Monday, November 22, 2010

Bob Dylan
Amherst and Lowell MA
2010-11-19 & 20

OK I promised my wife we wouldn't travel to see Bob this fall and it sure looked like I was about to break my streak of 17 consecutive years. Then he books a Saturday show within driving distance and the opportunity arises to hook up with some old friends. Couldn't say no. And couldn't do just one.

A light drizzly snow for the ride out keeps the pace at moderate; a good way to start a 2,000 km weekend.

As an added bonus we got to stop at the Rat Pack themed Delmonico's in Utica NY
for some red meat and blue martini's. There was the Brushcetta Pomodoro and the Roma Tomato and Mozzarella Salad for openers. Ordered the smallest steak I could find, a 9 0z filet. The wife opted for a more sensible pasta meal.

For the first time ever we tried that 'priceline auction' site. Except for some difficulty getting a guarantee the hotel we select will be 'accessible' it worked out pretty good. Saved about $60 and it only cost us 10 minutes of driving time.

Now travelling for Dylan always results in more than just the music. Good thing too because since June of 2005 it's the side-bar stuff that makes these trips worthwhile. The extras this time centered around poets...Emily Dickinson's house in Amherst and Jack Kerouac's Lowell. Forget what you heard about spoken word, it's coming back strong in the inner cities.

Time and circumstance prevented us from getting to Emily's abode in time for a full tour.

It didn't prevent us from hooking up with friends for dinner and making it to the venue with time to spare.

Our seats sucked terrilbly, first row on the corner at the back. Seems like everyone who went on the floor passed in front of us. To add to the confusion there were a ton of late arrivers, people still taking their seats at the 5th and 6th song. They were bumping into the people who chose to leave by the 5th or 6th song. It was chaos.

But the sound was great.

And Bob was good. Most songs have new arrangements. The blues numbers have lost their punch, most notably in Hwy 61 and HWM. There's a sameness to most of the songs that makes it even more difficult to recognize them than in the past...and it had nothing to do with mumbling lyrics. The vocals were surprisingly clear.

No bombastic solos from Charlie, or anyone. The band is tight, all the tricks are small things inside the songs. Thankfully both Stu and Donnie are almost non-existant so Bob is inching ever closer to being back in a rock band and away from the country-swing, civil-war, bore band.


Someone has to transcribe the new lyrics for Gonna Change My Way of Thinking. The chorus is there but the rest seems new.
Shooting Star is always a rare treat, the song is better than any performance could be but it deserves an outing.
Tangled Up In Blue and Ballad of A Thin Man, with Bob at center stage, were worth the price of admission on their own.
Can't Wait was another rare and mystical tune that I'm always happy to hear.


An unfocussed Hard Rain was less than stellar. The new arranagement of HWM has taken away it's few redeeming values and Thunder on the Mountain sounds worse if you can actually hear the words.

Songs that made me go, meh:

The fans like Spirit, but it's a one-trick pony. Mobile is as Mobile takes up 5 minutes. Tweedles and Hwy 61, pretty regular in the set, don't advance the show much. Workingman's Blues #2 might be better than I thought on first listen but was so radically changed I couldn't discern. You gotta wonder what we're missing to get Jolene every night. Oh, wait, that would be Watchtower. LARS is nondescript, which is a crime for the greatest song ever written.

Mullins Arena
Amherst, MA

1. Gonna Change My Way Of Thinking
2. Shooting Star
3. Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again
4. Spirit On The Water
5. Rollin' And Tumblin'
6. Tangled Up In Blue
7. Honest With Me
8. Can't Wait
9. Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum
10. A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall
11. Highway 61 Revisited
12. Workingman's Blues #2
13. Thunder On The Mountain
14. Ballad Of A Thin Man
15. Jolene
16. Like A Rolling Stone

Lowell's not an easy city to drive around. With waterways and triangular street intersections it takes a few days to get your bearings. We didn't have that, so we spent most of our time half-way lost. But not all of it.

Cece did a great job scouting out my Kerouac locations and we were able to hit more than I would have accomplished going gonzo.

Some were easy, it seems we couldn't miss running into the High School.
"By nearly all accounts-classmates, teachers, even his own writing--Kerouac was a shy but popular student. A standout in track and football, and a fine outfielder on the baseball team, Kerouac also earned A's and B's in his classes. In Maggie Cassidy he mentions a Spanish course, the poetry of Robert Frost and Emily Dickinson, the great difficulty of physics, and "wonderful classes in some kind of pre-science fiction astronomy, with an old lady with a long stick demonstrating moons at the blackboard." Kerouac graduated from Lowell High School in 1939, three months after his seventeenth birthday."

