Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Voyage into the Sun: Bob Dylan & his Band live at the Comerica

Beautiful Melodies telling you Terrible Things Vol. Dylan 2011 1/2

Neither one gonna turn and run,
They're making a voyage to the sun,
"His master's voice is calling me,"
Says Tweedle-Dee Dum to Tweedle-dee Dee
~Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum~

You've probably gathered by now I'm a Dylan fan, and with that maybe guessed I've seen maybe one or two...or a baker's dozen live shows by him and his band by this point, and I you'd be correct with that assumption. However, just because of my major Dylan fandom, it's not like I give every show a 5-star review. In fact, out of all the Dylan shows I've seen prior to this one, only two received 5-stars. That's not including a show I was backstage hanging out with his bassist/band leader at. That show was solid, but not a 5-star show, just the experience backstage was. Point is, Dylan never really disappoints me, some shows are certainly better than others, and in this case, Dylan was in rare form. The worst part was a few members of the audience, but we'll get to that...

The Venue - Comerica Theatre (formerly the Dodge): I saw a lot of shows at the Dodge circa '07-08, in fact I saw probably almost every show they had in that span, for better or worse. Off of the the top of my head I believe the last time I was there was Leonard Cohen's show in early 2009. Since then a fire has happened and the venue was closed and ultimately re-opened as the Comerica. It hasn't changed much inside, besides adding some cool piano key themed stairs that head up to the upper club section and most of the signed guitar memorabilia that decorated the Dodge is now gone. I've always enjoyed shows at this venue, every seat is a solid view, and sound is great throughout. The seats were okay before, but even better now with more legroom, great news for a tall guys such as myself.

The security and vendors always seem to be in good spirits, and USUALLY the crowd isn't full of douchebags. However, this show featured it's share of drunk idiots who enjoyed yelling at those who like to stand up between songs. Honestly, you paid good money to see the GREATEST songwriter of ALL-TIME, he's 70 now, he's not gonna be around forever, and you're just looking for little things like that complain about? Man, oh man, get over it. Dylan is in rare form and you care more about the fact that you don't wanna stand up for 7 or 8 of the songs? Here's a few facts: When Dylan is down on one knee absolutely slaying the harmonica during "Tangled up in Blue," or trading guitar licks with Austin-guitar-guru Charlie Sexton on "Beyond Here Lies Nothin," or the band is absolutely rocking the house down over the last bit of "Highway 61 Revisited," you STAND YOUR LAZY BODY UP.

The Only Act You Need - Bob Dylan & his Band: There's a reason why Dylan makes such a focus out of it being 'Bob Dylan & his BAND,' not just 'the Bob Dylan Show,' because it's just as much their time to shine as his. He's built his bands over the last 15 years largely around killer musicians who can play anything, many of them being from the Austin blues scene. However, on this night, not event the likes of his killer cowboy band could top Dylan himself. Rested from his recent tour overseas earlier in the summer, and with a day off between the first couple of shows of this tour in California and Las Vegas, Dylan's voice is rested and with the Comerica's wonderful acoustics, you had vocals crisp, clear and defined. Dylan himself was in good spirits, constantly moving around in between songs, and spending much of his time up-front center stage. For those who saw shows circa 2004-06, you know Dylan spent most of his time behind his keyboard playing. Even when he was on keys at this show, he couldn't stand still. Constantly rocking back and forth, rocking and bending his knees, he was having a great time. His smiles as he pointed out to the audience and his chuckles at the end of a few key verses of "Tangled up in Blue" were pure evidence of if Dylan still gets pleasure out of performing live or not.

Not to discount the band though, they still bring it. "Highway 61 Revisited" in particular, for those who don't know, the versions I heard live of it in 2007 and 2008 were the loudest most rocking songs I've ever heard live. More than any song I ever heard The Rolling Stones, Flogging Molly or other big-time rockers play live. Here, it was still rocking but felt a little neutered compared to those versions...until the verse about "the roving gambler was very bored/trying to create the next world war..." where Dylan and the band suddenly shook it onto a whole new level. The band are true musical genius', as Dylan will take songs into some off the wall directions out of nowhere, and they'll follow...and make it work, well. A perfect example is when Dylan decided to turn the end of "Thunder on the Mountain" into an instrumental powerhouse with some fun lick interplay between Sexton's guitar and Dylan's organ. What made it better was Sexton slowly creeping across the stage towards Dylan as they did this, while the rest of the band revved up the song even further. That's where the plus of touring with the same guys 100+ shows a year comes into play...

There's a rumor Dylan re-arranges his songs every show, which is basically impossible. He does however, often re-arrange songs, and on a night to night basis, a same arrangement can have different dynamics, which makes essentially the same song a completely different experience. "Things Have Changed" has stayed relatively the same since it's Academy Award winning debut in Curtis Hanson's 2000 film "Wonder Boys," however, it finally got quite the change: sped up, with acoustic guitar and pedal steel by Donnie Herron driving an almost jitterbug-rock version. With Dylan up center stage delivering the vocals like he truly believed them, it was a highlight. Likewise, "All Along the Watchtower" has, more than any other song, stayed relatively the same since Dylan started performing his Hendrix tribute version in 1974. Even the 2007 version that mixed acoustic and electric leads sounded like a blending of Hendrix and Dylan's original acoustic versions. Here the song felt more different than it has in recent years, still rousing, still rocking - but somehow more focused on Dylan's vocal delivery and bringing it to sound almost eerily apocalyptic.

