The tempest may have howled outside, but the loud thunder roared inside NJ Performing Arts Center on November 26, 2014. Harsh seasonal weather made holiday travel a burden in the Northeast, but the 73 year old Bob Dylan stayed calm in the center of the storm and produced a fine nineteen song set. Dylan and his band held court with a set of exquisite songs mostly written long after his muse was declared dead in the late 1980’s by vitriolic critics. Dressed in a rockabilly suit and Boss of the Plains cowboy hat, he kept banter to an absolute minimum. Dylan divided time between piano and harmonica, often poised at the microphone without any instrument at all other than his time seasoned voice. In the dark lighting of the stage setting, Dylan peeked out from under his hat and shared his vision with a house of jubilant fans fortunate enough to be present at the festivities.
Dylan opened the proceedings with 2000’s “Times Have Changed,” which fits the rock until the apocalypse theme strung throughout much of Dylan’s recent music. For his next number, the Jokerman reached back into his bag of tricks for the first of two dips into the sixties with “She Belongs to Me.” “She Belongs to Me” was reworked to a jaunty gem on this night, originally offered on 1965’s masterpiece album Bringing It All Back Home. It speaks volumes to Dylan’s output to require only two songs from the 1960’s which many shortsighted commentators never mention him having moved beyond, while still offering a set as solid as U.S. steel at its apex. By the intermission which began after 1997’s “Love Sick,” Dylan had offered up nine original compositions that most other songwriters never may equal even once along the path of a fine career. Dylan said the band would be taking a break “for a little bit”, and he never muttered much of anything else all night. As the music spoke for itself, he did not really need to.
The second half opened with “High Water (for Charlie Patton),” and found the band humming along in top form. Dylan then stood at the mike to intone with feeling 1975’s “Simple Twist of Fate,” which drew the awe of all in attendance. Six songs from 2012’s Tempest comprised the backbone of the show, and reminded one of just how powerful a writer Dylan remains in his eighth decade. A musically re-tooled “Duquesne Whistle,” “Pay in Blood,” an engulfed in flames bluesy “Early Roman Kings,” “Scarlet Town,” the Tribulation-romance “Soon After Midnight,” and “Long and Wasted Years” stated the case for the disc to be among the elite of albums released by any artist in recent times, and worthy of inclusion in a time capsule.
Encores included “Blowin’ in the Wind,” which reminded one to say a prayer for the racial divide still raging in the country in 2014, and a cover of Frank Sinatra‘s “Stay With Me (Main Theme from the Cardinal),” written by Carolyn Leigh and Jerome Moross. The latter tune will likely appear on a new Dylan offering to be released in 2015, entitled Shadows in the Night. Rumors have it that the whole disc may consist of Sinatra covers, which is quite a tribute from an artist of Dylan’s magnitude to the late crooner. The disc’s release was delayed due to the Bootleg Series, Vol. 11, The Basement Tapes – Raw coming out earlier this month in a move that surprised most fans.
The band includes Stu Kimble on rhythm guitar; Donnie Herron on pedal steel, lap steel, electric mandolin, banjo, and violin; Charlie Sexton on lead guitar; Tony Garnier on bass; and George Receli on drums and percussion. Bob Dylan has commented that he would put this band up against any he has ever played with, and it is easy to see just why. Dylan writer Andy Muir (One More Night, 2013; Troubador, 2003) has stated to L4LM that “a statue should be built for Tony Garnier”, for the work he has done in this outfit. It woud be proper use of a master sculptor to do the same for the rest of the ensemble. While much of today’s music may be forgotten in short order, Dylan may well be studied in time to come much the way Shakespeare is today.
Bob Dylan played the Beacon Theatre in New York City this past weekend, and has three more outings December 1st, 2nd, and 3rd. L4LM would recommend to see one and all: Don’t You Dare Miss It! It promises to be a set of shows that would be a wise addition to the itinerary of every rock fan.
by: Bob Wilson
[Bob Dylan Photo: Erka Ruymgaart]
NJPAC Photo: Wayne Herrschaft
*The author wishes to thank Walter Zuk & Tara-Jane Hulligan Zuk for their insights on Mr. Dylan’s wardrobe.