I'm in the right town! Bob in Hollywood October 24, 25 & 26, 2014 - by Caroline

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Since Bob has played consistently in the Denver area over the past few years, stopping by last summer on the Americanarama tour and two years ago for a two night run, I was joyfully surprised to see a Denver date scheduled when this fall’s tour was announced. Even though many of the stops on this tour are multi-night stands and ours a single show, just seeing us included again made me feel happy and privileged. However, one show is not usually enough, so after a scanning of the schedule for other possibilities and cross-referencing potential dates with things that get in the way of life (i.e. work), the Friday-Saturday-Sunday Hollywood shows held the most promise.

I was forewarned by friends who live in the area that LA shows are always a tough ticket, based on the good seats often going to the rich and famous and the town’s venues being controlled by the ticket scalping agencies who know they can resell them for thousands (but honestly, where does this not seem to be the case these days?). Still, with limited locations played on this tour and many Fridays and Mondays requiring either my or Mr. Jinx’s presence at our jobs, these were the only possibilities for a little Bob travel this time ‘round. So I decided to give it a shot when the tickets went on sale and try my luck. And, what luck! Two nights in the pit and the other in some weird box thing that I didn’t even see listed on the seating chart but it sounded cool so I grabbed it. The craziest thing is that, while 3 nights’ tickets for 2 people certainly wasn’t cheap, I didn’t go for any of the VIP level packages – just regular full priced tickets; the VIP packages were actually pulling up seats significantly farther back. Must’ve had my Bob mojo working!

I’d always rather have a GA show, do my time in line, and grab a rail spot – always. That said, shows with reserved seating do allow for more vacation activities during the day. And being in LA undoubtedly feels like a real vacation, from the minute you step out of the airport, driving down palm lined avenues and past highway medians bursting with birds of paradise and oleanders. If there’s any doubt we have arrived it is dispelled when, upon hooking up the iPhone to get some tunes going for the drive to our hotel, the very first song that magically comes on is The Doors’ LA Woman!

We get to Friday’s show on the early side, excited to check out this theater which hosts the Academy Awards. It’s not quite open yet, so we linger in the lobby and buy the most expensive drinks I’ve ever had. Note to self and others: don’t order a double at the Dolby Theater, especially not one made with premium liquor; the money you spend would actually buy you a bottle of said premium liquor! Oh well, we’re on vacation. While I’ve understood our seats in row BB to be in the fourth row, with two rows of triple letters in the very front, for a brief and glorious few moments as we are shown to our 2nd row center seats, we think (and are actually told by a poorly informed usher), that somehow the triple-letter seats have been scrapped. We’re super excited, especially since that would make our seats on Sunday real front row seats! We’re in the middle of toasting over this good fortune with our super expensive drinks (don’t spill any!), when here comes a posse of security people wheeling in stacks of chairs to set up in front of us. Boooooo! It is funny how just having a couple more rows in front of you makes you feel like you’re farther from the stage, even though you’re in the exact same spot!

Still, no complaints about our spot and on with the show! Bob starts quite promptly at just a few minutes after 8:00. The acoustic strumming by Stu, who ambles out moments before the rest of the band, is now preceded by a loud and sudden crashing gong sound that will make me jump every night, even after I know it’s coming; it’s like, “Wake the fuck up people, here I come!”

There’s a part of me that has thought that maybe, just to be contrary, the one city Bob won’t open with Things Have Changed is Hollywood. That would be funny. But here it is, the song that won an Oscar played in the home of the Academy Awards, with the line that we can all cheer extra tonight: I’m in the wrong town, I should be in Hollywood!

Though many songs played tonight and the next two are the same ones I saw Bob play last fall, there are new arrangements of a number of them, some minor and some more significant. She Belongs To Me, for example, has a new spot where the band drops out for a beat right before the first harmonica riff, making that opening piercing note of the night all the more spine tingling and dramatic; a subtle but effective underscoring of the moment, since the crowd always roars at the first harmonica solo and now this pause for emphasis makes it even more powerful.

Some songs that had been songs with Bob at the piano have now become songs with Bob at center stage, singing only. Well, when I say ‘singing only’ I mean also gesturing, shuffling, strutting, cocking his head this way and that, putting his hand to his heart and then out to sky, and any number of mannerisms that captivate and enthrall. He commands the stage and the audience and just seems incredibly comfortable in this role of front man with microphone. Scarlet Town now has him using his voice as his only instrument, and it makes that song even more riveting. Sometimes when Bob is singing this song, with its intricate cast of characters and murky references to a mysterious place and time, he gets a faraway look in his eyes, which lift up to the heavens, as if he’s transporting himself there in song. He’s certainly transporting us.

The other song that has dropped the piano part is Simple Twist of Fate. Similarly, it now has Bob concentrated on his vocal performance and spiriting himself away to this time and person of the past. Conversely now, when Bob is at the piano, it seems there’s rarely a song that doesn’t see him digging in and dancing over those keys with real gusto. Sometimes he and Charlie will do a little back and forth; Charlie’s role now seems to be to provide embellishments to the songs, little runs and accents that rarely last more than a few moments but add flavor, mood and interest. It’s fun when he and Bob trade little licks. And each night there is at least a song or two that is treated to some sort of extended piano jam where Bob is sliding off his seat and swiveling around as he attacks the keys. Whatever Bob is doing each moment of these shows, he is doing it with utmost concentration and passion.

