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Reviews > Shows

Published: 2004/04/15
by Kris Kehr

Bob Dylan, Holmes Center/Appalachian State University, Boone, NC & The Orange Peel, Asheville, NC- 4/7 & 9

Bob Dylan swung through western North Carolina for 2 shows in Boone
and Asheville on his way through Columbia, SC to a three night stand
at Atlanta's Tabernacle ending this leg of his 'Never Ending Tour'. I
always enjoy seeing more than one show in such a stretch as these
segments tend to have personalities all their own, plus I think it
gives a person better insight into what direction he might have set
his band off in recently. I had been watching the set lists almost
nightly as the tour inched closer to my neck of the woods through
Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, DC and Norfolk, VA with a bit of
anticipation. I was looking forward to some of the 'rarities' he had
been busting out lately such as "Joey" and "Hazel" as well as the 2
drummer format, with Richie Hayward (from Little Feat) joining George
Recile on percussion. I saw Dylan last year in Asheville when he had
begun playing nothing but piano (and some harmonica) during his shows
and, after thinking about it and listening to a few shows on disc
decided people should stop complaining about it and enjoy this new
direction. New direction-that's funny, he's the guy playing the piano
on his immortal recording of "Like A Rolling Stone" as well as tons of
other studio recordings. I heard someone on the way out say they
hadn't yet seen a 'guitar' show. Since last year he's taken to
playing both piano and guitar given the situation and whim, but in
Boone and Asheville he stuck to piano and there was no real reason for

The thing is a lot of people who go to Dylan shows seem to want the show to curtail to any given audience member's taste. I've heard people complain about set lists ('he didn't play "Blowing In The Wind"' or 'he played "Blowing In The Wind") or his voice ('His voice is shot') or the instrumentation ('he didn't play any guitar') all of which are quite entertaining. First, he's got about a bazillion tunes in his live catalogue, including the country and modern rock covers; second, people have always been saying that crap about his voice. Anybody who says things like that just aren't listening…he's as expressive as Sinatra or any other great crooner with his own voice; and third, people complained about his guitar playing when he was playing it. He's got the new guitarist Fred Koella in the band now to play those weird syncopated lead guitar lines he used to do himself, anyway. Actually, Freddie is a bit wider of a player than that, having a fine grab bag of big band chord chops, three-string Stratocaster bends and blues splatters to throw around. With Dylan on electric keys, the band is now both a road house band and a swing-jazz band, given the situation. I've seen them be large acoustic/electric folk bands with Charlie Sexton still in the band through the early part of 2000. Before that they were a liquidy alt-country force with Bucky Baxter on various instruments. David Kemper, the great drummer of much of the best years of The Jerry Garcia Band and drumming for Dylan since then left Dylan's band just before his appearance on the 2002 Grammies. Through these changes have been 2 constants-Tony Garnier on bass and Larry Campbell on various instruments. Tony and Larry were both New York session horses amongst other things before joining but both of their roles have evolved- Tony has become the center, making cues and keeping the changes smooth, while Larry has gone from lead electric guitar to support, exhibiting a subtler multi-instrumentalist side, at least in Boone- his role changed a bit for The Orange Peel show, but we'll talk about that later. Now on the drums is George Recile, another New York session guy whose drumming last year I thought to be a tad busy compared to Kemper but a year on the road seems to have evened him out a bit. There was no Richie Hayward, but 2 songs in and I forgot he wasn't there.

The show in Boone was hosted at The Holmes Center which also serves as
the indoor sporting arena for Appalachian State University. There was
reserved seating in the stands and the floor was general admission
which is were I went, and the crowd there was generally docile and
appreciative, even attentive. Things started out with a great choice
for the piano playing Bob, "The Wicked Messenger" from _John Wesley
Harding_. The band gave it their barroom treatment as they did with
"It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)", "Highway 61 Revisited", "Stuck
Inside Of Mobile (With The Memphis Blues Again)", "High Water For
(Charlie Patton)" and "Honest With Me". I thought the last two tunes
from Bob's latest studio release Love And Theft were especially full
of fire as was the bluesy reworking of "It's Alright Ma". "She
Belongs To Me" has been a rarity in recent set lists and it's lilt was
staggered by Freddie's guitar work, as was "tears Of Rage", a favorite
from The Basement Tapes, but both were sung with sparkling clarity and
passion. "Watching The River Flow" was very close to it's recorded
version showcased on Greatest Hit Volume 2 and a tad tired but it was
the mob saga "Joey," a beautifully serene "Every Grain Of Sand" and a
completely reworked "Ballad Of Hollis Brown" that excelled in
execution overall. "Summer Days", a great swing tune from _Love And
Theft_ closed out the show before the three song encore. When called
back on stage, the band blazed through the retro jump of _Under The Red
Sky's_ "Cat's In The Well", a very sober, even passionate reading of
"Like A Rolling Stone" and a crunching "All Along The Watchtower" to
say goodnight. I like hearing Dylan steal from other peoples'
versions of his own songs, such as his recent readings of "Blind
Willie McTell" via The Band, so it was fun hearing Hendrix's influence
here in the guitar work. After the show the several thousand folks at
the show slowly emptied into the warm night off towards one of the
local 'after Dylan' shows around town or who knows where.

