Spring 2013: Akron, Kalamazoo, Bowling Green - by Caroline

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Akron, OH 4/19

There is nothing more fun than seeing Bob with my best guy and gal. We kicked off our 3-show run of what we affectionately dubbed Bob’s “Worst cities of America” tour in lovely Akron, Oh-High-Ho. We zipped through the tiny Akron/Canton Airport and were soon drinking in one of the dingiest bars I’ve ever patronized, sticky floors and all, but a really good hoppy local IPA nonetheless. A quick wardrobe change in the bathroom and then we head over to E.J. Thomas Hall. Even for seated shows, we like to be there right when doors open, for the full experience. We have an extra ticket to sell and, as luck would have it, we are literally stepping out of the car when a guy walks by asking if we happen to have one extra ticket! Here you go, sir, ticket and a fan club button!


We get some pricey drinks -- at least they are on the strong side -- and do some circuits of the lobby, running into and socializing with the usual Midwest Bob fan suspects. E.J. Thomas Hall is a pretty swanky place, with cushy seats and solid acoustics. Definitely a good spot to begin our mini-tour, as it promises to be the most subdued of the three shows we’ll attend, mostly a sit down place… mostly.  We’re in the 6th row tonight, though the first couple of pit rows don’t even go all the way across so it seems a bit closer, and we are positioned exactly even with Bob at the piano, so it’s a really great view. 


We sit through Dawes, who I like just fine, and then the surge of excitement as a hatless Bob takes center stage with the kick-off song, Things Have Changed. We get a bit of the Socratic Bob method with, “Don’t get up gentlemen… why? I’m only passing through!” I notice some other dancing, screaming fools aside from ourselves and glance over to see that it’s our young friends from Laramie a couple of rows behind where Mr. Jinx is sitting! We’ll end up hanging out with them in our motel rooms after each of the next two shows (tonight we’re driving on), they are great fans and a pleasure to be with.


It’s funny, at this point in my writing I would typically be checking the list of songs played from this specific show to highlight surprises and differences, but since they were all the same songs with the exception of the Summer Days/Thunder on the Mountain switcheroo (tonight we got the first of two Summer Days), it’s more a matter of what made the performance different, which songs had the most impact on me tonight, a phrasing Bob had that’s worth mentioning... I am struck by this tour’s sparse and moody version of Love Sick, Stu’s acoustic strum that sets the rhythm with Duke Robillard filling in the spaces between so deftly and pleasingly.  We’re up and dancing again for High Water and I like Bob’s emphases on certain lines on this tonight. Balloooons made outta lead.  Overall I feel like this song has been searching for a new incarnation the past few tours and hadn’t quite found what it was going to be until now. Duke’s playing in between the verses and in accompaniment to Donny’s banjo is quite good and the feel and tempo seem great. Bob goes between barking the ends of lines and then singing the next line low and dark for emphasis like, “I told her… I really didn’t care,” which sounds really ominous tonight.


So wonderful to hear all these songs off Tempest , I mean, when’s the last time I went to a Bob show and got four songs I’d never heard live before? What a thrill! Bob sings Soon After Midnight with such care and precision and, not to sound like a broken record here, but Duke’s playing on this is somehow just right, so interesting and totally fits the mood of the song. I think he is a fantastic addition to the band, always seems to know what and when to play and really stands out while at the same time being totally laid back and fitting like a glove into whatever else is going on with the song. There’s a nice round of audience hoots and applause on Early Roman Kings when Bob states that he ain’t dead yet, his bell still rings. Kind of the way people respond to the “You think I’m over the hill” lines in Spirit on the Water. There’s also a clap-along during the musical outro on Early Roman Kings – it’s funny to note audience response to the new songs!


Tangled Up in Blue is all at the piano and Bob may be following doctor’s advice as he is “Trying to stay out of the sun” on the last verse.  Seemingly always works in progress, there is this change in the song too --

She opened up a book of poems

And read every one out loud to me

Written by some old time poet

From another century

That verse is followed by a great, funky bluesy Duke solo, wow!


