Bob Dylan: Tsongas Center at U Mass Lowell, 4/9/13

The fourth stop of Bob Dylan’s 2013 Neverending Tour 2013 was the 7,000 seat hockey rink at the University of Lowell.   The stage was simply set with floor to ceiling black curtains.  Four searchlights were equally spaced.  The stage itself was littered with light stands more commonly found at professional photo shoots with  framed mirrors facing the crowd that were strategically placed around the front of the stage. 

The band took the stage at exactly 8:30 PM. With the musicians dressed in coat, tie and various hats, the stage looked more like the set of Madmen than a rock and roll concert.  After an acoustic guitar intro to “Things Have Changed” Dylan himself took the stage.  Looking thinner than usual in a civil war era, military style, double-breasted blue suit, plaid red western shirt and tan Riverboat Gambler Cowboy hat he appeared in good spirits.   Standing tall at center stage he took the band through the Academy Award winning number.  (The actual award was sitting on an amplifier about twenty feet to his right.)   His voice sounded both strong and rested.

For this tour there was a slight change in his line-up.  His band (going from left to right) is now comprised of Stu Kimball on guitar, Tony Garnier on bass,  George Receli on drums, Duke Robillard on lead guitar and Donny Herron on pedal steel.  Blues legend Robillard has replaced Charlie Sexton.  

Dylan remained at center stage with “Love Sick” which was a tad slower than the original version causing the song’s drama to be somewhat lost in translation.  With Garnier switching to stand up bass, both Dylan and the band began to find their footing with “High Water (For Charley Patton)”.  The band laid a comfortable groove with Dylan emphasizing, spitting and phrasing the lyrics.  Dylan even began to dance which in his case is a little more like swaying. 

Dylan then moved to the piano for the waltz flavored, “Soon After Midnight.”   His hands crippled with arthritis, his time spent playing the telecaster has been steadily decreasing although this was the first show seen by this reviewer where Dylan failed to play any guitar at all.  The new, bluesy “Early Roman Kings” sounded fresh and featured a call and return ending.    While the night featured no “jams” to speak of Dylan often rearranges either the song’s style, pace, lyrics or all three.  In addition the last eight bars of each tune almost always seem to feature a strange, entertaining twist.  It is the only stage that I have seen where the band actually faces Dylan as opposed to the audience.  Dylan likes to keep them on their toes.  

The acoustic heavy version of “Tangled Up in Blue” was lyrically abbreviated although it’s unclear if that was intentional or just a misstep.  The night’s emphasis on Dylan’s more recent studio works continued with the re-worked “Pay In Blood” from Tempest.  Unlike the commercial sounding track the live version simply smoldered.  The classic “Visions of Johanna” was another crowd favorite and the jazz inflected “Spirit on the Water” featured the emphasized lyric, “You think I’m over the hill/you think I’m past my prime” to which the partisan crowd responded “No”.   “Let me see what you got/we could have a whoppin’ good time” and just to prove it Dylan played one of the night’s better harmonica solos. 

The first real break in the set came when Dylan chatted briefly with Robillard before the country blues honk, “Blind Willie McTell”.  After the uninspired, “What Good Am I,” the band and set peaked with a raucous “Thunder on the Mountain”.  The subtlety of the new “Scarlet Town” was again lost in the arena setting.  Dylan closed with strong versions of “Watchtower” and “Thin Man”.

Whether it be the opening of the tour or the change in the line-up, these recent shows have featured the same set list which is an oddity for Dylan, with the emphasis on his last few studio releases,  2012’s Tempest, 2009’s Together Through Life and 2006, “Modern Times.  Regardless, Dylan seemed to be enjoying himself, not necessarily smiling but smirking. But that’s what makes Bob Dylan and if you’re a fan its always an honor to be in his presence.


Things Have Changed
Love Sick
High Water (For Charley Patton)
Soon after Midnight
Early Roman Kings
Tangled Up in Blue
Pay in Blood
Visions of Johanna
Spirit on the Water
Beyond Here Lies Nothin’
Blind Willie McTell
What Good Am I?
Thunder on the Mountain
Scarlet Town
All Along the Watchtower
Ballad of a Thin Man

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