What a great show! What a band! What an artist!
The beautiful and classic Beacon Theatre is the perfect frame for Bob Dylan of today – or any day. His legendary residence on Beacon in 1989 springs to mind, eager to show the world, and the city of his formative years, the “Oh Mercy”-version of himself. At the final night he also included a phenomenal version of the gospel classic “Precious Memories”, in his gold-lamé suit. 1989 was the first year he played this wonderful venue.
Tonight, the show is fresh and completely different, but still, the words from the song still lingers on – and he lives them also tonight:
“Precious memories, how they linger
How they ever flood my soul
In the stillness, of the midnight
Precious sacred scenes unfold”
Tonight Dylan shares some memories with us, in his own way – the memories floods his soul. Like when he makes us listen to a renewed and melancholic “Like A Rolling Stone”, in a version where he stops and starts, amplifies the final words of each verse, making the existential strength of the refrain even stronger, one of the highlights of the night. Another highlight, maybe THE highlight of the evening, is his almost solo piano version of the now hymnlike version of “Don´t Think Twice, It´s All Right”. Each verse gets ovations, his voice is strong, he paints each line like it´s a masterpiece, and he roars the ending words as powerful as ever. It´s difficult for me to name one version of this song that´s made a deeper impression than this. It´s like the song finally is coming home. Earlier in the evening, he delivers a beautiful rendition of “Simple Twist of Fate”, still a work in progress, now including new lyrics, f.i.: “You should have met me back in fifty-eight, maybe we could have avoided this simple twist of fate”. And then he surprises most of us with a really cool reggae-version of “All Along The Watchtower” as the first encore. All the songs mentioned were recorded in Columbia Records “Studio A” – even though “Simple Twist of Fate” had a new owner at the time – the song who had the working title “4th Street Affair” – presumably inspired by and memorizing the same muse that Dylan used for “Don´t Think Twice”, captured on the cover of “Freewheelin´” in 1963. Precious memories. For Dylan and for us. History, tradition and memories, all channeled through a no-nonsense, no-speaking, no-compromise artist this evening. Still he was eager and enthusiastic through the whole show, wanting us to get his best from each song.
He is in front of his army, the piano points slightly to the room. Stu Kimball is no longer here, the band is trimmed ultimately, Charlie Sexton is shining through the whole show.
There were other songs, too, of course. “When I Paint My Masterpiece” is fittingly rewritten and rearranged, an early highlight of the evening. He gives us a completely new and very rocking version of “Gotta Serve Somebody”, most of the lyrics are new and vitally reminding us of the choices we have to take, also in the dark ages we´re living in. That´s not all about religion, actually. “Things Have Changed” is still the prologue of the show, and he gets the hard rocking blues with “Cry Awhile”, and makes us feel he means it, when he sings: “Feel like a fighting rooster, feel better than I ever felt”. And in a time of lying, he sings a powerful version of “Honest To Me”. In the tangoesque mystique of “Scarlet Town” he blends in with the band, standing on the stage with the microphone and dramatic hand gestures. Wow! He continues his new and flammable arrangement of “Thunder On The Mountain”, making the song live in a way it never did before, sneering out the words “Shame on your greed, shame on your wicked schemes” and he perfectly raps “Gonna raise me an army, some tough sons of bitches/I’ll recruit my army from the orphanages/I been to St. Herman’s church and I’ve said my religious vows/I’ve sucked the milk out of a thousand cows”. George Recile reigns supreme on the drums.
It´s difficult to understand people or reviewers that insists that Dylan do not communicate with his audience, or that he don´t want to communicate. His shows are all about communication and reaching out to the audience, from the deep to the deep. He who has ears, listen. He captures the minutes we´re in, this wonderful night on The Beacon.
He sings a beautiful version of “It Ain´t Me, Babe” as the second song this night. He is both right and wrong. It´s not about being better than ever. It´s about being great, here, tonight, in a new way. Still. Like he sings triumphantly in “Early Roman Kings”: “I ain´t dead yet, my bell still rings”. Indeed it does.