Fall 2016: Vegas, Indio, Albuquerque (I can't even remember El Paso, uh, honey!)

Girlofthenorcalcountry's picture

If the fun of a trip can be judged by the difficulty of the reentry into what is commonly referred to as ‘real life’, then this was indeed a fun one. Sitting here on my couch feeling that everything is foreign and that the road, speeding along a highway somewhere with Mr. Jinx to my right, some kind of beautiful desert landscape or maybe the Wigwam Motel out the window to my left, and Bob on the horizon, are what’s real. All I really want to do is to be heading for another joint!

With the canceling of Bob’s show in Lubbock, TX (2nd row tickets and the home of Buddy Holly, damn it!) and the realization that we could leave in time to make Vegas, I depart Colorado excited for what feels like an ‘extra’ show, a bonus on top of what already promises to be an epic adventure in Bob-land. Anticipation for the show at the Chelsea is amplified as I am woken up early that morning by a New York Times headline alert coming in on the phone: Bob Dylan has won this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature! Wow! Soon the emailed and texted ‘congratulations’ start flowing my way from friends and family around the world; I feel almost as if I’ve won the prize myself! It’s certainly a uniquely proud day to be a Bob Dylan fan, though I have my doubts verging on certitude that he will say or do anything differently than what is already intended at his show tonight. Still, a cool and historic day on which to be seeing Bob perform!

Our friend Scott from California has made a spontaneous decision this morning to come to this show of the world’s newest Nobel laureate; he’s hopped on a plane and gets into town around 6:00, so we meet him in the lobby before show time for a quick drink and chat. Our seats are on a little side riser area just off the main floor. The best thing about these seats is that they are in the back row of just two rows in this section, so we are free to be up and dancing with no one behind us the whole show. That definitely takes the edge off of being farther away from Bob than I like to be!

Having seen the set list from the first weekend of Desert Trip, which contained no songs from the last two albums of tunes made famous by Frank Sinatra, and with weekend 2 of Desert Trip looming, I’m curious to see what Bob will do tonight, at this more standard-sized show sandwiched between the two biggies. This being Vegas, with the venue itself located just off Frank Sinatra Drive, it’s hard to imagine a show with no Frank tunes at all! But also hard to imagine a set too divergent from the DT shows, since they’d want to stay in practice for those (assuming this weekend will be similar) and after all he DID just win a prize for his own writing…

Well, not much time to ponder as Bob comes on promptly at 8:00 to the classic tune of Rainy Day Women # 12 & 35. Been a while since I’ve been at a show with this one! As usual, it features some creative lyrical twists including, “They’ll stone you when you’re standing on your head!” Sounds fun! For the first time in quite a while Bob is hatless, and his hair is big, his famous curls lit up with the stage lights like a halo.

Tonight’s show first follows the song list of Desert Trip last weekend, a sturdy collection of classics from the 60s and 70s and some great songs from more recent if not modern times that haven’t had an outing in a few years. And while I never have any problem with what Bob chooses to play and have adored the shows of the past year, changes are always exciting and tonight is delightfully different. Especially when, six and a half songs in, after a center stage beginning to Simple Twist of Fate, Bob walks across the stage and – confidently, purposefully, and yet at the same time as casually as if he still did it every show – picks up his guitar and straps it on! OK, then! He plays it for just this song but he makes the most of it, treating us to a quirky and unmistakably Bob Dylan guitar solo, and continuing to noodle around on it in his distinctive way for the last verse and the closure of the song. The crowd is not exactly going crazy, an indication that they are not so in-the-know about the rarity of this occurrence nowadays. And Bob is cool as a cucumber, as you’d expect, not smiling or mugging or letting on in any way that it’s a special occasion. But those of us who know glow in the specialness of it, and one of those people is bass player Tony Garnier, who is smiling in a charmed sort of way the whole time and quite obviously digging Bob’s brief and unlikely attention to the guitar. And to me, this seems the perfect acknowledgement of the Nobel Prize, the nod that people were pondering, predicting, expecting, wanting from Bob tonight. How perfectly contrary in a perfectly BOB way. He wins the top prize in the entire world for WORDS and he gives us all a little celebration by doing the thing with MUSIC that he hasn’t done in four years and that everyone is always clamoring for him to do! He doesn’t make a speech of gratitude (which only someone who knows very little about Bob would think was in the realm of likelihood), he doesn’t sing a special song to highlight his literary prowess (only slightly more probable) – he plays guitar. It’s perfect.

