Bob Goes Deep, In The Heart Of Texas, For His Final Two Shows On The Spring 2024 Rough And Rowdy Ways World Tour (With Willie And Johnny And Jimmie And All The Rest)

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One line from Rough And Rowdy Ways that gives me both a chuckle and a philosophical pause is, “Pick a number between one and two” from My Own Version Of You. Upon initial contemplation, I took that directive to mean to pick an actual number in the middle of, or between, one and two – and since there is no such number (I mean at least not unless you start getting into fractions and I was never good at fractions), an impossible task. But then upon turning the phrase over in my head, I realize it can also be taken as a request to choose between two options: one or two. Maybe easier than trying to find that mystery number in between one and two. However if the choices – one or two – are the first and second Austin TX shows that conclude the spring U.S. leg of the Rough And Rowdy Ways tour, the task is equally impossible! Well, if someone were to take out a sword and hack off my arm if I didn’t pick one, I would go with the first one. That said, rarely have I attended back-to-back shows that were both so equally exhilarating and yet so different (yes, even though the songs played were mostly the same).  
    Before delving into the details of the shows, though, it must first be noted how joyful it was to arrive, converge, and convene with some of my best friends the day before. We came in from Ohio, Colorado, California, and one local, who was such a caring and efficient tour guide and driver. Though some of us had had flights as early as 5 AM, once landed we hit the ground running with Jello-O shots proffered upon airport pick-up and then the fulfillment of my lunch request at Curra’s Grill for their unique avocado margaritas and delicious Mexican cuisine. A great evening hang with everyone goes late but not too late (general admission shows, so line duty tomorrow and we want to get there early!), with more drinks and a walkabout from our AirBnb that leads us to a fine dive bar with live band karaoke for a late dinner and a couple more drinks for the final hour or so of the long day.
    Yes, as mentioned, GA shows! Rare in Bobland these days, though they used to be more the norm; since the opportunities are scarce, travel to those few shows where you can secure a front row spot by lining up early is a must-do when possible! A couple of crazier crazies than us and long-time good friends are there already when we arrive (wait, are those homeless people or Robin and Lex??) and we all spend a good long day in the shadow of the Willie Nelson statue that greets everyone at the ACL Live Moody Theater. It really is so fun! We see old friends and make new ones, and the day passes quickly between the fine art of just hanging out before a concert, laughing about so much shit past and present, and making mini-excursions to find food and do a bit of sightseeing around the downtown area.
    At last, the scramble to get in – always at least a bit stressful, and this night is no exception as in an instant after getting the tickets I have on my phone for our whole group scanned, I am diving to my knees as the handoff of my ticket (actually the flimsy little paper slip they print out of their device after the mobile ticket scan) from Mr. Jinx does not go as planned but instead wafts just out of my reach, out the doorway, and back outside toward the long stairs we just came up! I dive down on my knees to grab it and then I’m literally crawling back out into the crowd of people getting in, slapping my hand at it three or more times as it is taken in tormenting puffs by the wind… just…beyond…my reach. I finally slap my hand down on that bitch, pin it to the ground and grab it, start back in the correct direction again, give my phone to the pouch people, undergo the frantic chaos of then getting a wrist band for GA floor access, and somehow after all that still beating most of my group to stand in yet another line to get in. Tensions are running high and chaos is on the verge of ensuing. I mean, maybe not quite chaos but I gotta say that, for a venue that boasts the proud honor of hosting the ACL Live music series (and their impeccable sound quality certainly rises to that standard, we’ll soon find out), they seem in a way like they’ve never put on a general admission show before tonight. But at last we’re let in and we secure great spots just left of center so a nice clear semi profile view of Bob.