It took me a long time to see a live performance of Visions of Johanna, one of my favorite songs that I somehow always missed by a show or two, even when Bob had it in pretty regular rotation. Not so anymore, and I couldn’t be happier hearing it tonight and knowing I’ll hear it the next two nights as well! Every time it starts I jokingly turn to Kait with a serious expression and state, “Holy shit,” which was my understated response at the Tulsa ’05 show when I finally heard it. We have such a great view of Bob at the piano tonight so I sit there, happily entranced. The song seems made for the current version and it is just line after line of brilliance, waiting to hear how Bob will phrase the words and where he will put the emphasis this time through. Bob seems like he’s having fun with the closing verse which begins, “We see this empty cage now corrode,” drawing out the ‘oh’ at the end of each word similarly in an up and down cadence with every line, all the way through ‘explooooOOOOOOoooooode.’


The tribal stomp of Beyond Here Lies Nothin’ is another one of my highlights from tonight.  It seems Bob is really in the mood to get up and shake it and like Bob, our asses are out of our seats for this one.  He sings the first line, “Well I love you pretty baby, you’re the only love I’ve ever known,” and punctuates it with a guttural,“AAAHH!” sang to the side of the microphone but audible nonetheless.  It’s an explosive rendition, really rockin’ on all fronts – Duke’s solos, Bob’s searing harmonica and also has some fantastically held words like, “Lay your haaaaand upon my head!” It ends with an exceptional musically sharing between Bob on harmonica and Duke on guitar, blending superbly and really taking it to another level. I’m so glad this one is in the current roster! On the other side of the coin is the minimalist What Good Am I, on which Bob sounds unbelievably smooth and tender, some of the lines feeling more like breathing than signing. I am totally wowed by this tonight, hanging on every word and on every one of the sweet little piano notes that act like punctuation marks to Bob’s beautiful vocal, all framed by achingly gorgeous pedal steel tones. It’s also cool because the guy sitting on the other side of me didn’t know this song was coming and it’s evidently his favorite Bob song and he was blown away by the fact that Bob was playing it as well as by the beautiful performance.


What a show Bob has worked up for us here! We’re basking in the happy Bob afterglow, which makes for a fun and enjoyable couple hour drive to where we are spending the night just south of Toledo. We had a great night tonight and there’s more ahead than there is behind us at this point, which is always a great feeling.   


Kalamazoo 4/20

A good time is in store for today, as our place of pre-Bob destination is Bell’s Brewery. It’s been a long time since I’ve been here (’03 at least) back when I was a Michigander, and I’m excited for some of their yummy beer and food (in that order). Our route out of our hotel as we drive back to the Turnpike tells us “Begin Route 420” and who are we to argue? We make a quick detour on the way into town to stop by the two indie record stores in Kalamazoo that are participating in record store day, on the off chance we’re not too late to pick up Bob’s Wigwam/Thirsty Boots single. No such luck, but Mr. Jinx will end up buying me a copy on ebay the next day, because he loves me and also so that I’ll stop asking him to call every record store in Ann Arbor to see if they have any copies left. The stops at the Kzoo record stores are not in vain, as I manage to snag the last of the new Jackie Greene release at one of them  and at the other I pick up a copy of Willie’s ‘Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die.’


Bell’s does not disappoint, primarily because they have the ultra-delicious Hop Slam, a new release since I’ve moved from the area and we were really hoping they’d have it on tap today. Oh my god, so tasty. The cobb salad I got was also quite scrumptious, and we run into some more Bob fans passing time before the show, so all in all a pleasant way to spend the early afternoon. Then it’s off to our next motel which, props to my stellar booking skills, is literally across the parking lot from the venue. Plenty of time to rest up then freshen up before the show and then simply walk the hundred yards or so over to Wings Stadium. Shenanigans in the hour before show time include jello shots and taking pictures of Bob at the snack bar, where his shadowy Tempest image is oddly embedded in the lit up menu board, seemingly staring up at the Kids Chicken Slappy Meal.  I’ll have the Tempest Tempura Basket, please. Bob Dylan, lord of the snack bar.