The other perfect addition to the show tonight is the inclusion of “Why Try to Change Me Now?” We had to have at least a little Frank in Vegas, and this song seems perfect for our icon and iconoclast at any time, and somehow especially so with the announcements of the day.


On to Desert Trip, the 3-day concert experience that promises to be the event of a lifetime! All hyperbole aside, it is a pretty kick-ass time. We are farther away from the stage than I’ve ever been for a concert, let alone 6 concerts, but somehow my expectations are adjusted to the point where that’s perfectly OK – even for Bob. Certainly the knowledge that we have two upcoming shows of just Bob that we’ll see from the second row placates me, and I’m not only content to watch from afar but genuinely pumped to see what he brings to the occasion. Can he truly deliver to fans that are the length of several football fields away, when he more commonly now plays intimate theaters on a dimly lit stage?

The answer is a resounding yes, and not only in my opinion. Despite the fact that Bob is a tiny, bare-chested, no hatted marionette on the edge of the horizon, a diminutive stick figure with fuzz on top, people around us are impressed. He is strong-voiced and his band, helped by the amazing sound system which includes arrays of speakers on high poles all the way down the field, is commanding, filling the large space with beautiful, powerful music. For this show, unlike weekend one of Desert Trip, he allows the big screens to stay on him the entire time – but he is shot only from above or from behind, a rare few times straight on but from a safe distance. And it’s all in black and white or sort of sepia hue. With odd clips of flocks of birds and things interspersed with the footage of him and his band. I love this; he is being a good sport, accommodating the audience but doing it his way. Why try to change him now, indeed? He is perfectly capable of changing himself when he’s ready! As is evidenced by his inclusion of songs perfect for this audience, who is here to hear the classics more than anything else. So we get Ballad of A Thin Man, and Baby Blue, Highway 61, and lots of other favorites from down the years, all performed masterfully and as if he and his guys have stuck to this set every night in recent memory and not just the last two shows. Because we are obvious Fans, really into it and wearing as well as distributing Fan Club buttons, people start coming up to us to voice their approval of Bob’s performance. I feel like a proud promoter. One guy asks for more buttons for his whole row of friends. And I get the impression that some of these at least are people who came here expecting NOT to like Bob, expecting him to be unintelligible or unenthused. Nope! He rises fully to the occasion and then some, not least of all by dropping Like A Rolling Stone on the already enthusiastic crowd, after returning to the stage for the first encore. The famous snare drum shot and everyone’s up, everyone’s singing along, and Bob Dylan is the consummate rock star singing the ultimate rock song, the one that changed everything. He knows who he is, where he’s been, and what the situation calls for, and it’s a commanding culmination for an already epic and historic performance. Way to go, Bob!

After a packed weekend of more great music; several shout-outs for Bob and his Nobel award from others on the stage (including when Mick says that they’ve never ‘shared a stage’ with a Nobel winner before and I FREAK out for a long minute, thinking Bob is coming out to join them! What a tease!); meet-ups with some great Fan Club friends Greg and Andy; lots of craft beer and cocktails designed to please the baby boomer (and late gen x) crowd; and a tour through the fantastic Photographic Experience – a huge photo exhibit with work from the likes of Elliott Landy, Jim Marshall, Lynne Goldsmith and many others, featuring images of all the artists at Desert Trip – we head north and east for our Bob-only portion of the trip.