    What a night it is! You always hope that something like a rare GA standing show combined with the last shows before a break will yield something special, and tonight it does. By far my favorite of the ones I’ve seen this tour (well until tomorrow night and maybe still so… pick a show between one and two, ya know…?). Bob is in a jolly mood, laughing out loud spontaneously at multiple times throughout the show, giving every song his all right out of the gates. No warm up required. The band’s really tuned into him, too, ebbing and flowing in volume and tempo nicely along with each sung phrase. After the opener of Watching The River Flow, he quotes the opening lines of the Willie Nelson song “Funny How Time Slips Away,” starting, “Well hello there (some plinking on the piano)... it’s been a long, long time (plink plink)... How’m I doin’?…” and he gives a little giggle (his first of many tonight) at the end. It’s made more amusing by the crowd’s slight confusion, thinking he’s just giving a greeting vs. quoting Willie’s song, and some responding with a hello of their own and approving cheers when he asks “How’m I doing?” And they say Bob doesn’t converse with the crowd! 
    Starting on Most Likely Bob goes high-pitch squeaky on random words as if for emphasis, little accenting squeals of delight to accompany his delightful piano key accents. “You KNOW you could be wrong!” “I can’t beg-a YOU anymoooore!” “I’m just gonna LET you pass!” 
    False Prophet is so crazy and funny. Bob guffaws when he declares, “I opened my heart to the world and the world huhuhuh came huhuhuh iiiin!” It’s impossible to say if he is getting a kick out of seeing fans so close as to be able to appreciate our reactions, but he is definitely amused at many points throughout the show. And they’re playing this song loud! With crazy piano riffs and runs and the band is chugging behind him; Bob and band, firing on all cylinders. I do in fact feel that he is letting the band play a lot more than at the other recent shows I’ve seen; I don’t notice any disapproving sideways glances or motioning to one player or another to quiet down or even not play. So a lot of this night is really rockin and the GA crowd is enthusiastically responsive at all the right moments and quiet when the songs call for being quiet. Maybe cuz of that early on ‘hello’ exchange there really is a kind of call and response feel to the show, with dramatically delivered lines cueing boisterous audience reaction throughout the night. On Goodbye Jimmy Reed it even becomes a singalong, when during some of the climactic lines like, “I can’t play the record cuz the needle got stuck!” loads of people in the front rows are singing the lines in raucous enjoyment which Bob clearly loves! I love it when the crowd is egging Bob on and vice versa, building on each others’ enthusiasm and everyone is having such a great time. Absolute appreciation between Bob and fans and it just doesn’t get any better. Everything flowing all at the same time. Bob starts saying thank you after almost every song. 
    It’s really one of those nights where every song is a highlight, so I will mention a few more that shine most brightly for me. I get to hear my first Big River which has changed a lot since the early versions of this tour; it’s gone more the way of sparser piano focused arrangements and at times is almost a cappella. So unique and enjoyable. 
    But the evening’s crowning glory is a stunning performance of Across The Borderline, which is exquisitely perfect. Stripped down to a mostly piano and vocal arrangement in line with Bob’s current musical stylings. His singing is so good. He sounds weary, hopeful, compassionate, heartbroken, solemn, tender, as he takes us on this journey through a song that is as much about America today as any other song Bob might choose to sing, and he has unmistakably chosen this one, for this place and time. If, as he tells us, Bob can’t sing a song that he don’t understand, he sure can sing the hell out of one that he does, and the way he inhabits this one performance of a song he hasn’t played publicly since 1998 leaves no question. The last piano notes have barely faded and the audience is still cheering when Bob picks up the harmonica for the relatively newly added harmonica intro, that I have yet to see since he started doing it after the Florida shows, to I’ve Made Up My Mind To Give Myself To You, and the one song flows out of the other like a river winding. Possibly the Rio Grande. I’s my favorite live version I’ve heard of this song, every word and note is perfect. “I’m gonna go far away from home with HER,” and we get the flash of a sly smile. I’ll be there! Again the crowd seems to just flow with Bob and the music, hanging in the balance of every carefully set down word, and swelling in warm applause at the spaces in between.
