My first Dylan show in nearly two years, and my first in my old hometown of Des Moines. I drove into town eager, but not busting-out-of-my-seat excited at the prospect of seeing Dylan again. Sure, I was glad, but I haven't been wild about the set lists this year, there wasn't must chance of a surprise, and those august shows always wind up seeming like warm-ups for the better shows in autumn.
BUt any doubts I had withered away when Bob launched into Pillbox - he tore this one up, and it was apparent from the start that he was actually SINGING THE SONG.
Now, I don't mean to say that he normally doesn't do that, but in the last few years it's often seemed as though he wasn't really thinking about the words he was singing so much as he was thinking about the noise they made. He'd find a rhythm with the organ and build the vocals around that. It worked very well - certainly more than the old upsinging - so I didn't have much to complain about, though it worked better on some songs than others (as with any other vocal technique).
Tonight, he seemed to be thinking about what he was saying again, telling a story instead of building a groove.
Not to mention the fact that he wasn't wearing a hat.
THe wolf man growl was present, but not all the time. Some lines he'd bark, and some he'd really SING.
After Pillbox it was center-stage for a wicked Long Black Coat and a nifty Things Have Changed, followed by the new Tangled arrangement with a lot of 1984 lines. That was interesting to hear - wonder what made him bust THOSE out? I wasn't loving the arrangement, though - the habit of breaking each line into two with a big pause in the middle didn't work for me that well.
The set in the middle - with four Love and Theft songs, was a bit more middling, with Bob plunking away on the grand piano. There are songs when the piano really works, and songs where you wish it was a lot lower in the mix. I was delighted to hear Visions of Johanna, though. I'm always delighted to hear that one. I remember remarking after Nashville 2001 how well he made that one fit in with the Love and Theft songs, and tonight, too, it didn't seem out of place sandwiched into a block of four of those.
The highlight of the evening, for me, was the slow, burning, evil Can't Wait. Loved it. The concert picked back up here from there, with a nice Simple Twist (Bob's lone guitar work of the night, and it was…interesting), a Thunder On the Mountain that never QUITE lifted off the ground, a terrific Thin Man, and a Rolling Stone that, for the first time in years, seemed to be telling a story.
10 years ago the song seemed a bit more sympathetic to me - in the many times Is saw it back then I identified two styles of singing it - in one he seemed like a street preacher coming across a drunk in the gutter, listing off their sins with remarkable accuracy, and then asking "how does it feel" without very vindictive. In the other he was like one of the angels in Wings of Desire who knows everything about a person, except how it feels to be them. In that one he seemed genuinely curious when he said "how does it feel."
Tonight's version was vicious. Tonight he was the bookie sitting in the little bar, laughing at you as come crawling in, having lost big one more time in the middle of your attempts to double-cross him, laughing at your misery and asking "how does it feel" right before he has some no-necked guy kick the hell out of you as you sit there on the barroom floor.
Watchtower was GREAT and Blowin (with hat added) was a lazy river stroll. All in all, a nice concert with definite highlights that suffered a bit from the predictable setlist. Made me more optimistic about the november shows!
For you Moines out there, my old evil folk duo, Scapegoat, will be hitting the open mic at Java Joe's tonight in order to take our rightful places as rulers of the earth and force you to shake your filthy hips and bring us slushees.