First stop Albuquerque, NM. We check into the comfortable, verging-on-hip-but-still-cheap Hotel Blue, and soon head to Marble Brewery to meet some other fans for a beer. Thanks to Pamela for arranging the meet-up as well as recommending the digs. Then it’s off to the show! My second row seat is in the absolute perfect spot that I love, just a few seats stage right from center. Tonight it’s even more perfectly positioned, since Bob has added an extra microphone (yes he now has four on the stage) to his right of the others. A new addition this tour, he will swoop this microphone up in both hands and bend over it as if dipping a dancing partner, or like Fred Astaire might use a prop in those old black and white movies, sometimes leaning or lunging forward with it as he sings. What flair!

Flair is one word to describe Bob at this show. Another would simply be LOVE. The audience tonight is outstanding, and I think he feels it from the first beat. We’ve returned to the opening notes played in the dark by Stu, heralding Things Have Changed. Out comes the rest of the band and I’m thrilled first that Bob and I are both wearing polka dots, second that he remains hatless because from this close up I can finally fully enjoy that, and third that he comes out smiling and basically doesn’t quit. Everyone is standing and dancing for all of Things Have Changed and I can tell he likes that. He is beaming like a school boy.

Tonight’s show keeps in some of the classics that were brought back for Desert Trip, but adds back in some more of the songs recently played over the summer and before. It’s a fabulous mix. After Things Have Changed Bob heads to the piano for three songs, playing an easy, swinging Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright. Bob seems so happy and relaxed. But that doesn’t diminish the power of a rockin’ Highway 61, complete with a little Q and A as only Bob can insert into a song: “Sam said tell me quick man… WHY?... ‘Cuz I got to RUN!” It’s worth mentioning that Bob does not once sit at the piano tonight. He is standing up the whole time, weaving and bobbing like a boxer at the keys, looking out at the audience with sly grins, looking over at Donnie or George with his tongue stuck out and barely suppressing all-out laughter. I think he’s delighted by our enthusiasm and rapt attention; we really are an audience hanging on and feeling every word. As well as quite a few of us bouncing enthusiastically in our chairs!

The next song is the one I’m most thrilled about having back in the set after a break, and one that I would place solidly in my top five any way you slice it – It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue. Tonight it is exquisite, sung so smoothly by Bob with the gorgeous pedal steel accents that Donnie adds so effortlessly and effectively. Bob is standing all night, as I mentioned; in fact the piano stool is placed at a right angle to the keyboard, so I guess if he wants to sit he’ll straddle it like riding a horse. His face is high and clear above the piano and he sings a line and looks out at us. He’s really making eye contact tonight, and I get to be the recipient on some of my favorite lines: The highway is for gamblers, better use your sense. Take what you have gathered from coincidence. He sings and gazes out with a sly and knowing grin, as he is doing after so many lines. I’m swooning there in my seat, or am I floating above it? I really can’t tell.

High Water, like on numerous other occasions in my Bob adventuring career, is the undisputed pinnacle of the show. There’s no banjo on it anymore; Donnie plays mandolin. Like a few songs that remain in the set since the summer and earlier, it’s lost some of its sharp edge and pounding drive, and become more of a bluesy swinger, though that’s not to say it’s lost any power. On the contrary, it chugs like a steaming locomotive and at least two people at this show who have seen Bob 60 or more times, with High Water at many of those shows, claim it as the best version they’ve heard to date. It is incredible. Bob is center stage, simultaneously so focused on every word and beat of the music while completely dialed in to our audience response, which he feeds off, and vice versa. One of those long moments of song where Bob will say a phrase or do a move that visibly and audibly excites the first few rows; he’ll get a kick out of our response, and take it to the next level, which works us into even more of a frenzy. He’ll stagger a few steps back from the microphone during the instrumental interludes, as if half-knocking himself over with his own delivery, then march forward to give his all on the next line. One line that elicits a particularly shrewd while slightly shy smile as he says it -- and it strikes me (and maybe him) as very pertinent to the recent announcement and resultant concocted media controversy of the Nobel Prize – is “As great as you are man, you’ll never be greater than yourself!” He sings that one right on the money and with that knowing grin and glint in his eye and it is absolutely perfect. But the topper comes before the last verse, after a bit of an instrumental jam. He knows he’s got us in the palm of his hand now and so he takes it to the top and over. He has grabbed that new ‘dancing partner’ microphone and takes a good three, four steps forward almost right to the lip of the stage right in front of where I and a collection of other extremely enthusiastic souls are on the edges of our seats and he goes almost all the way down onto one knee in a lunge forward, and lets out a long, loud, but oh so controlled, “Weeeeeeeellll!” right at us, before continuing, “I’m getting up in the morning..”. We all lose it, jumping out of our seats and cheering him on as he smiles in amused satisfaction and finishes out the song.