Dylan's next stop was at the much smaller Orange Peel in Asheville 2 nights later after a night off. This show was a late addition to the tour although rumors had been circulating for a while, and when tickets finally went on sale for this roughly 900 capacity joint less than two weeks before the show I somehow got myself up at 5 and was 120 in line and managed to score 2. This was a fairly big deal for Asheville, given the respect Dylan gets from this community and that the tickets were available only to those in line, making for a crowd of people who really wanted to see Dylan in such a small place. Not much was done to change the inside of The Orange Peel save for a curtain shielding the bands' walk from the bus outside through the side of the bar into the backstage area. I've always felt the sound is this venue is impeccable and apparently so did Dylan's crack sound crew as nothing was visibly added to the house system. Dylan was one of the first performers to utilize the exquisite sounding V-DOS sound system on tour in the mid 90's and it has become a sound reinforcement staple throughout the business, but not missed that night. Doors opened at 7:30 and we arrived an hour early and got in this colorful line of people, listening to buskers play sax versions of the "Sanford And Son" theme and some tasty fiddle tunes to the delight of those who could hear, as well as some genuine heated political debate and a generous portion of just plain silliness. Soon we shuffled in and I positioned myself up in front of Larry, stage right.

For a few years now Dylan's introduction has grown from "Ladies and
gentlemen…Columbia recording artist BOB DYLAN!" to a boiling down of
Dylan's various career ups and downs into a hilariously
self-deprecating diatribe. Things got started with "To Be Alone With
You", a country shuffle from Nashville Skyline that showed the band
loose, relaxed and in very good moods. As a matter of fact, smiles
dominated the bands faces throughout the night like no other Dylan
show I've seen. It only took one song on this night for George's
drumming to finally win me over from Kemper-dom….the man can play a
shuffle, and not busily. They eased into the recently reworked "It's
All Over Now, Baby Blue" with a smooth confidence that was not evident
2 nights before. This was the only song Larry didn't play on guitar
that night and his soulful pedal-steel playing dominated the whole
song. With this Bob walked over to band leader Tony Garnier and the
set list started getting even more interesting, and this is where
Bob's talents as band leader came into play, choosing songs that best
fit the situation and digging deep. Next was "Unbelievable" from
Under The Red Sky, a stinging glance at corporate America with a great
bass line. He had ignored his 1999 Grammy winning 'Album Of The Year'
Time Out Of Mind in Boone but not tonight; he did four in all,
starting with a beautiful reading of "Make You Feel My Love", the only
song he has penned that reached #1 on the country charts via Garth
Brooks' 1999 version. Next was a faithful version of an older
electric classic "Most Likely You'll Go You're Way (And I'll Go Mine)"
with Larry playing the signature guitar line. It was at this point I
realized the guitarists roles were bit different from 2 nights before,
and the attitude towards the material was largely different. Solos
seemed to be doled out more in-the-moment and were stretched out
longer, and the band took more chances and attained more highs and
lows in general on this night. A slinky, re-worked "Can't Wait" was
next which grooved on the slowed down bass line more than the
back-beat on it's recorded version followed by a poppy, guitar driven
version of "If Not For You".

This spring Sony Pictures released Masked And Anonymous on DVD to
mixed reviews, like much of Dylan's misunderstood work. In it Bob
plays as a caricature of himself, a recent ex-con musician named Jack
Fate clad in a cowboy hat almost too big for his head and shuffling
through a series of surreal scenes involving a benefit concert
centered around this character. In it we get to see Bob and most of
his current band (playing a "Jack Fate cover band") perform some cool
songs, among them a new version of a more recent Dylan classic "Cold
Irons Bound". I was so enamored of the original from Time Out Of Mind
and didn't know quite what to make of the movies' new version, but
live this great song achieved a new dimension in restraint AND
bombasity. Dylan had originally received a Grammy for his singing on
this particular song, and delivered no less here, either. The more I
watch the movie the more I like Dylan making fun of himself and the
music industry, and his sense of humor emerges, becoming obvious in
much of his career. Most recently has been The Victoria Secret
commercials that everybody seems to be talking about. I think they're
hilarious, and after watching Jack Fate's squinty swagger in the movie
I now understand why. The commercial also probably partly explains
why a young female in the front first tossed her bra over Dylan's
piano and later cracked up Dylan on mic in the middle of a song as
well as create a lot of laughter from the band through much of the
show. It's good to see such an icon not taking himself too seriously,
and perhaps there is a lesson there to learn for us as an audience.

Next on the list was an obscure gem from New Morning, the jazz-swing
beatnik ponderings of "If Dogs Run Free" sung and played as smooth as
a feather. "Highway 61 Revisited" broke things up and was delivered
with more grandiosity than Boone, its jams hitting several peaks and
falling delightfully loose in between. Another rarity, "Not Dark Yet"
was fairly faithful to its recorded version and just plain beautiful.
"Honest With Me" tore it up and Freddie delivered an even better slide
solo on his old Dan Electro than previously. The stratty elegance of
the "Christian era" nugget "I Believe In You" had couples swaying and
"Summer Days" just rolled, showcasing these 2 seasoned guitar players
sharing some of the best swing-rock licks a person could hope to hear.
Although the encores were identical to Boone's they were played with
no less conviction and I was surprised at how "Like A Rolling Stone"
continues to connect.

Sure it's incredible to be able to see Bob Dylan in a small club, and I've been trying for years to be able to do that, usually just missing out on a ticket. It was unforgettable to be that close and see first hand the seasoned communication between these influential veterans of American music. But what if it sucked? I'd probably still be finding the good in it, but I don't think anybody really had to look too hard to realize these guys smoked in Asheville. I'm glad to be able to have seen these two spring stops on Dylan's Never Ending Tour so I have a better understanding of just why. He'll be around for Bonnaroo in June and a handful (as of now) of smaller shows around the East Coast just before. I encourage you to get out and see more than one show and watch as this invaluable artist continues to thrive and grow with grace and humor.

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