Our seats tonight are in row F in the center. Not bad, but closer would be good, and we decide we’ll see what happens when the lights go down. Feel like we want to be on the move for this one if possible, it’s Saturday night after all, we have some pent up energy to expend and the usual need to be close to Bob.  While the main floor is divided into three sections of seats, the first two rows go all the way across, so we linger in the aisle between center and right sections, behind row two. When the lights go down a couple of guys who have been lingering alongside us make a quick hop over into empty seats in the second row, so we do the same. So far, so good and we watch and bob along to Things Have Changed with the slight trepidation of knowing we’re not where we’re supposed to be but not bothering anyone yet. Before long, though, the ticketed owners of these 2nd row seats come down the row. But now, the front row people are all up at the rail, leaving their seats and the standing area just in front of them vacant. So that seems the natural place to go, and the couple who have just arrived for their second row seats pleasantly offer to hold my drink as I hoist up my jean skirt and prepare to step over – thank you! A quick glance right and left to make sure no security has a flashlight trained on me, and over I go. Kait has done the same, and Mr. Jinx has gone a step further, claiming a vacant spot at the rail that was waiting there just for him. So here we are and to our good fortune the Kalamazoo crowd is a lively one, everyone up and dancing, out to enjoy the show, and there is plenty of room for all.  


Great view of Bob the whole time, being right of center, so positioned to see him well at the piano as well as when he goes center stage.  I alternately bounce and sway depending on the song, and soak it all in from this closer view than last night with no one throwing paper clips and whatever else at us (thanks, though, those will come in handy). Bob loves it too because the crowd is screaming for him and he likes that. I think that he truly likes to feel that energy as opposed to a sitting audience watching him too closely. Pay attention, for sure, but also move and cheer and have a good time! So it’s a spirited performance, with lots of vocal and bodily flourishes throughout, and even a point our way again during Pay in Blood as he sings the newly altered line, “You gulped it down and you LOST your mind!”  Lots of hand-on-hip poses too, both when seated at the keys as well as strutting around the stage – sassy Bob! I think that if he’s gonna come back for a second encore then this is the night, with this lively and appreciative crowd, and since it’s 4/20 the obvious choice would be Rainy Day Women # 12 & 35… c’mon BoBBBBbb! Nope, he’s gone. Quite the night though, and another good one in the books.


Bowling Green, OH

Well, it’s back to Oh-High-Ho to round out this trip. Bowling Green is one of those towns in the tri-state area of Michigan, Ohio and Indiana, where I once saw so many shows, that I’ve managed to never see Bob before. Our route today takes us through Ann Arbor, so a stop in at mom and dad’s is in order. The whole fam comes over and they fuel us up on Cottage Inn Pizza and more Bell’s beer and then we’re back on the road again.


While I don’t manage to conjure up much of an opinion of the city of Bowling Green during our brief stay, my opinion of the Stroh Center where Bob is playing starts out on the weak side. It’s a new venue and while there is much that I like about the layout (and it will end up being a rip-roaring time, just wait and see), there are definitely some down moments leading up to the festivities. First off, as we enter and begin our usual search for beverages, we are dismayed to see only crappy beer for sale, as in the Bud and Bud Light categories, and nothing else. The small basketball arena has a completely open walkway all around the three sides facing the stage, and we see an area over stage right called the Anderson Club, that looks potentially promising. It’s a little bar area with tables and stools, but alas the bar itself is liquor-less. They do have wine and a tiny bit more in the way of beer selection, but the bartender informs us that it’s a dry campus, so no cocktails. We grab a couple of white wines and depart the area for some more wandering of the hallways.  A security guard sees Mr. Jinx carrying around some flyers that Kait brought for the Nelsonville Music Festival and, I kid you not, says that he needs to throw him out for distributing flyers. Uh…. What? I don’t think so. So that puts a weird twist on things, and then we discover that we’ve lost a bottle of water that we just bought, so these annoyances all begin to cast a pall on the evening, much as we don’t want it to.


