DYLAN, HAGGARD & LEE COME TO DENVER

Bob Dylan :: 03.29.05 :: The Fillmore Auditorium :: Denver, CO


Bob Dylan :: Denver 2002 :: By Tony Stack
Not much can be observed about Bob Dylan that hasn't been noted by one scribe or another during the four decades or so since he first stepped into the spotlight. At 63, he remains mostly elusive, widely revered, and he still sounds like he's fighting for true justice in this world.

While his recent memoir, Chronicles: Volume One (Simon and Schuster), drags up new and intriguing confessions by the cantankerous troubadour ("The whole counterculture was one big scarecrow wearing dead leaves. It had no purpose in my life," he writes), Dylan is still more or less the same minstrel who turned popular culture on its ear in the mid-'60s. Underwear ads aside, the man is dark, literary, prophetic, restless, and sometimes, even uplifting. And his music, like his famous quote, "I sing the blues to escape the blues," is loaded with paradox.


Bob Dylan :: Denver 2002 :: By Tony Stack
Attending the second of Dylan's two recent shows in Denver was like stepping into one of his famously poetic works. The characters and conversations on the floor prior to the evening's performance were as colorful as the casts of one of his rambling ditties. A twenty-something Romeo waxed philosophic with his girlfriend, exclaiming that what he truly feared in our brave new world was Catholicism. The Catholics, he explained to his date in a knowing tone, with their orthodoxy and conservative values would be our undoing. I had to raise my eyebrows at this comment as I was brought up a Catholic, but I assumed he had his reasons for such pontification. Meanwhile a burly Everyman kept referring to Bob as "the Jew" and Merle as "the redneck." I laughed nervously as he swatted me on the back. Then there was the tall gent carrying the purse and wearing a long leopard skin coat. He milled about under the looming purple-lighted chandeliers of The Fillmore looking for recognition in the eyes of the crowd. I mostly avoided his odd gaze, although I was impressed by his willingness to try and bring Dylan's art to life. Was he Mr. Jones? There were people with cowboy hats (probably Mere Haggard fans) and people with dreadlocks (probably Dylan fans via the Dead years) as well as teenagers (come to see the legend) and Boomers (come to see the man yet another time).

Then there was the show:

Amos Lee, a native of Philadelphia, took the stage with his mostly acoustic and very tasteful backing band and served up one lyrical confection after another. It was particularly cool that his country/newgrass/folkpop-tinged sound included an occasional trumpet solo, mandolin fill, and even an electric lead by talented multi-instrumental sideman Nate Skiles. Lee came across as down-to-earth and very skilled at the art of songwriting, and he took the time to introduce the members of his outfit (twice) during the course of his set, which was well-received by the gathering crowd. The humble Lee appears to be on his way to stardom.


Merle Haggard
After a short break, 67-year-old Merle Haggard and his longtime band, the Strangers, emerged as if stepping out of a time warp. The Hag, looking dapper in a felt hat and dress jacket, led his vintage outfit "the oldest beer joint band in America" through spotless renditions of his classic catalog, including "Mama Tried," "Silver Wings," "The Fightin' Side of Me," "Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down," and a house-rousing version of Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues."

Merle put Denver in touch with its cow town soul as hippies, accountants, mothers, hicks, Xers, Boomers, and bikers alike sang passionately to his old-school country favorites. I kept waiting for the stagehands to roll chain link across the front of the stage, and I half expected to see a Roadhouse-era Patrick Swayze come out from behind the curtains shouting "Right boot!" Yet it was more of a citified outing, and the unbridled passion here was about the pure appreciation of an American musical legend. You could feel the history in the air. It was interesting to note that Haggard could bust out some damn nice and twangy leads on his Tele. Not only can he write 'em, but he can play the hell out of 'em too.

After a long break, Dylan and his band came out to a near-packed auditorium. Standing at the keyboard, Zimmy got things moving with a shuffling, off-kilter rendition of "Tombstone Blues." While the musical arrangement was new, the words emerged from a place in my psyche where they'd first been lodged during some all-nighter during my college years. In fact, the entire crowd appeared to be having a collective flashback and was belting out the lyrics.

Mama's in the fact'ry
She ain't got no shoes
Daddy's in the alley
He's lookin' for the fuse
I'm in the streets
With the tombstone blooozzzz!


Bob Dylan :: Denver 2002 :: By Tony Stack
Someone in front of me lit a joint, and a balding middle-aged man with a paunch duck-walked to the steady groove while a woman clad in black leather sloshed her head from side to side in drunken rapture. Dylan is adept at reworking his catalog, and his renditions of his classics are pleasantly unpredictable. He spent most of the evening at the keys, hunching over the microphone and occasionally blowing some jagged harp. His band was tight and moved right along with him, lighting up the groove when appropriate and laying back to let the words of the singer sink in during the verses.

Highlights of the evening included a compelling re-working of "Down Along the Cove," a classic "Desolation Row," a rumbling "Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum," and a flat out rocking "Highway 61." The group also laid down a swinging version of "Summer Days," (a nugget from 2001's Love and Theft release, as is "Tweedle Dee").

Fiddler Elana Fremerman from the Hot Club of Cow Town and pedal steel player Don Herron of BR5-49 are brilliant additions to Dylan's already excellent current sound. He closed the evening with a take on Haggard's "Sing Me Back Home," which would have sounded nice with Merle, and a solid "All Along the Watchtower" that showcased the power that he still has in his legendary gravelly voice. "What's so great about this," said a young-looking guy next to me "is that he wrote this tune." I had to agree. Dylan is the closest thing to the Beatles and Stones that America has ever had, and to his credit, he's holding up quite well.

SET LIST:
Tombstone Blues
Watching The River Flow
Down Along The Cove
Desolation Row
Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum
Lay, Lady, Lay
Highway 61 Revisited
Can't Wait
Absolutely Sweet Marie
This Wheel's On Fire
John Brown (acoustic)
Summer Days

Encore:
Sing Me Back Home
All Along The Watchtower

Nick Hutchinson
JamBase | Denver
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[Published on: 4/13/05]

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Comments

jellyphish Mon 4/25/2005 10:43AM
0 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Nate Skiles will blow your mind. remember that name. Nate is god