" player Elana James and she smoked through a set of Bluegrass, Texas Swing and Jazz with an energy that could have lit the stadium. She has a sweet voice, is cute as a bug and can steal the Devil's fiddle from Charlie Daniels. The highlight of her set was a driving "Orange Blossom Special" that left everyone exhausted except Ms James herself: she was quite ready for more. She's a rare talent that literally radiates from the stage. If things are even half right with the world, she is going to be a huge talent.
Next up was guitarist extrordinare, Junior Brown. With his tall frame, gravelly bass voice that is a cross between Merle Haggard and Johnny Cash, and his unique hybrid electric/steel guitar, Brown was a real crowd pleaser, and the audience loved his off-beat humorous lyrics (especially well received was "My Wife Thinks Your Dead") and stunning guitar work. He lived up to his reputation and its great to see he hasn't dropped a beat over the years.
These bands took up little stage-space and the setup I was checking out before the show, it turned out, was for Jimmie Vaughan's band. I was especially admiring the pure white B3 Hammond with the similarly ivory colored Leslie's (two of 'em). When Jimmie hit the stage, I discovered what they were for: keyboard player Bob Willis who joined Jimmie's Tilt-a-Whirl band six years ago, a few years after I last saw Vaughan perform live. Bob also uses his B3 to supply the bass lines for the band with a special lower keyboard. But I gotta say, there is simply nothing like a B3 with Leslies in a blues band. Jimmie and the Tilt-a-Whirls had the crowd up on their feet and bogeying.
After Jimmie, the roadies cleared the stage and loaded Bob's set. Now I've seen Bob Dylan in concert maybe 15 or 20 times over the years since I first saw him play with The Band back in 1973 and he's always different. And for the past 15 years or so he's been constantly reworking his classics for stage performance to keep them fresh. But even so, his shows have usually been a mix of rock and folk. And he has always had an acoustic set in the middle. This show was different even from that.
The first thing I noticed was the introduction For as long as I've been going to Dylan shows he's been introduced with something like, "Ladies ands Gentlemen. Please welcome to the stage Columbia recording artist, Boooooob Dylan." This time, there was a short biography:
Next up...the poet laurette of rock'n'roll, the voice of the promise of the 60's counter-culture, the guy who forced folk into bed with rock, who donned make-up in the 70's and disappeared into a haze of substance abuse, who emerged to find Jesus, was written off as a has-been by the end of the 80's, and who suddenly shifted gears, releasing some of the strongest music of his career beginning in the late 90's...Columbia recording artist Bob Dylan.
"Substance abuse"? Now that's different given how private the man is.
The next unusual thing I noticed was that the band was wearing "uniforms", like an R&B revue: all were dressed in maroon suits with black piping and black, bowler-style hats. Bob himself was dressed in back suit with a white shirt. And many of his songs were retooled with an R&B feels.
The other thing was that Bob always played guitar in the past. In fact, in the last few shows I saw before this one, Bob was even trying his hand at playing lead. Not so good. This show, he didn't play guitar at all. Instead, he played keyboards the whole show. And there was no acoustic set at all.
The set list was as follows
|1.||Cat's In The Well|
|2.||You Ain't Goin' Nowhere|
|3.||Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum|
|4.||Just Like A Woman|
|5.||Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again|
|7.||Don't Think Twice, It's All Right|
|9.||I'll Be Your Baby Tonight|
|10.||Cold Irons Bound|
|11.||I Shall Be Released|
|13.||Like A Rolling Stone|
|14.||Rainy Day Women #12 & 35|
No preview of the new album, Modern Times, due out this Tuesday. The highlights of the show to me were the two Time Out of Mind tunes Million Miles and Cold Irons Bound. Both were tight and had great atmosphere but Cold Irons Bound was awesomely dramatic. Summer Days from the Love and Theft album was great rockin' romp that excellent in execution.
Like a Rolling Stone also rocked, but that's been that way forever. And the effect where the lights are turned on the crowd whenever Bob sings "how does it feel" has been unchanged since the first time I saw him and the crowd loves it.
Rainy Day Women ended the show on a rocking high note.
One other song of note was Just Like a Woman. It was tenderly sung and after every verse, Bob would hold back the phrase "just like a woman" and let the crowd sing it in meter while he would rush it at the end. The effect was just great.
Bob's voice was clear, strong, and, when not rushing lyrics, articulate. But his voice does show the wear of his 65 years. Dylan's voice is an acquired taste for sure, but to me it's always been his dynamics and phrasing that made him a great singer, and these remain intact to this day.
All in all, Bob's "Ballpark" tour, or at the very least this show that I saw in Pittsfield, is a great entertainment value for your fifty bucks.