Denver, CO -- October 21, 2009

The Denver road…definitely not about to melt! I was of course thrilled to learn that Bob was coming to Denver mere months after I moved here! Who cares that the show was taking place at Denver University's Magness Arena, a hockey rink that promised a cavernous atmosphere and muddled sound, when other shows on the tour ranged from the 1300 capacity Moore in Seattle, to acoustic gems like the Fox Theater in Detroit, to Berkeley's atmospheric Greek Theater. Bob was gonna be playing 20 minutes from where I just moved! For someone who travels the distance to see Bob that I do, a hometown show is like an unnecessary but very much treasured gift – you'd never really have to give me that gift to keep me invested and motivated, I would just get myself to wherever Bob is at least a few times a year, but I will certainly graciously and excitedly accept it. I was a bit dismayed when, checking the weather the week leading up to the show, Wednesday – show day – was looking like a nasty day to stand outside in line all day. In fact, sunny and in the 60s on Tuesday promised to turn into upper 30s and snowing overnight and into Wednesday! And, it being a general admission show, standing outside in line all day was of course part of the plan. Yes, we'd heard about the “hot package” deals (well, far from a deal) where you could spend $150 and get a fake tour laminate and early entry into the venue. For sure this had the possibility of foiling our rail-riding plans, even after waiting in line all day. But what were we gonna do, not try?!? So Wednesday dawned to a few inches on the ground and more falling. I headed undaunted (well, maybe a little daunted) over to the venue, after using my coat sleeves to push small but growing piles of snow off my car windows and hood – I realized only this morning that I had rid my car of all snow and ice scraping devices when I moved from Michigan to California and now here I am, back where the snow flakes storm. Managed to achieve some amount of visibility, and off I went, ready to brave the cold and wet all day (or at least until my cohorts came to spell me so I could go into work for a while!) However, once at Magness Arena, I realized one very nice thing about a campus show in a multi-purpose building such as this – it's open to the public, including crazy people who want to wait in line all day, from early in the morning! So at least for the time being, there would be no waiting outside, but in the warm sports complex, aaaah! I was there maybe an hour when, on one of my circuits around the building to make triple sure there were no other people lined up at some secret door, I see my good friend Deb from Jackson Hole striding down the hallway. Cool! Now I feel like I'm at a Bob show, or at least a mere 10 hours away from one, with another hardcore fan in place!
The day passes with incredible mellowness and ease. Cool people in the line, and because we're hanging inside by the arena doors, we are treated to a sound check that is extremely audible and unusually long. Seems like it goes on for almost an hour, and includes instrumental versions of a run of songs that I would be hap-hap-happy to hear at tonight's show: Maggie's Farm (played about 3 times), Wicked Messenger, Ballad of Hollis Brown, a really lovely lilting sounding Baby Blue, If Not For You (which is played so slowed down at first that I'm doubtful this is what it is, but I guess they are just going over it at that speed first and then they run through it again and it's unmistakable), Things Have Changed, When the Deal Goes Down. Lots of stuff that hasn't been played yet on the tour, but the latter ends up being the only song from sound check that we hear at the show. Not highly unusual to hear songs sound checked that don't get played until a few shows later or not even at all on the tour (hell, we heard Waiting for You in line for the show in Fairfax, VA in 2002 and finally heard it played at a show for the first time ever in London almost exactly three years later!), and rather than be bummed that we didn't get a couple of the highly desirable tunes in that lineup, I will consider it a bonus that we got to hear so many different tunes in one night! Despite the easy going day of course things have to go and get all squirrelly at the end, with the venue security moving us away from the door we are lined up so orderly at and, though still not making us go outside into the cold (thank you!) making us go behind some barriers set up by the doors to the outside. They keep us there until half hour or so before the doors to the arena are going to open and then, seemingly just to make things more stressful and less sensible, let us all rush for the now three doors that will be opened not simultaneously but randomly into the arena. I don't understand how this is easier, safer, or less work for anyone, security or crowd. Now on top of being told that there is not synchronicity to the doors being opened to get in but just whenever someone walks around and tells the guard at that particular door that it's time, we get the line of “yellow wrist bands” who get to go in early. Although I knew this was coming it's hard to take. I watch the people going in first who just got there vs. waited in line all day, and try to size up where they'll be headed. Honestly, most look destined for seats if you ask me. A couple young guys go by and I think, they're headed for the rail. Yellow banded people continue to be ushered in for about 10 minutes, then the door next to us gets opened and now people in our line start yelling, “They're going in! They're going in!” and indeed we can see the crowd starting to stream down the bleacher seats to the floor of the arena while we are still standing behind our unopened gate. Fortunately we've been schmoozing with our guard (and I've been telling him that my head is about to explode with pent up excitement and anxiety), so that even though he hasn't officially been given the word that he's ostensibly waiting for, that it's time to let in the blue wrist bands (that's us), he takes pity on us and says, fine in ya go. The next moments are a blur; I just remember taking the bleacher stairs about five at a time while looking at the half-full (or is it half empty?) rail and at the people coming in from the other door running for it, rather than looking at the where I'm leaping, so that I almost go rollin' and tumblin' down, but I make it to the floor and run while being told not to run and throw myself at the rail with hands outspread and wind up just a little left of center. Mr. Jinx and Deb and Stu are all there close behind, so we all assemble in our spots as it should be and all is right in Bobland J Immediately to my right are the two young guys who I saw walking in and pegged as front row sorts – turns out one of the guy's dads bought the early entry tickets for his son for his birthday. They're cool, psyched to see “the legend” Bob, who they are seeing for their fist time. I give them fan club buttons and then pass the bag around to everyone in the area, spreading the BDFC love. It's a cool crowd, very mellow and friendly and loose. For the first song, I continue in my string of classic songs that I've never thought of as openers (it's been Ballad of a Thin Man for the opener at my last three shows) with Stuck Inside of Mobile to start things off. OK, rather hear Change My Way of Thinking or the Maggie's that was being rehearsed earlier, but I'm not here to hear what I want to hear, I'm here to hear what Bob wants to play. So on with the show. It's an alright opener, bouncy and fun and probably a crowd pleaser, and it's just awesome to feel that surge of excitement, so familiar and at the same time always like new, that I feel when Bob steps out into the stage darkness and comes to life. He's behind the keyboard for that one, then steps out and straps it on for what will be the only guitar song of the night, It Ain't Me, Babe. I'd really been hoping for Baby Blue after hearing it in the sound check, and this would be the likely spot. This version gets it done but not much beyond that, but it's a treat to see Bob and Charlie lined up with their axes, very cool. Bob's holding his almost straight up and down and tapping his toe.
