Milwaukee, WI -- October 26, 2019

What a pleasure it was to see an old friend tonight with some old friends at the jam-packed Eagles Ballroom in Milwaukee. This was my 33rd Bob show, and I attended with a friend who I had seen over 20 Dylan shows with. It was the seventh time we saw him at the Eagles Ballroom alone, the last one being in 2005. We were joined by a married couple (seated elsewhere) who were seeing Bob for the first time and we saw a few other familiar faces in the crowd. As we waited for the show to begin, we knew that the “Event Staff” were going to be earning their pay and that proved to be the case. I’ve attended over a dozen shows at this venue and this was the first time I’ve seen seats there. I heard someone say that it was the first show EVER there with seats, and let’s just say some people were having trouble finding them! We were happy to pay less and be standing at the perfect vantage point immediately behind the seats and near the soundboard.

I’ll leave the song-by-song analysis to others, but I’ll make some general observations about the show.

-Bob really sang with a passion and fire that was hard to dismiss. The common take is that he “mumbles” and you can’t understand the words, etc. (which I think is overplayed) but that was not an issue at all tonight. He enunciated well and stretched out words and his vocals were very “Dylanesque” in the best possible way! Anyone who predicted in 2010 that he’d be singing this well in 2019 would have been called crazy. Say what you want about the “Sinatra trilogy” period, but I think that phase had an amazingly positive impact on his vocal approach.

-As always, one could quibble about the setlist. It takes balls the size of Rhode Island for Bob to have 10 of the 19 songs come from 1997 or later. You could easily list 50 songs he could have played that the audience would have recognized more, but the performance was so solid that it didn’t matter. It was just awesome to see a master performing at the top of his game! He could easily go the Neil Diamond or Rolling Stones (among many others) route of touring every five years and putting on a nostalgic, crowd-pleasing "greatest hits" type of show in arenas where you pay $150 to get a nose bleed, but he instead challenges his band and audiences by constantly moving forward with unique setlists and arrangements in venues of all shapes and sizes throughout the world. I, for one, am thankful for this but it is part of the reason that many casual fans don’t know what to make of him at times or leave the shows disappointed. I didn’t see anyone leave tonight, and it took me two songs to make it back to my spot after I relieved myself mid-show. Super packed and very engaged crowd.

-As usual, the band was outstanding at provided the exact musical backdrop that Bob wants and needs. Everyone of these players could play jaw-dropping, virtuoso-type solos all night long, but the playing is focused on amazing and subtle ensemble unity. I was super impressed by what new guitarist Bob Britt brought to the table. He wasn’t afraid to assert himself in a way that Stu Kimball never really did. There was some great interplay between him and Charlie Sexton. Speaking of Charlie, he really came to life in the second half of the show and there were some great guitar passages all night long. Tony had a great thick bass sound on the quieter piano ballad type of songs that really suited them well.

-It was our first time seeing “Lenny Bruce” (originally from 1981’s “Shot of Love”) and were not disappointed by the heartfelt performance. Some of these slower songs bordered on “Bob solo on piano and vocals” at points with the subtle textures of the band.

-My buddy and I both agreed that “Early Roman Kings” and “Pay In Blood” were real highlights, and Bob sang both like his pants were on fire.

-As expected, the current take on “Not Dark Yet” was astounding! Pure genius at work and worth the price of admission alone! “Can’t Wait” approached the same territory!

-A couple of pipedream setlist choices I think would work well in his current voice and sound: “Sweetheart Like You,” “Groom’s Still Waiting At The Altar,” and “Dirge.” If they would replace “Soon After Midnight” near the end with something like “Queen Jane Approximately,” the show would reach epic proportions.

-The one, two, three punch of the ramped up “Gotta Serve Somebody,” amazingly well-executed “Ballad of a Thin Man,” and all-time fave “It Takes A Lot To Laugh (It Takes A Train To Cry)” brought the show to an AMAZING conclusion. We didn’t want it to end after those three.

-I am amazed that Bob is delivering like he is at age 78 after 31 years of the “Never-Ending Tour.” For 20 years I have read things like “he should just hang it up” or “it was awful and I’ll never see him again” and those folks truly don’t get Dylan. We should ALL know by now that he can NEVER be truly written off. He has proven time and time again that he will rise up and show his brilliance. The next step in that process is at least one more legendary album of originals. How about it, Bob?!?

Review Location: 
The Rave, Milwaukee WI
Review Date: 
Saturday, October 26, 2019
Review Author: 
Jerry Spanbauer