Chicago, IL - October 27, 2006

Although I've seen Dylan many times over the last five years, I was
looking forward to last night's show with greater anticpation than
usual because of course it would be the first time since the release
of Love and Theft that I knew I was going to hear new songs live.
Dylan did not disappoint, delivering a fantastic performance that
leaned heavily towards newer material - 8 out of the 16 songs played
were off of his last three albums. I'd like to see The Rolling Stones
try that. The Kings of Leon were a great choice for an opening band. I was only
familiar with one of their songs (The Bucket, which received regular
airplay on Chicago radio a couple years back) but they were a very
likeable bunch of kids. They had kind of a retro-'70's arena rock
sound and gave the impression that they were up there having the times
of their lives, living out all their rock and roll fantasies. I
wondered if they had received a less than friendly welcome at some
other stops on the tour when the lead singer thanked the audience "for
being so respectful". At another point, he mentioned what a thrill it
was opening for "Mr. Bob Dylan". Dylan came on shortly before 9:00 and threw the hardcore fans down
front for a loop by opening with something that was either going to be
Rainy Day Women or Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat. It turned out to be the
latter, which was a nice surprise, but the performance itself was only
so-so - although he ended it with a nice harmonica solo. The first
three songs all seemed like "warm-ups" but by the time they got to
Stuck Inside of Mobile, Dylan's phrasing started to become more
playful and I began to think that we may be getting a great show after
By the start of High Water, it seemed like all the cobwebs had been
blown out of Dylan's voice and he took his artistry to another level
with a thunderous vocal performance. Fortunately, the show would
remain on this elevated plain for the remainder of the main set. Next up was the loveliest version of Boots of Spanish Leather I've
ever seen live - a beautiful, beautiful performance that saw Bob
carefully caressing the words in that soft, gorgeous voice that he can
still muster on his best nights. What really put this performance over
the top though was the interaction between Dylan's keyboard playing
and Donnie Herron's violin playing. Dylan was playing triplets on the
keyboard and Donnie was watching Bob's hands very closely and
replicating those same three notes on his violin. This went on for
most of the song, including two whole instrumental breaks. At the
conclusion of the song, Dylan used the same three note pattern as the
basis for a very effective harmonica solo. Anyone who thinks Dylan was
bullshitting about the Lonnie Johnson part of Chronicles should listen
to this performance to hear exactly what he was talking about. The main set continued the trend of alternating between slow,
introspective songs with uptempo, party-time rockers when the band
tore into a supercharged version of Rollin' and Tumblin'. The crowd
seemed to both recognize and love the song, which was played much
faster than the album version. As on the album, Donnie played electric
mandolin. A tremendous version of Love Sick followed - as good as any I've
heard. Dylan's vocals were big, bad and authoratative and the empty
spaces between the other instruments allowed his keyboard playing to
shine through. Denny Freeman played a nice, tight solo on this as
well. In fact, Denny was the only guitar soloist all night, unlike
other performances in recent years where Stu or Donnie (through the
effects box on his lap steel) would alternate with him. The inevitabe Highway 61 Revisited was next and was also quite good.
It was the same arrangement they've been doing for the past several
tours (with the BAM - BAM - BAM part three quarters of the way into
each verse) but Dylan took a keyboard solo(!) during the final
instrumental break. When the Deal Goes Down followed and was another highlight. Dylan's
singing was melodic and strong and even when he deviated from the
original melody, his voice ended up going in all sorts of interesting
directions that made this every bit as good as the album version. This
got a great reaction from the crowd. Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum was next. I know a lot of people hate this
song but, for some reason, I never tire of it. I don't care if he
ripped off the melody from a Johnny and Jack song, this sounds to me
more like something Captain Beefheart would have cooked up - one of
the more bizarre things Dylan's ever written. I love the cryptic,
menacing lyrics and the weird guitar riffs. Next up was another highlight - a masterful version of Workingman's
Blues #2, my favorite song off of Modern Times. This was slower than
the album version. Dylan's singing was less melodic than on the studio
recording and yet the way he talk-sang through the song was riveting!
Whereas the album version sounds like a defiant call-to-arms, this
live version was more elegiac and mournful but no less gorgeous. As
with all the Modern Times songs, this got a big reaction from the
crowd. There were lots of cheers when the song started and after every
chorus. Hopefully, this kind of reaction will embolden Dylan to play
even more MT songs. A final note: Dylan changed the lyric from
"nightbird" to "songbird" - a shoutout to Willie Nelson perhaps? A truly bizarre version of Tangled Up in Blue followed. The whole
energy of the show seemed to come down a notch when it was obvious
that Dylan was having trouble finding a way to sing the song,
including lots of off-rhythm phrasing and garbled lyrics. Then,
somehow, he hit on a strategy that worked: for the final two verses,
he sang every line by alternating between two different voices. I've
never heard him attempt this kind of vocal style before. He literally
sang the first half of a line (e.g. Now I'm heading on back to her . .
.) in a high-pitched voice and then dropped his voice WAY down to its
lowest, gutteral level for the second half of the line ( . . . I got
to get to her somehow). It sounded as if he was duetting with himself
- hilarious and amazing! A very solid version of Summer Days closed out the main set. The
performance really picked up steam in the second half when, for some
reason, Dylan instructed Stu Kimball to stop playing. At this point in
the song, Dylan really started going crazy at the keyboard. He would
sing a line and then play a single chord on the keyboard, which he
would sustain for a really long time. Donnie picked up on this and
started embellishing it with little flourishes of his own on the pedal
steel guitar and they had a nice little jam. It was great to hear Thunder on the Mountain open the encore. This
featured a lot of nice, rapid-fire Dylan phrasing and it sounded
different from the album because, from my vantage point, Stu's
acoustic guitar seemed to be the loudest thing on stage. Donnie played
lap steel on this but I could barely hear it. Dylan changed the lyric
"The sun keeps shining . . ." to "The sun keeps BURNING . . ." The final two songs were standard issue and nothing to write home
about but were well-received as always. At the end of Watchtower,
Donnie started cracking up about something and had an animated
conversation with Bob as they were leaving the stage. All in all, it
was a great show. The interaction between Donnie and Dylan all night
long was priceless and the most exciting thing to watch for me. I'm
really glad that Dylan has a player in his band who seems to be so in
tune with him, who can complement his playing so sympathetically and
translate his musical ideas so well. If tonight's show is half as good, I'll be very satisfied.
Review Location: 
Sears Center, Chicago, IL
Review Date: 
Sunday, July 22, 2012
Review Author: 
Michael Smith