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Bob Dylan, Continental Arena, East Rutherford, NJ: There’s a wicked wind still blowing November 16, 2006

Posted by Anton A in American music, Bob Dylan.
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It always seems to be an adventure getting to a Dylan show. Last summer we nearly got flattened against the side of an invisible UPS truck parked across the highway. On this November Thursday, vicious wind gusts & a stinging near-horizontal rain would set the tone for the evening.

As we drove along the Meadowlands parking lot alleys and came up behind Giants Stadium, a dumpster suddenly blew across our path. I hit the brakes and waited for the gusts to subside, making sure that we weren’t going to get broadsided by this contraption, before creeping by it. A little further on, a dual-stall Port-O-San sat smackdab in the middle of the road, blown in from God knows where. We wondered fleetingly whether there was anyone inside as we swerved around it, but there were no Port-O-San stories on News Of The Weird next day, so I guess there wasn’t.

We parked in the stadium lot near the mouth of the covered footbridge over Route 120 and hiked above the three-abreast line of cars waiting to get into the arena lots. Haha, they were going to miss The Raconteurs and we weren’t. We pushed on along the bridge, down the ramp, up the steps to the Continental Arena entrance, along the hall and down again.

Some of the heaviest Hammond organ I’ve heard since Jon Lord left Deep Purple was coming off the stage as we made our way down to our center court seats, just 6 rows off the floor, perfectly situated to see Mister Dylan face on. The Raconteurs were already ripping it up. I hoped for more of that Hammond sound but it was featured on just the one song. Still, the band did not lack for great acid-drenched guitar textures.

They seem to have added a blond guitarist since their CD, which features 4 dark-haired guys on the cover; he complements Jack White’s riffs and sonic sense very well. On one song, the blond guy and the multi-instrumentalist fellow had dueling E-Bows going while Jack was picking away. Cool stuff. They did an intense cover of Cher’s Bang Bang as Zep might have done it in No Quarter style.

I quickly settled into a frame of mind where I felt like it was a night at the Fillmore. Hearing this solid dose of deftly delivered acid rock, with Dylan and his cowboy band up next, reminded me of those strange genre-free days when you might get Albert King and Quicksilver Messenger Service, or Paul Butterfield Blues Band and the Jefferson Airplane, on the same bill. Most of the crowd appreciated what The Raconteurs were doing and gave them a good ovation when they finished.

We strolled around the arena hallways during intermission. The place was maybe 60% full, with only a smattering of people in the upper deck, so everything seemed low key, a nice change from some shows I’ve done there, even though I wasn’t happy to see Bob not filling a venue. Everyone seemed in a good mood, even the bedraggled stragglers getting in late; I think we were all glad to have a little shelter from the storm.

Back to our seats to wait for the Copland & that peculiar intro. The lights went up and there was the band, all in gray suits, some with black shirts & others in gray, Denny Freeman with a tie, all in hats except for Donnie Herron; I guess his great hair qualifies as a hat. Dylan wore a long black gambler’s coat with a powder blue scarf and royal blue rhinestone-bedecked shirt, black slacks with a single gray stripe down the sides, flat black cowboy hat with a few more rhinestones around the brim. Toward the end of the show he would pull his coat sleeves back to make sure we got a good look at the rhinestones on the shirt cuffs. He was a-sparkle for sure.

I don’t know whether Mister Dylan took his cues for the night from the fierce weather outside, or if it just seemed that way to my soaked sensibilities, but the show quickly developed an intensity and an energy that wasn’t as much evident at the more contemplative, laid-back summertime ballpark show. They opened with Cat’s In The Well, same as the Dutchess County show, a nice wry tune for the band to get warmed up. They moved quickly into a biting rendition of Señor (Tales Of Yankee Power) from Street Legal, Dylan snarling out every line. “There’s a wicked wind still blowin’ on that upper deck” seemed to connect directly with what was happening outside. “Senor, senor, let’s disconnect these cables, Overturn these tables. This place don’t make sense to me no more. Can you tell me what we’re waiting for, senor?” went right into the deepest part of your brain. I got a sense then that this was going to be a special night.

