By Brian Wise.
The Saenger Theater, New Orleans – Wednesday April 29, 2015
More than a decade ago during Jazz Fest in New Orleans I attended an album launch by an obscure group at Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville where the band did not play a single song from the album it was allegedly launching!
I was thinking about this during Bob Dylan’s concert last night, wondering if he would actually play anything from Shadows In the Night. In the end, amazingly, he played two songs – ‘Autumn Leaves’ as the final song before the encore and ‘Stay With Me’ as the closer.
Dylan certainly was more forthcoming than that obscure group’s launch but how many major acts would release a new album, go out on tour and hardly play any songs from it at all? Not only that, how many artists with any sort of substantial catalogue of songs would choose to ignore most of the ‘hits’?
Before The Who took to the Acura Stage at Jazz Fest the other day a friend and I made a list of songs we thought they might play and it turned out to be fairly accurate. Elton John is on the main stage on Saturday and I am fairly certain you could predict the set list right now.
Some might call this perverse on Dylan’s part, others might see it as the thing that keeps him on the road; he is not simply churning out a bunch of hits to which the audience can sing along. Not that I would have complained if he had done ‘Highway 61 Revisited’ or ‘Positively 4th Street’ and a slew of other favourites but we know that is not Dylan’s way.
Given his incredible catalogue of songs how could Dylan ever please any audience anyway? This is all about making it interesting for him. He threw in ‘Tangled Up In Blue,’ ‘Simple Twist of Fate’ and a lovely, loping version of ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’ (maybe the best ‘cover’ I have heard of the song) but concentrated on other more recent material. And the fact is that these ‘newer’ songs suit his superb road-hardened band perfectly; this outfit is like the Rolls Royce of all Dylan’s bands.
Having seen Dylan four times in Melbourne last year I knew what to expect in terms of the set list. What I had not expected was that he would be in even better voice than he was then and that the band would be sounding even better as well. Charlie Sexton’s guitar playing, with his delicate and inventive fills is a treat indeed. Add rhythm guitarist Stu Kimball and multi-instrumentalist Donnie Herron and you have an ensemble that can play any song with equal facility.
But this band also swings really hard, so when Dylan sits at the piano (he is an excellent player) and launches into ‘Soon After Midnight’ they make it swing much more than it did on Tempest. It is all underpinned by George Recile’s sensitive drumming (how often can you say that about a rock drummer) and Tony Garnier’s subtle bass. I thought this was one of the best bands – rock, jazz or country – that I have heard in years.
Sitting up in the balcony I had been worried about the sound but I have to say that it was magnificent. There are a few theatres back home that could send their techs to study how the Saenger gets it right.
If there were any highlights to be selected then maybe the choice of ‘High Water (For Charley Patton)’ as the opener for the second set was apt for New Orleans. ‘Long And Wasted Years’ has quickly become a classic despite the fact that it is only three years old, with Dylan singing it with such feeling.
But for me it was the sight of Dylan stalking the stage back and forth before launching into ‘Autumn Leaves’ that will live in the memory. It was almost as if he had to work himself up to it, like a boxer hopping around the ring and then throwing the first punch. Then there was that sonorous voice!
After ‘Blowin’ In The Wind,’ Dylan left us with ‘Stay With Me’ from Shadows In The Night, and, while I know it is tempting to read too much into song choices, the lyrics seem to be a message to his fans with lines such as, “Though I grope and I blunder / And I’m weak and I’m wrong / Though the road buckles under / Where I walk, walk along / Till I find to my wonder / Every path leads to Thee / All that I can do is pray / Stay with me / Stay with me.” We will.
Talking afterwards with Dickie Landry, saxophone player with Lil’ Band O’ Gold and once with the Phillip Glass Ensemble, he said that this was the ‘smoothest’ band that Dylan had ever had. Landry should know – he played an entire show with Dylan at the Municipal Auditorium a decade ago.
‘Wow!’ exclaimed Landry when I asked him what he thought of the show. That is a great summation. Wow!
- Things Have Changed
- She Belongs To Me
- Beyond Here Lies Nothin’
- Workingman’s Blues #2
- Duquesne Whistle
- Waiting For You
- Pay In Blood
- Tangled Up In Blue
- Love Sick
- High Water (For Charley Patton)
- Simple Twist Of Fate
- Early Roman Kings
- Forgetful Heart
- Spirit On The Water
- Scarlet Town
- Soon After Midnight
- Long And Wasted Years
- Autumn Leaves
- Blowin’ In The Wind
- Stay With Me