Before Dawes takes the stage we head back over to the Anderson Club to replace our lost bottle of water, but it turns out we didn’t lose it at all, just left it sitting on the bar after buying it like the space cadets we are. The bartender is glad we came back for it. OK, this is good! Then it seems that the bar has found some kind of Smirnoff vodka cocktail that’s low enough in actual vodka that they are allowed to sell it, so she lets Kait know right away. Nice that these people are looking out for us; maybe things are looking up.  We snag a table with three stools that’s right up against the railing at the top of the seats to hang out during Dawes, and at some point it occurs to us that this could actually be a decent place to stay for Bob, too.  Positioned to see him great at the piano as well as center-stage, an unobstructed view and really not that far away and, well, we’d certainly be able to dance it out up here without bothering anyone. It’s somewhat agonizing as we try to decide our course of action because, while it seems like a decent vantage, do we really want to be up here vs. our floor seats in the 8th row, and what about the chance to move up closer like yesterday? Decisions, decisions. We leave Mr. Jinx holding down the spot in the Anderson Club and decide to do reconnaissance on the floor and let him know if he should come down or if we’ll come back up. We linger in the aisle near our seats for a few minutes, nervous and undecided, saying a few distracted hellos to friends, lights go down and Stu comes out, security immediately sweeps the area for anyone standing, and we’re outta there without a look back. You know, it may be farther from Bob than our 8th row seats, but let someone else who wants to sit for the show have the seats, we want to dance and shout and have a good time and live up to our full potential as the fun-loving trio that we are! So it’s back up the aisle we trot, up the stairs and around to our perch we race during the first few bars of Things Have Changed, back up to our own personal rail in the rafters.


And it is immediately clear that it’s the best choice we could possibly have made. The lack of anyone behind us enables us to freely do our thing with maximum enthusiasm and minimum inhibition; the lack of anyone between us and Bob is, well… a lack of anyone between us and Bob, and there’s nothing quite like that. He’s hatless again (he wore the hat last night in Kalamazoo) which is perfect since, from our elevated vantage point, a hat brim would have just gotten in the way.  Our, ahem, animated selves are soon duly noted and appreciated, as we dance, jump and scream our way through the show, high above the sea of immobile heads in their seats below and lit up by the lights of what’s become our home for the show, the Anderson Club. Oh, Anderson, I know not who you were or are, but thank you for hosting our private party for The Bob Dylan Show tonight!


Bob sounds ominous during High Water and I think of all the flooded fields we’ve driven past over the last few days. We get a ‘Boy, it’s rough out there’ and throw your panties ‘OOOOOOOOOOOOOOverboard.’ So great to be able to cut loose and dance along with the banjo.  By the end of High Water the curious squinting up into the noisy  rafters behind the basketball pennants (Did I hear someone’s distant cry?) becomes enthusiastic jazzhands of acknowledgement, as Bob notes the presence of what can only be his one and only official unofficial fan club. Indeed it’s the Fan Club at its best, the Glitter Girls sans glitter, a little older but who isn’t?  Still headin’ for another joint.  And all are welcome. You only need to want to have a good time! There will be those below who see the fun and come all the way up to the top of the arena to join us, saying that they looked up and saw the three of us rocking out and decided that’s where they needed to be. As puzzling as it still can sometimes be, I truly think this is what Bob had in mind when he said he’d never really had a fan club and was wondering if we would like to start one.


I won’t go into all my thoughts about Spirit on the Water here. Tonight’s version is a jaunty one and feels completely blissful, perfect really, as we bounce and sway along to the buoyant music and Bob’s expressive delivery. Some of the best harmonica of the night on this one too, Bob’s feeling it. We get this aside: “I’d forgotten about you… How could I?” Indeed.


Blind Willie is terrific tonight. It’s one of the songs, along with High Water, the currently employs a false ending, where you might think it’s over but then the band all comes back in for another round or two before closing it out. I like this, think it adds a cool flair and gets the crowd extra riled up at the end of the song before bringing it to a final harmonica-wailing close. We get double points after that one.  And at the very end of the show too, Bob raises the roof to us and shoots us with his pistol fingers.  You know, I’m just so thankful to have the opportunity to give it all back to Bob in a way that he seems to enjoy. I know it’s a hell of a lot of fun for me!


What a fun time and trip. Thanks to Bob and my travel buds for making it so special once again. Great to meet some new folks too, and I’m sure we’ll see you down the road again. And thank you to the Bob Dylan touring company or whoever it was that made sure that the next shows got announced before we had to head home from this mini-tour, so that we could already be scheming for future shenanigans before this trip is in the books!