The concert Bob Dylan gave at R.P.I.’s Houston Fieldhouse in Troy, NY was the best of the eight that I’ve attended (except for the two Rolling Thunder Revue shows I attended in 1975), for three reasons: the singing, the set list, the musicianship. Thanks to the never-ending tour, gone is the overwhemling BIG DEAL aspect of a concert of his, so that you’re able to just focus on the show, rather than remain dumb-struck at the prospect of being in the same room with the demigod from Hibbing.
After opening the show with Gotta Serve Somebody and Million Miles, and one of Dylan’s few remarks to the audience “Thanks everybody, that was a song called Million Miles,” the band raced into a hot, fast Maggie’s Farm. As he would throughout the night, Dylan picked lines, phrases and other fragments from the song, and almost turned them into micro-songs, making them stand apart, and seem like something brand new.
This is a trick available only to Dylan, because a phrase like “but she says she’s twenty-four,” bland by itself, begins to take on motto status when Dylan croons it out over the frenetic, jangling rock ‘n roll song that set the tone for the gig. Despite the immense energy of the number, the band and Dylan remained almost stoic all through it. The contrast between the aural and the ocular experience was sharp.
Tears of Rage was given the full melancholic treatment, in the most positive sense, and again the Dylan effect: making trite lines like “what kind of love is this/it goes from bad to worse” seem elegaic. The sidemen harmonized nicely, but I was clear-headed enough to notice that the harmonies weren’t coming from Manuel, Danko, Helms, and Hudson.
Whatever wistfulness lingered was blown away by Silvio, which I hadn’t realized was such a great tune. The three guys with guitars huddled together a few times, as if spraying the audience with bullets, and Dylan added several grimace-notes with his face.
Masters of War was the coup de grace. The appearance and demeanor was of the quintessential, cool, professional musicans giving the people their money’s worth, without getting too excited about the whole thing, because it’s just another day’s work. But thanks to the material and Dylan’s deliberate delivery, the effect was stunning.
Other bright spots: Tangled up in Blue, done in Dylan’s best imitation-Dylan voice; The Times They Are a-Changin given an almost martial introduction; Dylan’s footwork – a little Fred Astaire, a little Marcel Marceau; another riposte: “Everybody’s been too kind – you really are too kind”; brilliant, throbbing Highway 61 Revisited; the two closing songs, Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right, and Not Fade Away, sent everybody home refreshed in the knowledge that rock ‘n roll is all about romance, nothing more, nothing less.
Setlist (thanks to Bill Pagel at BobLinks):
- 1.Gotta Serve Somebody
- 2.Million Miles
- 3.Maggie’s Farm
- 4.Tears Of Rage
- 6.Masters Of War (acoustic)
- 7.Boots Of Spanish Leather (acoustic)
- 8.Tangled Up In Blue (acoustic)
- 9.The Times They Are A-Changin’ (acoustic)
- 10.Cold Irons Bound
- 11.I Shall Be Released
- 12.Highway 61 Revisited (encore)
- 13.Love Sick
- 14.To Be Alone With You
- 15.Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right (acoustic)
- 16.Not Fade Away