Monday, November 01, 1999

Dylan scores in second half

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        It's always nice to see an American musical legend like Bob Dylan in concert. It's twice as nice when he puts on a good show.

        After the somewhat slow first half of his Friday-night concert at Miami University's Millet Hall, Bob Dylan and his four-man band rallied with spirited versions of a few of his classic songs and one great cover to make the 11/2-hour show a memorable one.

        The crowd — a few hundred seats shy of a sellout — was young, lots of Grateful Dead-loving Miami students who probably came out to see ex-Dead bassist and opening act Phil Lesh as much as Mr. Dylan. The kids were up and dancing for Mr. Lesh's set and wanted to keep dancing afterwards, so when Mr. Dylan played lackluster versions of “Mr. Tambourine Man” and “It's All Over Now, Baby Blue,” you could sense the energy disappearing from the arena.

        Maybe Mr. Dylan just wanted people to pay attention to his acoustic guitar playing rather than dance. His playing has come a long way. It sounded a lot like Willie Nelson's — sort of southwest-flavored, oddly timed melodies emerging from jazz chords. He took as many solos as the guitarist to his right, Larry Campbell, and more than the one to his left, Charlie Sexton, both hot-shot players themselves.

        The best songs were the ones where the ace guitar playing was put to an up-tempo beat. Things began to pick up five songs in, with a straight-forward rendition of “Tangled Up In Blue.” Mr. Dylan and Mr. Campbell each took numerous solos before the bandleader put down his guitar and picked up a harmonica. He held it with only his left hand while the right hand dangled carelessly to the side of his body. The crowd loved it. Then for dramatic effect he began shifting his body around the stage as he blew. The crowd loved it more.

        The last song of the 10-song set, “Highway 61 Revisited” done in a unrelenting boogie, was the best. Mr. Campbell unleashed wailing high notes from his pedal steel while Mr. Dylan's played bluesy, gritty electric guitar leads.

        The highlights of the four-song encore were “Blowing in the Wind,” with Mr. Dylan's guitarists chiming in on harmony vocals, and Buddy Holly's “Not Fade Away.” The song was a staple of the Dead's live set, and all the kids loved it. But Mr. Dylan probably does it because he loves Buddy Holly, as his constant smiling during the song may have indicated.


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