Well, I missed the 48 hour rule, as I took longer than that driving back up the coast after the show, stopping at eight used bookstores along the way, as well as a day helping my brother to get settled in new digs not too far from the site of the famous May 95 Laguna Seca Daze.
In hopes this will satisfy my contractural obligations, though a bit tardy . . .
Guess I'm one of the wizened ones the young 'uns talk about. Though I've been listening to Dylan for 30 years, SLO was only the 7th show I've attended in person. So unlike some, I'm not bored with any songs he decides to perform. Sure, I've never been to a show that didn't include Watchtower, but it's still exciting in the flesh even the 7th time around. And this show did include four songs I had never heard performed: To Be Alone With You, If Not For You, What Good Am I, and Alabama Getaway.
Some comparisons of this show to the May 95 shows in the SF Bay Area, which was the last time I saw Dylan . . .
The SLO crowd was decidedly more youthful than last year. There were some of us oldsters, including some who were introducing their kids to Dylan. But 85% of the crowd seemed to be Cal Poly students, a fine collection of young freshly scrubbed optimistic happy kids, looking forward to a fun night of music. It was a decidedly cheery atmosphere, in a small college town.
The Rec Center probably had the usual gym acoustics, but when you're standing as close to the left bank of speakers as I was, acoustics probably aren't a major factor, as the sound waves enter your left ear directly from the speakers.
Kenny Wayne Shepard was a hard working guitar player, who didn't let up for a moment from the start to the end of his set. His long blond hair was flopping around really well, making me wonder what creme rinse he uses. I didn't succeed in duplicating a single word sung by the lead singer. (KWS doesn't sing at all.) As soon as they finished, the bright faces in front of me turned around to ask what I thought, I suppose in hopes of getting a good quote from the old fossil that they could report to their roommates later on. "It wasn't what I came for," I said. To my surprise, they agreed!!
I had been expecting to be able to move up closer to the stage after the first set, based on my experience at Laguna Seca, when many of the younger ones split after the Black Crowes set, opening up lots of room for the Dylan fans. Not so at SLO. The opposite was the case. Between sets, the crush of people in front of the stage increased dramatically. There was a lot of excitement in the crowd, as they jockeyed for position.
During the pushing and shoving, I met a Cal Poly English prof who was very excited to be at only his third Dylan show, and the first in a decade. His lady friend, Deborah, was attending her first Dylan show, and seemed a bit ill at ease with the boisterous crowd scene. I wondered whether she was really a Dylan fan, or was just being polite to her professor friend.
And then the show, and the new tour, started ("... Columbia recording artist, Bob Dylan!!!!").
Things were a bit rocky to start. Dylan's mike was turned much too low, so his voice was lost at first, with adjustments made by the end of the first song. I found myself missing Winston as the band warmed up, as his more prominent solid beat seemed to hold things together more at the beginning of shows last year.
But by Watchtower they were all rocking together, and things were rolling along nicely. The prof was tickled pink, as each song began and another of his old friends began to unfold. And now Deborah seemed to relax, as she began to smile and sway with the music. We were beginning to have a grand old time.
My favorites were the acoustic My Back Pages, Baby Blue, and One Too Many Mornings (encore). I agree with Keith's assessment that Baby Blue was special. And I was also impressed with his delivery of the Maggie's Farm line, "I'm not going to work for Maggie's ma nooooooooo......MORE!!!" Very alive and heartfelt.
The slide show during the acoustic set was a surprise. There was a large black curtain across the back wall behind the band. Right before the first acoustic number, they opened the curtain, which exposed a screen on which they projected the three slides in the light show. During My Back Pages, the slide was of a floral pattern. For Masters they switched to a large old (European?) painting. On the right side was a group of people (scribes?) who seemed to be cowering or shrinking away from some horror, and on the left was a large round man's face, whose eyes were bulging out, with his mouth open in a round circle, a look of evil. Unlike Keith, I found it appropriate to the song. For Baby Blue, they switched to a slide of hieroglyphic-like drawings of animals. When the acoustic set ended, they pulled the curtain closed, and that was it for the light show, our little peek at the 60's.
I was disappointed at the near absence of harmonica. The only harp playing, during Back Pages, was unremarkable. And there was no Las Vegas lounge act crooning (sans guitar) like last year. Dylan had a guitar over his shoulder throughout the whole show.
Overall the sound seems to have shifted some from the rocking country sound of Unplugged more toward hard driving solid rock & roll. As the evening progressed, Dylan began to warm up to the enthusiastic reception he was getting. He played more lead guitar than I had expected, and he and JJ seemed to have a good time of it, as they would lean toward each other with their guitars, doing their dueling leads routine. The new drummer was fine, with his work perhaps blending more with the overall sound than with his predecessor.
Every time I glanced over at Deborah, her smile seemed to widen. Several times people closer to the stage pulled out of their position, and each time she jumped at the chance to move closer to the front. By the end of the show, she was in about the fourth row of people, with me and the prof not far behind. Her inhibitions had long since disappeared, as she reached to get closer to the master.
I was surprised that Dylan did three encores. Last year, he was doing only two. The first time he left, the kids raised quite a ruckus by stamping on the wood floor and bleachers, while cheering for more.
The last encore, RDW, was marred by a nasty buzz in the sound system, which persisted for far too long, as JJ and Dylan looked around and at each other in hopes of spotting the source of the problem. I would have preferred it if Bob had just stopped and let them clear up the sound, and then started over. But he just plowed ahead, determined to get through it unscathed.
The crowd didn't seem to mind too much. They brought up the house lights for the whole song. And everyone was standing and dancing, not just in front of the stage, but in the bleachers on both sides as well, all the way from the the court level to the very top of the rafters on both sides! It really was quite a grand finale, with everyone including Dylan thoroughly enjoying themselves.
Dylan was the last off the stage, not the first. He seemed in no hurry at all to leave, even bending down to sign an autograph, and winking at a young girl from Fresno (who enthused about it later). Unfortunately he didn't see the Times album cover that had been passed up to the stage for signing during One Too Many Mornings. Having played over two hours, the show was longer than those last year.
It was the enthusiasm of the audience that made this show special, as it energized Dylan and us all. I left full of hope about the younger generation. When I told Deborah it looked like she had enjoyed her first Dylan show, she gushed in agreement, saying it was the best show of any kind she had ever attended, comparing it favorably to the time she saw the Rolling Stones, with Jagger a mere speck in the distance.
Afterwards I got to compare notes about our good fortune with Melissa over steak and eggs at Denny's. And the next day, I enjoyed a brunch in oldtown SLO with Heike and her sister and friends. It's always fun to share Dylan stories with other RMDers!
The biggest prizes from the used bookstores were a nice copy of Michael Gray's Song & Dance Man in a bright clean dust jacket, plus a fine copy of the Barry Miles compiled annotated edition of Howl, signed (with hand drawings!) by both Ginsberg and Ferlinghetti.
It was a wonderful trip in all respects!
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Last updated: 12/20/96