Summer 2011 - Caroline's Headin' For Another Joint Journal

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Summer Tour 2011: In Search of Bob and Other Wildlife

Setting out for a vacation in the southwest in late July no doubt smacks of insanity to some, but to me it seemed like just the thing to do.  If Bob can take the heat, we figured, so can we!  And while Bob was indeed the primary purpose of the mission, stalking other creatures, mostly reptilian, came in a close second.  We had my new car (Baby Blue II), adorned with a fresh fan club sticker; some decent tickets for the all-seated shows; and our route plotted out as a rough square between Albuquerque, Phoenix, Tucson and back up to Albuquerque, with points between left mostly to chance and whim.


Some of the latter included a couple of hours walking around dear, dear, dear, dear Santa Fe (yes, that did keep going through my head) and a lesson in collision and impact at one of the biggest holes in the ground I’ve yet to see, near Winslow, Arizona (aptly, though uncreatively, named Meteor Crater).  Our viewing was cut short when surrounding lightning strikes made the security come and fetch us off the observation deck.  Lightening was, in fact, a nearly ubiquitous companion of the trip, enhancing the sky with multi-directional streaks and veins that would hang suspended, imprinting the dark clouds that piled up on the horizon wherever we went, heralding the rains that came almost every day.  The locals said it was monsoon season, which is weird because I didn’t think we were in Southeast Asia.  But evidently there is a Southwestern or Arizona Monsoon, which operates along the more or less the same principles of very hot air sucking moisture into the vicinity.


The red mountains and desert surrounding Sedona are stunningly beautiful.  After a dinner with decent margaritas, good burgers and an unbeatable view, we drove out of town with the sun coloring the surrounding rock more brilliantly by the minute.  Although we had a campsite to find and get set up, we couldn’t help but pull off at several different points along road out of town to get out of the car, walk around, soak in the evening glow off the surrounding spires and take pictures.  We made it to camp with just enough daylight to set up the tent and be greeted by a surfeit of skunks.  They scattered in all directions as we walked over to the pit toilets and then, as we froze still in the twilight and waited, they began emerging from behind shrubs and trees, sniffing the air with their pointy little snouts and approaching us with different degrees of boldness.  The boldest of them, a little guy, ran right at us with its tail high in the air!  So we left them to clean up the picnic area, which I believe was their main objective, and headed back to our little tent site.  Those skunks really had the run of the place; as we sat in the darkening evening drinking beers I would repeatedly catch them in my flashlight, scouting around the outskirts of our tent site.


 We did a little scouting around of our own for lizards and snakes in the morning, and also had the pleasure of a cool dip in Wet Beaver Creek… who doesn’t love an early morning Wet Beaver dip? One thing I’ll say about Arizona is that the people who use the public lands there really don’t seem to have much respect for them or much conscientiousness about keeping things clean. Plastic bags, bottles and less desirable sorts of trash were routinely strewn around what the locals evidently seemed to consider the great trashcan / bathroom of the great outdoors.  In the early morning though, with no one around trashing up the place yet, Wet Beaver Creek was a lovely shaded oasis deep enough for a satisfying plunge, even mid-summer. It was just us and a few lizards, basking in the not yet searing heat of the day, and we splashed around happily, shedding the dust and grime of the last couple days.



Onward to Phoenix for our first show of the trip.  Also our first hotel room of the trip. The Clarendon is an indie hotel that more or less lived up to its promises. The initial rate that I booked, which really did seem too good to be true, needed to be supplemented by a $20 service fee to use the pool, park the car, and basically do anything other than stay in your room.  The pool was an essential component, so we paid the rate to the concierge with the hipper-than-thou attitude and headed up to our digs.  It was a pleasant day of swimming, showering (I think I took 3), a comfy bed with a happy excess of pillows and AC, with a trip down to the restaurant for a green chili burger and, the highlight of the Phoenix portion of the trip (OK, close second to Bob), a prickly pear margarita.  In fact, everything at the restaurant there was really good, locally sourced, organic and mighty tasty.  But, that prickly pear margarita… I’m dreaming of it still…


