THE BARD AT MADISON SQUARE GARDEN IN 2002

THE BARD AT MADISON SQUARE GARDEN IN 2002

A Review by Alain Rozan

Clad in a black-lined, pink dandy suit and wearing snakeskin black and white cowboy boots, Bob Dylan casually strolled on the stage of Madison Square Garden, along with his band, at 8 P.M. sharp. What followed was a 2 1/2 hour rock fest for the ages. A true moment of glory for a master singer, songwriter, musician and performer at the top of his game.

In an unusually joyous mood, Dylan actually spoke (only once) to the audience during the six song encore, declaring: “Most of these songs were either written in New York or recorded here which tells you how I feel about New York City” before launching into the most beautiful and moving acoustic version of “Forever Young”.

Blessed with superb sound, Dylan was in extraordinary vocal form, singing without any of the “croaking” which has plagued his singing during the past ten years. The sound engineer cleverly kept the drums to medium level in the mix, allowing the audience to revel in Dylan’s timeless melodies which he delivered with a clear, if raspy, voice, helped by the gorgeous vocal harmonies of Charlie Sexton and Larry Campbell, his two crackerjack guitar players. One could actually understand all the words, even on electric rock numbers!

I will dare say that Dylan’s current band is his best ever. Better than The Band itself… One would have to go back to the 1972 version of the Rolling Stones to describe the tightness, subtlety and rock-n-roll feeling of the band which Dylan rightfully introduced as “The best band in the land”. Charlie Sexton on electric, slide and acoustic guitar, Larry Campbell on guitar, lap steel and mandolin, Larry Kemper on drums and Tony Garnier on electric and stand-up bass. Dylan handled almost all the lead guitar solos himself in his usual strange way, playing off simple triads which sometimes sounded off key. One can’t help but regret that Charlie Sexton was not allowed to take more solos as he has obviously matured into an amazing, stylish yet restrained player.

As always since September 11, Dylan opened the show with the gospel tinged traditional bluegrass rave up “Waiting For the Light to Shine” and closed with a knock-out version of “Blowing In The Wind”. But last night, he gave the audience one more song, a barnstorming, all-out rollicking version of “All Along The Watchtower” in an Hendrix-style arrangement which probably made Jimi tap his foot in his grave. Alternating between acoustic and electric, Dylan sang almost 30 songs including 6 from his new album “Love and Theft”. Every song had been re-arranged differently from the original version and Dylan often sang harmony to, instead of, the original melody line which made some songs almost unrecognizable, at least until the chorus.

Highlights from the acoustic sets included breathtaking versions of “It Ain’t Me Babe”, “Don’t Think Twice It’s All Right” “Just Like a Woman” and “Highwater” (from “Love and Theft”), with Dylan ending the first three of those songs with exquisite harmonica solos played with newfound grace and showmanship (he would play his harmonica with one bent knee or tiptoeing like a horse) and a surreal version of “Tangled Up in Blue” which Dylan sang with hair-raising abandon and passion. The electric set included a rousing version of the rockabilly gem “Summer Days”, from the new album, which would have made Elvis Presley and Eddie Cochran sorry they ever died. During “Summer Days”, Dylan actually twisted (but only with his left foot) and skipped a la Carl Perkins. The band blasted through “Rainy Day Women 13-25”, “Lonesome Day Blues” (another new song from “Love and Theft”) “Honest With Me” with more sure fire blues power than any blues band I’ve ever heard.

It is clear that Dylan is having the most fun on stage that he has had since the sixties. When it was over, one was left in complete awe of such a complex man. An introvert who can rock and a poet who can twist. What a deadly combination!

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