Review by Aaron Moeller
Halloween night at the Bob Dylan Show in Madison found a number of VIPs in
attendance, roaming freely through the Kohl Center crowd - Marilyn Monroe,
Hunter S. Thompson, Jesus AND Satan among them. It's not every day of the
year that one can use the facilities and find themselves at a urinal next
to one of the Blues Brothers.
It was a bitterly cold All Hallows Eve in Wisconsin and I wondered if
Dylan would acknowledge the holiday in his set. Not that I expected the
"Monster Mash", but I thought maybe he'd break out his old cover of
"Friend of the Devil" or something like that. Imagine Bob kicking off the
show with the opening chords and beat of "Love Sick", but then having it
instead slyly morph into Screaming Jay Hawkins' "I Put a Spell on You".
Opening act Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters was quick to point out that his
band considered dressing in costumes, but being "part of the slacker
generation", they "just couldn't get it together." He said their plan was
to each dress as Bob Dylan with the exception of guitarist Pat Smear, who
would have dressed as Slash.
The Foo Fighters' acoustic set was sharp and energized with Grohl offering
plenty of commentary between the reworked tunes. It was not, as Grohl
pointed out, their usual "ass-shredding rock show" but rather some
selections from their "acoustic collection". He spotted Jesus in the crowd
but pointed out that Christ had also attended Sunday night's Minneapolis
show. "It takes a lot of balls to dress as Jesus," Grohl joked, before
cracking himself up. "Check out the big balls on Jesus."
The Foos set was rich with generous samplings of their radio hits, such as
"Big Me", a lively "My Hero" (acoustic music apparently doesn't keep Grohl
from head banging), and the ever-mournful "Everlong". Grohl busted a
guitar string on "Cold Day in the Sun", then nearly used his wounded
instrument to enact a Pete Townshend-tribute before a roadie produced a
replacement ax. The highlight of the performance, however, was a haunting
new song called "Skin and Bones". Particularly in this low-key setting,
Grohl comes across as an engaging, almost-unassuming front man who -
though well-versed of all the rock star trappings, moves, poses, and
cliches - still has the good sense to not take himself too seriously.
You can ask my girlfriend, but I called it on the afternoon drive from
Iowa to Madison when I said Bob would start off with "Maggie's Farm". He
did and it rocked. It was a pointed and powerful performance. I was really
impressed with the sound in the Kohl Center and it provided a great venue
for a night when Bob's singing was strong and forceful. If on other
nights, I've described and/or defined shows based on the peculiarities of
the set-list, or by observing the subtle interplay with his band mates,
this was a night defined by Bob's voice, ragged and dirty, but marked by
his always careful phrasing and incomparable gravitas. On this night, it
seems, Bob had some important things he wanted to get off his chest.
We didn't have floor seats so we weren't as close to the stage as I've
been at some of the recent minor league stadium tours. We gave up our
higher arena seats after the Foo Fighters set in favor of slightly closer
seats at the opposite side of the arena so that Bob wouldn't be performing
at his keyboard with his back to us. As it turned out, he wore his cowboy
hat all night and so his face was always obscured anyway.
This was the 11th Bob Dylan show I've attended in 10 years but the first
of those in which he's played one of my favorites, "She Belongs to Me".
It's a lovely ode (in this instance with gorgeous harp solo) to that long
ago, bewitching, hypnotist-collecting lass that once had Bob wanting to
steal her anything she sees, and even now had him bowing down to her - on
a Tuesday nonetheless.
Bob dropped a couple verses out of "Lonesome Day Blues" but still managed
to tame the proud. Then an aggrieved reading of "Positively 4th Street"
found its singer recovering some of the ire of the original recording,
though certainly more resigned and world-weary than 40 years ago.
The first new song of the night was also the finest showcase yet heard for
George Recile. Drumming like a man possessed by some unholy, n'er-do-well,
Halloween spirit, "Rollin' and Tumblin'" was the crowd pleaser I knew it
would be when my CD player first spun Modern Times. Then, for the
following six songs, the Bob Dylan Band alternated up-tempo rockers and
more stately songs of late autumnal reflection.
The night's most haunting specter (and the show's true highlight) was the
ghost of young "John Brown", the long unreleased ballad of a soldier
returning home from battle, shot full of holes and unrecognizable to his
own mother. With Tony switching to standup bass and Donnie Herron to
banjo, this early-career Dylan composition took on a Love and Theft feel
and placed the never-specified-which-war song more squarely in that
album's Civil War milieu. Bob was in such great voice on this night and
was never better than in his vicious, snarling take on the line, "And a
cannon ball blew my eyes away!" This is Bob at his performance best,
always breathing fresh, unpredictable life into those brilliantly written
phrases and structures, many of which completely defy the feel of the
original, classic, studio recordings.
Denny Freeman soon stepped into the forefront, to the great thrill of the
Madison faithful, ripping off an unusually high number of solos in the
second half of the show. A handy dandy "Watching the River Flow" fed into
the new tune "Workingman's Blues #2", and by the time Abe asked where God
wanted this killing done, George had counted off a mid-set, ass-shredding
(?) rendition of "Highway 61". Then came another new song, "When the Deal
Goes Down". These two new tunes book ending "61", augmented by mood
lighting, were sweet and country-tinged, revealing hidden melodies not
found on their MT album versions. "Deal", especially, contained some of
Dylan's loveliest (and most enunciated) phrases of the evening and
suggested everything at stake later in the evening when the perpetual
question would be asked, after you've stared into the vacuum of the
mystery tramp's eyes: "Do you want to make a deal?"
