Monday, November 05, 2001

New songs spice up Dylan show

By Chris Varias
Enquirer contributor

        Bob Dylan's perpetual tour over the past several years yields shows that get a little better each time. The lineup of his backup band hasn't changed, thus producing musical ESP among the players and heightening the nuances of each performance.

        Now, as proven by Mr. Dylan's Sunday-night stop at Xavier University's Cintas Center, the level of quality has taken a more dramatic leap forward, thanks to Love and Theft, his terrific new album. It's not Highway 61 Revisited or Blonde on Blonde or John Wesley Harding terrific — nothing is — but it ranks with his second-tier work, and it provides Mr. Dylan good new material to inject into his shows.

        As part of his two-hour-plus set, he did five Love and Theft tunes, the performances of which ranked with those of any of the several classic songs he played.

        Much has been made of the singer's new happy-go-lucky disposition shining through on the new album, and the Big Joe Turner-style jump-blues homage “Summer Days,” one of the night's highlights, paints that picture. But the other new tunes he played — the dreamy “Floater,” the ornery “Honest with Me” and the plaintive “Mississippi” and “Sugar Baby” — sounded like good old good Bob Dylan.

        His stage act was as irreverent as ever. He opened with the Fred Rose-penned “Wait for the Light to Shine,” fueled by Larry Campbell's mandolin leads. After hitting the last note, Mr. Dylan did one of his Chaplinesque backward stumbles, as if the crowd's applause was a fist nailing him on the chin.

        Next came “Mr. Tambourine Man,” during which he duck-walked forward and back in his white cowboy boots and matching suit as he soloed on an acoustic guitar. Later in the song he slung the guitar behind his back and picked up a harmonica, striking several different action-figure poses as he blew away.

        The most rocking moments were “Gotta Serve Somebody” and “Country Pie,” with Mr. Dylan, Mr. Campbell and Charlie Sexton each playing electric guitar and swapping turns soloing. They've become the best guitar trio on the road, although there might not be any others out there anymore.

        The crowd's vote went for the classics. The room was on its feet for “Like a Rolling Stone,” “All Along the Watchtower” and “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35.” There's nothing like the chorus of “everybody must get stoned” to excite an audience taking in a show on a Jesuit campus.


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