    At the end after Every Grain Of Sand, Bob comes away from his piano as he will do, and looks out at the audience as he will. Kait has brought in a small banner with The Bob Dylan Fan Club logo, which we hold up now with the help of Mr. Jinx, displaying it to Bob. He sees it right away but at first he is coy and looks around elsewhere without acknowledging. C’mon, Bob, don’t be too cool! After a few more seconds though, he returns his attention to our side, and settles his gaze on us. He takes a slight step forward in his cool Bob way, and gives us a power fist pump and a nod. Fan Club in da house! A thrill to end the evening!  
    Ah but the evening of course hasn’t ended, and props to Nancy for organizing a lovely post-show meet up at a swanky cool place nearby, where we get to soak up the company of new, old, and somewhere-in-between friends alike in some comfy surroundings with tasty bevs. 
    New day, same place! Line time again is fun and passes enjoyably, having the additional conversation topic of last night’s show to compare and discuss with fellow fans. It’s always fun to exchange experiences especially after such a hands-down great show, and since different people pick up on different things sometimes, the post-show debriefs can help bring a moment into a brighter light or point out some new element or perspective. Mr. Jinx and I steal away for a couple hours to Black Star Co-Op Brewery, a 20 minute Uber ride away and our Uber driver is impressed that we’re taking some time out of our visit to get into the ‘real Ausin,’ out of downtown. We’ve been to this spot on another trip, and going back today proves a fine idea. The beer list is small but satisfying with a rye IPA and a hazy IPA on the menu, and both are complex, hoppy and highly drinkable! We get some lunch, and it is nice just to get away from the noise of downtown around the venue, where the grackles never cease their grackling and even on a Sunday the nearby construction is in seemingly full swing with jack-hammers and drilling in the wall keeping up and all trying not to pay it any mind! 
    The time of doors opening draws near and again nerves run high, but they definitely do things a little better today so it’s not as much of a cause for blood pressure spikes. Still, it’s always nerve-wracking in the final moments and the rush to the rail! I feel like I always black out somewhat in the moments between being let in and where I end up – no time to think, just act fast and grab that spot! We’re in another good place tonight, dead center in fact which, since this stage is quite low, is actually a fantastic place to be as even when Bob is sitting his head rises above piano level. It’s an old school rail tonight, with us, Robin & Lex, Joanna, Alyson, all down the line just like a flashback to 2003 - 2005 times! I’ll take it! 
    Soon enough we are underway. Bob dives right in with expressive singing and playing. On both Watching The River Flow and Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I’ll Go Mine), he’s mixing up the phrasing in ways that seem almost designed to stump the band: one line with a surprisingly extended syllable followed by the next line with maybe an unexpected pause necessitating a rushing out of words at the end of the line. But they keep up and again everything is sounding great.  The sound in this venue really is the best I’ve ever encountered, especially from a front row where it can sometimes be muffled. I Contain Multitudes has a calm lilting melody with almost spoken word delivery, and it starts to feel almost like a sermon with the crowd keyed in to the spaces in between the sung lines, during which to offer their cheers. In fact, the room swells with cheers every time Bob states that he contains multitudes, as if we all wholeheartedly agree. After saying that he plays Chopin’s preludes Bob does a super fancy flourish up the whole length of the keyboard that really tickles me, like, “Take that, Chopin!” My friend who has a balcony seat one night says that when he does that he uses the back of his hand, his knuckles. So much for the arthritis rumors, I guess! 
    We get another chuckle during the “Hello Mary Lou, hello Miss Pearl” line, perhaps aided by Mr Jinx pointing our way as Bob sings it. During Masterpiece Bob has a little aside for us and maybe for himself as he sings. “Someday everything gonna be so doggone beautiful… when? When I paint my masterpiece!” Of course! You need to ask? The reverb on Black Rider (blackriderblackriderblackriderblackriderblackrider) cracks me up. From my spot tonight I hear it really clearly and I can’t help but give a little chuckle each time at the dramatic flair. I’ll take out a sword and hack off your armyourarmyourarmyouraaaaarm. 
