The setlist for Bob Dylan’s June 23 concert in Pittsfield’s worn green wooden Wahconah Park (built in 1919) was old, with 9 songs from 1967 and earlier, and the playing was more jazz blues than blues rock, reflecting the presence of newcomers Denny Freeman (guitar) and Donny Herron (steel guitars, banjo, fiddle, mandolin), who joined Dylan’s band in March 2005. Bob Dylan at Amazon.com
Together with lead guitarist Stu Kimball (joined June 2004), their leads and solos, rooted in a raft of genres, provided apt accompaniment to Mr. Dylan, whose singing was strong and varied, whose keyboard playing was high in the mix, and whose center stage harmonica solos included some that made him resemble a wooing suitor.
Knowing Bob Dylan’s lyrics is not a requirement to enjoying his shows, but it’ll give you a leg up. The best way to learn them is to listen to the albums. You’re not going to learn them at the shows, where they take on an extra-literal dimension, with Dylan often treating lines of lyric as if they were strings on a guitar.
A big, broad rendition of “Drifter’s Escape” (John Wesley Harding ’67) that gave everybody in the band time to get limber was the opener, followed by “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues,” which had the band laying low while Dylan sang, intoned, and crooned the beatnik-crazy lyric all the way down to the penultimate stanza,
“Now all the authorities
They just stand around and boast
How they blackmailed the sergeant-at-arms
Into leaving his post
And picking up Angel who
Just arrived here from the coast
Who looked so fine at first
But left looking just like a ghost”
after which Herron let loose a wailing steel guitar riff that sent the band off on a rollicking ride that Dylan finally whistled to a stop with a center stage bended-knee harmonica coda.
That was the first of three songs from Highway 61 Revisited (August 1965) and the next on this setlist comes from Bringing It All Back Home (April, 1965), a rendition of “It’s All Right, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” that was worth the price of admission all by itself. While the band took their stellar turns weaving the melody and waxing the groove, Dylan kept his focus square on the audience, leaning over the keyboard to deliver the song that contains the line that always gets a loud response, “But even the president of the United States/Sometimes must have/To stand naked.”
Bass player and musical director Tony Garnier and drummer George Recile underpin the whole operation with masterly playing, adding accents, embellishment, and punctuation in all the right spots. Garnier, a fellow Minnisotan, has been on Dylan’s Never-Ending Tour since its second year, 1989; Recile, from New Orleans, has been Dylan’s drummer since 2001 (which frequently, but not tonight, requires being the object of Dylan’s silly dumb-drummer jokes).
An interesting bit of business at the Pittsfield concert was Garnier reaching up and slapping one of Recile’s cymbals, to signal the start of “Chimes of Freedom,” from the 1964 album Another Side of Bob Dylan, which, in a multi-layered acoustic rendition, was one of the show’s most affecting numbers.
What a piece of writing that song is! From the opening lines,
“Far between sundown’s finish an’ midnight’s broken toll
We ducked inside the doorway, thunder crashing…
to the closing verse,
“Tolling for the aching ones whose wounds cannot be nursed
For the countless confused, accused, misused, strung-out ones an’ worse.”
The first of 2 encores came from that album, too, “It Ain’t Me, Babe,” Dylan opening and closing it on harmonica. The Turtles had a huge hit with it in 1965, and the genius of Dylan the composer can be glimpsed by scanning the range of artists who have covered the song: Hugo Montenegro, Nancy Sinatra, Flatt & Scruggs, Sebastian Cabot, Glenn Campbell, The Mike Curb Congregation, Duane Eddy, and Johnny Cash, to name just a few!
The only song that didn’t seem to work this night was the set-closing “Summer Days,” (Love and Theft ’01) which sounded earnest but fatigued. The other 2 songs from Highway 61 Revisited were the title song, given a thundering reading an hour into the show and “Like A Rolling Stone,” the grand finale, the song so grand it has its own biography! (Like a Rolling Stone: Bob Dylan at the Crossroads, by Griel Marcus)
See also? our story about Bob Dylan’s performance as Joan Baez’s unannounced guest at her 1963 Pittsfield Boy’s Club concert.
June 23, 2005 setlist: All song lyrics available on: bobdylan.com.
1. Drifter’s Escape (John Wesley Harding ’67)
2. Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues (Highway 61 Revisited ’65)
3. It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding) (Bringing It All Back Home ’65)
4. Moonlight (Love and Theft ’01)
5. Down Along The Cove (John Wesley Harding ’67)
6. Girl Of The North Country (acoustic) (The Freewheelin Bob Dylan ’63)
7. High Water (For Charley Patton) (Love and Theft ’01)
8. Every Grain Of Sand (ShotOfLove ’81)
9. Highway 61 Revisited (Highway 61 Revisited ’65)
10. Blind Willie McTell (The Bootleg Series, Vols. 1-3 ’91(recorded ’83))
11. Chimes Of Freedom (Another Side of Bob Dylan ’64)
12. Summer Days (Love and Theft ’01)
13. It Ain’t Me, Babe (Another Side of Bob Dylan ’64)
14. Like A Rolling Stone (Highway 61 Revisited ’65)