Dylan & the Grateful Dead

Saturday, August 23, 2008

BORGATA REVISITED 8-16-08




THUNDER AT THE BORGATA



Sparse gray trails of burning incense filled the air in front of the purple drapes. Like lonely wallflowers, an assorted array of instruments awaited the arrival of Dylan and his Cowboy Band. Bob was in his house, the Borgata Resort and Spa Casino Event Center, the site of inspirational and creative Dylan performances each of the last three summers. The venue lacks historic significance, maybe that’s why Dylan has thrived here. The quintessential time-traveling minstrel/ ambassador, Dylan effortlessly weaves America’s musical past from the 19th and 20th centuries into the here and now. I was taking in the ambiance prior to what I knew would be another scintillating evening at the Borgata. What is it about this place?

Nightgowns and jewelry sparkled and glittered, drawing attention away from the sagging wrinkled skin and receding hair lines of the affluent baby boomers filing into their seats. A column of speakers hung from the rafters, in front of each side of the stage, like rattlesnakes frozen in time, poised to strike. Square lights were lined up, Xs and Os on a tic-tac-toe board within wooden paneling. Projectors beamed rainbow-colored geometrical patterns upon powder-blue drapes next to the side entrances. Five circular cranberry contraptions dangled down from the ceiling like silicone-filled mammary glands. The Events Center was spacious and serene - modern elegance with a relaxed vibe. Dylan’s predilection for the swank Borgata is understandable, especially in the filthy/ scummy/putrid monopoly rat cage that is Atlantic City, N.J.

“Watching the River Flow” was the commencement to an evening of raging twists and turns. “Mr. Tambourine Man” made his presence known for the first time in two years. Those expecting anything resembling the sensual/poetic jingle from 1965 were in for quite a jolt, the time had come to eat or be eaten. Dylan bellowed his magical words in a deep harrowing howl that echoed through the night with the madness of an Edgar Allan Poe vision. Dylan twisted and mangled his masterpiece, yet it was vibrant and irresistible, “Quoth the raven nevermore.”
“Things Have Changed” and “Mississippi” followed; two of the great compositions of the last ten years. They were Tell Tale Signs that Dylan was and is inspired. I was enamored with Bob’s wildness during “Mississippi;” he shouted and growled while hurling himself at the organ. Dylan was in gonzo mode, there was no looking back.

Though I prefer stronger material, “Make you Feel My Love” was performed with incredible tenderness - the ladies were swooning. “Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum” was shot out-of-a cannon as the Cowboy Band sizzled. The band mistakenly (???) tried to end the song prematurely, but Dylan played through the mishap, refusing to let the song sink - every word must be heard.
“Visions of Johanna” was immense, at this point, the only surprise would have been complacency. The Maestro encouraged the band to wander, turning Johanna into a gripping improvisational piece. The creativity of the jams nearly matched the lyrical brilliance. Dylan broke out his entire arsenal of vocal chicanery - strange incantations, offbeat cadence, up-singing, barking, etc. The poet and preacher poured from his soul.

I eventually pulled myself away from this absorbing performance for a pit stop during “Honest With Me.” I refueled with a beer and a shot, and left a few brews in the urinal. My timing was impeccable, I bumped into a friend who had tickets up front; she invited me into the fourth row where there were some unoccupied seats. I was now standing in the Lion’s Den, part of the Cowboy Band circle, close enough to casually be tossing a pigskin with The Man. He looked in my direction, first toss, “Lenny Bruce.”

It’s been awhile since Dylan served up the underappreciated Mr. Bruce (I believe the last time was back in San Francisco on 10-18-06). Empathizing with Lenny’s struggles, this ballad is Dylanesque to the bone. Lenny Bruce was an outlaw just like “The Man in the Long Black Coat,” “”Pretty Boy Floyd,” “Black Jack Davey” or Bobby Zimmerman. There was a twinkle to Dylan’s nearly shut eyes as he swayed slowly and laterally while plucking his sleek keyboard. A smug smirk was evident when he sang, “I rode with him, in a taxi once, only for a couple of hours, but it seemed like it took a couple of months.” Dylan was in rare form, disturbing the peace like never before, just because he can.