Workingman’s Blues #2 is the regular song now played nightly that was not in the UK shows we saw last year. What a welcome inclusion it is. Another center stage, this song has a new arrangement and new lyrics since the last time it was brought out regularly. It’s become more of an odyssey, an epic journey of struggle and adversity on a grand scale; with lines about punching my spear half way down your spine, praying the fugitive’s prayer, and hoping for the final judgment, it is no longer just about the plight of the working man. Or, it is, but it is has taken this plight to mythic proportions and the song has expanded in musical weight to fit that bill. The music is low and haunting, at times almost completely stopping in between verses, but so powerful and has the crowd hanging on each word and note.

Night two has us off the floor and up in one of the first level of boxes. Where our assigned seats actually are is two further boxes back from the stage, but just before show time we notice that no one is in the box that’s two down, so we go there and no one ever comes. Evidently our assigned seats were in a box; this is a Luxury Box. On one of the four chairs is the Luxury Box Drink Menu, from which you can order bottle service, which ranges from a bottle of Jagermeister for $250 to a bottle of Laphroaig 18 Year for $1000; makes the $56 doubles I bought last night seem like chump change! We do not avail ourselves of such extravagances, though I do take the menu with me at the end of the night for a souvenir.

Facing the stage, we’re on the right side of the theater, on the piano side. So here we get the full impression of Bob at the keys: sliding half off his chair, swiveling his legs (pant leg hiked up to reveal in full his stylish black and white boots), banging away and grinning. Such a different and fun perspective! The absolute best thing about tonight though and this spot is it’s the one place that we can stand up and dance the entire time. No one behind us bitching because they want to sit on their fat lazy asses and stare at Bob like an animal in a zoo rather than actually move their bodies to songs like Beyond Here Lies Nothin’, Duquesne Whistle, High Water, Tangled Up In Blue. We ‘shake it up baby twist and shout’ to these songs and sway along to the slower ones, a complete bodily experience usually only able to be enjoyed at general admission shows. Blissful. Early Roman Kings is a show stopper tonight, with Bob all amped to the max of his bawdy, boisterous self, almost tipping the piano bench over in his twisting and performing equal feats of vocal acrobatics.

Anyone who has seen this show more than once, or any run of shows when Bob is playing relatively the same songs, knows that it does indeed change from night to night. Certain songs stand out, a line is emphasized differently that was not the night before, a vocal nuance like the raising of an eyebrow here, a scowling there that was absent the night before. A mysteriously placed chuckle for which only Bob knows the reason…

There are plenty of the latter on night three, for which we are back in the pit in our closest spot yet. It’s hard to stay in my seat especially after last night’s freedom to move, but we manage to do a fair bit of chair dancing. All in all I’d say I’ve done a good job not being a grumpy pants at the fact that these shows are largely a sit-down affair; hard to be sad about that when Bob is right there in front of you belting in out. And like I say, we are moving and grooving and bouncing around; especially since the seats in row two directly in front of us are unoccupied for much of the first half of the show, we have a spot-on view of Bob center stage and a good angle of his head floating above the piano too when he’s over there. I’m pretty sure Bob notes our enthusiasm and responds accordingly. I’m also pretty sure he notices an older guy in tie-dye who, at the beginning of Duquesne Whistle, is cavorting in the aisle behind the last pit row, prancing and twirling back and forth. Bob’s smiling and laughing and then, when he gets to the line, “I wonder if they’ll know me next time ‘round” he follows it up with an enthusiastic, “I wonder!”

Other stand-out moments tonight come during Love Sick where Bob really zeros in on us bouncing and swaying in our seats, chair dancing at its finest! We’re jazz handing along on the downbeats and he catches us doing so, and when the next one comes around... ‘I’m sick of love!’… he takes a step to the right, clear of microphone stands, winds up, cracks a big smile, and reciprocates with the finest jazz hand one could hope for, right in our 3rd row faces! Big fun with Bob is also had during Long and Wasted Years, where Mr. Jinx has the good sense that we should stand and show our appreciation. So we do, and Bob responds with smiles and hand to his heart and points our way, all worked into his regular repertoire of gestures during the song. I think he really does appreciate being able to see people getting into it.

As we clap and cheer in between the set closer and the encore, the guy sitting next to me is asking about older songs and what the encore will be, and I’m in the process of explaining that Bob is doing a couple of classic, older tunes for the encore; but then they’re back out and obviously preparing to do something different! It’s a center stage crooner with a refrain of ‘stay with me’ which a quick iPhone search once it’s over reveals as the name of the song. Made popular by Frank Sinatra. It’s the theme from a movie, The Cardinal – so, a nod to Hollywood on his last night here? A preview of his upcoming album? Maybe both. I notice that Tony is looking at Bob and smiling affectionately as he bows his standup bass. It is short, sweet and sincere, with Bob concentrated and singing with reverence. And though I was wrong in my exact response to this guy’s question about would the encore be ‘an old song’ I was also right, as this Bob debut hearkens back to 1963, the same year as Blowin’ in the Wind and older than the other expected encore of Watchtower.

And there you have it, Bob ending on a surprise note, showing that he does always have plenty up his sleeve (maybe that’s why the rather roomy suits?); it’s just a matter of what he chooses to pull out.

Dolby Theatre
Dolby Theater - Giving Bob a kiss