Beyond Here Lies Nothin' is in its now expected third song slot. Bob performs it at the keyboard rather than giving us the center stage version he's often been doing. Also, no harmonica yet and not on this song either, though I have heard it with some killer wailing harmonica in between the verses. Oh well. I am happy to say though that, for an arena show from the often acoustically poor front row, the sound is clear and pretty well balanced. I can hear Bob's vocal nicely, and his voice sounds pretty rich and smooth. He's smiley and got the jive going too, kicking up his legs and, at one point on Stuck Inside of Mobile, he turns to Donny and sticks his tongue out and starts cracking up. Dunno what that's about! After a somewhat forgettable Mostly Likely You Go Your Way (And I'll Go Mine) (again with no harp solo or much of an appreciable jam at all, just rather perfunctory and a little ragged) we get a real one-two punch that kicks things up a level. Cold Irons Bound has, once again, a new arrangement, and I really think it works great. Charlie is stalking the stage like an animal letting loose spooky guitar sounds, and Bob is doing the same with blasts of his harp in between verses. Unlike other songs on the tour which Bob alternates between performing either center stage with just vocal and harmonica or at the keyboard, seemingly as the mood strikes him from one night to the next, this one has become a center stage mainstay. Bob is just great in this format and it works well on this song, concentrating the power and focus of an already intense tune. Bob is quite animated on this and the other center stage songs, marching in place and pointing dramatically at the crowd and into the air. At one point I think he is taking on the signature Charlie Sexton chord flip as his own, but I realize after the song ends and a roadie runs out and does some untangling that he's actually gotten all twisted up in his microphone chord! Next up is Working Man's Blues #2, somewhat surprising as it is earlier in the set than it has usually been done lately. And it's made more surprising by Bob staying center stage for it rather than going back to the keyboard! This is one of the real treats of the evening, the band sounds full and sweet and it is sung so heartfelt with Bob crooning each line soulfully, even putting his hand to his heart as he sings, “You are dearer to me than myself…” An awesome rendition of this song, one of the best I've heard, with great harmonica rounding it out. High Water has been a long time fave of mine so I am happy to hear it. I had heard really good things about it on this tour, and I need to hear it again to fully remember what it's like now. Donnie's on banjo and Tony's on the standup. Charlie is a madman crouching low and doing that crazy chord flip thing. I'm happy that I can hear his playing really clearly and I remember what I used to love about it when he played with Bob before. Not only does he add tremendous stage presence and energy, but his playing is searing without being flashy, he actually picks pretty simple lines but really fills the space in a way that is both technically and tonally pleasing. For Spirit on the Water Bob starts at the keyboard but then returns center stage to croon the final verses and wail us out with a harmonica solo, outstretching his other hand dramatically for the big finish. Then he stays center stage for a song that mostly hasn't been a center stage song, Honest With Me. I know a lot of people who never recovered from being tired of this song after hearing it every show they went to from '01 to around '04. I don't know, I think it was in there so regularly for a reason, that it really sums up some of Bob's feelings about his life and toward his so-called friends in many facets of his life, and that he needed to play it a lot. I respect that and I have an affinity for it, plus I always really relate to the lines about leaving your home and the sky splitting open wide, and it's actually changed quite a bit and had a number of different lives. Tonight it is smoking hot. Bob spits out the words, points accusingly at no one in particular, jazzhands out to the side, does some more marching in place, and at one point, perhaps this time truly inspired by Charlie, goes into a low squat to sing a line or two! Man in the Long Black Coat is a very nice surprise, one of the two new songs for the tour tonight (the other being It Ain't Me, Babe). It is back to the slower, truer to the album version from what it had been on the Europe tour, and it is performed with mysterious and moody beauty. Bob sings every line with weight and import, as if every line is a song and a story in itself. Same with When the Deal Goes Down, a couple songs later, and on both of these Charlie's spare but rich guitar lines provide accents that range from bittersweet to darkly haunting in tone. The encores are the usually crowd-rousers, and Bob sings them with clarity and enthusiasm that is shared by the audience. I love looking around a bit during Like a Rolling Stone, and this crowd definitely appreciates its anthemic quality. Then it's over, and I'm distinctly satisfied. It was a good Bob show. I would have liked to have heard a few of the songs off Together Through Life that I haven't heard live yet, but so be it. Like I said, I'm not here to hear what I want to hear, I'm here to hear what Bob wants to play. This show was well-performed with a few pleasant surprises and quality versions of some of the standards. It won't go down in my mind as one of the ultra mind-blowing shows I've attended, but it certainly was mind, heart, and soul pleasing. Onward to Chicago where I hope the winds don't tear me to shreds and reality is sure to have plenty of, if not too many, heads.
Review Location: 
Denver, CO
Review Date: 
Saturday, October 10, 2009
Review Author: 
Caroline Schwarz