“Highway 61 Revisited” in the thirteenth slot was the first predictable happening of the night, but beloved by all. Overplayed staples omitted from this concert included; “Spirit on the Water” (thank you Sweet Jesus), “Summer Days” and “Blowin’ in the Wind.” It was remarkable that Bob had not played anything from Modern Times until he mesmerized the Borgata people with a scathing “Ain’t Tallkin”. After the grandiose finale to his epic, Dylan shuffled to center stage and waved his right arm to the heavens, calling for rain. Following their fearless leader, the Cowboy Band loped into the majestic fanfare beginning of “Thunder on the Mountain.” Absolutely Brilliant! It was the first time these songs were paired - the best combo to end a set. Ever. Where does he come up with these ideas? Hearing those instrumental interludes signaling the ending and beginning of Modern Times in succession was overwhelming. Garnier and Recile were ecstatic; smiles a mile high as they pounded the foundation of another Thunderous Mountain. After all the years the bassist and drummer have played with Dylan, and all the years I’ve had the pleasure of listening in, we were still in awe.


Friday, August 15, 2008

DYLAN IN THE PARK 8-12-08

DYLAN IN THE PARK

Although I’ve been trapped in the heart of Manhattan for the past twelve years, the hog-eyed borough of Brooklyn was as mysterious to me as Lewiston, Maine or Mexico City. After exiting the F Train by Prospect Park with everyday commuters, I stopped off for refreshments at a tiny bistro. In the garden, beneath a caravan tent, the waitress poured a FROTHYBrooklyn Lager for me while fondling my upper torso. Greek music and incense filled the air as the scraping of cutlery against plates was offset by birds chirping in stereo. A grey tabby proudly displayed his furry white belly for the patrons, then suddenly whacked a pebble and chased it down the cellar steps. I had to extricate myself from this charming backyard Brooklyn scenery and figure out how I was going to get into Dylan’s sold out performance at Prospect Park.

As evening sky grew dark, I was struck with the realization that my mission was futile. I wasn’t able to find a reasonably priced ticket or scam my way in, so I joined thousands of Brooklynites who were content squatting or milling about the bandshell perimeter. Any view of Dylan or the stage was completely obstructed, and from my vantage point I could hear the music, but it wasn’t loud enough to get off on. I sulked during spotty performances of Rainy Day Women and Lay Lady Lay. A generic set list ensued. Dylan shuffled out the wonton soup, egg rolls, chicken and broccoli, pork fried rice, orange slices and fortune cookie like so many times before. On the grassy knoll, I sat amongst those spread out on blankets. Lonesome Day Blues was apropos for my situation, and well played. Dylan and the band really laid into a fiery offering of When the Levee Breaks. However, an obnoxious Bensonhurst couple bickered non-stop right behind me. They were unhappy with the concert series, Dylan, each other; they were born pissed off. A sullen-faced brown dog sidled-up by my side and licked my face for a minute or so. “Bones come here, I’m so sorry,” exclaimed the embarrassed dog owner. I was fond of Bones, but I decided to relocate.

Sandwiching the next segment with the old timey swinging ping pong waltzes Spirit on the Water and Behind the Horizon, the concert felt like a summer’s eve on the Coney Island Boardwalk, circa 1941. Picnickers, dog walkers and curiosity seekers peacefully paraded around the perimeter of the bandshell. In my line of vision was a poster promoting Issac Hayes’s July performance at Prospect Park - one of his last. R.I.P. Shaft! “You know you hurt me, you gave it to me, you socked it me mama, when you said goodbye, oh mama, walk on by.” Highway 61 Revisited was muscular; you could hear Stu’s guitar squeal and screech. Netitie Moore was cathartic. I needed to be closer to the Cowboy Band. Summer Days grooved - an amalgamation of all of Dylan’s vocal and musical stylings on this night. With Russian bombs raining down on former Soviet soil, Dylan’s performance of Masters of War was wicked. Resumption of the Cold War loomed in the air, but It’s Alright Ma, it’s life and life only.

Better tardy than not at all, I found out where the cool kids were chillin to Dylan. Up on the hill where the asphalt cuts through the greenery, and the bicyclists and hipsters hang, the music was thundering. The hypnotic flashing neon lights of the NYPD mini jeeps effortlessly danced amidst the towering pines beneath the egg white omelet moon. I should have been in this spot all night. Dylan was deep inside Like a Rolling Stone, 20,000 New Yorkers were in awe, and I was at one with the universe. Thunder on the Mountain was out of control, everything exploded from its essence. Blowin in the Wind was anti-climatic after that one-two punch, but Sweet Jesus, we were in the park, with the Maestro, on a sweatless, starless night in a City Park. Saturday Night at the Borgota beckons.


SHAFT