Bob Dylan's current stage arrangement has him seated behind his keyboard to the far left of the stage. Guitarists Larry Campbell and Freddie Koella stand directly in front of him with bassist Tony Garnier and drummer George Recile off slightly to his left. From his vantage point Dylan plays the role of the bandleader giving cues- mostly through the nod of his head. And though he is seated toward the side, the stage arrangement is an apt example one of those neat devices that Dylan inscrutably has in his bag of tricks. When he isn't at the center he makes the center come to him. That's some feat.
Dylan and the boys played at tight 11 song set at the Float Rite Amphitheater in Somerset, Wisconsin last Sunday opening for what remains of the Grateful Dead. Decked in a stylish silky black shirt with a snazzy burgundy scarf, Dylan spit out the lyrics to the opening number "Silvio" with precision and fire as he seemingly announced his intentions for the evening. "One of these days and it won't be long/Going down to the valley to sing my song/Gonna sing it loud, sing it strong/Let the echo decide if I was right or wrong..." His vocals throughout the all too short set were full of expression and passion.
The second number the soft and wistful "If You See Her Say Hello," is one of many in his repertoire where the singer is obviously wounded but he's not going to let the woman he considers responsible know it and at the same time he's not about to let her off the hook. Dylan changed the lyrics in a delightful way making the song sound brand new. "She had eyes of blue and blue hair too...""If she's passing back this way I'm not that hard to find/Tell her she can look me up/Maybe I'll be there, maybe I won't..."
In a rollicking "Most Likely You Go Your Way (and I'll Go Mine)" he added an expressive "YES!!!" at the end of the refrain, "I'm going to let you pass" that was equal parts glee and distress.
Out of the eleven songs four of them were from his last CD Love and Theft and all four cut the recorded versions to shreds. "Tweedle Dee Tweedle Dum" rumbled; "Bye and Bye" was light and sweet with some great jazzy embellishments by Koella; "Honest with Me" roared even though few in the crowd even seemed to care that Dylan saved his best vocal twist for the best line in the song, "I'm stark naked and I don't care/I'm going to the woods and hunting bear (bare?)." The guitar battle between Koella and Campbell on "Summer Days" was so full of adrenaline that the gravel voiced biker guy standing next to me with tattoos of Joni Mitchell, B.B. King, Bob Marley, Stevie Ray Vaughn, and his kitty on his massive arms, spontaneously grabbed me and hugged me during the middle of the song. The guy had told the young ladies next to him that he had been drunk for four days straight. He also seemed to have a bit of a problem with authority figures as he berated any security guard that should happen to wander by.
The venue itself left a little to be desired. To get to our place on the side right next to the stage my friend Jennifer and I had to walk a long ways sideways on a fairly steep hill. The dusty grounds took a beating from the many tie-dyed T-shirt swirling, dread-locked masses who were obviously there to see the main act. We stayed for Bob's three songs with the Dead which meant we had to stay through a couple ten minute Dead jams before our guy reappeared dressed in a light blue cowboy suit and wearing a big cowboy hat and even bigger smile. As he traded verses of "Desolation Row" with Bob Weir Dylan's grin got bigger and bigger. On "Johnny B Goode" his piano playing style of legs bent slightly in at the knees, jiggling with the music, elbows also slightly bent in, hands pounding out simple chords at the strangest moments, was a delight to watch. It reminded me of the ten minute concert my kitty Diego-san gave to me and his three-legged feline roommate earlier in the morning. The piano keys seem to fascinate Diego and yet he nonchalantly prances across them knowing we're all paying attention. Positively Bob-like.