When it’s time to head out for Bob, we open the door of our room and step out onto the wrap around walkway of the hotel to be greeted by an Armageddon sky.  Can’t see beyond the hotel roof, can’t see the mountains any more, can’t see the sky.  The sun’s not yellow, it’s hidden.  Everything is a flat gray/brown palette.  It’s hard not to panic, because it kind of looks like the end of the world.  To me, actually, the predominant feeling is one of claustrophobia, like everything that gives space and depth and distance to the world is suddenly gone and it all ends just beyond arm’s reach.  Beyond here lies nothing.  Resisting an urge to retreat back to the safety of our room, we head down to the lobby to have the front desk call us a cab. We ask the woman there what is going on and I think she says something about her boobs instead of answering our question.  What she really said is “haboob”, which is the name of this sandstorm phenomenon which has apparently engulfed the city.  Everyone is fairly calm about it, saying it will be over in an hour or so, so we do our best to take it in stride and head to the theater.  The end-of-days impression imparted by the sandstorm is supplemented by groups of people handing out Jesus CDs outside the venue.  We amuse ourselves by trying to come up with songs that Bob might be inspired to play: Every Grain of Sand? When the Night Comes Falling from the Sky? Not Dark Yet (but getting there)?


Show time comes abruptly at the Bob Dylan Show these days. There’s no fanfare, no Copeland, and gone too is that spooky sounding music Bob had been using for a while to announce his walk out onto the stage. Nothing but a drop of the lights, the emerging figures (Bob last), and here we go. Well I guess there is still the spoken intro, but I honestly barely even hear it any more.  Phoenix has a few choice highlights.  First off, I’m happy to get It Ain’t Me, Babe in the second slot.  It’s got kind of an interesting tension between the jaunty way that it is played and the anguish in Bob’s voice when he goes “AAAAahhhh, but it ain’t me babe!”  He also drops nicely down to hit a low note there, on the “babe.”   It’s sort of a sped up version that’s got a lilting and dreamy feel to the music.


By far the most changed up song of the night is, appropriately, Things Have Changed.  I often read reviews of “new versions” of songs and then, when I actually hear the described song played, it’s the same way Bob’s been playing it for a while.  Not so with Things Have Changed, which truly is a new arrangement.  It’s a sped up western shuffle that sounds like Me and My Uncle when it first starts.  Bob takes it center stage with flair and short bursts of harmonica between the verses.


Desolation Row is played for the first time of the tour.  Always a welcome one to hear, and Bob does some colorful emoting and enunciating.  Overall I would say that the sound of this band currently is understated and controlled.  They seem to have become truly a backing band, with each song featuring Bob’s vocals, keyboards or both, more prominently than anything else.  Those whirling organ notes definitely overlay this one, which seems an appropriate backdrop for the theatrical procession of characters that populate the song.   



The highway is for gamblers…

The Tucson show is at an Indian casino southwest of the city.  Our room at the Cat Mountain Lodge, on the edge of Saguaro National Park, is only about 5 miles away (and awesome!).  We head over an hour or so early to the casino (the show is at an adjacent outdoor amphitheater) to see what’s up.  We find 2 for 1 happy hour drinks (and the drinks are already crazy cheap!) going on so we avail ourselves of a couple of rounds. We decide to see how we fare at some games of chance, and end up $14 richer playing the slot machines.  All in all, a fun little round of pre-show recreation.


With all the set list repeats of this tour so far, I feel excited and lucky to get seven different songs tonight from last night, starting with a Rainy Day Women opener.  Bob rounds out the verses with a refrain of “Yeah, they’ll stooooone you” repeatedly at the end, which I enjoy.   I’m happy with Baby Blue in the second slot – I’m always happy to hear Baby Blue.  I love the sad melody and the images of highways and vagabonds.  Tonight it has that swirling instrumentation with prominent pedal steel and also Bob’s organ high in the mix. 

Beyond Here Lies Nothin’ is exciting with Bob laying down some dirty guitar licks and swiveling around center stage and the crowd loving it, and Tangled is also done with flair and well-received.  He used a little WAAAY too much force!  And, as in Phoenix last night, she had to sell every doggone thing she owned and Bob’s trying to stay out of the joint.  Bob stays center stage and keeps the energy high with the first Cold Irons Bound of the tour.  A sweet and surprising Visions of Johanna is next, led very much, like most of the songs, by Bob’s keyboard playing and singing.  Bob very clearly has a specific sound he’s going for right now that pervades many of the songs and Visions is no exception, as he leads the band with soaring keyboard notes and syncopated vocals.   


