Poughkeepsie, NY -- August 4, 2004

The Chance The hugest bouncer I've ever seen moves into place between the rail and the stage, a little to my right; I bet this guy's gone as Shaq for Halloween, and if not he should. Bob's in place, a few perfunctory plunks at the keys to loosen up the old digits, and they launch into a scalding Wicked Messenger that sets the pace and tone for the whole show. Explosive, blow-the- roof-off, PLAY-FUCKING-LOUD bar band rock! George is firing bullets, playing so hard right out of the gates you'd think this was the only song he had to play on. Bob's intense as hell from the get-go, wasting no time warming up. He finds an inflection that works and sticks with it: was there he made his uh-baaaaayud; often times he could be seen reeeeuh-tuuurnin'; a note in his hand which a uh-raaaaayud; the soles of my feet I swear they're uh-buuurnin'. Stu scales the heights between verses with his increasingly up front brand of screaming guitar riffs. The Chance, I must say, is uuuuh-smokin'! Bob grabs the harp like he will on half the songs tonight and blows like he's gonna bust a lung and doesn't give a shit. And then, you knew it was coming on a night like this, High Water (for Charley Patton). The jazzhands start to fly, Bob's pointing and grinning like a saint and a devil and sweating and striking weird sinister notes that he seems to be inventing on the spot and man, oh man, he's preachin' the word of Bob if ever I've seen him do it. He sounds pissed. The music fills more than the room, it seems to be coming from heaven, hell and all points between and I'm pretty sure at one point my head does explode. It is so fucking loud. Bob's delivery is fierce; he's shouting out the portents here with nothing short of biblical fury, while staying in complete vocal control the whole time. No breaking or cracking of his voice at all. High water EEEEEEverywhere, making the word longer each time he gets to it as if he can't emphasize it enough. Bob wants to sing an extra verse, the one about Charles Darwin, before they go into the first instrumental tonight. Or doesn't want to maybe, but does. Then he wheels around on his heel with an “Aaaaaaaaaaaawlriiiight!” half to cue Stu and half just into the air for the hell of it. Yeah, I'll say it's alright. He cracks a smile and gives a wink at “I just can't be happy love unless you're happy too!” Well we sure are….something, Bob. Happy is part of it. But it's almost too much for me to take. Colors and sounds are all vibrating around me, I feel like the screaming guitar is coming from inside my head. I don't recognize the next song at first. It's familiar, but it isn't. Something from Love and Theft, maybe…yet another reworked Moonlight? Actually what it sounds like most is the Grateful Dead's Sugaree. Well it was just Jerry's birthday… But then the first words, “I got my back to the sun…” and I recognize it as the return of Sugar Baby! A new version, with a western swing to it. Brings to mind horses loping along on a ridge top at sunset in a dusty desert. Cowboy Bob astride. A few in the crowd start to cheer loudly halfway through the line “Some of these bootleggers, they make pretty good stuff!” and Bob allows a shrewd half-smile. As the audience cheers more at the sight of that, Bob's smile broadens and he turns halfway to the audience. A nod to the tapers. Yeah, this one will be nice to hear again. Throughout the song Bob's singing is exquisite, a world of care put into every syllable. The tentative undercurrent that is there because this is the first run through only enhances the beauty of this reworked gem, like part of its preciousness is that it could all fall apart in a heartbeat. Happiness can come
Laaaaaaaaawd you know it leave…just as…quick. Similar to recent versions of Boots of Spanish Leather and Girl of the North Country, Bob sings words at the ends of lines so they trail off like a sigh and almost disappear. We hang on it each time, watching it fade off like that, like smoke. I'm still lost somewhere in Sugar Baby reverie when I detect in the between-song guitar noodling the opening chords of the song that I most wanted to hear tonight, Seeing The Real You At Last. Bob brought this song back at Bonaroo after a couple years off, since the first piano tour, kept playing it in Europe, and I'd come here really hoping it would still be in the mix. It's about disillusionment and being let down by people you thought you knew and as such, it struck a chord in me because of what gone down this summer. Got some of the best lines about that shit. So I jump up and down like a kid and scream my approval. We're back to spit and fire rock and roll here. I feel like Bob knows what's going on in my head and all the shit I've gone through lately when he sings, “I have had some rotten nights – YEAH!” Shit, yeah! Then he looks like he's going to bite the microphone, “I'm seein' the real you at last – AAAAAAAH YEEEAH I AAAAAAAAM!” He gets overly excited and flubs a line or two. I look at him and shake my head laughing as he sings, “I think maybe we better leave each other alone!” and he laughs back. My head explodes for the second time tonight. He's punctuating every other line with these remarkable guttural growls and roars. Is Bob turning into a werewolf, is it a night of full moon? Whatever it is, I like it. Then Stu busts into a stratospheric solo that, I shit you not, is straight out of chicken-fried Southern rock, a la Free Bird or something, and it fucking works so well! When it's all over I yell out, “Do it again!”
Review Location: 
The Chance, Poughkeepsie, NY
Review Date: 
Wednesday, August 4, 2004
Review Author: 
Caroline Schwarz