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John McLaughlin and Jamie Downs, Editors

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DYLAN AT MTN LAUREL
 



Date: Sun, 17 Aug 2003 01:43:22 -0400

Amos Lee, a young Philadelphian just signed to Blue Note Records, opened for Dylan Saturday night (8/16/2003) at the spanking-new (Summer home for the Pittsburgh Symphony?), the Mtn Laurel Centre for the Arts in Bushkill, PA, in the Pocono Mountains (80 miles due West of NYC, on I-80, for those of you needing a map - the diagonal corner of the state from Pittsburgh, about 90 zigzagged miles North of Philly).

Anyway, while the audience was no question there to hear Dylan, they gave Amos a sporting chance, and he got them in a good mood despite the afternoon thunderstorms which probably kept down the crowd on the lawn uphill outside the gorgeous new bandshell (just perfect sightlines, great sound- think Wolf Trap), and the young opener repaid them with a nice, funky set that displayed both his chops and those of his tight band, from the chugging instrumental opener to a very nice soul number, "Lift Your Hands Up to Heaven," with the audience obliging. He got the crowd to sing along on the chorus of "Shed a Little Light on Me" and closed his 40-minute set with a just lovely version of Sam Cooke's "A Change is Gonna Come," which takes nerve even to try but at which he succeeded in showing off his soaring, supple voice. (He’s also got some tricky little dance steps too.) Expect good things from Amos Lee and his band in the future. There’s a difference being musicians and stage entertainers, and they’ve got it. The Amos Lee Band knows how to get a crowd in a good mood for the star of the evening - nobody can expect more when the crowd is waiting for Bob Dylan.

As for Bob Dylan. Well, first of all, here's my personal, permanent take on Dylan, just so you know, going in. You don't have to be a genius every time out of the box. Just once is enough. OK? Now, if you do it again, and yet again, and then again... Well, Bob Dylan has been writing amazing, mind-bending songs and taking them on the road for, what, forty-two years now, with absolutely no sign of slowing down any time soon (he's sixty-one - eligible for Social Security next year). OK, has he had some off nights now and then? Sure. But has he delivered some amazing music over the years? More to the point - was he on tonight? Absolutely.

It was a great, rowdy show, with a kickass backup band that got its share of solos during a concert which ran almost exactly two hours long, a total of sixteen songs, opening with a roaring "Maggie's Farm" and winding up with "All Along the Watchtower," before the cheering audience, on its feet, finally let them find some way out of there. In between, he mixed up his set, with some of the classics - "You Ain't Going Nowhere," "Highway 61," "Tom Thumb's Blues" - interspersed with newer material, from *Time Out of Mind* and *Love and Theft, * almost all delivered at breakneck speed and top volume (except for a syncopated, jazzy version of "Mister Tambourine Man," which had some of the audience bopping two or three different ways at once).

That was the only more-or-less acoustic number, in contrast to some of the recent shows on this tour (for reviews and set-lists, go to Bill Pagel's incredible labor of love, www.boblinks.org). For a guy now officially AARP-age, Dylan was just in incredible physical shape, on his feet for the entire concert behind his little keyboard, mostly leaning into it, left leg extended straight out behind him, right leg braced under the keyboard as if he was going to start bumping it across the stage like Fats Domino. Dylan and the band were in great shape. Think that great backup band with Stroudsburg's own GE Smith, over a decade ago. Amp it up. Barrel it along. That’s it.

And the lights go down after the break following Amos Lee.... Here comes Aaron Copland's "Billy the Kid".... As the audience roars, on its feet for the duration, the stage lights go back up, and there's Bob Dylan, stage right, standing behind his keyboard in a very sharp black satin cowboy outfit, bare-headed and immediately into a kickass "Tombstone Blue," the band getting into its groove behind him. Lights down at the end, roar of applause, lights up, and "If You See Her, Say Hello" sets the pace down just a notch. End in applause, stage-lights down, stage-lights up, and on into the sardonic "Tweedledee and Tweedledum" - in the Tom Ridge Pavilion, yet? - and then stage lights down in the middle of applause, lights up, and a lovely, slow-loping, "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere.” That’s the pattern for the night - no song intros, no stage banter, do the thing, barrel ahead. An amazing, orgiastic evening, the crowds in the aisles, the band trading off solos, Dylan in command all the way thro. I'm talking Bill Haley, friends - Dylan getting revenge for having his high-school love of rock-n-roll passed over for folk music crossed with Beat poetry in the early days (Check the official Bootleg Tapes, you'll see).

And that's it, I guess. If you couldn't follow all the changes in the songs from their recorded versions to these live ones - well, if you wanna listen to your record collection, stay home, right? Go to a show, you get a show – curtain backdrops drawn back in receding series, changing light-and-smoke shows, the skinny maestro in a cowboy suit, slap-bass sometimes, guitarists trading off licks, drummer whirling like a madman on his riser -- it's what people are looking for from a night out on the town, even this far north in Penn's Woods (we can talk about the Woodstock refugees who fill these hills some other time.)

Dylan delivered. Can't ask for more than that. Thanks, Bob, for a lifetime's entertainment. (Nice hat you stashed behind the drums tonight.) Maybe some day we can all sit down and puzzle over the lyrics. Not tonight. Kick out the jams, send the people home grinning ear to ear. That’s it.

(Sorry no pix. Dylan don’t ‘low no press cameras in heah. Thass cool. Jamie got to rock and roll all night. Thanks, Miss Amanda – J)


John McLaughlin
www.thedigitalfolklife.org
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