I like the current Trying to Get to Heaven quite a bit.  Nice collaboration with Charlie playing really sweet notes around Bob’s keyboard, weaving in and out.  Bob sings it with a lot of color and emotion and has what I think is the best harmonica solo of the night before the last verse, bending notes sweetly.  A highlight of the evening.  Also a show-stopper every time I hear it, Forgetful Heart reappears tonight after a night off in Phoenix, and holds me transfixed as usual.  It stands out because of what isn’t there; the whole focus is Bob’s singing and harmonica playing floating on top of Donnie’s doleful violin. It is dramatic and sparse, with singing so soft and controlled and in sharp contrast to the staccato singing that he does on a lot of songs these days.  The harmonica playing is exquisite and as soft as breathing, in between the sung words.


Back at our lodge nestled amongst the saguaro and barrel cacti, we prowl around outside in the still-hot desert night. We catch (and release) a really cool snake and chance upon a couple of javelinas, wild peccaries that migrated up from South America. There are two of them under a light outside our room, and they look comical though somehow elegant, with their stick-like legs and long snouts.



Onward to Albuquerque, where the venue is high on a mountain.  It’s my second show at this pavilion, which is up a road to nowhere that ends here.  We run into a friend before the show and, as the Southwest Monsoon induced clouds begin to color a bit pink, he remarks that it’s “kind of cosmic up here,” and I have to agree.  It seems like a point of power, and Bob is pretty powerful tonight.  The show, with one exception, is a shuffled combo of songs from the past two nights. Along with the standard fare for the tour, we get another Visions of Johanna, noteworthy as an unlikely repeat!  The night is much cooler than last show in Tucson and Bob seems quite energetic and to be having a good time and gives us a well-played and engaging show.  We’re 5th row a couple seats in from the aisle, it’s a great spot but, in between the main set and the encore I sense it can get even better.  Just as I see some other standing and dancing people moving in from the side, I hear the security guard who’s been turning people away from coming up to the stage say, “Anyone who wants to go forward now can” and it’s an old-school pre-encore stage rush.  My vigilance in the moment pays off and we’re a couple steps ahead of anyone else, having anticipated this turn of events, and we make it to the absolute best front and just slightly left of center spot. It’s a fun way to end up the trip and we get to rock out to Rolling Stone and Watchtower, basking in Bob’s happy glow up close and personal J  Bob and band come forward and receive our gratitude and then they’re gone… but only for a few seconds! It’s the thing you always want to happen but very rarely does: they come back! Bob must have liked seeing some smiling faces those last couple of songs and ordered an about face because it is most certainly an unplanned return.  We are treated to a gorgeous, affectionately sung Forever Young as a parting gift.  



One day short of two weeks later and we’re on our way to the next show, this time conveniently located an hour from my mom and dad’s house in Michigan where I just happen to be vacationing at the same time that Bob is in the area ;) Pick up Mr. Jinx at Detroit Metro and woo-hoo, we’re heading on down to the Toledo Zoo Amphitheater to meet Kait, with a cooler full of Bell’s Two Hearted Ale and Oberon, and three front row tickets! We didn’t have front row until late last night, when someone at the Dylan Pool helpfully posted that they were suddenly available on Ticketmaster.  A few frantic phone calls (do we really wanna buy these when we already dropped a load of money on tickets during the presale all those weeks ago – uh, yeah!) and some anti-anxiety medication later, and we’ve purchased one for each of us.  I’m able to sell the 5th row prior purchased tix, though at a significant loss.  But who the heck cares at a time like this?! We’re going to see Bob in the front row! As if portending a warm and welcoming night of fun, we pass a mural driving through Toledo that maybe is supposed to be Marcel Marceau or someone like that, Bob it looks to me like nothing other than Bob waving us in!


We get in and scope out the seats: stage-right, with a perfect head-on view of Bob at the keyboard.  Check.  Go back up to the vending area to see what’s good to drink:  real margaritas, small but made with actual lime juice vs. nasty-ass mix.  Check.  Things are good.  We take some photos of us in all our lovely show-readiness, see some old friends and make a couple new ones, and we’re ready to go!