After the obligatory Rollin & Tumblin (I’m still trying to figure out why Dylan is doing this song, and maybe that’s the reason he does it), the band went into another guess-the-tune intro. I thought that we were going to get another repeat from Dutchess, of You Ain’t Going Nowhere, but it didn’t sound quite right. I was not prepared at all to hear “You’ve got a lotta nerve, to say you are my friend….” Damn! This was the song that captured and defined my adolescence. The arrangement was peculiar, an almost sweet-sounding chord progression against those bitter bitter lyrics; it seemed to morph more towards the original as it went on, though it never quite got there. Still, by “….you’d know what a drag it is to see you,” it was like 41 years had evaporated and just for that one moment we were all young again. It was unbelievable; I never thought I’d hear that song performed four decades down the road.

Could the night get any better? Yes. A different guess-the-tune intro, this one full of bluesy minor chords and dark intensity, and suddenly: “Darkness at the break of noon, Shadows even the silver spoon, The handmade blade, the child’s balloon Eclipses both the sun and moon To understand you know too soon There is no sense in trying.” Damn brilliant.

A heartfelt rendition of When The Deal Goes Down, and then something I didn’t recognize at all. After the show I’d learn that it was Things Have Changed from 1999, available only on the Essential Bob Dylan collection. Dylan enunciated every word clearly – “Lot of water under the bridge, Lot of other stuff too, Don’t get up gentlemen, I’m only passing through” seemed again to reflect the storm outside.

Next up, a relatively faithful arrangement of Simple Twist Of Fate. The crowd went nuts at the opening chords and seemed to hang on every line; this was a night for rarities. A blistering Highway 61 charged us up, Spirit On The Water let us catch our breath. Then the band seemed to crank up the volume another notch, and suddenly we were Tangled Up In Blue. This was the sonic highlight of the night. Mister Dylan sporting a big grin with a twinkle in his eye? I had binoculars, I saw it happen; it was obvious that he knew they were nailing this song & he was just digging the hell out of it. There was a bit of lyrical confusion in there – tangled up indeed – but when you’re rocking that well, who cares?

If you’ve been following this tour you pretty much know where the show goes from here, into a kind of gentle winding-down with more than a few performance highlights, if no more song surprises: five last songs to be savored and one more reference to that howling wind outside.

Somewhere during the night I watched Dylan stroll over to his drinks, in big red plastic cups perched on top of a little equipment rack at the right side of the stage. Next to the cups was the little gold statue, illuminated by a tiny light, which I now know that Dylan received for Things Have Changed from Wonder Boys. A heap of strung beads, presumably from Mardi Gras, hung over the corner of the rack. Apparently these items are on stage at every show on this tour. An Oscar and beads from New Orleans: totems for these Modern Times.

At the final farewell, when they all line up at the front of the stage, Dylan looked serious and a bit glum. Always Mister Enigmatic. Curiously, the band departed stage left while he stalked off stone-faced in the opposite direction. Most of the crowd then started to leave, but I kept watching through the binoculars and saw the old artificer circle around in back of the amps, where he caught up with drummer George Recile; walking side by side, they each threw an arm over the other’s back and patted each other on the shoulder for a moment, talking and laughing as if they were about to step through the swinging doors of an old saloon for a night of carousing. The solitary public walk-off had been another bit of stagecraft, one last calculated image to punctuate the night.

Outside the rain had dwindled for the moment to a soft sprinkle. It’s always a moment of elevation, emerging from a show at the Meadowlands arena and feeling the buzz dissipate into the brightly lit expanse of the parking area while the seagulls hover and glide, brilliantly white against the night sky, beautiful scavengers. The wind would rage and the rain would spit again before we got back to our homes, but for a while there we were all soaring.

Setlist:

Cat’s In The Well, Señor (Tales Of Yankee Power), Rollin’ And Tumblin’, Positively 4th Street, It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding), When The Deal Goes Down, Things Have Changed, Simple Twist Of Fate, Highway 61 Revisited, Spirit On The Water, Tangled Up In Blue, Nettie Moore, Summer Days

encores:

Thunder On The Mountain, Like A Rolling Stone, All Along The Watchtower

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