Dylan says he's not nostalgic, but a constant in Dylan's ever changing setlists in recent weeks has been "Simple Twist of Fate," a song about Suze Rotolo (the girl arm in arm with him on the 'Freewheelin' Bob Dylan' album), who passed away earlier this year. This version brought a view of stars to the back of the stage with Dylan on guitar, playing a nice little slide riff that went along with a very nice arrangement that kept the heart of the songs original beautiful melody. Something I've never seen live before, is a fade out. The band, member by member quietly bowed out at the end as Dylan's little guitar riff faded out, it worked wonderfully. The setlist itself was very varied in the terms of old and new, relying heavily on 2001's 'Love & Theft' (3 songs) and 1965's 'Highway 61 Revisited' (also 3 songs). Other albums that got more than one tune played were his most recent LP, 'Together Through Life' and his heartbreak masterpiece from the mid-70's, 'Blood on the Tracks.' All in all, from Dylans vocals to the bands performance to the sound to the setlist, there wasn't anything anyone could really complain about...oh, expect for those douchebags from the audience...

Drunk Idiot Audience Member: "Hey, sit down! SIT DOWN! I wanna see, sit down!"
Guy near me: "Then stand your lazy a** up you f**kin' moron!"

The Setlist...
Dylan on keyboard unless otherwise noted
1. Intro
2. Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat
3. It Ain't Me Babe
4. Things Have Changed (Dylan center stage on vocals only)
5. If You ever Go to Houston
6. Beyond Here Lies Nothin' (Dylan center stage with guitar)
7. Tangled up in Blue (Dylan center stage with harmonica)
8. Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum (Dylan center stage with guitar)
9. Sugar Baby (Dylan center stage on vocals only)
10. Summer Days
11. Desolation Row
12. Highway 61 Revisited
13. Simple Twist of Fate (Dylan center stage with guitar)
14. Thunder on the Mountain
15. Ballad of a Thin Man (Dylan center stage with harmonica)
16. Like a Rolling Stone
17. All Along the Watchtower

Overall Score & Highlight of the Night: I was told prior to this show to watch out for the new version of "Things Have Changed," and that was a true highlight. "Tangled up in Blue" was another, as between the new arrangement that still kept it close enough to the original, Dylan's chuckling, his mouth harp work and the audience reaction, it was just un-real. 'Love & Theft' is my favorite Dylan album, so the fact he played three songs in a row from it, well, that was my highlight. Most notably "Sugar Baby," the band playing a slightly country-tinged take on the head in a booze bottle, heart in a vice song, with Dylan delivering his vocal of the night up front, center stage.

Either 4.75 or 5/5, it really depends on how much I put into the few idiotic audience members near me, I haven't decided yet. Either way, it rivals (but I'm not sure surpasses) Jimmie Vaughan for this year of concerts. I suspect a good show tomorrow in Tucson, but not one this good, but I can hope...

Tuneful of Sugar: For those who find pretty pictures and mis-used words to not be enough...
Dylan & his Band Live at Comerica - Beyond Here Lies Nothin' by Hudson-Hawk
Dylan & his band Live at Comerica - Tangled up in Blue by Hudson-Hawk
Dylan & his Band live at Comerica - Sugar Baby by Hudson-Hawk


  1. Those three recordings are absolutely wonderful! Thank you!

  2. Bob is docked 0.75 points in the universal scale of futility because someone who spent $68 on a seat wanted to use it. The world is a wild and wonderful place, but we do have to share it with some borderline cases...

  3. It's not futile when it hampers my experience.

    he's docked .25 because I had to LISTEN CONSTANTLY to people yell in between and at the very end/beginning of songs, just looking for reasons to complain rather than actually enjoy the show the show they spent said $68 on...especially when they could have just stood their lazy ass up. I want to hear Bob sing, not hear "SIT DOWN! I CAN'T SEE!" constantly. You want to use the seat you paid for, fine, but don't complain if someone else wants to stand up when Bob is down on one knee ripping into his mouth harp. Standing for 7 or 8 of 17 songs is a fair trade I'd say.

  4. I'd love a souvenir recording of t his show. I'm at http://db.etree.org/non-partisan . I'm also in Arizona. Please let me know. Richard

  5. Hello Richard, always down for some old fashioned trading...I'll be contacting you shortly!

  6. I was front row seat 8 in Pit 2. One of the most awesome experiences I've had in 70 shows since 04. I stood the WHOLE show and danced through slow and fast songs... I'll never forget that performance of Tangled. That whole thing you mentioned about playing harmonica on one knee was right in front of me. I can't even tell you the excitement that I felt... even before that. It was just a great experience. Even right after he finished the solo... I almost died.
    I want to thank that the taper for this show. I can't believe I have this memory. If anyone has any photos or video of this is there a way to share it with me? I have lots to trade.