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Bob Dylan, Pittsfield, Mass., 6.23.05

The Bob Dylan Show
Featuring Bob Dylan and His Band
Willie Nelson
The Greencards
Wahconah Park, Pittsfield, Mass.
June 23, 2005

Bob Dylan came to town and for one night gave the downtrodden, nearly forgotten, minor-league city of Pittsfield, Mass., a dose of major-league energy with a scorching hour-and-a-half-long concert. Dylan was in stellar form in his longer-than-usual, hard-charging show that surprised many who came expecting to walk away with their nostalgia appeased but instead left mildly shocked over how passionately and intensely Bob Dylan continues to intone his prophetic warnings of impending apocalypse.

After a somewhat sluggish hour-long set by Willie Nelson and band, seemingly phoned in from his afternoon golf game, vocalist/keyboardist Dylan and his guitar-centric band hit the ground running with their rollicking, panicked version of 'Drifter's Escape,' spitting with venom the themes of paranoia, rage, and protest that would continually reemerge throughout the show in classic and obscure oldies and a few new songs, too.

Dylan followed up perhaps a bit too early with an easygoing, languid version of 'Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues,' but recaptured the tension of the opener with a swamp-rock rendition of 'It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding),' which even one seasoned if somewhat casual Dylan listener (OK, my wife), only recognized by the last line.

'Moonlight' from Dylan's most recently album of new songs, Love and Theft, was the night's only complete misstep ' the band and Dylan seemed out of sorts, and the wispy number sort of evaporated as the crowd wondered what song they were trying to play. Even if they COULD make it out, they probably wouldn't have recognized this minor song off of a second-rate Dylan album.

But Dylan recovered with a rollicking, rockabilly version of 'Down Along the Cove,' with the guitarists shooting sharp leads in and around Dylan's verses, many of which veered from the original lyrics (' I got my suitcase in my hand'). On this and other numbers, Dylan's keyboards were showcased, and unlike many previous Dylan shows, you could actually hear his piano playing. This and other numbers made clear his lingering debt to and appreciation of his childhood idols, Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis, and he acquitted himself well on his first, if lesser known, instrument.

Over the past few years, Dylan's arrangement of 'Girl From the North Country' has been slowly evolving into a glorious, harmonically sophisticated chamber piece, making it much more interesting musically than the simple original folk tune. The guitarists in Dylan's current band, who make up in virtuosity what they may lack in charisma (Larry Campbell and Charlie Sexton left big shoes to fill in that department), rang their instruments like chimes or bells.

The show turned, however, on a dark, Halloween-esque version of 'High Water.' Dylan became incredibly focused, and gained total melodic control of his vocals, on a surprise rendition of 'Every Grain of Sand' (a tribute, perhaps, to the producers of 'Gotta Serve Somebody: The Gospel Songs of Bob Dylan,' many of whom were in attendance, as this album was spawned here in the Berkshires?). It featured his best and most impassioned singing of the night, and set a higher bar as he rollicked through versions of 'Highway 61 Revisited' and 'Blind Willie McTell' before settling down in a shimmering 'Chimes of Freedom,' before bringing down the curtain on the main set with his now-standard closer, 'Summer Days.'

Returning for a two-song encore, Dylan trotted out a new version of 'It Ain't Me, Babe,' played as a minor-key march that faintly echoed a U2 anthem, before bringing the house down with 'Like a Rolling Stone.'

While Dylan's voice was erratic and his phrasing sometimes was sing-songy, coming after Willie Nelson, who is still distinctive and loveable but who lacked any dynamics, Dylan seemed like Caruso, whom he compared himself favorably to back in 1965. Most striking was Dylan's energy and intensity ' he seemed as committed to what he was singing as he was in the stentorian days of 1966, '74 and '76. And as angry about man's failings to live up to his capacities, too.

Opening act The Greencards from England played a wonderfully upbeat, swinging blend of country, folk, and bluegrass, with hints of jazz, and with tight, high lonesome harmonies.

1. Drifter's Escape
2. Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues
3. It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)
4. Moonlight
5. Down Along The Cove
6. Girl Of The North Country (acoustic)
7. High Water (For Charley Patton)
8. Every Grain Of Sand
9. Highway 61 Revisited
10. Blind Willie McTell
11. Chimes Of Freedom
12. Summer Days
13. It Ain't Me, Babe
14. 14. Like A Rolling Stone

Band Members
Bob Dylan - keyboard, harp
Stu Kimball - lead guitar
Denny Freeman - guitar
Donnie Herron - electric mandolin, pedal steel, lap steel
Tony Garnier - bass
George Recile - drums

Bob Dylan did not compare himself (favourably as you say) to Pavarotti in 1965. He compared himself to Caruso. Pavarotti was unknown in 1965. And he was joking when he said it.