    Of course the main differentiating feature of tonight’s show proceeds next as Bob announces, “We have a guest guitar player tonight. Jimmie Vaughan is here.” Cool! Bob wants a little Texas infused into the show and that’s what we get, with Jimmie’s signature style adding embellishments for much of the remaining songs. Bob launches into I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight as Jimmie gets settled, and there is an extra anticipatory feeling to the slow beginning. Tonight it might last all throoooough the night! Then the launch and Jimmie jumps right in with gusto, highlighting the song with soaring bluesy riffs. Bob can’t contain gleeful laughter at the song’s closing. 
    There’s such great interplay between Bob and Jimmie on all the songs. Slower swinging songs like My Own Version Of You and Crossing The Rubicon benefit from Jimmie’s tasteful, well-placed licks contributing bluesy highlights and his playing melds well with Bob’s somewhat eccentric piano playing. He’s got a good ear for what to add to these songs that I can’t imagine he’s heard much! The crowd cheering after either one of them does something cool is like another instrument adding embellishments. 
    Possibly the highlight of the night is To Be Alone With You. It starts with a harmonica intro, the first on that instrument for the night, and it drives the crowd wild. Again it’s the slow buildup of anticipation leading into the rocking part of the song. Then it gets going with a superb swing and everyone is feeling it, on stage and off. We let it all hang out. Bob and Jimmie start talking to each other with their respective instruments. The audience gets involved as Bob goes into this pattern where he plays a few beats on the piano and the band follows, then, brings it up abruptly with a pause at which everyone goes, “Whoooo!” and then he does it again. He plays that run, stops short, and then everyone screams, like four times in a row. Back to the call and response theme! It’s like there’s an applause sign lighting up at each interval and everyone is following along. Of all the multitudes that Bob contains, it strikes me that THIS Bob, with an audience at his feet SO locked into and participating in what he is creating, is one thing that he really wants to be and cherishes. 
    Jimmie slides back in during Gotta Serve Somebody and lends a dirtier, grittier flavor to the still smooth and slinky arrangement we’ve enjoyed of late. Bob laughs again at the end of it and sticks out his tongue in a funny way at Jimmie. Next we get a great Walking By Myself, a natural to return to with Jimmie Vaughan on board! The crowd responds enthusiastically when Bob declares fervently that he just, he just wanna be our lovin’ maaaaan. Jimmie rips it in between verses and Bob responds in kind with thunderous piano hammering and a “Thank you, Jimmie!” at the end.
    Big River with Jimmie is great. It starts with Bob’s piano noodling like it’s been starting but picks up mid-song and kind of goes into that snappy Johnny Cash rhythm and Jimmie’s playing all around it. Very different from last night and very good. 
    The final songs ensue and I just soak them in feeling oh, so grateful for these two nights. Every Grain Of Sand. How wonderful Bob has chosen to end on this song night after night these days. It’s an affirmation, a blessing, a prayer. As he sings it tonight, everything falls away, and it’s just Bob and me with a few mere feet in between us, wrapping it up one more time until the next. Onward in our journey. I am filled with gratitude; like, I can feel it physically infusing my body. Soon we are heading out into the night, saying our good-byes to all these wonderful friends through a post-show blissful haze, and making our way back to the AirBnB for a final brief but energetic blowout that includes synchronized dance moves  to 2002 Bob singing Brown Sugar (Yeah, yeah, yeah, woo!) Some other shenanigans and lots and lots of laughter ensue as we make a valiant attempt to drink all the alcohol we overbought two days ago. We do a good enough job of it that I manage to fall down some stairs a little later; I think Kait falls out of a chair though no one can corroborate that, but that’s at least more sensible than falling down stairs, but at least the stairs are carpeted so I don’t really hurt myself and I don’t wake anyone up with a lot of unnecessary clattering. The going home is always sad but at least I have Mr. Jinx with me at the airport until I have to board; we get a beer to share and walk around the terminal looking for famous country music people (we actually see some, or at least some almost famous people!). Then it’s time to take the high road, take the low road, take any road you're on, yes, even if it’s the road going back to work and non-Bob life. We’ll be back out soon enough, to see whatever the Outlaw Tour wants to bring!