Last Night in Milwaukee
2021-11-02, Riverside Theatre, Milwaukee, WI
As I noted last week, when I started this newsletter in January 2020, I fully expected that we'd be touching on new shows from time to time. Well, whaddya know, it took almost two years until we got a new show.
I was lucky enough to attend Dylan's opening night in Milwaukee yesterday and have jotted down a collection of notes and observations.
I've tried to avoid "the discourse" so far today - and there's no recording yet to confirm my recollections - so these are just my personal memories based on seeing/hearing it once. When a recording surfaces, I'll add the link to the bottom (and update people on our Discord). But in the meantime…
— Wait, hang on. Should probably be safe and add a Spoiler Alert. If you're attending a later show and want to go in cold, I'd stop reading now. We don't know yet that every show will look more or less the same, but judging by the past few years, the odds are good.
Okay, here we go, some notes on night one:
The more things change, the more they stay the same. The setlist bore little resemblance to his last tour in Fall 2019, and half the band was new too (I pasted both at the bottom). The feel, though, felt of a piece with his pre-pandemic tours. There were all sorts of wild rumors - yesterday, a venue guy was telling people Bob now had a female backup singer - but ultimately the sound and vibe was pretty consistent with where he was at. You'd barely know he had a two-year break.
My crew going in guessed three Rough and Rowdy Ways songs. Our range was one-to-four, with me as the voice of chaos suggested you can't count out Bob being perverse and not playing any. Well, we were all way off; he did eight songs, the entire album except "Murder Most Foul" and "Crossing the Rubicon." Best new songs were “Mother of Muses,” “My Own Version of You,” and “Key West.” Worst - though still not bad - were probably “False Prophet” and “Goodbye Jimmy Reed” (though I don’t like those as much on the album either).
"The size of your cock will get you nowhere" is officially an applause line
Calling it now: He will play "Murder Most Foul" in concert. Maybe this month, maybe next year, but, as one new song cascaded into the other last night, it seemed inevitable. "Key West" was long as hell, and Bob didn't miss a beat.
Fun weirdness: The marquee yesterday started like this:
And within hours had been changed to this:
New drummer Charley Drayton most shone as a percussionist, when he wasn't keeping a beat but more adding atmospheric textures. For instance, on "Mother of Muses" he played by dragging chains across cymbals. He was fine on the more straightforward numbers too, though I still miss George Receli's unbeatable swing.
Like Charlie Sexton in recent years, new guitarist Doug Lancio added atmosphere more than any solos. He took a few very short ones - on "Watching the River Flow," an outro on "Melancholy Mood," a guitar-and-harp duet on "Soon After Midnight" - but often receded into the background with other guitarist Bob Britt (who did bust out a Flying V near the end, looking like he was about to rip out a Whitesnake song). Dylan still keeps his guitarists on a tight leash, so it’s hard to say too much more about Lancio yet.
And multi-instrumentalist Donnie Herron appears to have been put back on the leash. I've lamented before his killer pedal steel solos having gone MIA in recent years, but on the last tour he at least played some beautiful violin. No violin in evidence tonight, and it was often hard to make out what Herron was playing.
Bob's piano, though, was very audible. Too audible perhaps? He's switched to an upright, and busted out a number of plink-plonk piano solos. While fun, one or two solos could have been given to a guitarist or Herron (Bob did do a cool little back-and-forth instrumental duet with the latter on an early song, turning around to make eye contact with Donnie as they traded riffs back and forth)
Dylan started started a number of songs singing center stage, but on every one retreated back behind the piano after a verse or two. The reason seemed clear: He had what looked like a binder of laminated lyrics sitting on the top of the piano. Perhaps later in the tour, once he's a little more comfortable with the words, he'll spend more time at the solo mic. (No guitar, if you're wondering).
Bob dropped most what was on pre-pandemic setlists. Goodbye “Not Dark Yet,” “Tryin’ to Get to Heaven,” “Girl from the North Country,” “Ballad of a Thin Man,” etc. But you know what song as apparently just too good to stop playing? Goddamn “Early Roman Kings.”
One big question going in: How much influence would Shadow Kingdom have? Several songs were drawn from it ("Watching the River Flow," "Most Likely," "Baby Tonight"), but, musically, the influence was seen most on the Rough and Rowdy Ways songs. Slow and eerie, "Black Rider" and "Mother of Muses" sounded like the emerged straight from the Kingdom.
Speaking of "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight," this song I don't usually care about was an unexpectedly highlight. It started hard, almost punk rock, before abruptly switching to half-time. This was about the only remaining evidence of Fall 2019's stop-start arrangements I wrote about last week.
The biggest surprise of the night was, of all things, "Melancholy Mood." After seeming like the Sinatra years were well in the rearview, they roared back. The song rocked too, dark and spooky as hell, perfect for the Halloween season.
Tony Garnier was in full bandleader mode, many times stepping out to the center so the two guitarists, one new and the other new-enough, could follow him.
For those wondering about the Covid situation, entry with vaccine card check and metal detectors was quick and easy. Masks, however, seemed to come off pretty quickly; by a few songs in, only 1/3 of the audience was still wearing them. For what it’s worth, I watched the whole show with my mask on and, once it started, I completely forgot it was there. So mask up folks! Last thing we need is a breakthrough outbreak that gets a band or crew member and shuts this whole thing down
There was what I'm chalking up as a "senior moment" at the end of the main set. Bob said something about introducing the band members. Then he abruptly walked off, the still-unintroduced band trailing behind. Thirty seconds later, he returned. The band gradually trickled behind him, perhaps unsure what was happening (it seemed way too short for an encore break). Bob then introduced them, tried to dedicate the show to Les Paul but forgot his name, and left the stage a second time, for the proper encore break.
This is not to rag on Bob, but just a reminder that, as much as we like to pretend he'll live forever, the guy's 80 and not getting any younger. See him now while you still can.
I'll be at Chicago tonight and will report back tomorrow!
Watching The River Flow
Most Likely You Go Your Way (and I'll Go Mine)
I Contain Multitudes [live debut]
False Prophet [live debut]
Simple Twist Of Fate
My Own Version Of You [live debut]
I'll Be Your Baby Tonight
Black Rider [live debut]
Mother Of Muses [live debut]
Gotta Serve Somebody
Key West (Philosopher Pirate) [live debut]
Early Roman Kings [live debut…jk]
Soon After Midnight
I've Made Up My Mind To Give Myself To You [live debut]
Goodbye Jimmy Reed [live debut]
It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry
Bob Dylan - piano, harmonica, vocals
Tony Garnier - bass
Charley Drayton - drums
Bob Britt - guitar
Doug Lancio - guitar
Donnie Herron - pedal steel, lap steel, electric mandolin