A little more difficult find was the Memorial. I finally took a backdoor into it by travelling over the trolley tracks and finding a parking spot. A large group of marble obelisks with engraved writings.
"The Jack Kerouac Commemorative... must be one of the most unique public art pieces in the United States. The opening passages from Kerouac's five "Lowell novels," as well as passages from On the Road, Lonesome Traveler, Book of Dreams, and Mexico City Blues are inscribed on eight triangular marble columns. The arrangement of the columns and the surface stones form a kind of Buddhist- Christian mandala. The symmetrical cross and diamond pattern of The Commemorative is a meditation on the complex Buddhist and Catholic foundation of much of Kerouac's writing."

The best find was the grotto in Pawtucketville.  These are the Catholic "Stations of the Cross" leading to the cave. "The Grotto (fashioned after a mini-Lourdes, where a vision of the Virgin Mary appeared to a French peasant girl) and Stations of the Cross were constructed in 1911. Whole passages of Doctor Sax, including the very ending, are set here at the Grotto. Kerouac and his mother often stopped here on walks from their home in Pawtucketville. In Doctor Sax, the place is "mad, vast, religious, the Twelve Stations of the Cross, little individual twelve altars set in, you go in front, kneel, everything but incense in the air (the roar of the river, mysteries of nature, fireflies in the night flickering to the waxy stare of statues, I knew Doctor Sax was there flowing in the back darks with his wild and hincty cape)."

Came acroos the Moody Street Bridge. "Known to Kerouac fans as "The Bridge Where the Man with the Watermelon Died." The name is taken from the title, and events, of "Book Four" of Jack Kerouac's Doctor Sax. One "baleful black night," Jack and his mother were returning from a visit to Aunt Clementine and Uncle Mike's house. They reached the bridge a half hour before midnight, and a man carrying a watermelon passed them: "Suddenly the man fell, we heard the thump of the watermelon on wood planks and saw him fallen ... I look down with him and there is the moon on shiny froth and rocks, there is the long eternity we have been seeking."

And here's Boots Mills. Jack'd roll over in his grave if he knew it was being converted into condos. "The mills are a reminder that Lowell is a working-class city, established as a business venture. By harnessing the power of the Merrimack River through a carefully engineered system of mills and canals Lowell quickly became one of the largest centers of textile production in the world. The architecture of the Boott Mills complex mirrors the growth of Lowell--its nine mill buildings were built between 1835 and 1900...When Kerouac mentions any of the Lowell mills in his books it is most often the Boott. In Doctor Sax, the Boott is often seen in "a maze of haze sorrow," where the red chimneys sway in "the dreambell afternoon" or, at night, the windows shine "like a lost star in the blue city lights of Lowell." Kerouac's descriptions of the Boott are often amorphous, and insubstantial, as if the redbrick mills are only clouds in a fiery sunset. It's interesting to match Kerouac's descriptions of the mills with depiction of work in his novels. Kerouac's characters may have jobs, and we may see many people on their way to or from work, but the joy of life lies elsewhere. "Everything belongs to me because I am poor," he wrote in Visions of Cody. "Dicky and I covered these millyards.," he writes in Doctor Sax, "and agreed millwork was horrible."

Which brings us  to Edson Cemetary. You drive under the rusted bridge with the faded sign that says "Welcome to Spaghettiville". Drive past the large St Patricks Cemetary until the point where the road widens. The grave is three streets in (Lincoln) and 5 streets over (between 7th and 8th). Once you are there, you can't miss it.

Then we hooked up with friends for dinner and a show. Jethro Tull was in town but we opted for that Bob guy again.

Glad we did. Seats were much better, very close to the stage. If last night was the best show since 2005, tonight was the best show since last night.

The delivery was even better, though that might have been a condition of our improved seats.

Songs we lost: Shooting Star, Spirit on the Water, Can't Wait, Hard Rain, Workingman's Blues #2

Songs we got for those we lost: It Ain't Me Babe, Love Sick, Simple Twist of Fate, Visions of Johanna, Not Dark Yet

I'd say we got an upgrade.

Tsongas Center
Lowell MA

1. Gonna Change My Way Of Thinking
2. It Ain't Me, Babe
3. Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again
4. Love Sick
5. Rollin' And Tumblin'
6. Simple Twist Of Fate
7. Honest With Me
8. Visions Of Johanna
9. Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum
10. Tangled Up In Blue
11. Highway 61 Revisited
12. Not Dark Yet
13. Thunder On The Mountain
14. Ballad Of A Thin Man
15. Jolene / Band Intro
16. Like A Rolling Stone

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