I was starting to think maybe he just missed playing it on his guitar, or
maybe he felt he'd worn out an old tour staple, but this was the first of
the five Dylan on Keyboards shows I've attended that he broke out "Tangled
Up in Blue". The crowd was thrilled that he did and it was as energized as
ever as Dylan again laid into the song with stage-on-fire vocals ("So I
drifted DOWWN to New Or-LEENS!"). I've still never figured out why he's
taken to replacing the "carpenter's wives" line with "truck drivers'
wives", but I've finally decided it must be a subtle tribute to his
roadies or something. I still pray someday he'll bring back the complete
rewrite of the song that appears on Real Live where he brilliantly works
in a 3rd person perspective (it's my favorite live Dylan recording), but
I'm not betting I'll see it before the deal goes down.
Let it also be said that in any of its incarnations, the sadly still
relatively obscure "Blind Willie McTell" is one of the Top 10 songs in the
Bob Dylan canon. This Halloween night version was certainly the bounciest
I've ever heard and it's still - nearly on par with "Highway 61" - the
consummate blues tribute from the man who took his own version of the art
form to the top of the mountain.
"Summer Days" closed the main set and the band charged back out for the
encores with the fourth song of the evening from Modern Times. "Thunder on
the Mountain" is a full-tilt, balls-out boogie workout for Bob's band.
It's filled with great lines, killer images, surrealistic humor and may
well be the best rock and roll song of the last 10 years (or at least
since "Things Have Changed" or "Honest with Me").
"Rolling Stone" and "Watchtower" wrapped the proceedings for October
thirty-one two thousand six, which despite the missing Halloween carols
was every bit the graveyard smash, as in the distance, in the cold
Wisconsin night, the ol' wildcat did growl.
Review by Dave Moyer
I had seen Bob and the boys Saturday at the second Sears Center show, and
resisted the temptation, for various reasons to take in a doubleheader
over the weekend. Then, my oldest guitar-playing son somehow, after years
of resisting my invitations, inquired as to the possibility of seeing Bob
with the Foo Fighters in Madison. At that point, what choice did I have?
Knowing he was interested in the Foo Fighters, I fully expected no
admittance whatsoever that he enjoyed Bob. Pride. However, by his
choice, he walked out of the Kohl Center last night with a Bob Dylan
T-shirt. I got to go back to my old college stomping grounds on top of it
all. Clearly a no-lose proposition.
The show Tuesday topped Saturday's. After a day off, I thought his voice
was clearly better, and perhaps because of the newness of the Sears Center
or his familiarity with the Kohl Center, the sound on Tuesday was also
much better. Both seemed to contribute to a better show, and Bob, with
red stripes down the legs of his black suit, red studs in the back of his
jacket, red shirt and white tie appeared a bit more animated and into the
I was concerned at the outset, as the first four songs were identical to
Saturday's show. More variety ensued during the second half of the set.
Some people don't like it, but I love it when he opens with Maggie's Farm,
and I like this rendition of the song. I thought he was due to mix this
up, and although there is unlimited choice, I enjoy this almost as much as
the Duncan and Brady lead-in of several years ago.
My primary Bob running buddy was along as well and was treated to two of
his favorites, Watching the River Flow and Blind Willie McTell. I can't
say that either was a stand out, but both were clearly enjoyable. The
highlight to me was Tangled Up in Blue. If there is a live album to come
out any time soon, this night's rendition of the song should be included.
The first show of this tour included neither Thunder on the Mountain nor
Workingman's Blues #2, my two favorites on the album. I got real nervous.
That obviously changed. Thunder on the Mountain clearly rocks hard as
the opener of the traditional encore trilogy. The crowd favorites Like a
Rolling Stone and All Along the Watchtower are very consistently played,
though Watchtower does not rock as hard as previous tours and the band
backs off a bit to allow the vocals to come through until the last verse
when they all go full out. Workingman's Blues is a mixed bag for me. As
much as I love the song, I am not sure how well it comes off live. It was
better Tuesday--not nearly as rushed and Bob singing better, but there is
an annoying punching, staccato note being played by either Denny or Donnie
throughout the song that seems totally distracting to the gorgeous melody
More opinions or commentary that run through my mind are that with this
band and these arrangements, Summer Days, though different, continues to
be a strong inclusion on the set lists. However, I think Highway 61 less
so. There just is no substitute for having those three guitars ripping
through that song and playing off each other. Bob sang When the Deal Goes
Down quite beautifully. I was surprised I enjoyed it as much as I did,
because it is not my favorite song on the album. That being said, I could
do without it live. Bob's keyboard is more audible, but the harp playing
a bit less frequent.
As to band, they are a very enjoyable group that appear to be finding a
groove of their own. A lot has been said about all of them, but after
these last two concerts, my appreciation for Denny's guitar playing is
growing, and George's drumming is just outstanding. For some reason, a
show from the Eagles Club in Milwaukee from several years ago when these
guys first were getting together when and they had the violin featured for
a leg of the tour, sticks out as a hard rocking show that I remember
pretty prominently. Other than that, since the band turned over, I have
to say last night's show was the best I've seen.
| Click Here
to return to the
page by Bill Pagel
| Bob Links
| Set Lists
| Set Lists