Bob Carpenter Center, Newark, Delaware
April 12, 2013
Bob Dylan brought his current tour to the University of Delaware’s Carpenter Center in a concert that was in many ways vastly different from his tour last fall with Mark Knopfler, though certain aspects of that tour pointed to what’s happening now.
Dylan has not only changed guitarists, with the legendary blues player Duke Robillard replacing Charlie Sexton, but has changed the sound of his band to a less is more approach to the arrangements, which are depending on the song either based around Stu Kimball’s acoustic rhythm guitar or Dylan’s piano. That is not the only thing that’s changed. The majority of songs in the set list reflected Dylan’s albums from Time Out Of Mind to his latest, Tempest, with four songs from the latter. Only three of the songs were from the ’60s, and while classics were included, none of the songs were certifiable hits.
The Carpenter Center is a gym, built for basketball, not for music. The bleachers on the side and in the rear lead up to an open hallway circling the gym. This created a disaster in terms of sound which was apparent from the second opening act Dawes started playing. Any subtlety the band was trying to convey was lost as the drums in particular would come back at you three seconds after the beat had already happened resulting in one loud mushy jumble. Dylan’s band, now based around acoustic instruments but less loud. Still heavy duty concentration and extra effort required to block out hearing what you already heard.
During the stage change over between bands, a woman appeared on stage requesting that the audience enjoy the live experience of seeing Bob Dylan instead of watching him on a full screen, and to show respect for those around you. Unfortunately the two girls who sat next to me arrived after that announcement, and chatted incessantly throughout the entire performance.
As if to drive home the change in guitarists, the change in sound, and the change in material, Dylan opened the show standing at center stage with an up tempo, “Things Have Changed,” done to a train beat, an arrangement he’s used for the last several tours. He stayed center stage standing and playing harp for the next two songs, “Love Sick” and “High Water (For Charlie Patton) before sitting at the grand piano on the right of the low lit stage. The opening songs pretty much served as warm-ups.
One had to wonder if the sound in the hall was also affecting the musicians on stage. On “Soon After Midnight,” Duke Robillard jumped in a little too quickly for his guitar solo initially clashing with Donnie Heron’s pedal steel, though he stepped back, recovered and pulled it off. The energy level rose a bit with “Early Roman Kings,” but it wasn’t until “Tangled Up In Blue” that the band really started to jell with Robillard showing what he could really do.
A rearranged “Pay In Blood” followed. On Tempest, “Pay In Blood” is a rocker reminiscent of the Stones, but Dylan has altered the beginning chord structure and changed some lyrics, making it less of a rocker. However the change and the way Dylan now sings it puts added emphasis on the lyrics and gives the song a spookier feel than the album version. In Delaware, he stumbled over some of the new lyrics and did some quick improvisation to make it work.
“Visions of Johanna” followed in an arrangement that is as close as Dylan is going to come these days in approximating the feel of the original, with Robillard’s subtle guitar punctuations combining with Donnie Heron’s mandolin to add atmosphere but not dominate the sound.
“Spirit In The Water,” followed by “Blind Willie McTell,” let into the concert’s high point, an astoundingly intense version of “What Good Am I?” from Oh Mercy. Robillard’s guitar combined with Donnie Heron’s pedal steel to create an almost mournful hornlike sound on the intro with Dylan’s vocal truly impassioned. Nothing that came before or after came close to that moment.
In terms of intensity and excitement, Newark was probably not the best night on this tour. (For better or worse, the Internet allows me to make that statement as concerts almost instantly appear.) However, the change in the sound of Dylan’s band as well as the presentation which puts the emphasis totally on the music allows a couple of things to happen. There is more space in the songs which gives Dylan the room to sing without having to push it vocally. There is no more fighting to be above the band. In effect, he is letting the songs do the work for him. In addition (despite the sound problems at this particular show), you can now hear every instrument in the band which wasn’t always the case. By basing the arrangements around what Dylan is playing on the piano instead of Dylan fitting his keyboard parts into a preexisting band arrangement, is as close as you’re going to come to the Bob Dylan who first appeared onstage more than 50 years ago.
1. Things Have Changed
2. Love Sick
3. High Water (For Charley Patton)
4. Soon After Midnight
5. Early Roman Kings
6. Tangled Up In Blue
7. Pay In Blood
8. Visions Of Johanna
9. Spirit On The Water
10. Beyond Here Lies Nothin’
11. Blind Willie McTell
12. What Good Am I?
13. Thunder On The Mountain
15. All Along The Watchtower
16. Ballad Of A Thin Man