The band kicks right in. Bobby at the keyboard, twistin’ his right foot and knee inward. The house is rockin’. Bobby’s voice is clear and etched with steel. This is a rarity: not waiting the two or three tunes Dylan usually takes before he ‘clicks in.’ He’s right there, out of the gate. The song is Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum. Not an awe-inspiring lyric, but it holds its edge. The sound begins emanating from Bobby’s keys is a pounding hunt and peck style. We exit from the opening tune looser and energized.
Dylan’s appearance is dapper; his outfit strikes me as Lord Byron meets Bat Masterson. A lot has been established in five or six minutes. These guys can rock. Bob says, “Thank you.”
Dylan is hatless and erudite. He stays at the keyboard. It affords him different ways of moving and here is a different way of centering the band. He’s both percussionist and inventor. He doesn’t play melody, leaves that to Charlie Sexton and Larry Campbell.
When the next tune starts it’s got an almost five-beat, bass-inspired riff that conjours up “Mrs. Henry”. It takes a couple of lines; I know I’m in the basement I just don’t know where. Yea, Heavy and A Bottle of Bread, I can’t believe Bob taught this to the guys or that he knows the words. This is sheer, nonsensical, unadulterated joy. I think about Richard Manuel and Rick Danko, and a healing time. Bob mixed up his own medicine in that basement. Lots of light-hearted fare with a dose of Rage and Grief. Some rare spoken words from Dylan, “I played that as a request, of course.”
Tombstone Blues — The whirring sound of a few of those “Highway 61” tunes has never been replicated live. A little more freedom for Charlie here to get bluesy and smokin’ would help. The cynicism of those biting lines “It will not kill you, it is not poison,” still stings in this straight-ahead arrangement.
End of Innocence — Song written by Don Henley As when I heard Bob sing Across the Borderline in 1986, I feel washed over with something that is “sympatico.” It vibrates in the right key, the right mood. It has a velvet feel to it.
Bob Dylan at the keyboard — Things Have Changed, with the gold “Oscar” statuette set behind him. Bobby twists and turns and sometimes gives conspiratorial half-grins to Charlie. I’m aware that his keyboard style is partly honed at the punching bag; a few left-right combinations.
Lights down. Movement. Backdrop changes to a flowing curtain. Brown Sugar, Bob on electric guitar. This is a very good cover band. There’s a level at which this is very inspired, it’s true to the song and the spirit of the music. The audience goes wild.
Master’s of War – Well, there’s a mood change. Bob on acoustic guitar. Okay kids, there’s something to this song. Really wish this would be done solo, but the power and darkness of the lyrics is as strong as ever.
Follow this up with It’s All Right Ma (I’m Only Bleeding) with Dylan back at the keyboard. Another tune that draws strength from its musical starkness. Bob’s on time as he draws out that “life and life only.” Bob pulled it together so that our collective consciousness is yelling out “yeah man.”
Just Like A Woman is exquisite. Bob on acoustic, Larry on pedal-steel, which by the way, most people play out of tune, and it drives me mad. It starts with the suggestion he may do the sing-song up-note he’s taken to recently. The couple of times Bob does it on one verse, he soon abandons it. A true version of this song, one of the most beautifully constructed songs I’ve ever heard. One of very few songs to have a really enjoyable “outro” in its initial recording; the band keeps rolling and Bob picks up a harp and plays beautifully. George has soft hands on the drums and the cymbals softly hiss, as they did back then.
Drifter’s Escape – I don’t like this arrangement and musically it really lacks. The song seems saved by a great cross-rhythm harp solo Bob pulls out at the end.
Next, Larry on mandolin, Tony Garnier on standup bass, Bob on acoustic. It starts out pretty, not too forceful. 1 2 34 1 23 — “twas in another lifetime, one of toil and blood.” I suppose some versions emphasize the Shelter and some the Storm. Nowhere near a great version; the countrified elegance of Larry’s playing and some subdued harmonies got me to musing. Lyricism of the highest order, with a bluegrass stance. A real rarity.
Next comes Old Man – Neil Young’s tune. A faithful version that I could’ve done without. Charlie and Larry did fill up the vocals nicely in that, David, Graham, and Steve sort of way. The revelation here was seein’ Bob’s playfulness. Dylan’s career hasn’t gone in a linear fashion. He’s older and younger than that now. He rocks more, even as he hearkens back to older, deeper roots.
Honest With Me — Decent, but not a highlight. Playing guitar, Bob ends up by walking over to the keyboard for some heavy-handed tapping.
A band version of The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll – Bob as balladeer. It’s nicely done and Dylan wraps it up with a quaintly sardonic, “bury the rag deep in your face, for now is the time for your tears.”
Highwater (for Charley Patton) — Not its best presentation. I’m most impressed by “the cukoo is a pretty bird and she warbles as she flies”. The acknowledgement of where he came from, and the realization that in the apocalyptic vision there is also solace.
Mutineer — This ongoing tribute to Warren Zevon is very touching. Larry’s pedal steel is flowing and who better to cast himself as the “Mutineer” than Bob Dylan. The song is short. How many have passed; briefly and beautifully graced us?
George Receli plays this one with the brushes. Bye and Bye seems to move us elsewhere. It’s the 1920s, maybe 30s. There’s a sophistication to this, a touch of Cole Porter. It feels like the audience doesn’t matter right now. It’s musicians time to groove on each other. If there’s anything special about this performance it is that Bob allows us a glimpse at some private moments as if to say, “You’ll have to stand outside, but I’ll draw the curtains back.”
As soon as we’re lulled, zap, Summer Days are gone. I’ve seen this performed twice, the first at Newport kicked. This is extraordinary. It was like a sock-hop of the rebellious. Tony slammin’ that bass. The whole band clustered and boppin’. They keep picking up steam. Lest we forget, it’s a Dylan song and has some great turns of phrases. We’re beyond words. They end with a thump. Lights down, the small red points of light from the speakers and a smattering of cigarette lighter flames the only source of illumination. A truly appreciative crowd. We are in New York City where some have looked into the abyss of hell.
A slightly, removed-from-the-melody, harmony between Charlie and Larry takes us into the encore. Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door – Katy Jurado passed away recently and I picture her in the film, “Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid,” watching as her husband (Slim Pickens) crumbles slowly to the ground. A large mass of a man, gently leaving the world gone wrong. Tony playing the quattro looks burdened, but it seems right as this is the Mexican spirit that touched Bob at the time. Should mention here that Receli’s drumming on Yea, Heavy had that molé sauce feel to it too. It’s like a soft cover has been slipped over us.
Lights down, applause.Bob Dylan New York 2002
The strains of the theme from “Exodus.” All Along the Watchtower – This song may be played too often. I wish it would appear less frequently and soar more; but Charlie’s fingers are flyin’ and Bob’s voice has held well tonight. Bob goes back and repeats the first verse. It’s powerful.
Lights down. As always, we think, hope, for an extra tidbit, masterpiece, anything in between. We hand over our insides to Bob and the band. He seems truly appreciative of the adoration. He’s got a boyish smirk of “look what I did”. Why not, man? Look what you’ve done.
Bob Dylan New York Concert Review
Madison Square Garden, New York – November 11, 2002
Written by Richard Lipner