Summer 2012 - Caroline's Headin' For Another Joint journal

Girlofthenorcalcountry's picture

This summer found us heading for Bob in the opposite direction of last year’s Southwesterly adventure: into the Dakotas, across Indian Country and then up into the North Country.  A really fun trip which included some hoteling, some ground sleeping, some sightseeing, some old friends, heart-warming Bob smiles, and a good bit of driving with Mr. Jinx at my side.  All ingredients of a satisfying Bob road trip!


It had been just over a year (in other words, way too long) since my last foray into Bob land. There were some differences.  I would say that on this tour Bob seems to be taking a ‘no distractions’ approach.  The embellishments are gone. There was no Nag Champa scenting the arena pre-show, no eye logo gazing down on us, no intro music or spoken intro, virtually no light show. For the Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat show opener, the lights go down, Stu strolls out playing an intro riff, and the rest of the band follows and they launch into the song.  Also of note and in keeping with the stripped-down approach: Bob was hatless each night, with the exception of Blowin’ in the Wind, for which he would don the white flat-brimmed hat. 


Although the band is the same as it’s been for a while, Bob’s now mostly at the grand piano ripping it up! The sound of this band strikes me as quite uniform between all the songs; that is, for the most part, there is an evenness of energy, playing and tone in virtually all of the arrangements that give the songs a similar feel.  That uniformity of sound works well as a backdrop for the piano.  Because Bob’s grand piano playing is erratic, irregular and unpredictable – and I mean all that in a really good way.  You get the feeling that he probably doesn’t play the same thing twice on any song.  He goes where the song and the energy take him and there’s a sense of discovery that’s palpable, especially in the best moments, which can come during any song.


One of those best moments was, in Fargo on the last night, Rollin’ and Tumblin’. This was possibly the single best piano performance of our mini-tour. We also heard this song in Rapid City a couple nights prior, and it was nothing like this. This time, the crowd seemed to respond particularly well to Bob’s playing early on the song, as he did a nice run during one of the first verses.  Bob responded with an additional flourish, the crowd responded with more enthusiasm, and then Bob just attacked, going feverishly up and down the keyboard.  He’d stop a sec and kind of look out at the crowd, then go at it again, up and up with the playing and energy.  He’d kick up a leg, wipe sweat out of his eyes, lean back and laugh with a hand on his hip for a moment, then dive back in.  It was like Bob was channeling Jerry Lee Lewis. And of course we were responding with serious hoots and hollers, egging him on. The song seemed to last like 10 minutes! It sounded great and Bob was a sight to behold, attacking the keys with gusto like he was.  Everybody loved it, including the rest of the band – especially Tony and Donny who looked on in slightly surprised amusement at this crazy piano playing.


Fargo was a fun and energetic show overall. Bob had us laughing with a number of asides during songs, when he asks and then answers his own questions. In Things Have Changed we get: “Don’t get up gentleman… WHY? I’m only passing through” and “I used to care… what happened? Things have changed!”  Later in the show, on another great Desolation Row (though I admit to feeling just the smallest pang when it starts, knowing I won’t be hearing Visions on this run), Bob continues his Socratic method with “… and then the... the WHAT? Kerosone!”  Just making sure we’re paying attention, maybe.


We hear Love Sick in Rapid City and it’s perfect with the piano, all slinky fills around the driving guitar rhythm throughout the song and a wonderful solo in the middle.  Bob sounds truly anguished as he implores, “This kinda love… Looord, I’m-a sooo sick of it!” And then he sees “… lovers, OH, in the meadow.”  Later in the song he lightens the mood with, “Could you ever be true?  I think of you and, well, I just kinda wonder!”


While Bob definitely tore it up in a honkytonk kinda way on the rocker songs, he also accompanied himself and the band deftly on the keys during the sweet and slower songs, sometimes playing along with the melody and other times accenting outside of the mail melodic line.  I was hoping for a Girl of the North Country in Fargo and got it, complete with a very pretty harmonica intro followed by a little piano intro, all very tasteful, lilting and sweet. Heartfelt singing and more beautiful musical explorations on the piano throughout.


And speaking of hoping for songs… as we were driving around the greater Rapid City area the day of the show (with stops including the obligatory visits to Mount Rushmore and the local microbrewery) I remarked that I really wanted to hear a song or two off Together Through Life at these shows. There’s not many from that album that Bob’s kept in the rotation these days. Forgetful Heart keeps making appearances but that’s about it. So, when thinking about what from that record Bob might in fact play, I was definitely not bargaining for what we got, which was the first This Dream of You in almost three years! What a great choice, what a special treat! This is Bob’s own song on Together Through Life, not co-written with Robert Hunter like the rest, and I did feel like it was a special choice for us. We’d had a really nice run of songs including The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll, High Water, and Hard Rain, making it a sweet night already. After Honest With Me, there was a huddle and discussion, which David whispered to me was a good sign, and how right he was! Who knows why Bob felt like playing that, it clearly wasn’t on the set list. But he was feeling it. Such an evocative song, with that south-of-the-border feel and loping rhythm, and those gorgeously simple yet mystery-filled lyrics. Shadows dance upon the wall, shadows that seem to know it all. Bob sang it great and played the piano elegantly.


As for the songs that tend to appear every show – well, they’re different from how they went a tour or two ago, and different too from night to night.  The crowd was really feeling Bob’s guitar solo during Simple Twist of Fate in Rapid City, so he kept going for an extra minute or so of extended soloing. In Fargo, he lingers a bit longer at the piano for the beginning of Ballad of a Thin Man, plunking out that famous intro on the keys, and for a moment I think he’s going to stay there to sing it! And of course, as mentioned earlier, the Rollin’ and Tumblin’ that came to life in such a fiery way in Fargo.  Tangled Up In Blue each night contained a combination of lyrics harkening back to the 1984 Real Live version and some that seemed brand new. “Radio blasting the news” to end verse one; later, “I gotta find someone among the women and men whose destiny is unclear. Some are masters of illusion, some are ministers of the trade, all of a strong delusion, all of their beds are…” but where he would sing “unmade” in ’84 he’s now singing, “All of their beds are made in the shaaaade!”  


As always along the way, random amusements occurred. We were driving on the scenic roads just outside Rapid City and there was a guy walking along the side of the road toward where a red sports car was parked. He was wearing tight black leather pants, a bright red shirt that looked made of some shiny material, and had long blond hair.  Hmmm…Bob?  It did really kind of look like the wig I’ve seen pictures of him in. Well, maybe not.  But we do see Bob on the side of the road, as we’re driving out of Fargo after the show, heading towards the highway to get the first couple hours of a 14 hour drive home under our belts. Shining down like a beacon in the night: an advertisement for tonight’s show lit up and in rotation on a huge billboard. Like moths to flame, we pull into the next side street and around the block. We’re actually able to pull into a parking lot and drive up to almost right underneath the billboard so we do, and hop out with our cameras. Yup, crazy people standing by the side of the road taking pictures of a billboard. We have to wait through quite a few rotations of other ads for insurance, diamond engagement rings, and the like, but then, there’s Bob, “In Show and Concert,” burning his image onto our retinas.

Then, I turned and looked again, but it was gone.