Below the email address field - it says "...neither will not be displayed with the posted comment" - that's a double negative which means the name and/or email will be posted. (oops, that was the webbie's typo, thanks for not not catching it..dlm)
Thanks to all those who caught my lapse in citing Pavarotti rather than Caruso. I have fixed that error. But as for whether or not Dylan was joking, that's an open question. Frankly, I don't think he was, and your certainty in stating he was makes your opinion suspect (unless you are Dylan).

I would hardly call Love and Theft a "second rate album" I believe it ranks with his best. Have you listened to it?
Yes, I've listened to it. But my question to you is, did you read what I wrote. I did NOT call LOVE & THEFT a "second rate album." I called LOVE & THEFT a "second-rate Dylan album."
In a career that includes "Highway 61 Revisited," "Bringing It All Back Home," "Blonde on Blonde," "Blood on the Tracks," "Oh Mercy," and perhaps even "Time Out of Mind," I'd say it's fair to call L&T second-rate. That still means it kicks anyone else's ass. Dylan's fourth-rate material probably kicks anyone else's ass. I suggest you read closer next time. Thanks.

"All the white people in the house say 'Woot'".


You didn't mention anything about the 'out of left field' comment in the Eagle Dylan article about 99% of the crowd being white. (I'd link to the article but its been out edited on the website). Weird to say the least.
Good point and thanks for bringing this up. Yes indeed, this was very odd. I too found that unattributed estimate of the racial makeup of the crowd to be gratuitous (what did the reporter do, poll everyone who came in the gates as to their race?) and downright weird.
But everything about the crowd estimates in the Berkshire Eagle coverage was weird, including the inflated total of 10,000 (at first attributed to the Pittsfield police, but then repeated the next day as fact on the editorial page).

yah dude, listen to moonlight on love and theft it's a pretty awesome song. please do me a favor and suggest a post-2000 album that blows love & theft out of the water. and don't say the white stripes or some shit like that.
If there was another post-2000 Dylan album of original material, I could suggest it to you. But since I was comparing Dylan to Dylan, I can't. Try reading a little closer next time.

The superb opener, The Greencards have one English, one American and two Aussies in the band. They are based out of Austin, and just won 'best new band' in that musical city. Their second cd, Weather and Water, comes out this Tuesday. They rock!

All right, already! You all are making me wish I had made the trek to depths of Pittsfield. Good to see so much activity at this blog...keep on reading, folks, and keep on commenting.

Which ones were the "Obscure Oldies" ?????
Just about everything Dylan played, with the exception of LARS and HWY61R, was an obscure oldie to the vast majority of the non-Dylan fanatic crowd. That certainly was the case with the dozen or so people I attended. They relied on me to identify pretty much every song he played, and several of them are even more than casual listeners. You need to get out of your Dylan-centric head for a minute and consider that not everyone is so fanatical, like you and me. The vast majority of the world know Dylan from LARS, Blowin in the Wind, and that's about it. They wouldn't know Chimes of Freedom from If I had a Hammer (except that they wouldn't be able to identify the former).

Love and Theft is one of Dylan's best records. Not second rate in the least. I would even say (and I can hear the Gasps from the peanut gallery already)better than Blonde on Blonde. In FAct, I would say it succeeds in every way that B.O.B, slips a bit. I love that record don't get me wrong ( even with the out of tune guitar on one of the songs). in closing, Love and Theft is the Bomb.
See above.

The astonishing surge into new territory that marks out so much of Love And Theft puts the issue beyond doubt for all lifetime aficionados of Dylan : this is the best ever in the sense that in no previous album has there been such a range combined with the highest quality of lyrics/themes/motifs/melodies/tones/arrangements. Jim Bovill

"SETH ROGOVOY REPLIES: If there was another post-2000 Dylan album of original material, I could suggest it to you. But since I was comparing Dylan to Dylan, I can't. Try reading a little closer next time."

whoa dude, sassy response. uh i did read what you wrote. but i was asking a different question. i wanted you to compare Love & Theft with other artists new albums.

"SETH ROGOVOY REPLIES: Do you think Love and Theft equals Hwy61, BoB, BoTT or even TOOM?

No, therefore, it's second-rate (in a career in which fourth-rate probably still blows away all the competition)"

i don't think the answer you provide is so definite or obvious. greil marcus on some interview i heard recently suggested that a song like "sugar baby" may be widely remembered 50 years from now more than stuff from the 60s. "or maybe something he hasn't written yet."

as for the paranthetical, that's what i wanted to know about. do you think ryan adams is a peer? what's come out from other artists since 2001 that you think competes with love and theft. i ask because i'm expanding my folk rock collection and i want some good ideas.

hi all,

Im a a young (22yr) recent fan of dylan and I will be going to the concert in Birmingham (uk) in a few weeks time. Me and my friend took a while to decide to go for two reasons. Firstly we will prob be the only young people their and feel a bit strange and secondly Dylans voice isnt the same as it was and it might be that good. However we still intend to go. Hope you all can reasure us.


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