The harmonica solos might have been the greatest highlights of this night at “The Beacon”, from “Simple Twist of Fate” to “When I Paint My Masterpiece” and then to a fabulous ending of “Make You Feel My Love”, with Dylan breathing all of his love into the air, each time to thunderous applause from an excited audience. Sometimes a harp can say more than a thousand words. As tonight, the sound of it filled the room with naked emotions.
Dylan is in white jacket, black trousers with white stripe, white shoes, and a black silk shirt that sparkles each time he sings. The band is dressed in matching light gray suits. Everybody looking sharp tonight.
Another highlight was the just gorgeous version of “Girl From The North Country”, where Dylan tries not just a little tenderness, but the whole bucket of it. In the liner notes to “Freewheelin'”, where this song was first released, it says: “The mood is a fusion of yearning, poignancy and simple appreciation of a beautiful girl.” That’s true, of course, but tonight’s performance of the song is the perfect example of Dylan’s ability to let a song grow with him, together through life. The fifty-six years passed by makes tonight’s rendition both deeper and richer than the original, adding new layers of both experience, wisdom, empathy and sorrow. The same happened with “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” last year at “The Beacon”, and with “Boots of Spanish Leather” in Europe this summer. “Girl From The North Country” tonight was just a very impressive and heartfelt performance vocally, but also the piano, Donnie Herron’s virtuoso violin and Tony Garnier’s subtle use of the bow on the stand-up bass was all important ingredients.
That Donnie’s violin has become more prominent is one of the big improvements from this summer’s concerts. It’s like they found a secret weapon that heightens the weight of all the songs where it’s used, tonight also to especially great effect in “It Ain’t Me, Babe”.
The band is on their tip-toes the whole night, great guitar solos from Charlie springs to mind. Dylan plays some nice piano, especially effective in one of the solos to “Trying To Get To Heaven”, a song where I keep wondering if he sometimes suggests that the door already is closed.
Speaking of the liner notes of “Freewheelin'”, this is also where Dylan explicitly talks about his shortcomings as a young vocalist, compared to his heroes: “I don’t carry myself yet the way that Big Joe Williams, Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly and Lightnin’ Hopkins have carried themselves. I hope to be able to someday, but they’re older people.” It’s not just about the voice marinated in life and experience, tonight the phrase “carry myself” is just as much about presence, about timing and phrasing, about being a performing artist, body and soul. Of course, Dylan made lots of spell-binding performances in his early years, (just look at his version of “North Country Blues” at Newport in 1963) but still there are performances of his later years that would be impossible in the sixties or seventies. That’s life, and life only!
Presence has always been one of Dylan’s most valuable assets in his greatest performances, always striving to channel the songs secrets in the always partly improvised performance, giving us so many unforgettable moments from stages all over the world. Nevertheless, his commanding presence this fall is really special, and it affects the whole show and the interaction with the audience the whole evening. We’ve seen lots of glimpses of it the last years, of course, but when he delivers a fabulous “Can’t Wait”, a doom-laden “Not Dark Yet” or a razor-sharp “Early Roman Kings” with hand-held microphone this night… Wow!!! All his named heroes would have been proud of him, I’m sure. I guess Jack White would be, too – as Dylan greeted White from stage, telling us that Jack was in the audience tonight, one of the “younger” artists that really are carrying the torch.
When Dylan and the band came back after a short pause, the audience is on their feet for both “Ballad of a Thin Man” and “It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry”, the guards letting it happen, making Beacon Theatre slip into the suit of a club for a few minutes. A perfect ending of one more great night at Beacon Theatre.