I’m vibrating in my seat and the guy next to me says that was the best High Water after about 30 he’s witnessed and I can’t argue. We get a bit of a cool down with the first of the Sinatra tunes, I Could Have Told You. A serious and sad crooner of a song, but Bob’s still got the spark of fun and mischief in his eyes, and when he sings that line about “soon it’s over and done with, she’ll find someone new to have fun with” I feel it’s almost an inside joke and he knows he’s the only one and the fun stops here! And right on cue, as if to negate that idea of finding someone new, it’s back to the piano for a heartfelt and bluesy Early Roman Kings, where Bob lets us know without the shadow of a doubt that his bell still rings and all the women in the audience, not to mention the men, are going crazy for him and no one else. There’ll be no one else that you’ll want to see!

To my ears Love Sick has mellowed from the summer, along with a few of the other songs he’s continuing on with from recent tours. It actually feels mellowed tonight even from its performance at Desert Trip. It’s more soft and slinky, more akin to the album version. Bob’s again taking two to three steps back from the microphone in between lines, then pacing forward with the music in time to sing the next lines, putting his hand on hip, looking around and nodding approvingly at band members and then at audience, mastering the ceremonies.

Tangled Up In Blue enters like an old friend and for this one there’s a little standing and dancing from scattered members of the audience, which Bob likes. Smiles abound, and there is just such a feeling of love flowing from him to us and back. He plays harmonica for the only time on this song, then heads back over to the piano for the conclusion. This is where on recent tours there would be a short intermission, but Bob’s decided to cut that and play through, which I have to say I like. We flow into Lonesome Day Blues, a song that fits well with his current sound and strikes me tonight in tone and theme like something of a companion piece to Early Roman Kings. Like he did some time ago when performing this song live, he’s switched the line, “I wish my mother was still alive” to “I’m telling myself I’m still alive.” In other words, his bell still rings! And, just as he told us a few minutes ago that he ain’t afraid to make love to a bitch or a hag, he now conveniently reminds us, “You’re gonna need my help sweetheart, you can’t make looooove all by yourseeeeeeelf!”

Bob has reclaimed Make You Feel My Love for his own this tour, and people seem to love it. Sweetly and sincerely sung, it is a tribute to his songwriting and delivery that he can move effortlessly from a song like the last one to something straight up tender like this. Tonight it feels like nothing less than a testament of love to us, his fans, sung with those knowing glances and smiles at the corners of his mouth. When he sings, “No doubt in my mind where you belong” it’s like we are all of us in the perfect place this perfect moment. He’ll go to the ends of the earth for us, and likewise I’m sure. He has changed two lines in the song, getting rid of “The winds of change are blowing wild and free, you ain’t seen nothing like me yet” and instead singing, as I remember it, “Put your hand in mine and walk with me, I’ll see that you don’t get wet.”

Pay In Blood is another great one with plenty of center stage theatrics, laughs and dramatically sung lines to get the crowd riled up, including “Another politician pumping out his piss” which gets some enthusiastic whoops and hollers given this political season. Desolation Row, back at the piano, is one of Bob’s unquestionable literary masterpieces, befitting a Nobel laureate. But it’s the music as much as the words that move the song along tonight, with Bob digging in on the piano riffs, shimmying his leg, and wiggling his shoulders in time with the tune. He gets into an exaggerated staccato singing cadence for a few lines, the way he sometimes used to do for most of a song, but just sparingly tonight and enough to make it stand out and elicit cheers from the crowd and some chuckling from himself and Donnie.