On the rail for a whole show, woo-hoo!  It feels like old times with a new twist or two, and that’s a feeling that’s alright. The crowd is good, the venue is mellow, and Bob treats us to some of the songs I’ve wanted to hear.  First and foremost, Mississippi, which I irrationally feared would be dropped before I got to hear it this time around.  The song gets the kind of arrangement that’s typical for the current band, with a focus on Bob’s keyboard and vocals.  It’s kind of done in a jaunty shuffle, very carefree feel to it.


I see Donny pick up the banjo and, yay, it’s High Water!  A song I’ve always loved and enjoyed in all its incarnations.  Tonight it’s center stage with harp.  One of the other highlights of the night is The Levee’s Gonna Break, which is treated to great singing and long jamming.  Bob looks right at us with a sly grin when he sings, “I look into your eyes, I see nobody other than me!” Likewise, Bob, I’m sure!


As for the biggest surprise of the night, that comes unquestionably in the form of what’s NOT played, namely Highway 61 Revisited!  With its instrumental flair and even the way they took the jamming part way down and then pumped it up again during Levee, maybe Bob felt that whatever need Highway 61 normally fills in the show had already been satisfied.  After Rolling Stone and Watchtower, it looks like they are gonna leave the stage but there is a short huddle and they all resume their places for Blowin’ in the Wind, a sweet send-off.


Rochester Hills

I was excited when I saw that Bob had picked Meadowbrook as his Michigan place to play this summer, and knew right away I needed to time a trip home to coincide with the show.  I used to see lots of concerts here when I was in high school and college, and it was here in July of 1988 that Bob sang to me and my friend Nicole. We walked from our seats down to front and center for the last few songs and no one stopped us or made us leave; we just leaned on the stage and basked blissed-out in the nearness of Bob, who repaid our homage by smiling and singing right to us during Rolling Stone.  People were like, “He’s singing to you!” so I knew I wasn’t imagining it. It was fun!


Meadowbrook is a lovely little outdoor pavilion on the campus of Oakland University, where the Detroit Symphony Orchestra plays in the summer. We got row A during the presale! They were the last seats all the way stage left, which in many, bigger pavilions would be pretty lousy seats. But this place is narrow, so I had a feeling they’d be ok, if somewhat of a different angle than we usually prefer.  And you can’t pass up front row when it pops up, right?!? There was actually a “pit” of a few rows in front, but the way the place is angled our row had more seats than the pit rows, so we were right up close with a profile view of Bob at the keyboard and a fantastic place for any center stage action.  And we could stand and boogie our butts off for the whole show, without blocking anyone, which was awesome!  As often happens we were having the most apparent fun of anyone; well, us and the small woman in front of us (who I thought was a kid for most of the show until I got a better look at her!) who jumped up and down without stopping the entire time, no kidding!


 It being a Sunday, I was really pulling for “Gonna Change my Way of Thinking” and kind of feeling an “Every Grain of Sand” too.  Heck, how about a whole gospel show?!?  Well, we get Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat to open and Bob seems to be having fun right away, singing, “I ask the doctor if I can see YOU!” with an enthusiastic up-sing emphasis on the YOU, as if someone pinched him right before that word.  As it turns out, I get one new song for the tour, Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright in the second slot.  It’s got a jaunty beat and there’s a whirly keyboard solo before the last verse.  Being that it’s my last show of the summer I just soak in and appreciate everything about it and find myself taken once again by excellent versions of Things Have Changed (fantastic bursts of harmonica between verses); Tangled (singing the “lit a burner on the stove” verse now, which he hadn’t been doing earlier in the tour); the pulsing tango rhythm of Beyond Here Lies Nothin’; a tremendously well-sung Mississippi  with Bob kind of singing / kind of speaking it, a truly focused and feeling vocal performance that is perhaps the highlight of the night.  We’re able to snag a center rail spot for the last couple songs and to say bye-bye to Bob ‘til the next time round. We hang around for a beer with a travelin’ friend while the crowd thins out until we’re the last ones to leave.  The venue security is standing around wondering whose car that is when out we walk, and one of them graciously gives us a speedy golf cart ride out to where it’s waiting patiently all alone in the middle of the lot. And away we go.


Bob Dylan Albuquerque NM 2011
Bob Dylan Toledo Zoo Summer 2011