Soon After Midnight is back after a year and a little off and, though relatively new in Bob’s oeuvre, feels like the return of an old friend. It is comforting and lilting with the pedal steel and the ripples on the piano, and makes me sway back and forth with my body and head and Bob is doing the same; it’s only slightly less comforting when you tune into the words about lying there dying in their blood and dragging corpses through the mud. I adore this juxtaposition of the sweet and innocent sounding melody and Bob’s crooning, and the actual words which tend toward the gory and disturbing in places, mixed in with professions of love. Bob enjoys singing it and again there are those sneakings of smiles at the corners of his mouth that have been there almost constantly tonight, save when he’s broken into an all-out grin, which has been frequent.

I love seeing Bob so happy, and the smile has not left my own face either. Though admittedly with Soon After Midnight a hint of sadness creeps in as I know we are getting near the end, within the last three songs… but rather than the expected starts of Long and Wasted Years, there’s some high and lonesome sounding steel from Donnie that seems to suggest another Frank tune, and indeed it is. It’s All Or Nothing At All, played for the first time of the tour. And boy does he sing it great, putting his hand to his heart on pertinent lines, then out to the side with flair and showmanship. I feel as if he is almost acting out a role with these Sinatra songs tonight, sliding into being the romantic crooner with something of an air of delight and enjoying playing the part. With these songs he’s taken up yet one more place of residence in our souls and hearts alongside the many places he has occupied there over the years. And when I say it seems in a way like he’s acting them out, I’m not sure I can quite explain it but I don’t mean that in a bad way at all. It’s more like an actor who has tried on a totally new sort of character and then amazingly becomes that role so fully and convincingly. He slides in and out of these songs, now placed three in a show about equally separated by his own songs, with such ease. He seems to delight himself as much as his audience in singing and performing them.

I’m glad Long And Wasted Years is still in the show, as this seems like an important song for Bob to keep singing right now. As with lots tonight, it makes him laugh and smile and so do I. I feel a significance when he sings, “It’s been such a long, long time since we’ve loved each other and our hearts were true” looking right out into the audience. Like so many songs tonight I feel like he’s talking right to us and that the words refer to the fans so attentive and glowing in these first few rows. This is a softer, kinder Long And Wasted Years than on recent tours; the music is not as harsh and scolding, and same with Bob’s tone. He’s no longer shouting at us but more so maybe guiding or explaining how it is, with tonight’s ever present touch of humor never far from the surface. And the toning down of the song does not prevent Bob from doing at least one extremely emphatic pelvic thrust in between lines along to the music that is greeted with much crowd enthusiasm.

Once Donnie picks up the violin we know we’re getting that lovely, swinging Blowin In The Wind as our first encore. And then, as has been the case since Vegas, he closes with Why Try To Change Me Now? Could there be a song more perfect for Bob at this stage? He sings it as if there certainly is not. The undercurrent is a lifetime of people trying to change him or at least hoping he will change, but in his delivery there is no bitterness or resentment or even a hint of exasperation. It’s not a dig at anyone. It’s just sweet and funny, and he knows that no one sitting there watching him tonight would change a thing about him. One of the opening lines, “I’ve got some habits even I can’t explain” makes me actually laugh out loud tonight because I’m sure it’s TRUE. We drift along together to each perfectly delivered line until we’re at that last verse, “Let people wonder, Let ‘em laugh, Let ‘em frown” and then Bob grins ear to ear and moves his left hand from his own heart out to us: “I’ll always love ya ‘til the moooooon’s upside down.” And there it is. Always our clown, our lover, our Ding Dong Daddy, or whatever he is moved to be at the moment, but always Bob, and he doesn’t need to speak a word aside from what he tells us in the songs.

The Chelsea at the Cosmopolitan, Las Vegas